Dec 27, 2010
By Dominick DalSanto
Editor in Chief
CORDOBA, Argentina – Jorge Videla, former military dictator of Argentina, was found guilty on Wednesday on charges of committing crimes against humanity during Argentina’s infamous “Dirty War” against left-wing dissidents. The former army general along with a military junta, came to power in a military coup which lasted form 1976-1983.
The former dictator who personally ruled between 1976 and 1981, had acknowledged his actions but denied they were human rights violations, to the very end insisting that he was being persecuted as a “political prisoner”.
Videla, 85 was sentenced to life in prison for the torture and murder of 31 prisoners, most of whom who were “shot while trying to escape” in the months after his military coup. The charges against him included the abduction, torture and murder of 40 people, including a German student, Rolf Stawowiok, whose disappearance in 1978 prompted Berlin to ask for Videla’s extradition.
This conviction was the second in 25 years. In 1985 he had previously been tried and sentenced to life in prison, but was pardoned five years later by then Argentine president Carlos Menem along with other military officials convicted of crimes committed during the “Dirty War”. However new calls for justice for the members of the military regime that caused the “disappearance” of between 13,000 people (according to a government count) to 30,000 (Human rights group estimate); led to a 2007 verdict finding Videla’s pardon unconstitutional, setting the scene for the new trial. Most of these “disappeared” are believed to have been tortured and later killed.
The court room was packed with relatives of the victims who were holding up grainy black-and-white pictures of the victims and shouting “murderers” at the defendants. Most of the two-dozen former military and police officials who were tried with Videla also received life sentences, including, General Luciano Menendez, 83, for human rights crimes carried out when he headed an army corp responsible for 11 provinces.
Even when faced with the cruelty and depravity of their crimes, the two men still refused to acknowledge the horror that they inflicted on the country. Videla and Menendez accepted responsibility for the suppression of leftists, but in an attempt to justify their actions asserted that their actions were necessary to prevent what they considered would have been a greater tragedy — the transformation of Argentina from a conservative Christian society to a Marxist state.
Menendez told the court that it is historically revisionist to present armed leftist groups as passive victims with no responsibility for criminal acts. The Montoneros and the People’s Revolutionary Army were already committing violent acts before the coup, he reminded the judges.
“They were combatants who took on certain risks,” Menendez said. “It’s not a crime against humanity to fight an armed combatant.”
Videla while assuming responsibility for the actions of his subordinates, also continued to defend his actions “I assume full responsibility…. My subordinates were only following orders,” he said. I claim the honor of victory and I regret the consequences,” Videla said, emphasizing he saw Argentina’s dirty war in the 1970s as a fight against “subversives.” He even went so far as to complained that the very “terrorists” he fought against, now run the country.
The court and the people of Argentina, were not swayed by their words. The sentencing judge, Maria Elba Martinez, described him as “a manifestation of state terrorism.” Prominent activist Raul Alfonsin said Videla “represents the most absolute evil. It was Videla, who “ordered them to torture, who ordered them to rape, who ordered them to kill or who tolerated them doing all of these aberrant things.”
Videla came to power at the head of the military junta after masterminding a 1976 coup that toppled the government of Isabel Peron. During the so called “Dirty War” tens of thousands of left-wing dissidents and others who spoke out against the atrocities of the brutal regime “disappeared”. These people were subjected to some of the most inhuman acts ever perpetrated by a government in recent history. Many were taken to clandestine centers and tortured with methods including electric shock, and rape, and then often were killed, including by throwing them from aircraft in night flights over the sea. Many also had their children stolen and given to military families…leading to an entire generation of “stolen” children that are just now beginning to uncover the truth.
Argentina’s military government fell in 1983, a year after Videla’s successor, Leopoldo Galtieri, waged an unsuccessful war against Britain for the Falkland Islands.Share