War

Argentine dirty war witness kidnapped and released

AP News
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Posted: Apr 21, 2011 2:54 PM
Argentine dirty war witness kidnapped and released

A key witness in the suspicious death of a bishop during Argentina's dictatorship is alive and recovering after being kidnapped and drugged this week, his lawyer said Thursday.

Victor Oscar Martinez disappeared Monday and was released late Wednesday, hours after the president ordered all federal forces to search for him, said attorney Gabriela Scopel.

Martinez, 52, was found wandering along a downtown avenue, where he was able to borrow a phone, call his wife and get help from police officers, Scopel explained.

"He was taken by people we don't know. From what he was able to tell his wife, he was kept in a room. They didn't use force on him. He was told what to say. They gave him drugs, anti-anxiety pills, to keep him semiconscious," she told Radio Continental.

Scopel said Martinez was recovering at home Thursday, still confused and in shock, and wasn't ready to provide more details.

President Cristina Fernandez had ordered all federal security forces to join the search. Security Minister Nelda Garre confirmed Martinez's reappearance in a Twitter message late Wednesday.

Martinez's kidnapping recalled the still-unsolved 2006 disappearance of Jorge Julio Lopez, who hasn't been seen since he testified against a formerly high-ranking police official charged with crimes against humanity. Martinez had been threatened with death in 2009 if he continued "bothering" people with his allegations, said Scopel, who said she believes the proactive government response in this case prompted the kidnappers to set Martinez free.

Martinez was the sole witness to the death of Bishop Carlos Horacio Ponce de Leon. Ponce de Leon died in a suspicious car crash in July 1977 as the two men were driving to deliver evidence of crimes allegedly committed under the dictatorship to the Vatican's representative in Argentina. The papers disappeared, and, according to Martinez, he was hospitalized and then kidnapped and taken to a navy base, where he said he was tortured for information about the bishop's activities.

Human rights activists suspect the military provoked the car crash to prevent the bishop from getting Vatican help with his requests for information about political dissidents in his diocese who disappeared after the 1976 military coup. Another activist bishop, Enrique Angelelli, had died in a similarly suspicious car crash the previous year.

A judge charged Martinez with giving false testimony in 2007 after he insisted that former Lt. Col. Manuel Fernando Saint Amant led a team that killed Ponce de Leon.

The charge remains unresolved, but Martinez hasn't backed down. At a rally last month calling for the impeachment of the judge, Martinez described himself as a lonely fighter against elements of the military and judiciary who remain in power years after cracking down on dissent during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. The current government has questioned the judge and many others for their handling of human rights cases.

"They want me to say that everything I said wasn't so, that I was mistaken, and that I've forgotten," Martinez was quoted by the newspaper Pagina/12 as saying. "I won't stop saying that Bishop Ponce de Leon was killed by Col. Saint Amant with all of his task force."

Saint Amant remains free pending verdicts in a variety of cases involving disappearances and other crimes against humanity.

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Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava and Debora Rey contributed to this report.