Reuters Ltd. ------ 3/7/95

By Jason Webb BUENOS AIRES, Argentina

The Argentine naval officer who last week described how thousands of political prisoners were thrown alive from aircraft in the 1970s has been stripped of his rank, a navy spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

Acting on a decree signed by President Carlos Menem, the navy stripped Adolfo Francisco Scilingo of his rank as retired commander in February as a result of a conviction for fraud in August 1991. Scilingo this week became the first officer to publicly admit what Argentines have known for years, that the former military dictatorship disposed of thousands of oponents by ordering them to be thrown from aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean.

He described in chilling detail how the victims, many so weak from torture that they had to be helped aboard the plane, were injected with sedatives by a navy doctor and how he and another officer undressed them and threw their unconscious bodies into the ocean. Scilingo retired from the navy in 1986, but said he was driven by a need to confess and was haunted by the memories of the two death flights he took part in and a torture session he witnessed. "It's quite a coincidence. It was in February when we finished the recording and I delivered the manuscripts to the publisher," said Horacio Verbitsky, the journalist to whom Scilingo confessed.

Before the Pagina 12 newspaper published Verbitsky's account, Scilingo says, he was pressing the government and military top brass to publicly confirm the gruesome details of the "dirty war" in which 4,000 people were killed and 10,000 disppeared without a trace.

Argentine human rights groups appealed Tuesday for the publication of the names of those murdered secretly during the "dirty war" against leftist guerrillas. "... We ask the president, in his function as commander in chief of all of the armed forces of the nation, to order the publication of the names of all the citizens executed by their (the armed forces') order between March 24, 1976, and Dec. 10, 1983," read a declaration issued here.

The document was signed by representatives of major human rights groups, including the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, also presented a letter Tuesday to Argentina's Roman Catholic bishops, calling on them to condemn not only the military killings but also priests and church hierarchy who knew of and secretly condoned them. "The behavior of the chaplains of all the armed forces shame humanity," said Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, named for a group of women who over the years demonstrated weekly at Plaza de Mayo for details on their missing relatives.

Scilingo said military chaplains acted as counselors for officers distressed by what they were doing. On Monday, Menem launched a bitter attack on Scilingo, calling him a "criminal." The president defended the pardon he granted to military officers convicted of human rights abuses during the "dirty war" waged by the military against leftist guerrillas. "I worked out the agreement according to what circumstances dictated, and it is possible that some sectors of the far-left still have the idea that I should repent for the pardon," Menem told reporters.

Menem, who was himself imprisoned by the military, said the pardon was necessary to stop the military discontent which led to three barracks uprisings in the 1980s and in 1990. But, while Menem went on the offensive, two bishops begged for forgiveness for any involvement in the killings by the church heirarchy, part of which Scilingo said had condoned throwing bodies from aircraft as "a Christian form of death."