Argentine priest gets life term for ‘dirty war’ crimes

source: Yahoo News, Oct 10, 2007

Buenos Aires, Oct 10 (IANS) An Argentine priest has been sentenced to
life in prison for complicity in killings and torture carried out by
the military regime during 1976-1983, which is blamed for between
15,000 and 30,000 deaths.


A court in La Plata, southeast of Buenos Aires, found Catholic priest
Christian Von Wernich guilty on seven counts of homicide, 31 counts of
torture and 42 of false imprisonment, the Spanish news agency EFE
reported Wednesday.


The first clergyman to be tried for 'dirty war' offences, Von Wernich
was the chaplain of the Buenos Aires provincial police when the force
was under the command of the late Gen. Ramon Camps, convicted in 1986
for crimes against humanity.


Several survivors of the repression testified that the priest, in
addition to being present when detainees were interrogated under
torture in secret prisons, accompanied paramilitary units on kidnapping
missions and witnessed executions by firing squad.


Von Wernich, 68, did not speak until Tuesday's final session, when he
cited biblical passages to call for reconciliation and condemned his
trial as a violation of the principle of equal justice under the law,
likening the process to the Nuremburg Trials of Nazi leaders.


The reading of the verdict was delayed by what turned out to be a
phoney bomb threat that forced authorities to evacuate the courthouse.


The courtroom was filled with applause and shouts of joy when the verdict was finally read.


Last year, the same court handed life sentence to a former senior
police officer in the first dirty war trial since Argentina's Congress
and Supreme Court overturned 1980s amnesty laws that had protected more
than 1,000 members and agents of the military regime from prosecution.

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