Army Chief Milani must be investigated for rights abuses, appeals court states
The Tucumán Appeals Court called for the investigation into Army chief General César Milani to continue in a ruling that acknolwedged the probe that was meant to determine whether the controversial military leader is responsible for human rights abuses is currently paralyzed.
The ruling was issued one week after a La Rioja prosecutor called for a halt in the investigation into claims that the military leader was involved in an illegal detention centre during the last military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1976 and 1983.
On Wednesday, the Federal Court in Tucumán — made up by Judges Marina Cossio, Graciela Fernández Vecino and Ernesto Clemente Wayar — ruled that Milani should be investigated for the role played in the forced disappearance of conscript Alberto Agapito Ledo.
Appointed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last year, Milani has become a headache for a government that has been criticized by human rights group, which have long been allies of the administration.
In the ruling that once again puts Milani in the spotlight, the judges affirmed that due to the testimonies of former soldiers and the information that has been published in the press, it was clear that Milani held a hierarchical position and was not simply a rank-and-file servicemember.
The Herald contacted the Defence Ministry but its spokeswoman declined to comment on Milani’s legal situation.
In August, the military official who was Milani’s boss at the time, Esteban Sanguinetti, was arrested for the forced disappearance of 21-year-old Ledo, which occurred on June 17, 1976 in Monteros, Tucumán. Sanguinetti’s indictment was confirmed several days ago by the Appeals Court.
At the time of his disappearance, Ledo was serving compulsory military service in La Rioja, where he lived and studied history when he was transferred to Tucumán province, where the Operation Independence was in force since 1975 with the goal of annihilating left-wing organizations.
“Ledo was Milani’s assistant,” Álvaro “Yopo” Illanes told the Herald. Illanes and Ledo were school friends and they started the compulsory military service simultaneously but Illanes was arrested in March, 1976 and taken to a jail in Chilecito.
There are other conscripts who confirmed that information before the judge and the prosecutor. Prosecutor Carlos Brito, who is in charge of the investigation, declined to comment on the development of the judicial probe.
Ledo disappeared in a cold night when Sanguinetti took him on patrol. His backpack appeared days later in the military encampment. Court sources told the Herald that the conscript who used to drive the van used for patrolling was willing to deliver his testimony before court, which would mean a turning point in the case.
As the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) informed last year, Milani signed a document declaring Ledo a deserter. The human rights organization headed by Journalist Horacio Verbitsky sent a questionnaire to the Army chief and he replied that he did not investigate Ledo’s force disappearance and he only signed the document.
The Tucumán Appeals Court, however, has determined there was enough evidence to fuel the investigation against Milani.
Last week, prosecutor Horacio Salman issued a resolution affirming that Milani had to be cleared of charges for Alfredo Olivera’s detention, which was reported in the early 1980s in the provincial Never Again document, which sought to detail the crimes of the dictatorship.
Olivera was arrested on March 14, 1977, two days after his father had been illegally detained, allegedly by a a death squad. Olivera was 21 when he was arrested, beaten and a day later he was taken before a federal judge to be questioned. Olivera was allegedly transferred by then second lieutenant Milani, whom he identified as one of the men who partook in the raid to arrest his father.
“Milani takes me to that place. He enters the room with me and he accuses me of being a guerrilla member,” Olivera recalled in conversations with the Herald.
“I told the judge’s secretary what had happened to me. I showed him the signs of the beating and the secretary told me that he was not going to register the report because it was going to be worse for me,” Olivera said.
“The secretary asked Milani his name and I did my best not to forget that name,” Olivera added.
In 1979, Olivera was imprisoned at the Penitentiary Unit Number 9 located in the city of La Plata when a judge came and the prisoner told him about Milani, that was the first time he reported Milani.
The next time came after the return of democracy and a truth commission to determine what had happened during the military regime was established.
“I knew this could happen. We are struggling against impunity,” the human rights activist said.
As the Herald reported last year, Milani is also accused of taking part in journalist Plutarco Schaller’s abduction in La Rioja province. But that investigation did not move forward either.
Last year, Milani said that he only learnt what had happened during the dictatorship during the transition years. However, the CELS showed that he served at the engineers Battalion Number 141, which played a key role in the repression in La Rioja. The battalion was also used as a clandestine detention centre.
For their part, Kirchnerite officials affirm that justice has to define Milani’s fate: his legal situation and also his continuity as the head of the Army.