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Trial yields testimony on Argentine ‘dirty war’

Spanish judges heard gruesome testimony Thursday about atrocities by the former military regime during Argentina’s “dirty war.”
/ Source: The Associated Press

Spanish judges heard gruesome testimony Thursday about atrocities by the former military regime during Argentina’s “dirty war,” including theft of babies and clandestine cremation of detainees’ bodies.

The accounts came in the trial of Adolfo Scilingo, 58, a former Argentine naval officer who served at a naval school that served as a prison and reputed torture center.

Scilingo stared at the floor and sipped water as the court heard for the second day excerpts from a tape recording made in 1997 in which he described abuses at the school.

Since his trial began last week, Scilingo has insisted that he fabricated the taped testimony. He faces charges of war crimes, genocide, torture and terrorism in Spain’s first trial of a person for human rights abuses allegedly committed in another country.

In excerpts played Thursday, Scilingo tells how women prisoners had their newborn babies taken away from them and given away in adoption to officers at the school.

Children taken from mothers
“For humanitarian reasons, the pregnant women could not be moved. I mean, eliminated. We had to wait until they gave birth,” Scilingo is heard saying. He did not specify how many cases he knew of, saying just “several.”

Doctors who delivered babies signed birth certificates in which the children were given the names of the people adopting them, he said.

The goal of these illegal adoptions, he said, “was to keep the children from falling into the subversive mentality of their parents,” Scilingo is heard saying.

Scilingo, who was the chief electrician at the school, also speaks in the excerpts of how officials there cremated the bodies of people who died of injuries while under interrogation.

He said these cremations were referred to as “asados” — which translates as roastings — and as chief electrician he was once asked to supply diesel fuel or oil for them to be carried out.

“There were instructions from superiors for all of us at the school to take part. I did not go. It seemed very gruesome to me,” Scilingo says in the tape.

Tape from 1997 interrogation
Spanish authorities recorded the tape during an interrogation with National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon when Scilingo first came to Spain voluntarily in 1997 to testify about what he saw at the school, one of the Argentine regime’s most notorious torture centers. Garzon ended up jailing Scilingo and indicting him.

Since the mid-1990s Garzon has been leading a probe into atrocities committed by military regimes in Argentina and Chile.

Scilingo, whose trial started last week, has testified that he invented his previous confessions, including a chilling account of pushing 30 drugged dissidents out of planes flying over the Atlantic, in an effort to provoke an investigation into Argentina’s “dirty war.”

Under Argentina’s military dictatorship, some 13,000 perceived political opponents were killed or disappeared during a campaign to stamp out dissent, according to an official government report. Human rights groups put the number closer to 30,000.