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Spain Tries Two Argentine Genocide Killers

Ricardo Cavallo and Adolfo Scilingo, two former Army officers during Argentina's "dirty war" to face human rights abuses charges in Madrid

Extradited from Mexico last Sunday, the retired Argentine naval officer Ricardo Cavallo, joined former navy Captain Adolfo Scilingo in a Madrid prison, and now both wait for they turn to face the Spanish courts on charges ranging from state terrorism to genocide. In what activists remarked as a turning point for human rights, two members of the Argentine military that led the "dirty war" of the 1970's leaving 30,000 people killed or "disappeared", could receive life imprisonment for their crimes.


Cavallo was required to appear before Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, after being in a Mexican jail since 2000. Cavallo was living in the North American country under a false identity and was detected by a Mexican newspaper while running a government concession for a national car registry. "This is the first time ever that one country has extradited a person to another country to stand trial for human rights crimes that happened in a third," told Reuters Reed Brody, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch in New York.


Cavallo, an alleged secret torturer under the military regime, has been described by survivors as a prominent member of the School of Naval Mechanics, the notorious secret torture center in the city of Buenos Aires. According to witnesses, Cavallo was responsible for making decisions about the fate of the illegally imprisoned inmates of this concentration camp. In other words, he decided life or death on them.


Argentine demonstrators in Madrid "welcomed" Cavallo at city's international airport chanting "murder" and claiming for justice. Cavallo cannot be tried in Argentina, due to the amnesty laws passed by the national government in the 1980's. However, there is strong pressure in Argentina, at present, to revoke those laws to allow local prosecution of former Army officers who committed human right abuses.


In Madrid, there is another alleged killer waiting to appear before judge Garzon. His name is Alfonso Scilingo and is the former navy captain who participated in the notorious "dead flights", in which thousands of Argentineans found death in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. "They were unconscious. We stripped them, and when the flight commander gave the order, we opened the door and threw them out, naked, one by one", reads Scilingo's book, "The flight” spilled one of the dirtiest secrets of the "dirty war".


Scilingo confessed to his crimes in a book that highlights that some 15 to 20 prisoners were trucked every Wednesday to the Buenos Aires airport, put on a military plane, and then dropped, drugged but alive, from a height of about 13,000 ft. into the Atlantic Ocean. Scilingo, who was living in Spain by the time the book was released, wanted to be tried in Argentina, but the Spanish courts denied the petition.


In the following days, both Scilingo and Cavallo will have to appear before the tribunal to respond to the charges against them. The same judge that unsuccessfully campaigned to bring Chilean former dictator Augusto Pinochet to trial will assert that human right abuses, wherever they took place, are crimes against humanity.


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