'Death flight' captain says Argentine navy is hiding horrors

ARGENTINA’S navy has yet to tell the full story of atrocities committed during the country’s "dirty war", a man on trial for allegedly throwing dissidents from aeroplanes told a court yesterday.

Adolfo Scilingo said two laws that were passed in the 1990s shielded hundreds of officers from prosecution and continue to protect suspects.

The laws were repealed by Argentina’s parliament in 2003, but the supreme court, which has the final say, has yet to rule on the issue. One of the junta’s most notorious torture and execution centres was based at a naval mechanical school known by its Spanish initials, ESMA.

An official report puts the number of dead or missing between 1976 and 1983 at 13,000, but human rights groups say the figure is closer to 30,000.

"The Argentine navy is still hiding what happened during the dirty war," Scilingo, a former navy captain, testified on the third day of his trial on charges of genocide, torture and terrorism. He is the first person to be tried in Spain for human rights abuses alleged to have been committed in another country. "I still insist that the navy is hiding what happened because of these [laws]," Scilingo said.

Scilingo, 58, came to Spain voluntarily in 1997 to testify before a National Court judge, Baltasar Garzon, who since the late 1990s has led an investigation into human rights violations by military regimes in Argentina and Chile.

In 1997 Scilingo said he had thrown 30 drugged, naked dissidents from planes into the Atlantic during two trips known as "death flights". Judge Garzon jailed him, but Scilingo later recanted.

Yesterday he insisted that he had made the story up to trigger a probe into the dirty war and had evidence to prove that he was never involved.

Scilingo’s case is the latest in a growing area of international law that allows courts in one country to judge human rights crimes committed in another, regardless of the suspect’s nationality.

The indictment against Scilingo and dozens of other suspects says the Argentine regime tried to eliminate an entire group of people - its socialist political opponents - and that this amounted to attempted genocide.