Former Argentine naval officer Alfredo Astiz stood trial with other former officials accused of horrific crimes at the ESMA Naval Mechanics School, where about 5,000 dissidents were held and tortured during the 1976-1983 “Dirty War” dictatorship.
Marking the end of a 22-month trial in which 79 survivors gave evidence, 12 defendants were sentenced to life while four others were punished with between 18 and 25 years in jail.
Astiz, who is known as the “Blond Angel of Death”, was found guilty of torture, murder and forced disappearance.
Hundreds of people gathered on the street outside the packed courtroom, some holding up photographs of the victims of the men inside. The crowd, bundled up against a chilly Buenos Aires night, applauded at the reading out of each sentence.
“We can finally be at peace, knowing that justice has been done,” a woman in the crowd told local television.
Former navy captain Astiz boasted of his dictatorship-era crimes in a magazine interview in 1998, saying he was “the best-trained man in Argentina to kill journalists and politicians.”
“I’m not sorry for anything,” Astiz said in the interview.
He infiltrated human rights groups whose members were later kidnapped and was convicted in absentia in Europe of killing two French nuns held at the ESMA.
“Son of a bitch!” people in the crowd yelled when Astiz’s sentence was pronounced by the judge inside.
When the proceedings were over, the people outside started dancing to live folk music, some weeping and hugging each other.
Defendants included Jorge Acosta, known as “The Tiger,” who said during the two-year trial that “human rights violations are unavoidable during a war.”