Notes From the Margins…

The ‘Angel of Death’ Goes Down

  • October 27, 2011
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Alfredo Astiz, a former commander in the Argentinian navy known as the ‘Blond Angel of Death’ for his involvement in kidnappings and murders during the Argentinian dictatorship, has just been sentenced to life imprisonment.

Astiz was responsible for kidnapping hundreds of leftists and human rights activists, many of whom were never seen alive again.   He also  worked as an undercover agent, and successfully infiltrated the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the grassroots protest group formed by relatives of Argentina’s ‘disappeared’.  As a result of these activities, the founder of the Mothers, Azucena Villaflor de Vicenti and various women were kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Astiz’s victims also included  two French nuns, Alice Domon and Léonie Duquet,  who he kidnapped and personally tortured in December 1977 at the torture/extermination camp at the Navy Mechanics School ESMA, before they too were killed.  Now he has finally got what he should have got a long time ago, after a 22-month trial.  According to the current conception of justice that has prevailed since 9/11 however, and which is being promoted so avidly by the world’s leading democracy,  by NATO and an alarmingly high number of media and political commentators, trials with juries, lawyers and judges often seem quaint and irrelevant.

By today’s standards,  Astiz might have been whisked away to a detention camp and without anyone even knowing what the evidence was against him.   Or perhaps he would have been simply blown up by a drone,  shot dead in his pyjamas, or sodomised and finished off with a bullet in the head.

Extra-judicial murder was of course something the Argentinian dictatorship specialised in.    Astiz, like many of the officers who have been convicted for crimes during the Argentine ‘Dirty War’ – and like many of those who promote the use of exceptional methods during the current ‘war on terror’ – argued that he was engaged in a ‘new kind of war’ in which conventional methods were not applicable.

This defence was not accepted by the Argentine Supreme Court, which in 2003 overruled the amnesty granted under the Carlos Menem presidency that had exempted Astiz and others from prosecution.   And it was not accepted by the court, which sentenced Astiz and eleven other army and police officers to life imprisonment.

These sentences were greeted with jubilation both inside and outside the court, after a trial whose witnesses included 70 survivors of the dictatorship.


Human rights campaigners react on hearing the sentences


The result is a triumph for Argentinian democracy and a salutary reminder that justice can still be served with due process,  even for the worst crimes, when the will is present.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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