A.P. is reporting today that five former members of Argentina’s military were convicted of murdering three Italians during what is known as the “dirty war” that occurred in Argentina in the 1970’s. Under the dictatorship of the junta, about 9,000 Argentines vanished, or “were disappeared” as the government undertook a brutal campaign of repression against leftist and other anti-government activists. International human rights groups put that figure at 30,000.
The Italian court ruled in the case against Jorge Eduardo Acosta, Alfredo Ignacio Astiz, Hector Antonio Febres, Antonio Vanek, and Jorge Raul Vildoza. The convictions for kidnapping, torture and murder garned them sentences of life imprisonment. All were tried in absentia according to Italian law. The first four are under arrest for related crimes during that period in Argentina, however, it remains unclear whether Buenos Aires will hand them over to Italian authorities. The fifth man, Mr. Vidoza, remains at large.
Although the validity of trials in absentia have been long debated, they are sometimes useful undertakings, as in this case, when the stories of the victims can be told with reasonable accuracy and the world’s attention can be brought to bear on the most heinous of crimes. The trial in absentia of Pol Pot for the unfathomable cimes of the the “killing fields” in Cambodia is another example. He later died, making a live trial impossible. This is the second time that Italian courts have ruled on the Argentine dirty war. Perhaps if more national courts conducted trials in this vein against the atrocities of tyrants and their lieutenants, fewer such crimes would be committed.