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Seven Argentine Military Officials Sentenced for Crimes against Prisoners

During the time of Argentina’s American-backed dirty war against political dissidents, from 1976 to 1983, the military junta that was running the country ran a network of prisons and concentration camps, including a prison in a working class suburb of Buenos Aires. About 2,500 prisoners passed through the army’s “El Vesubio” prison during that time. Few survived.

“The detainees were hooded and chained together, and the guards gave them almost nothing to eat,” said Rodrigo Borda, an attorney for the Center for Social and Legal Studies, which has charted Argentina’s progress in prosecuting the people responsible for an estimated 13,000 deaths during the dirty war. Human rights groups contend the actual number is around 30,000.

Eight prison officials from “El Vesubio” were charged with a total of 156 crimes against humanity – including the rape, kidnapping and torture of political prisoners, plus 19 executions. Their trial began in February 2011.

Witnesses testified that Col. Pedro Duran Saenz, who was in charge of the facility, frequently raped female prisoners and forced them to live with him in rooms inside the prison compound. He died in June 2011 while his trial was pending.

On July 14, 2011, former Gen. Hector Gamen, 84, and Col. Hugo Pascarelli, 81, were convicted and received life sentences. Five former prison guards – Ramon Erlan, Jose Maidana, Roberto Zeolitti, Diego Chemes and Ricardo Martinez – were convicted and sentenced to between 18 and 22 years in prison.

The human rights crimes committed by the junta have been under investigation since 2005, when the Argentine Supreme Court threw out amnesties that were used to shield military personnel from prosecution.

In April 2010, Reynaldo Bignone, 82, the country’s last military dictator, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes committed during his regime, including torture and kidnappings at the Campo de Mayo army base.

As of May 2011, 807 defendants had been prosecuted for junta-era human rights violations. However, only 212 of those 807 had been sentenced and just 40 were in prison. The rest await the outcome of their appeals. The slow pace of prosecutions has frustrated both Argentine government officials and human rights advocates, moreso when compared to the speedy kidnappings, torture and murder of the military junta’s victims.

Sources: Associated Press,

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