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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Prison à vie pour un bourreau

by Cathy Ceïbe

Life Imprisonment for an Executioner

Translated Saturday 25 December 2010, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Jorge Videla, ex-dictator of Argentina, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 11 "disappeared persons". Impunity has suffered a set-back. But the ideology of state terrorism continues to legitimate its horrors.

For a few seconds, and finally now, forever, the bodies of 31 persons who "disappeared" during the Argentine dictatorship (176-1883) have reappeared. By pronouncing the sentence of prison for life against Jorge Videla, ex-general of the first military junta, the federal tribunal of Cordoba swept away, on Monday, more than thirty years of impunity.

In the box for the accused, alongside the ideologue for state terrorism, now aged 85, sat 29 other officials of the regime charged with murder, torture, and kidnapping. Ex-general Luciano Menendez also received a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

A judgement that had been twice buried

Up until now, Videla had bragged about the political generosity he had
enjoyed. In 1985, he had already been condemned to life imprisonment, during the well-publicized trial of nine members of the junta, launched during the presidency of Raul Alfonsin, who was anxious to bring an end to the leaden years in which more than 30,000 persons "disappeared", were tortured, or thrown to their deaths from airplanes on "death flights".

A penalty quickly buried by two laws, "duty to obey" and "final period" promulgated in 1986 and 1987 under pressure from senior officers of the military. To these symbols of denial of truth and justice in the case of crimes of the dictatorship, the ex-head of state Carlos Menem declared, in 1990, a presidential pardon. It was only in 2007 that this pardon was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court, following the abrogation, two years earlier, of the law of amnesty. Jorge Videla was nevertheless placed only under house arrest in 1998, before being transferred to prison for two other sinister affairs, the "war bounty" of babies stolen from their parents, parents later killed, the babies being offered to favored members of the regime, and also for his participation in "Operation Condor", a multinational criminal organization commanded by the dictators of that period (Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay) and set up in order to exterminate "subversive elements" in South America, with the cooperation of the CIA.

During the trial in Cordoba, Videla found justifications for everything, acknowledging "I fully carried out my responsibilities, and my subordinates were content to obey my orders." In the image of the ex-dictator of Uruguay, Gregorio Alvarez, who denied the existence of violations of human rights in his country, the Argentine executioner showed unfathomable disdain, in legitimating his acts. "I have no intention of speaking of a dirty war," he dared say. "I prefer to speak of a just war that is not yet over." Defending his barbaric acts in the name of "the honor of victory in the war against Marxist subversion," Videla even went so far as to question the tribunal, which, to his mind, "lacked competence and jurisdiction" to judge him, in view of his rank, and the "acts of war" for which he was tried.

At the announcement of the verdict, the families of victims and the associations for human rights exploded with joy, drowning out the shock wave caused the previous day by statements made by the head of the junta. "This is an important advance in law, for truth and justice," rejoiced the Argentine Nobel Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel. "At last a judicial power and a political decision to advance the process of establishing responsibility for the crimes committed against the people, so that this can never happen again."

Tuesday, in Buenos Aires, the capital, and in Mar del Plata, in the east, 19 responsible for similar crimes received heavy sentences. In 2010, 14 trials of this nature put 66 authors of crimes behind bars, while 800 others await trial. If Argentina figures as a pioneer in Latin America in the battle against impunity, the work to establish reparations is not yet accomplished.

The Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, still searching for their "disappeared" children and grand-children, last night, following the traditional march that they have held for 33 years already on the Plaza de Mayo, called for a trial "ethical and political" of those who violated the preaching of Jesus. "During the dictatorship, the priests and bishops legitimated the genocide, blessed the torturers, presided over sessions of torture, ... Many of these persons are still members of the Church," recall the courageous mothers whom the regime treated as "crazy."

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