updated 4/19/2005 8:33:27 AM ET 2005-04-19T12:33:27

A Spanish court Tuesday found a former Argentine naval officer guilty of atrocities during his country’s “dirty war,” and sentenced him to 640 years in jail.

The conviction of Adolfo Scilingo, 58, came in Spain’s first trial of a person accused of committing human rights abuses in another country.

Scilingo came to Spain voluntarily in 1997 to testify before National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon, who was investigating atrocities by military regimes in Argentina and Chile.

He admitted participating in two so-called “death flights” in which 30 drugged, naked detainees were thrown from planes during Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship. Scilingo said he knew of other atrocities when he was based at the Buenos Aires Navy School of Mechanics, one of the regime’s most notorious torture centers. Garzon subsequently jailed and indicted him.

No death penalty
During the trial, Scilingo insisted that he fabricated the taped testimony to trigger an investigation into the dirty war.

But on Tuesday, a three-judge panel at the National Court found Scilingo guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 21 years in jail for each of the 30 people thrown from planes. He also got five years for a torture conviction and five years for illegal detention.

Under Spanish law, the maximum time a person can serve in prison is 40 years and only in cases of terrorism. The country has no death penalty or life imprisonment.

During Scilingo’s two-month trial the court heard testimony from dozens of people, including survivors of the “dirty war.” They described their abductions and torture, as well as that of friends and relatives. However, only one survivor recognized and placed Scilingo at the navy school at the trial.

Some 13,000 people were listed officially as dead or missing in the wake of the junta years, many of them reported to have been kidnapped off the streets or detained in torture centers before being executed. Some human right groups put the total number as high as 30,000.

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