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‘Blond Angel of Death’ goes on trial over ‘dirty war’ torture


Latest update : 2009-12-11

Alfredo Astiz, known as the "Blond Angel of Death", goes on trial Friday over his alleged role in the disappearance of political dissidents during the Argentinian dictatorship's "dirty war" of the 1970s.

Click here for a timeline of Argentina's "Dirty War".

Alfredo Astiz, the 58-year-old “blond angel of death”, goes on trial Friday in Buenos Aires 26 years after the end of Argentina’s military dictatorship.

Astiz is considered to have been one of the most efficient and ruthless executioners during the dictatorship’s “dirty war” against leftwing insurgents in the 1970s.

The former Navy captain and intelligence officer faces trial alongside 18 other former members of a special task force at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA in Spanish) in Buenos Aires, which served at the time as an illegal detention centre.

The team is accused of kidnapping alleged “subversives” and taking them to the ESMA naval base. A total of 86 cases will be examined during the trial, expected to last around six months.

Astiz has already been sentenced in absentia to life in prison in Italy and France for the murder of three Italians and two French nuns, Léonie Duquet and Alice Domon. But this is the first time he faces trial in his own country.

At least 5,000 political dissidents were detained and tortured at the ESMA base between 1976 and 1983. Many were put on the infamous “death flights” to be dumped into the Rio de la Plata river.

In all, 9,000 people were kidnapped, tortured and executed, according to a 1984 report by the Argentinian Truth Commission’s 1984 report. Only a few hundred survived the ordeal.

Astiz drew attention for his alleged involvement in the detention and disappearance of several foreigners, including the two French nuns and Swedish-Argentinian teenager Dagmar Hagelin.

He is one of the rare former military officers to still justify the “dirty war” and brag about torture and kidnapping techniques used during the dictatorship.

Astiz is accused of having infiltrated the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" group, a non-violent association representing the mothers of disappeared individuals, under the false name Gustavo Nino, brother of a vanished person. 

His infiltration led to the arrest of the group’s three founding members and Domon. Duquet was detained two days later. None of them were ever seen again. 

For many years, Astiz was thought to be among the scores of vanished members. In 1977 he tried to infiltrate the Argentinian community in exile in France, but escaped after he was recognised.

Astiz was finally captured by the British army at the beginning of the Falklands War in 1982.

France and Sweden repeatedly demanded his extradition but the British government, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, turned down their requests.

The “blond angel of death” is not alone in facing justice for crimes committed under the military dictatorship.

Many former commanders of the Campo de Mayo army base have also been on trial since October 2009, including the junta’s last political leader Reynaldo Bignone.

Former officers from the detention centres known as Atlético, Banco and Olimpo are also being tried.

Date created : 2009-12-08


    The ‘Dirty War’ - a timeline

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    Former 'Dirty War' military ruler goes on trial

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