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Life Terms Sought for 5 Ex-Leaders of Argentina

Times Staff Writer

A federal prosecutor asked Wednesday for life imprisonment for two former Argentine presidents and three other military leaders he accused of “crimes against humanity.”

Climaxing the prosecution case in a human rights trial unprecedented in Latin America, prosecutor Julio Strassera sought prison terms of 10 to 15 years for four other military defendants.

The nine officers, members of three successive military juntas that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983, looked on grimly while Strassera completed the prosecution’s closing argument.

They are accused of kidnaping, torture and murder in connection with the disappearance of more than 9,000 people in Argentina’s so-called dirty war against Marxist terrorists. The repression of urban and rural guerrillas began after a military coup in 1976 and continued for five years.

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Strassera said in his summation, which lasted for six days, that the nine officers are guilty of “the greatest genocide in the history of our country.”

” . . . I want to use a phrase which does not belong to me, because it belongs to the Argentine people: nunca mas (never more).”

Strassera asked for life imprisonment, the most severe sentence possible under Argentine law, for Gen. Jorge R. Videla, Adm. Emilio E. Massera and air force Lt. Gen. Orlando R. Agosti, who seized power in 1976, and for Gen. Roberto E. Viola and Adm. Armando Lambruschini of the junta that took over in 1981. Videla headed the first junta as president and Viola the second. All five officers are accused of murder, kidnaping, torturing and other offenses.

Strassera sought a sentence of 15 years for Lt. Gen. Omar D. Graffigna, the air force member of the Viola junta.

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Members of a third junta, which ruled from the end of 1981 until mid-1982, were charged not so much with offenses alleged to have been committed while in power as for those allegedly committed while they were key subordinates of Videla and Viola. Strassera asked for a 15-year sentence for Gen. Leopoldo F. Galtieri, who headed the third junta; 12 years for Adm. Jorge I. Anaya, and 10 years for Lt. Gen. Basilio Lami Dozo.

When Strassera finished, the courtroom crowd burst into applause. Videla glared at the spectators, and Viola muttered “sons of bitches” as police officers hustled the nine defendants from the courtroom.

Supporters of President Raul Alfonsin, who personally ordered the trial, have sought to portray it as an attempt by a young democracy to lay to rest its tragic past and, at the same time, to solidify the rule of law in a country repeatedly exposed to military authoritarianism over the past half-century.

Most Truculent Defendant

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Alfonsin’s opponents have denounced the trial as a “political circus,” a cruel “Nuremberg in reverse” against the victors of a struggle that the armed forces never sought but had to win as the only alternative to Marxist chaos.

Videla, the most truculent of the nine defendants, has insisted that no civilian court has any right to try him. He refused to give pretrial depositions or to hire a lawyer. He wore civilian clothing and appeared to read a book during the prosecutors’ closing argument after the court ruled that he could not, as he had asked, boycott the proceedings.

The other defendants, except for Galtieri, wore their uniforms.

Strassera based the prosecution case on the research of a blue-ribbon presidential commission that documented (in a report entitled “Nunca Mas”) the disappearance of more than 9,000 people during the years of military rule. In 17 weeks of daily hearings, he presented 833 witnesses in 709 specific cases and excused more than 1,000 other witnesses as repetitious.

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The accused all exercised their right not to be present in court before the prosecution began its summation. When they finally appeared last week, their presence in court marked a moment in Argentine history--for those who believe their actions were justifiable in light of the guerrilla threat and for those who believe they are guilty as charged.

Poll Finds Them Guilty

Of 400 Buenos Aires residents questioned in a poll published here Wednesday, 89% said they thought the former commanders were guilty.

Individual defense lawyers and public defenders appointed for Videla are to begin their rebuttal Sept. 27. In comments made in the course of the trial, they have insisted that the degree of human rights violations has been overstated by unreliable witnesses seeking revenge against the former commanders. They insist that no illegal orders originated with the juntas and that any abuses were the work of overzealous subordinates.

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After the defense rests, the six federal judges, who also make up the jury, will reread the lengthy documentation before issuing their verdict. That may not come before December.


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