In a historic ruling, Federal Oral Court No. 2 of San Martín has sentenced four former military officers to life imprisonment for their participation in the so-called “death flights” that killed disappeared detainees during Argentina’s brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
The case is notable, as it is the first to formally recognise that planes departing from the airfield at the Campo de Mayo military garrison engaged in the practice.
The convicted – ex-head of the Military Institutes Command Santiago Omar Riveros and three military pilots from the 601st Aviation Battalion based at Campo de Mayo, Luis del Valle Arce, Delsis Malacalza and Eduardo Lance – were handed life terms for multiple crimes, including "illegal housebreaking, unlawful deprivation of liberty, infliction of torture and double aggravated homicide.”
All four are currently under house arrest, though the court ordered this week that they must undergo medical examinations to determine if their sentences may be served in jail.
Riveros, who has other convictions including 16 life sentences for crimes against humanity, is not expected to be sent to prison.
A fifth defendant, Alberto Conditi, was removed from the trial due to health reasons while it was in process, while Luis Devoto, who was also originally charged, was removed on similar grounds from proceedings before they began.
The death flights – or “vuelos de la muerte” – were one of the many forms of extrajudicial and summary executions carried out by members of the security forces during the dark era of state terrorism, in which individuals considered to be enemies of the state were killed. Detainees were normally drugged until they were unconscious, taken up in planes, stripped of their clothes and thrown from great heights to their death in the murky waters of the Río de La Plata or Mar Argentino.
Previously the courts have only proven the existence of flights departing from the ex-ESMA Navy Mechanics School. Monday’s ruling, handed down unanimously by Judges Walter Venditti, Esteban Rodríguez Eggers and Matías Mancini, marks the first time that Argentina’s Judiciary has officially recognised that the death flights took off from other locations.
The Campo de Mayo military garrison was home to one of the dictatorship’s main clandestine detention centres. An estimated 5,000 people passed through the doors of Campo de Mayo, few of whom survived.
Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 people were killed during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
The trial, which began in 2020, focused on the fate of four victims: Adrián Rosace, Adrián Accrescimbeni, Rosa Corvalán and Roberto Arancibia, whose bodies later washed up along the coastline of Buenos Aires Province.
Their bodies were found in Magdalena, Punta Indio and Las Toninas and although they were buried as unknowns, the corpses were identified by the renowned Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF).
According to survivors' accounts, all four victims were held at the clandestine detention centre that operated in Campo de Mayo after their kidnapping. The main witnesses in the trial, which lasted two years, were soldiers who were doing their compulsory military service and revealed what had happened at the military garrison.
Prosecutors Marcelo García Berro and Mercedes Soiza Reilly, as well as the Human Rights Secretariat, the Buenos Aires Province government and legal teams for the families of the four victims had all sought life imprisonment for the accused.
All four defendants, exercising their right to address the court with a closing statement before sentencing, denied the allegations against them and declared that they had participated in a “fight against subversion.”