Jury rejects impeachment of Judge Hooft
Tribunal votes 8-to-2 against removing jurist accused of dictatorship-era crimes against humanityIn a highly anticipated human rights case, the jury finally acquitted suspended Judge Pedro Cornelio Federico Hooft in an 8-2 vote rejecting his impeachment yesterday for his complicity in crimes against humanity committed in the last military dictatorship in Mar del Plata. Hooft is accused of not having investigated the disappearances of lawyers during an incident known as the Noche de las corbatas (Night of the Neckties), which occurred in 1977 during the last military dictatorship.
Attorney César Raúl Sivo, who represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuits along with national Human Rights Undersecretary Luis Alén, told the Herald that although removing Hooft from the bench was blocked for now, the criminal trial against him would continue.
“We will appeal the case at the provincial courts and if it’s quashed there, then at the national court and then at the inter-American tribunal if need be,” said Sivo.
He believed the reason the impeachment jury ruled the way it did was due to a “a bit of corporate judicial pressure and that they were made to believe the trial was a witch-hunt.” The attorney explained that there was a campaign on part of the the accused’s supporters to make the judges believe that if Hooft were to be impeached, the same would happen to everyone who had even the weakest links to complicity in human rights violations.
“This is a very rare case because we have a crimes against humanity trial against a suspect who at the same time had the jury rule that his crimes aren’t against humanity,” said Sivo.
Mar del Plata Human rights lawyer Guadalupe Godoy — who had helped initiate the proceedings — told the Herald: “Those who comprised this jury understood that if they were to impeach Hooft, it would open up hundreds of cases against the coorperation of the judiciary.”
The jury’s majority opinion was over 1,000 pages long. Those jurists who voted in favour of acquittal were Buenos Aires province Supreme Court vice-president Juan Carlos Hitters, Broad Progressive Front (FAP) provincial deputy Abel Buil, Renewal Front Senator Héctor Vitale and the special judges Atilio Rossello, Eduardo López Wesselhoefft, José Miguel Nemiña, José Luis Núñez and Héctor Martín. Voting in dissent were Victory Front (FpV) provincial lawmakers Senator Luicano Martini and deputy Lucía Portos.
“The four or five special judges somehow understood their responsibility as to rule a bit in solidarity with the accused...while the two politicians who accompanied them did it from a partisan political stance, it wasn’t at all about the evidence, which is more than convincing,” claimed Sivo.
Portos, who had ruled against acquittal, concurred with the attorney’s position: “I think the crimes against humanity were more than proven but also the systemic action and complicity of this judge during the last military dictatorship.”
Hooft’s defence has hinged on the argument that habeas corpus provisions were not in effect during the dictatorship because the Constitution was suspended, thus entitling him to refuse to follow up the several habeas corpus writs he received or submit them for investigation. He is also was accused of having visited clandestine prison centres in Mar del Plata.
When the Herald asked if former public prosecutor Julio César Strassera, who was a judge in the historic trial against the juntas and had in the past month made statements in support of Hooft denying his involvement, could have affected the outcome of the case, Sivo and Godoy both believed it was plausible.
“Yes, that could have been one of the problems, Strassera has a bad memory, he has forgotten that the Conadep documents he read had more than sufficient incriminating evidence against Hooft,” said Godoy. Strassera had claimed that Hooft also helped in the investigation against former Admiral Emilio Massera but Sivo strongly rejected this.
“That’s false, Hooft never intervened... he even claimed he knew him only for three years... maybe he (Strassera) testified in favour out of friendship or maybe even for money,” said Sivo.
In the incident known as the “Night of the Neckties” lawyers Tomás Fresneda (national Human Rights Secretary Martín Fresneda’s father), Norberto Centeno, Salvador Manuel Arestín, Raúl Hugo Alais, Camilo Ricci and Carlos Bozzi, were all kidnapped but only the last two survived.