Argentina Moves to Face Past Crimes
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In Argentina, the amnesty is over. For more than two decades, hundreds of the military and police personnel who committed crimes in the country's so-called Dirty War have been protected from prosecution. They were shielded by two amnesty laws. Now the Supreme Court of Argentina has thrown out those laws, and that opens the way to new cases being brought for crimes dating back to the 1970s, when thousands of Argentines were killed. Kevin Gray is senior correspondent for the Reuters news agency in Buenos Aires, and he joins us.
How many people might conceivably be charged now for what they did in the Dirty War?
Mr. KEVIN GRAY (Senior Correspondent, Reuters): Tuesday's ruling could affect as many as 400 military officers, soldiers and police linked to the country's Dirty War, many of them who are now retired.
SIEGEL: Who in Argentina is pleased by the prospect of those people going on trial? I assume they are not pleased by the prospect of being tried.
Mr. GRAY: Clearly this was a big victory for the human rights groups that have worked for more than two decades to bring many of the military officers to justice. There is some grumbling in the military, some concern about the new ruling. Yesterday the head of the armed forces, General Roberto Bendini, came out and basically welcomed the decision, saying that those who are accused should expect to be prosecuted and face whatever decision is handed down.
SIEGEL: I want you to remind people what was going on in Argentina in the 1970s and how it was that anywhere from 10,000, some say as many as 30,000 people were killed in that country.
Mr. GRAY: The Dirty War here was waged from 1976 to '83, when the military took power and sought to snuff out leftist dissidents here in the country. And during that time, Argentina's military junta rounded up leftist opponents and held them in torture centers and concentration camps in what essentially was a war, a civil war between a guerrilla movement and the armed forces, the military government at the time.
SIEGEL: Do prosecutors presumably have enough information about the thousands who are, in the idiom of the day, `disappeared' or killed in order to bring cases and make convictions?
Mr. GRAY: Tuesday's ruling essentially opens or it clears the last legal obstacle for a lot of cases that have already been presented before Argentina's judicial system. And so what we will probably see is that now those cases, with that final hurdle now cleared, beginning to make their way through the legal system. And obviously there are some cases that are much more advanced in the system, and human rights activists say that we could see a first trial as early as next year in several other. In the majority of the cases, however, what we will see is the beginning of what will be a long process of investigations and cases making their way through the courts here.
SIEGEL: Do the politics of the military junta from 1976--do such politics still have adherents in Argentina today, and is there any concern that indeed there could be another coup over this very matter?
Mr. GRAY: No. The Dirty War largely left the military discredited here in Argentina and has a very, very minor role in the political life here in the country today. And the fact that we're seeing this now just is a reflection of just the little political influence the military now has.
SIEGEL: Kevin Gray, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. GRAY: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: Kevin Gray is senior correspondent for Reuters in Buenos Aires.