Spain extradites “death flight” pilot to Argentina

The Spanish government on May 6 extradited pilot Julio Alberto Poch to Argentina to face trial for his alleged role in the nation’s 1976-83 “Dirty War.” Poch was a navy officer at Argentina’s Naval Mechanics School, one of the most notorious detention centers of the military dictatorship, and is believed to have piloted flights known as “death flights,” which were used to dump the military junta’s political opponents into the Plata River and the Atlantic Ocean. Poch holds dual Dutch and Argentine citizenship, which had protected him from earlier attempts at extradition, but he was arrested and imprisoned last September when he landed in Valencia while en route to the Netherlands. A Spanish court agreed to his extradition in January, finding that there are adequate measures in place to guarantee that Poch will receive a fair trial in Argentina. Poch continues to deny the charges against him.

Earlier this week, former Argentine military junta leader Jorge Rafael Videla was charged with an additional 49 counts of murder, kidnapping, and torture for crimes allegedly committed during Argentina’s Dirty War. The charges are the latest in the ongoing investigation against Videla, who led Argentina from from 1976 to 1981. Last month, a federal court in Argentina sentenced former president and military general Reynaldo Bignone to 25 years in prison for human rights abuses during his 1982 to 1983 presidency. During the Dirty War, an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people were forcibly kidnapped or “disappeared” in a government-sponsored campaign against suspected dissidents.

From Jurist, May 6. Used with permission.

See our last post on Argentina’s Dirty War.

  1. Argentina: junta economy minister arrested
    On May 4 Argentine authorities arrested José (“Joe”) Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, the dictatorship’s economy minister from 1976 to 1981, in connection with the kidnapping of Federico Gutheim and his son Miguel Gutheim. The Gutheims were allegedly held captive for five months until they agreed to give up control of their cotton export company to a firm approved by the economy ministry. Martínez de Hoz, who is 84, is being held in a private clinic due to poor health, but an attorney, Rodolfo Yanzón, has filed a complaint charging that Martínez de Hoz is following what Yanzón called the “great Pinochet” strategy. Gen. August Pinochet, Chile’s dictator from 1973 to 1990, avoided trial in his later years by claiming serious health problems. (Associated Press, May 6; Clarín, Argentina, May 6, May 8)

    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 9.

  2. Argentine ex-agent arrested on “Operation Condor” charges
    Argentine authorities on May 10 arrested former secret service agent Miguel Angel Furci on charges of human rights abuses committed during the nation’s 1976-83 “Dirty War.” Furci, a former agent of the Secretariat of State Intelligence (SIDE), was charged with 70 kidnappings and the torture of detainees at a secret Buenos Aires facility known as Automotores Orletti. The detentions were part of “Operation Condor,” a campaign by the Southern Cone dictatorships to round up left-wing dissidents. At a hearing, Furci admitted to serving in the SIDE and acknowledged the existence of the secret prison. Furci has already served a seven-year sentence for a 1976 kidnapping. His trial is scheduled to start on June 3. (Jurist, May 11)

  3. Argentine ex-officers go on trial for “Operation Condor” crimes
    An Argentine federal court on June 3 commenced trial proceedings for five ex-military officials allegedly responsible for the death of 65 left-wing activists during the nation’s 1976-83 “Dirty War.” The former dictators are charged with the illegal detention, torture, and murder of detainees at a secret Buenos Aires facility known as Automotores Orletti. The detentions were part of “Operation Condor,” a campaign by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay to round up left-wing dissidents. The defendants allegedly used Orletti, a former auto-body shop, as a front for a tactical operations center to extract information from activists during Operation Condor. The men include two former intelligence officers, Honorio Martinez Ruiz and Eduardo Ruffo, former general Eduardo Cabanillas, former colonel Ruben Visuara, and former military intelligence agent Raul Guglielminetti. A sixth man, Vice Commander Nestor Guillamondegui is also also facing charges for the atrocities at Orletti, but his trial has been delayed due to health reasons. (Jurist, June 4)

  4. Argentina: ex-dictator goes on trial
    An Argentine court on July 2 commenced the trial of former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who is facing several human rights violations charges for his role in the nation’s “Dirty War.” Videla was tried and convicted in 1985 along with eight other junta leaders on abduction, torture and murder charges, but was pardoned in 1990 by former president Carlos Menem. In 2006, a federal judge ruled that the presidential pardon was unconstitutional, allowing criminal charges to be brought against the former dictator. Videla, who is now 84, is also facing charges in Italy, Spain, France and Germany involving the deaths of their citizens during the Dirty War.

    Videla was charged with an additional 49 counts of murder, kidnapping and torture in May after the identification of 40 bodies in Buenos Aires last year. Videla has been in prison since 2008 while an investigation is underway for his role in the abduction of children born to political prisoners and forced disappearance victims during Argentina’s Dirty War. A court revoked the house arrest conditions he had been granted in 1998 when the investigation began. Despite his age, Videla is now being held in a common cell in Cordoba. During the period Videla was head of the military junta, an estimated 90,000 civilians were killed or disappeared. (Jurist, July 2)

  5. Argentina: ex-dictator Videla gets life
    Former Argentine military ruler Jorge Videla was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity on Dec. 22. A court in the central Argentine city of Córdoba found Gen. Videla, 85, guilty of murdering dissidents during the country’s period of military rule between 1976 and 1983. (BBC News, Dec. 22)