Life sentences given in Argentine torture trial

AP News
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Posted: Jul 14, 2011 6:10 PM
Life sentences given in Argentine torture trial

Two former military officers were convicted Thursday of murder, kidnapping and torture at one of the most notorious prisons run by Argentina's former dictatorship. Both got life sentences for crimes against humanity.

There were very few survivors among the 2,500 political prisoners who passed through "El Vesubio" prison during the 1976-83 military junta's dirty war on dissidents, which officially claimed 13,000 lives in all.

"El Vesubio" was run by the army in La Matanza, a working-class suburb of the capital, said Rodrigo Borda, a lawyer for the Center for Social and Legal Studies, which has kept close track of Argentina's progress in prosecuting crimes comitted by the junta.

"The detainees were hooded and chained together, and the guards gave them almost nothing to eat," Borda said in an interview.

Witnesses testified that the prison's boss, Col. Pedro Alberto Duran, regularly raped female prisoners and forced them to live with him in rooms in the compound.

Duran was charged, but died in June during the trial. Seven others went on trial with him last February, charged with 156 crimes against humanity.

Of these, former Gen. Hector Gamen and Col. Hugo Pascarelli were given life sentences Thursday. Five others _ former prison guards Ramon Erlan, Jose Maidana, Roberto Zeolitti, Diego Chemes and Ricardo Martinez _ were convicted of torturing political prisoners and received sentences of 18-22 years.

Dozens of new investigations into the crimes of the dictatorship were launched after Argentina's Supreme Court ruled in 2005 against amnesties that had protected military figures from prosecution. Many of these cases are finally coming to trial.

In all, 807 people are being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, the government said in May. But only 212 people had been sentenced at that point, and only 40 were in prison after exhausting all their appeals _ a pace that has frustrated human rights advocates and government officials.