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Argentine suspects ordered released

By Jeannette Neumann
Associated Press / December 19, 2008
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BUENOS AIRES - An Argentine court yesterday ordered that six former naval officers accused of torturing and killing dissidents during the 1976-1983 dictatorship be freed on bail, including two of the most notorious suspects.

A three-judge panel ruled that the former officers' trials had taken too long and authorities must release the suspects, including Alfredo Astiz, the so-called "Angel of Death" accused in the disappearance of two French nuns and the founder of the famed human rights group, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

Also to be released on bail is Jorge Acosta, who was convicted in Italy in absentia for the killings of three Italians during the military crackdown on leftist dissidents that became known as Argentina's "dirty war."

The ruling sparked outrage among activists who said it reflected the Argentine judicial system's incapacity to effectively and quickly try war crimes suspects.

The ruling brings "shame upon Argentina, humanity, and also our judicial system," said President Cristina Fernandez, who has made human rights a pillar of her presidency. Fernandez made the comments at the former detention center known as the Navy Mechanics School, where Astiz and Acosta allegedly orchestrated the torture and death of hundreds of the estimated 5,000 dissidents who passed through its halls.

But activists cautioned that it was not a landmark decision because the six former navy officers are still on trial, even if they are not in prison.

"Their crimes are still as atrocious and horrible if they're sitting at a cafe in Buenos Aires or sitting in jail since they're being charged with the most serious offenses that took place in the darkest period of recent Argentine history," said Tamara Taraciuk, Argentine expert for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Prosecutor Raul Plee said he would appeal the case, according to local news agency Diarios y Noticias.

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