BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A former Argentine navy captain known as the "Angel of Death" was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for dictatorship-era human rights violations committed at a notorious clandestine detention and torture center.
Alfredo Astiz sat motionless as a judge read the charges against him that included kidnapping, torture, homicide and stealing minors. Sentences were also read against 53 other people in the largest trial of its kind in Argentina's history.
Astiz's nickname came from his cherubic looks and for his work delivering dissidents to the military junta as an undercover agent. He previously was convicted of kidnapping, torturing and murdering two French nuns and a journalist and was already serving a life sentence.
Hundreds of people outside the courtroom celebrated as sentences were read. Some held a large poster with photos of the 54 defendants with a letter "P'' for "perpetua," referring to life sentences, scribbled over the men's faces. Others held banners about the disappeared that read: "Tell us where they are."
The trial was the largest and involved crimes against humanity committed against 789 people at the Naval Mechanics School — the era's biggest clandestine torture center. An estimated 5,000 prisoners were held there. Some were drugged and later thrown alive from airplanes into the River Plate or to the sea in "death flights."
"In Argentina's history, the death flights will always be regarded as an incomparable monstrosity," said human rights activist Eduardo Jozami. "It's key that this vision held by most Argentines has been ratified with this sentence."
Human rights groups estimate about 30,000 people were killed or disappeared during Argentina's brutal 1976-1983 dictatorship.
"The reparation of victims and of society is only possible if the state complies with its obligations to investigate, sanction and reconstruct history," said the Buenos Aires-based Center for Legal and Social Studies, which was part of the legal team representing plaintiffs in the case.
Associated Press writer Debora Rey and AP video journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.