October10, 1997

Spain holds Scilingo, orders more arrests

By Isabel Garcia-Zarza

MADRID (Reuter) - A Spanish judge investigating the deaths of about 300 Spaniards during Argentina's 1976-83 ``dirty war'' ordered former Argentine Navy capt. Adolfo Scilingo to be jailed, court sources said Friday.

High Court Judge Baltasar Garzon also issued international arrest warrants for 10 other Argentinian Navy officers including former Adm. Emilio Massera, one of the leaders of the 1976 military coup.

He accused them of responsibility for the infamous Naval Mechanical School (ESMA), the biggest torture center of the military dictatorship, and accused them of organizing and carrying out a ``diabolical and violent scheme to fight against subversion'' and of crimes of genocide and terrorism.

Garzon based his decision on testimony that Scilingo voluntarily provided about the ESMA Tuesday.

Scilingo, who confessed in a television interview to his participation in ``death flights'' in which prisoners were pushed out of aircraft into the sea, had been held in protective custody in Madrid since Monday when he arrived to testify.

His declarations giving details of the ``death flights'' was the first time he had confessed to his role before a judge.

Garzon, who opened the case against the Argentinian dictatorship a year ago, ordered Scilingo to be imprisoned because of the seriousness of the crimes and for fear he would flee, the court sources said.

Massera, and other ``dirty war'' officers, were sentenced to life prison terms after democracy was reinstated in 1984. They were later granted amnesty by Argentine President Carlos Menem and cannot be arrested within Argentina.

After hearing of the judge's decision, a group of supporters of the victims of Argentina's ``dirty war'' began to cry with relief outside the courthouse in central Madrid.

``This cause has been converted into an historic example of the universal prosecution of crimes against humanity,'' Carlos Slepoy, a lawyer for the Spanish victims, told reporters. ``It's an extraordinary homage to the epic struggle of the Argentinian people against impunity.''

Miguel Angel Dagostino, a survivor from one of the dictatorship's harsh detention centres was so overcome with emotion that he could barely speak.

Scilingo's defense team now has three days to appeal Garzon's decision.

In March, Garzon issued an international arrest warrant for Argentina's de facto former president Fortunato Galtieri who remains in seclusion there.