Julio 5, 2007

Ex-police chaplain goes on trial for deaths, disappearances during Argentine dictatorship

The Associated Press
Published: July 5, 2007

LA PLATA, Argentina: A former police chaplain went on trial Thursday, the first Roman Catholic cleric to be prosecuted on charges of complicity in deaths and disappearances during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship.

Christian Von Wernich, 69, wore a bulletproof vest and a priest's collar as he appeared behind a reinforced glass shield in a federal courthouse in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province.

The shouts of "assassin!" from some 200 leftists and human rights activists protesting outside could be heard in the chamber as a clerk read charges accusing Von Wernich of collaborating with state security agents and covering up crimes in seven deaths and 42 cases of illegal imprisonment.

The prosecution said it would call survivors to testify that Von Wernich collaborated with police torturers and provided security agents with information he obtained from prisoners while providing "spiritual assistance" at clandestine detention centers.

Von Wernich, who was arrested in 2003, made no statement Thursday. His lawyer has vehemently rejected the charges.

Nearly 13,000 people are officially listed as killed or missing in the dictatorship's crackdown on dissent, known as the "Dirty War." Human rights groups say the toll is closer to 30,000.

Scores of former state security agents and their civilian allies have been called to testify in investigations after the Supreme Court in 2005 annulled a pair of 1980s amnesty laws sheltering agents of the dictatorship from prosecution.

In the last trial held at the federal courthouse in La Plata, former police investigator Miguel Etchecolatz was convicted of genocide last year and sentenced to life imprisonment. That trial was marred by the disappearance of the chief prosecution witness, torture survivor Jorge Julio Lopez, who remains missing.

The head of the three-judge panel, Carlos Rozanski, said the court was taking unprecedented steps to protect prosecution witnesses in Von Wernich's trial.

Posted by marga at Julio 5, 2007 7:19 PM | TrackBack
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