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Court releases details on rights abuses by Argentina dictator

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Former dictator Reynaldo Benito Bignone found guilty of torturing 56 prisoners held illegally.
  • Bignone and two other officials sentenced to 25 years.
  • Others sentenced to terms ranging from 17 to 20 years.
  • Pilot accused in "death flights" to have another hearing Thursday.

(CNN) -- An Argentina federal court released a 423-page decree Tuesday detailing the facts against a former dictator sentenced last month to 25 years in prison for violating human rights.

Former Gen. Reynaldo Benito Bignone, who was Argentina's last dictator, ruled from June 1982 until the nation's return to democracy in December 1983.

He was found guilty of torturing 56 people and depriving them of their liberty, as well as committing illegal searches.

Six other high-level officials under the right-wing dictatorship also were tried along with Bignone. All but one received long prison sentences.

The lengthy document released Tuesday offers detailed explanations of why each defendant was brought to trial and gives specific evidence that shows each former official's involvement.

The document notes that the dictatorship "established a criminal means to combat terrorism, dividing the country into four defense zones, subzones, areas and subareas under Directive 404/75 issued by the general commander of the military on October 28, 1975."

The defendants were part of that criminal enterprise, the documents said.

"The penal responsibility of those involved in these actions is the result of actions taken by each of them," the three judges state in the decree.

For example, the document states that as second-in-command of Zone 4 in 1977, Bignone was liable for atrocities committed under his jurisdiction.

One of the people Bignone was accused of torturing was Mario Luis Perreti, who was picked up by a group of armed soldiers in the city of San Miguel on June 7, 1977. After being beaten, he was transferred to a secret detention camp known as "La Casita," the document states. He was tortured there until July 13 and then transferred to another camp. He was transferred to several other prisons before being released November 17, 1977.

"All the criminal acts suffered by Mario Luis Perreti were carried out by Bignone within the system that he implemented to combat subversion under his orders and direct supervision," the judges wrote in the decree.

The document also details the charges and actions of the other high-level officials who were tried with Bignone. They were charged with illegal entry, privation of liberty and torture.

Former intelligence chief Fernando Ezequiel Verplaetsen and ex-military official Santiago Omar Riveros also were sentenced to 25 years in prison last month, said the official Judicial Information Center.

Carlos Tepedino, an intelligence battalion chief in 1978, was sentenced to 20 years, the Judicial Information Center said.

Former infantry school director Jorge Osvaldo Garcia received 18 years, and ex-military school director Eugenio Guanabens Perello was sentenced to 17 years, the government's judicial information service said.

German Montenegro, a former military superintendent, was absolved of all charges.

The court ruled that the former military officials must serve their sentences in a regular prison. Because of their advanced ages -- Bignone is 82, for example -- the lengthy sentences amount to life terms.

The crimes occurred at the secret Campo de Mayo torture center in Buenos Aires. Campo de Mayo was the main torture center during the 1976-83 right-wing dictatorship. Few who were taken there walked out alive.

Up to 30,000 students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists who ran afoul of the dictatorship because of their political views disappeared or were held in secret jails and torture centers during the eight-year "Dirty War."

In another development related to the right-wing dictatorship, a pilot accused of participating in "death flights" will have another hearing Thursday, the judicial information service reported Tuesday.

Former Argentine Navy Lt. Julio Alberto Poch was arrested last year on charges that he piloted aircraft from which 950 drugged and blindfolded prisoners were thrown alive.

Poch, a commercial pilot for the Dutch airline, was arrested on an international warrant September 23 when his flight made a stopover in Valencia, Spain.

He was extradited to Argentina earlier this month and appeared before a court to face charges.

Another pilot, former Navy Capt. Emir Sisul Hess, also was arrested last year on similar charges.

Hess, accused in 56 deaths, was captured in the Argentine town of Bariloche, near the border with Chile.

He must remain in prison pending trial, authorities determined at a hearing in April. No date for his trial has been set.

Both men were arrested after they told colleagues or friends about their alleged involvement in the flights, Argentina's government-run Telam news agency said.