There is probably no more horrific story from Argentina's Dirty War than that of Alfredo Astiz. Astiz was a navy captain who infiltrated the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers of some of the disappeared who were probably the single greatest thorn in the side of the brutal junta.
Astiz's actions resulted in the torture and disappearance of several people including this particularly horrific case:
Mr. Astiz, 58, is accused of playing a central role in the kidnappings and disappearance of two French nuns, Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet; an investigative journalist, Rodolfo Walsh; and several founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group that began gathering in the plaza outside the presidential palace shortly after the 1976 military coup to demand answers about their children’s whereabouts.
Witnesses said Sister Duquet was imprisoned at the Navy Mechanics School before her body was tossed from a plane into the Atlantic Ocean on one of many “flights of death” meant to dispose of prisoners’ bodies.
But currents pushed her body ashore, and she was buried in an unmarked grave. It was not until 2005 that Argentine forensic anthropologists identified her remains and those of another of the group’s founders, Azucena Villaflor.
What is exceptionally disturbing about his actions are these two facts:
- The Madres were neither using nor advocating violence.
- Asti'z's lawyer in the article linked above essentially tries to use the Nuremberg defense here:
Mr. Astiz denies knowing about the death flights, and his lawyer says that as a uniformed member of the military he was following orders to protect the nation from extremist violence.
He has been convicted in absentia in France for the murder of the nuns and has also been Sconvicted in absentia in Italy for killing three Italian citizens, is wanted in Sweden for the disappearance of a teenager and missed out on being convicted in Argentina as the result of an amnesty, essentially extorted by a restive military.
That amnesty has now been tossed out by Argentina's courts and Astiz at long last is facing justice. His trial started this past Friday, the day after Human Rights Day.
Jail actually may be the safest place for him:
On his way to a meeting in the tidy Palermo district here [in 1997], Jorge Oscar Ocampo suddenly began shouting and swinging at a blond, baby-faced man who passed him on the street.
''Why don't you torture me now?'' Mr. Ocampo yelled at the man, whom he recognized as Alfredo Astiz, a retired navy captain, who Mr. Ocampo said had beaten and tortured his wife and child during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
[In 1995], Alfredo Chavez, a former prisoner at a secret detention center during the military dictatorship, pummeled Mr. Astiz after spotting him on vacation at the Andean ski resort of Bariloche in southern Argentina.
Mr. Astiz sued Mr. Chavez, a municipal worker, but the courts dismissed the case, and the Bariloche City Council declared the former navy captain persona non grata.
An Argentinean friend once told me that since that last incident took place in Bariloche, every year on the anniversary, an informal celebration takes place. Perhaps soon they'll have even more cause to celebrate.
Let the healing begin.