19 December 2007

Justice being served

The long-unpunished murderers are finally getting what they deserve. Better late than never, as the saying goes, eight people who worked at the infamous Intelligence Battalion 601 during the dictatorship finally got their crimes and their sentences read aloud by a judge, after being granted the due process of law that their victims were denied. Seven military, one police officer and intelligence agent — including IB601's head, general Cristino Nicolaides, who got 25 years, the longest prison term in the lenient Argentine legal system, for kidnapping and torture.

In the early 1970s, the leftist Peronist guerrilla group Montoneros conducted bombings, kidnappings and assassinations. They (along with others) provided an excuse for the horrific dictatorship that came after them. In truth, the guerrillas were hardly a threat on the national level, and many were exterminated even before the military seized power in 1976. Montoneros was basically dead by 1977, their leaders in exile, but in 1980 they decided to return in secret for a "counteroffensive" on the military government. Somebody told on them. They were captured, taken to military facilities, tortured, then presumably killed.

Montoneros were terrorists, no discussion about that. There's no excuse for them. Yet they were citizens and human beings, and they should've been punished by the law. The dictatorship, however, didn't want legal punishment of crime; what they sought was suppressing opposition for good. They could've publicly displayed the captured terrorists as prizes, enacted a mock trial, executed them. But that wasn't the Argentine dictatorship's style: their leaders were torturers, sadistic killers, and yet also cowards. They kept little or no records (and they destroyed what they could); they denied everything; they justified themselves but refused to name what they were really doing for what it was; many have taken the secret of the location of their victims' bodies to their own graves.

This is the first trial involving a high military officer of the dictatorship after the repeal of the amnesty laws. Soon it will be one among many. The wounds are still fresh, and the criminals still walk among us.

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