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Argentina court sentences Catholic priest to life in prison for 'Dirty War' crimes

[JURIST] An Argentinean court sentenced former military chaplain Christian von Wernich [Trial Watch profile] Tuesday to life imprisonment for participating in seven homicides, 34 cases of torture and 42 cases of kidnapping during the Argentina's Dirty War [Global Security backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Von Wernich is the third person to be convicted of crimes against humanity after the Argentinean Supreme Court declared amnesty laws passed in the 1990s to be unconstitutional; he is also the first member of the clergy to face trial. During the Dirty War of 1976-1983, between 9,000 and 30,000 people were killed or disappeared, allegedly with tacit support from the Catholic Church. Over 50 witnesses testified against von Wernich, who was accused of using his visits to prisoners in clandestine detention centers as a method of gathering information for the military police. Von Wernich denied that he ever abused his position as a priest. The Argentinean government expressed its satisfaction [La Nacion report] with the decision on Wednesday, and Bishop Martin Elizalde circulated a letter of apology [La Nacion report] on behalf of the church. AP has more. La Nacion has local coverage.

Last year, former chief police investigator Miguel Etchecolatz [JURIST report] and former police officer Julio Simon were convicted of crimes against humanity during the Dirty War. Additionally, a federal court revoked the pardons [JURIST report] of former military president Jorge Videla and former naval officer Emilio Eduardo Massera [Trial Watch profiles] in April. Among those facing trials in the near future are former president Reynaldo Bignone [JURIST report] and former naval officer Hector Febres. Ricardo Miguel Cavallo [JURIST news archives], another former naval officer, faces charges in Spain.

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