The Federal Oral Court number 4 of San Martín sentenced to life imprisonment five of the six defendants in the trial against humanity for the crimes committed against militants who participated in the Montoneros Counteroffensive during the last ecclesiastical civic-military dictatorship. The Army Intelligence leaders Luis Angel Firpo, Roberto Dambrosi, Jorge Bano, Eduardo Ascheri and Marcelo Cinto Courteaux were found guilty of kidnappings, torture and murders committed against 94 people between 1979 and 1981. For the five, this is their first conviction for crimes against human rights. After medical check-ups, judges Esteban Rodríguez Eggers, Matías Mancini and María Morgese sent them to serve a sentence in a common prison. Jorge Apa, the sixth defendant, was left out of the reading of the verdict for alleged mental health problems that the TOF will confirm after the studies it has already ordered.
Miriam Antonio’s black and white photo fills the entire screen. The one who holds her, brings her closer and then moves her away from her computer camera is Benjamin Antonio, her brother. Ana Raverta is muscular, an indication that she is spending a summer away from San Martín. He has a picture of his mother pinned to his chest, with a red flower at one end. That flower was given to him by Irma Ortolani, mother of Susana Bradrineli, Armando Croatto’s mother-in-law, the day she was in Buenos Aires to testify in the debate, in the first hearings. Irma wove them and distributed them among some witnesses, survivors, family members, when presence was the norm in trials against humanity, in everyone’s daily life. Those who received one showed them pinned next to their heart.
As the journalist Fernando Tebele stated during the live broadcast of the judicial process carried out by the community media La Retaguardia, “the virtual room was filled.” Almost a thousand users joined the transmission of the court to hear the sentence via teleconference. The ruling came after 77 hearings, two years and two months of debate, of which just over half were held in person as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
However, the TOF allowed for the final day a military number of attendance: 21 people. One of them was Virginia Croatto, daughter of Armando and Susana, who celebrated outside after the verdict. “It was a trial that cost us a lot of work, a long time and a long wait. But we feel that some of the respect that the court had for the case and the victims began to repair,” he later said. He assured that relatives and survivors “had a hard time giving the public discussion about our right to have justice based on what the Counteroffensive had been” and that “this sentence is an open door to continue reflecting on what it was.”
In that sense, his plaintiff attorney, Pablo Llonto, indicated that he hopes to find in the grounds of the sentence an “explanation” about what the Montoneros Counteroffensive was to “remove the backpack of ‘madness’ with which he has always carried”. After more than 200 testimonies that described in detail the reasons of those who participated in the operations and their objectives, “there should no longer be any doubts that it was about the exercise of the right to resistance. They were a group of Argentines who decided to return to the country to resist a dictatorship ”, he concluded.
After qualifying the events under analysis as “crimes against humanity” and unanimously rejecting a series of requests from the defendants’ defense attorneys, all attempts to obtain impunity, the convictions arrived. Dambrosi’s life imprisonment was celebrated by Luciana Milberg with a half smile on her mouth and a photo of her uncle, Raúl Milberg, one of the intelligence chief’s victims, hugging his chest. When he heard that their fate was the same, Ascheri shook his head and made a gesture of pity. The list of victims whose abductions and torture he was found guilty of was long, so at one point the alleged punishment gave way to anger. In turn, Bano listened undaunted to the “life imprisonment” and also the events for which he was convicted. Like Ascheri and Dambrosi, he connected to the transmission from his home, in a room that he specially prepared with an Argentine flag, faded and poorly hung, in the background. At the end of the sentence, the President of the Court reported that after conducting “corresponding medical studies” to determine if they were fit, they would be transferred to serve sentences in ordinary prisons.
Firpo and Cinto Courteaux heard their sentences from the Campo de Mayo and Ezeiza prisons respectively. Cinco Courteaux had been a fugitive until a few years ago and Firpo violated the house arrest he enjoyed at the end of last year, pending a sentence in the debate that has just ended. All five received convictions for the first time.
A community for death
“They were a criminal enterprise, they acted side by side. They were the community for death ”, defined the prosecutor Gabriela Sosti about the group of intelligence leaders tried and convicted.
All were military officers with high command in Intelligence areas of the Army, Battalion 601, Battalion 201 and G2 of the Military Institute Command. Eduardo Ascheri and Jorge Bano served as chiefs in the Intelligence Department (G2) of the Military Institutes Command. The first directed the Plans Division; the second, that of Operations. Marcelo Cinto Courteaux was chief of the First Execution Section of Intelligence Detachment 201. Roberto Dambrosi was in charge of the Psychological Activities Company of the 601st Intelligence Battalion, while Luis Angel Firpo commanded the Counterintelligence headquarters and also the Security division. Jorge Apa, who was left out of this reading and will be analyzed for the next ten days, was head of the Subversive Terrorist Intelligence division, which worked within the Interior Department of the Intelligence Headquarters II of the Army General Staff.
The five were convicted of kidnapping, torture and, in many cases, homicides, of militants who, between 1979 and 1981, organized from exile to return to the country and try to put an end to the dictatorship. Of 94 cases of kidnapping and torture that were analyzed in the trial, 12 culminated in homicides; another 70 in disappearances; the rest in survival. Most of the victims went through clandestine centers that operated in Campo de Mayo.
“When in our plea we said that this could be the most important sentence after the Trial of the Boards, we said it because of what it could contribute to the whole country in terms of analysis of the role of Intelligence in the repression,” analyzed Pablo Llonto, lawyer complainant. “We hope, and we believe that this will be the case, that the fundamentals explain that the entire intelligence chain of the dictatorship, from the highest hierarchy, which was Headquarters II of the Army, to that of the Garrison of the place where they take the comrades to clandestinely arrested, they were responsible for the crimes. And that it stops happening as it has been happening until now, that only individual characters were prosecuted, “he continued.
In less than an hour, the court concluded the trial. But the zoom of the transmission remained full several minutes after the reading of the verdict. Relatives who greet each other, who cry, who laugh. Timidly, they begin to sing “how it will happen to the Nazis, where they go we will look for them.” Dambrosi, Ascheri and Bano are no longer connected. The cameras that previously had Firpo and Cinto Courteaux from prison showed two empty chairs.
Apa and his strategy to get away
The day of sentencing in the trial against humanity for the crimes against the Montoneros Counteroffensive started out in shock, loaded with a surprise and outrage that the defender of the accused Jorge Apa, Hernán Cariglino, generated in the last hours of yesterday. “With a piece of paper”, as defined by the prosecutor Gabriela Sosti to the brief report in which a psychiatrist assured that the accused suffered from “progressive cognitive deterioration”, Cariglino requested the suspension of the process for his client. “He should have raised it weeks before, since a painting like the one he claims to have does not appear overnight. What he did is a maneuver in bad faith that disrespects the justice process, the parties, and the profession, ”the prosecutor repudiated.
The representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and all the complaints – Ciro Annicchiarico for the National Human Rights Secretariat; Verónica Bogliano for the Buenos Aires Undersecretary of Human Rights, Rafael Flores and Pablo Llonto on behalf of victims and relatives – described Apa’s proposal as a “delaying strategy.” “They stir the pot, scratch the bottom and take out the last alternative that can help them get out. Because what they never wanted nor do they want now, in the end, is to show their faces, “concluded Sosti in dialogue with this newspaper.