Argentina puts torturers from its past on trial

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Argentine courts have launched an investigation into crimes committed at the ESMA Navy Mechanics School during the nation's military dictatorship. The landmark human rights trial is one of the most far-reaching attempts to bring crimes of Latin America's bloody past to justice.

For more than three decades, survivors and their families awaited the trial that finally began on Dec. 11, 2009. During Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship, the ESMA Navy Mechanics School served as a clandestine detention center, used to torture and disappear thousands of people. Now 17 former ESMA officers face charges of human rights abuses, torture, and murder.

The ESMA trial was scheduled to begin in November but was postponed at the request of the defense. Those on trial include Alfredo Astiz, Jorge Acosta, Ricardo Cavallo, and Adolfo Donda—cited by human rights groups as among the most brutal and sinister repressors in the Argentine security forces. In total, 13 marines, two police, one coast guard, and one army official are on trial.

More than 200 witnesses will testify in the historic trial. Groups have stressed the need for witness protection following a wave of threats and the disappearance of a key witness, Jorge Julio Lopez, three years ago. Even President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who has supported the human rights trial, has received threats. While traveling in her presidential helicopter, the helicopter's transit radio signal was intercepted at almost exactly the same moment as the ESMA trial opened. Anonymous voices were broadcast saying the words "kill her," followed by the military hymn that was played when Jorge Rafael Videla took power in the March 24, 1976 military coup. Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez says the threats could be "closely linked" to the ESMA trial....

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nerriwy wang - 1/14/2010

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