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Four Argentine ex-military officers sentenced to life imprisonment for ‘death flights’

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Aerial view of Campo de Mayo in 2020.Maxar Technologies (Reuters)

During Argentina’s last dictatorship, the army used planes to throw kidnapped people into the water from great heights. In a judgment of great importance, a court considered proven the existence of death flights departing from the Campo de Mayo military garrison, the largest in Argentina, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The San Martín Federal Oral Court 2 sentenced four ex-soldiers to life imprisonment for the crimes of unlawful detention, torture and the murder of four victims.

Those convicted were former commander of the Military Institutes Santiago Omar Riveros, former commander of Aviation Battalion 601 Luis del Valle Arce and two other officers of that battalion, Delsis Malacalza and Eduardo Lance. With Monday’s conviction, Riveros, the overseer of events in Campo de Mayo, has already accumulated 16 life sentences.

The judges called for medical studies to be conducted to determine if the three members of the battalion could serve their sentences in a shared prison. They are currently under house arrest. In addition, the court asked to deepen the investigation into who acted as pilots and co-pilots in the fatal flights in Campo de Mayo.

General Santiago Omar Riveros in an April 2001 archive photo.
General Santiago Omar Riveros in an April 2001 archive photo.AP

The verdict announced this Monday is the first in which the judiciary recognizes the death flights as the army’s mechanism of annihilation during the dictatorship. In 2017, its use by the Navy had already been taken for granted when two pilots were convinced of the flights departing from the Higher School of Mechanics of the Navy (ESMA), the military regime’s largest secret detention center. The convictions were then part of the verdict of the largest trial in Argentina’s history, the so-called ESMA Mega-Cause, with 54 defendants for the crimes committed against 789 victims.

In the judgment handed down this Monday, only the mechanics of the death flights were judged. With them, it is believed the army made disappearance of most of the 4,000 detainees who passed through there, but the trial focused on four cases whose remains were found on the shore, where they arrived pushed by the tide. They are Juan Carlos Rosace, Adrián Accrescinbeni, Roberto Arancibia and Rosa Eugenia Novillo Corvalán. They were abducted between 1976 and 1977 and taken to the El Campito secret detention center that operated in Campo de Mayo. There they were tortured and then drugged, put on airplanes and thrown from great heights into the sea or into the Río de la Plata.

The trial started in 2020 and its process was very complex not only because of the pandemic but also because of the facts being judged. Since no one survived the death flights, there are no direct witnesses and almost no military personnel, save for Adolfo Scilingo and Víctor Ibáñez, have ever confessed to knowing of their existence or having attended them.

The main source for the reconstruction of the events were the ex-conscripts, i.e. young people who did their military service in Campo de Mayo between 1976 and 1977. According to their statements, quoted by the newspaper page 12The common destination of the flights was Punta Indio, almost 150 kilometers south of Buenos Aires, at the mouth of the Río de la Plata.

Some ex-conscripts reported finding detainee items near the runway where the planes took off, while others also found vials of Ketalar, the drug used to sedate them before the transfer. There was usually at least one fatal flight per week.

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Source elpais.com

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