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Former dictators found guilty in Argentine baby-stealing trial

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Tue July 10, 2012
Former Argentine general and last dictator Reynaldo Bignone, left, and former Argentine general and dictator Jorge Rafael Videla attend the beginning of their trial on February 28, 2011.
Former Argentine general and last dictator Reynaldo Bignone, left, and former Argentine general and dictator Jorge Rafael Videla attend the beginning of their trial on February 28, 2011.
  • NEW: The crimes were "the most perverse of the dictatorship," one victim says
  • Court: Jorge Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Benito Bignone are guilty of baby thefts
  • They were found guilty of stealing babies from political prisoners
  • They were both one-time dictators of Argentina

Buenos Aires (CNN) -- An Argentinian court Thursday found two former dictators guilty of stealing dozens of babies during the country's dirty war.

Jorge Rafael Videla, who ruled as a dictator between 1976 to 1981, was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Gen. Reynaldo Benito Bignone, who ruled the country from June 1982 until the nation's return to democracy in December 1983, was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

They were the two most high-profile defendants found guilty Thursday of systematically stealing babies from political prisoners and giving them new identities.

Baby-stealing trial in Argentina

Ex-dictator admits babies were stolen
Outer Circle: Argentina's 'Dirty War'

"It was the worst, the most perverse of the dictatorship, I think, what they did with us," said Francisco Madariaga Quintela, 35, one of the stolen babies who was reunited with his father in 2010. "It was a torture prolonged through time, for the grandmothers searching, for family members, everyone."

Observers packed the courtroom Thursday and cheered when a judge read the verdict for Videla.

Afterward, outside the courthouse, family members of the disappeared told CNN affiliate Canal 7 that they were satisfied with the verdict.

"It was what we were asking for. We never asked for revenge. We never hated. We never asked for anything more than justice, and we have been fighting for 36 years," one father said.

The dictators and their officers were on trial for being the "presumed authors of the crimes of theft, retention and hiding of minors, as well as replacing their identities," according to a statement from the country's judiciary. Specifically, they were tried for the stealing of 34 babies from their parents, the court said.

During the trial, Videla said children may have been kidnapped, but he said that there was no order or systematic plan.

Videla, who was among the coup leaders who overthrew then-President Isabel Martinez de Peron in March 1976, was previously convicted in 2010 of human rights abuses during his rule and is currently serving a life sentence in prison.

Former dictator sentenced to life

Bignone was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison for kidnapping and torturing 56 people.

The accusations stem from the country's "Dirty War" from 1976 to 1983. During those years of military dictatorship, up to 30,000 students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists disappeared or were held in secret jails and torture centers.

Mariana Zaffaroni Islas, who was reunited with her family in 1993, told Argentina's state-run Telam news agency that the verdict was significant for all Argentinians.

"For any citizen who lives in a country where actions like this do not remain unpunished with the passage of time, it represents a guarantee that justice is done," she said.

CNN's Guillermo Fontana contributed to this report.

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