Latin America & Caribbean

Argentine junta leader Massera dies

Emilio Massera in military uniform on 2 September 1977, file photo
Image caption Emilio Massera always defended his actions

Former Argentine military ruler Emilio Eduardo Massera has died at the age of 85 after a long illness.

The former admiral was one of the three-man military junta that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983.

Mr Massera was placed under house arrest after being convicted of the torture and murder of civilians during Argentina's "Dirty War".

He avoided prosecution on further charges after a court ruled he was too ill to stand trial.

Germany, Spain, Italy and France had also sought his extradition over the killing of their citizens during military rule in Argentina.

As commander of the Navy, Emilio Massera helped lead the coup that toppled President Isabel Peron in 1976 at a time of rising political violence.

Led by General Jorge Videla, the junta launched a campaign of oppression against left-wing opposition groups.

Torture centre

As head of the navy, Mr Massera was responsible for Argentina's most notorious torture centre, the navy mechanical school in Buenos Aires.

Thousands of political prisoners were tortured and killed there, their bodies dumped dead or drugged into the sea from military aircraft.

In a 1985 trial of junta leaders, Mr Massera was convicted of murder, torture and robbery. But he served only five years of his life sentence before he was released under an amnesty law.

In 1998 he was put under house arrest on charges of stealing babies born to political prisoners and giving them up for adoption, a crime not covered by the amnesty law.

And in 2007 his life sentence was reinstated after the courts ruled that the amnesty law was unconstitutional.

But after suffering a stroke in 2002, he was considered too ill to face further prosecution, sparing him the multiple trials being faced the former President Jorge Videla and other junta figures.

At his trial in 1985, Mr Massera refused to apologise for the abuses, saying the military was fighting a war against left-wing subversion.

"Nobody has to defend himself for having won a fair war," he said. "You can't interrogate a terrorist as if you were questioning a child."

Human rights groups say up to 30,000 Argentines were killed during military rule.

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