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Argentina throws out amnesty for 'Dirty War' cases

Associated Press
Published June 15, 2005

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Hundreds of people could be charged with torture, disappearances and babynapping during Argentina's "Dirty War" against dissidents after the Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down amnesties passed in the 1980s.

For victims, the ruling revived the possibility of justice in cases like that made infamous by the 1985 Oscar-winning movie The Official Story. For military officers, police officers and doctors with ties to the former dictatorship, it stoked fears of being brought back to court.

Officially, 12,000 people are listed as dead or missing from the 1976-83 military junta crackdown on opponents, although human rights groups say the toll was closer to 30,000. The missing, known as the "disappeared," are presumed to have been slain.

Some 3,000 officers, including about 300 still serving in the armed forces, could be called for questioning, according to human rights groups.

In a 7-1 vote, with one abstention, the Supreme Court voided laws passed in 1986 and 1987 to forbid charges involved in disappearances, torture and other crimes during the dictatorship. The court said the bans were contrary to today's international norms requiring the state to protect human rights and punish abuses.

The ruling came in the case of Julio Simon, a former police officer accused of being involved in the disappearance of Jose Poblete and Gertrudis Hlaczik and of taking their daughter, Claudia Poblete, as his own. Under Argentine law, the decision can be taken as precedent in other cases.

President Nestor Kirchner called it a major step toward healing the wounds of one of the country's most turbulent eras.

"The court's decision has restored our faith in justice," Kirchner said jubilantly. "This is a blast of fresh air that signifies the end of impunity."

In August 2003, the House and Senate voted to repeal the amnesty laws. But activists had waited for the Supreme Court to make a final decision on the constitutionality of the laws, which effectively ended trials for officers accused of human rights abuses.

After the dictatorship was replaced by an elected government in late 1983, many ranking military officers were tried on charges of abducting, torturing and executing suspected opponents of the former regime. They were imprisoned in 1985 - before the amnesty laws went into effect - but were pardoned by then-President Carlos Menem in 1990.

Those officers were accused of waging a systematic crackdown on leftists and other political opponents who were kidnapped off the streets, tortured in clandestine centers and "disappeared."

Many were detained naked and blindfolded in chains while they were tortured with electric prods and drugged before being taken on "death flights" to be thrown into the South Atlantic.

Tears flowed among the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who have been marching weekly for more than a quarter-century. Each Thursday afternoon, they circle outside the Government House to demand an accounting for sons and daughters who disappeared.

"One cannot explain the emotion we are feeling. It's just so overwhelming after so many years of pushing for this," said Tati Almeida, one of the mothers. "There were so many cases and so much evidence presented . . . now those cases are going to have to be reopened."

[Last modified June 15, 2005, 00:44:10]

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