Wednesday, January 12, 2005

'Dirty War' suspect hospitalized in Spain

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A former Argentine military officer fainted in his Spanish jail cell Wednesday and was taken to hospital, a National Court spokeswoman told CNN.

The incident came just two days before the scheduled start of a trial accusing him of human rights abuses during the former Argentine military government.

The former officer, Adolfo Scilingo, had been on a hunger strike since December.

After fainting in the Alcala-Meco prison east of Madrid, he was taken to the nearby Principe de Asturias Hospital in the town of Alcala de Henares.

There was no immediate decision whether the trial, due to start Friday at National Court in Madrid, would be delayed.

Scilingo is charged with the crimes of genocide, terrorism and torture under the former Argentine military governments from 1976 to 1983. He was to be the first Argentine to face trial in Spain on such charges.

Scilingo a few years ago traveled to Spain from Argentina ostensibly to cooperate with officials, who jailed him on suspicion of human rights abuses.

It was Spanish investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon who ordered Scilingo's arrest. Garzon also unsuccessfully sought extradition to Spain of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, after ordering Pinochet's arrest in London in 1998.

Scilingo had told Time Magazine in 1995 that he helped "disappear" suspected leftists by throwing them from planes into the ocean.

"They were unconscious. We stripped them, and when the flight commander gave the order, we opened the door and threw them out, naked, one by one," the magazine reported. "That is the story, and nobody can deny it."

The Argentine truth commission's 1984 report named 8,961 people who "disappeared" under the military rule.

But human rights groups estimate up to 30,000 people were killed or "disappeared" in the Argentine military's war against leftist guerrillas and their sympathizers.

Many were tortured, drugged and thrown from aircraft into the River Plate or the Atlantic Ocean.

Although some high-level officials were criminally prosecuted in Argentina in the 1980s for these abuses, the country's amnesty laws protected most of the military.

Those who were convicted were pardoned by then-President Carlos Menem in 1989 and 1990.