Human rights accused agrees to testify

13th January 2005, Comments 0 comments

17 January 2005, MADRID-Adolfo Scilingo, a former Argentine naval officer accused of torture and other rights abuses, told a court he was prepared to testify but asked for protection for his family.

17 January 2005

MADRID-Adolfo Scilingo, a former Argentine naval officer accused of torture and other rights abuses, told a court he was prepared to testify but asked for protection for his family.

Scilingo, who is asked of abuses including allegedly dropping people alive into the ocean from helicopters during the 1976-1983 dictatorship in his native country, is the first foreign national to stand trial in Spain on human rights charges.

When his trial opened on Friday, Scilingo collapsed and the hearing had to be adjourned until Monday.

But when called to give evidence, he told the court he would give evidence but feared for the safety of his family in Spain and in his native Argentina.

He claimed he might come under pressure from former colleagues in the Argentinian army, who could make threats to his family.

Scilingo, 58, had been on a hunger strike for several weeks before the trial started.

Scilingo is one of several alleged ex-torturers and killers wanted by foreign jurisdictions for the death and disappearance of their citizens.

He came to Spain in 1997, amid pressure at home to bring alleged ex-military torturers and killers to justice, to take part in a television programme.

He had earlier told Argentine investigative journalist Horacio Verbistky of how he helped jettison drugged so-called "subversives" into the sea alive.

Scilingo then became caught up in Spanish investigating judge Balthasar Garzon's wider campaign to prosecute foreign officials - including notably Chilean ex-dictator Augosto Pinochet -- for the murder and abduction of Spanish citizens abroad.

Interviewed by Garzon, the moustachioed, 58-year-old Scilingo repeated the story which he had recounted to Verbistky before later retracting his account.

In 2001, as Garzon deepened his inquiries, Scilingo was remanded for trial on 30 counts of murder, 93 of causing injury, 255 of terrorism and 286 of torture.

A month ago the accused went on hunger strike protesting his innocence and in recent days has refused to accept liquids, leading to his being taken to hospital on Wednesday following a fainting incident.

Last week, his wife Maria Marcela Valles described him as "very weak and virtually bed-bound."

But a source at the Alcala-Meco jail where he is being held some 30 kilometres (20 miles) east of Madrid quoted prison officials as saying "there has been no change in his state of health," contrary to Valles' assertions that he was not well enough to stand trial.

In 2003, Argentina accepted that Spain could try Scilingo as there were no equivalent charges pending against him in Buenos Aires.

In other cases, the Spanish government has bowed to Argentine jurisdiction.

An estimated 30,000 Argentines disappeared during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Garzon is basing his case on a Spanish legal article which states that Spain is competent to judge "acts committed by Spaniards or foreigners outside national territory" in cases such as genocide or terrorist acts and other cases covered by international treaties.

During the 'dirty war' of the 1970s and 1980s, when thousands of citizens were snatched off the streets on suspicion of being left-wingers or union sympathizers, Scilingo worked for a year at the naval mechanics school (ESMA)
in Buenos Aires.

The school was an infamous centre of torture, rape and murder.

Human rights organisations say some 5,000 people held there vanished.

The prosecution, which will call some 170 witnesses either in person or by video link from Argentina and Mexico, is calling for Scilingo to be handed a jail term of 6,626 years.

The witnesses include several survivors of the bloody repression at the school.

Following the dictatorship, dozens of ranking military officers were tried on abduction, torture and murder charges and some were imprisoned in 1985 before being pardoned in 1990 by the Peronist then-president Carlos Menem.

A vertict is not expected before late March.

In another case, Garzon is investigating another former Argentine military official Ricardo Miguel Cavallo, accused of crimes against humanity and extradited to Spain from Mexico in June 2003.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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