February 13, 1998
Legacy of 'Dirty War' leaves stigma on Argentine military
Army chief complains of 'state of permanent suspicion'

                      BUENOS AIRES, Argentina
                      (CNN) -- Argentina's so-called "Dirty War," during which military
                      forces kidnapped and killed perhaps as many as 30,000 people
                      thought to be enemies of the state, has been over for 15 years.

                      Its poisonous legacy, however, continues to live on and on.

                      Argentine Army Chief Gen. Martin Balza, speaking at a ceremony
                      Thursday, lamented that because of deep-seated public mistrust
                      from that era, members of the military "live in a state of permanent
                      suspicion and blame."

                      "How long must we bear a stigma that censures even thousands of
                      officers and enlisted men who had not even joined the army then?"
                      he said.

                      But ghosts of the past continue to rise. On Friday, Buenos Aires
                      newspapers quoted an Argentine judge as saying that four more
                      Swiss bank accounts have been uncovered in the names of military
                      officers connected to human rights abuses during the Dirty War.
                      Two similar accounts were previously discovered.

                      One of those officers who allegedly had a Swiss account, Navy Lt.
                      Cmdr. Alfredo Astiz, admitted in a recent magazine interview that
                      he was involved in politically-motivated kidnappings and killings. He
                      was subsequently stripped of his rank and retirement benefits.

                      A debate over blanket amnesties

                      Astiz's admissions have added fuel to a growing debate in
                      Argentina's Congress over whether to lift blanket amnesties
                      given to military personnel involved in human rights abuses
                      during the Dirty War, which took place between 1976 and
                      1983 when a military junta governed Argentina.

                      Human rights groups say that during those years, as many as
                      30,000 people were killed or "disappeared" into torture centers,
                      never to be seen again. About 15,000 cases have been
                      officially documented.

                      In 1987, civilian President Raul Alfonsin gave amnesty to those who
                      were deemed to have been "obeying orders" during the Dirty War.
                      Current President Carlos Menem went further in 1989, pardoning
                      top junta leaders who had been imprisoned for human rights abuses.

                      Balza, who had never been linked to human rights violations, was put
                      in charge of the army in 1991. Four years later, he drew
                      international praise when he apologized for "illegal means," including
                      torture, that were used to extract information from prisoners who
                      were later killed.

                      Humiliating budget cuts for once-mighty military

                      In his speech this week, at a ceremony commemorating the
                      anniversary of a battle in Argentina's war of independence, Balza
                      issued another mea culpa.

                      "We resorted to sinister procedures that deprived relatives of the
                      possibility to bury their dead," Balza said. "The violation of human
                      rights is always dreadful, but more so when it is condoned by the

                      But despite those apologies -- and promises from Balza that the
                      army will never again interfere with the country's democratic
                      processes as it has so often in this century -- the once-mighty
                      military has suffered from humiliating budget cuts.

                      The military draft, too, has been scrapped, and some politicians have
                      openly referred to the armed forces as "useless" for losing a battle
                      with Britain over the Falkland Islands (which the Argentines refer to
                      as the Islas Malvinas) in the early 1980s.

                      Balza complains that members of the armed forces are being treated
                      poorly in comparison to civilian members of the junta government
                      and leftist guerrillas from the 1970s, some of whom now hold seats
                      in Congress.

                      "How can we educate and train an institution while being repudiated
                      for the unworthy behavior of a very few?" Balza said.