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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, to a story about a fallen hero. In Argentina, Captain Pedro Giachino has long been remembered as the first to die in his country's failed invasion of the Falkland Islands. That was 30 years ago tomorrow. But recently, human rights groups discovered that the iconic figure of sacrifice in the war with Britain had also been a henchman in Argentina's brutal military dictatorship.

NPR's Juan Forero has the story.

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Carlos Diaz, a leading human rights activist in the city of Mar del Plata, walks gingerly into the city council; a dimly lighted chamber that is a sort of microcosm of Argentina's once-violent past.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOTSTEPS)

CARLOS DIAZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: On two walks are solemn photographs of soldiers, heroes killed in Argentina's ill-fated war over the Falklands. And on the third wall, there are 433 black-and-white photographs of young men and women from this orderly city on the Atlantic coast.

DIAZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: What we see here, says Diaz, are those who were disappeared or executed in Mar del Plata

He's talking about people who were interrogated by the military and killed, their bodies secretly buried or tossed over the Atlantic from aircraft.

One of those accused of participating in the crimes is the war hero Pedro Giachino. Until recently, he hadn't been seen as a criminal at all. A naval officer, dashing in dress whites, Giachino led the first group of soldiers onto the Falklands on April 2, 1982. The British fought back, as told in a BBC documentary.

(SOUNDBITE OF A DOCUMENTARY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: In April 1982, an invasion by Argentina provoked one of the most ambitious military undertakings in British history...

FORERO: Giachino died in his first encounter, trying to take the governor's home. In the aftermath, music here in Argentina was composed to honor his bravery.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC IN SPANISH)

FORERO: Roads and schools were named after him. There was a stamp in his honor. And a photograph of him was placed here on the wall of City Hall in Mar del Plata. That is, until Carlos Diaz and others began to unearth stories about Giachino's past, and had the photo taken down.

DIAZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: If Giachino hadn't died, says Diaz, he'd have been convicted for crimes.

Among those who know Giachino's dark past is Gabriel Della Valle. He survived two military interrogations

DR. GABRIEL DELLA VALLE: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: I'll never forget that face, never, Della Valle, now a psychologist, says. It was the person who interrogated me in the naval base.

In a country still wrestling with the ghosts of the past, Giachino still has some strong supporters like his daughter. Karina Giachino, now 37, is raising three girls.

KARINA GIACHINO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: I see him as a hero, she says, he gave his life for his troops. He completed his operation.

Karina Giachino says the military that ruled Argentina made mistakes, including the Falklands invasion. But she says losing the war was not the most important thing, because so much else was lost in Argentina in those years.

Juan Forero, NPR News

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