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Milani case: condemnation and harassment

César Milani (centre) is accused of human rights violations in Tucumán and La Rioja provinces.
By Luciana Bertoia & Santiago del Carril
Herald Staff
Rights group criticizes prosecutor for wanting to clear the military leader of charges

General César Milani, the controversial head of the Army appointed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner last year, continues dividing waters between the government and its allies, the human rights organizations. The Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) yesterday reported the investigation for two cases of illegal detentions in Tucumán as biased.

“La Rioja’s Prosecutor Horacio Salman has done his best to promote impunity,” CELS executive director Gastón Chillier yesterday told this newspaper.

As the Herald reported, Salman requested Judge Daniel Herrera Piedrabuena to drop the legal investigation against the head of the Army for allegedly taking part in the illegal detentions of Pedro and Alfredo Olivera in 1977 in La Rioja province.

Salman was the third prosecutor in charge of the case and in only three months he decided to request a halt in the probe, taking for granted Milani’s words and turning a deaf ear to the dictatorship survivor Alfredo Olivera, who in conversation with the Herald expressed his disappointment over the prosecutor’s decision.

“If the request issued by the prosecutor makes progress, the Argentine state can be held responsible of failing to comply with its international obligation to investigate and punish these crimes,” the human rights organization, which used to be one of the government’s top allies, yesterday said in a press release.

The CELS also urged the judge not to accept the dismissal request issued by Salman. It also requested Attorney-General Alejandra Gils Carbó to take action against him.

Olivera’s case

Alfredo Olivera’s father was abducted on March 12, 1977. Two days after, he was released and his 21-year-old son Alfredo was kidnapped and taken to the Institute of Social Rehabilitation, which operated as a clandestine detention centre during the last dictatorship.

As he told the Herald, Olivera was reportedly taken before Judge Roberto Catalán to testify by then second lieutenant Milani. He remembered Milani’s face because he had seen him at home when a death squad seized his father and at the judge’s office he heard the young military officer telling the judge’s secretary that his surname was Milani.

“I did my best to remember that name,” Olivera told this newspaper. He first reported Milani in 1979 and then in the 1980s before a truth commission. Milani’s name appears in the provincial Never Again document thanks to Olivera’s statement. But prosecutor Salman did not pay attention to Olivera’s words nor to the Never Again brief.

Irregularities

In June, Fernández de Kirchner decided to reshuffle the military top brass and appointed Milani as the head of the Army. Opposition emerged as he had already been reported as one of the officers involved in Operation Independence. Then he was linked to Alberto Agapito Ledo’s forced disappearance in Tucumán province in 1976.

Alfredo Olivera, who repeatedly had denounced Milani, appeared before the prosecutor who at that time presided the investigation in La Rioja, to ratify his complaint for his illegal arrest.

Salman took charge of the case in February, right after Milani had visited the province to make himself available to answer questions from Judge Herrera Piedrabuena in what could be seen as an attempt to clear his name.

According to CELS, Salman took Milani’s word and ruled in his favour. Milani said he could not have taken part in the raid at Olivera’s house because he was under arrest at the battalion.

The prosecutor also argued that the reason Olivera’s testimony could not be considered was because he was the victim of the case. That decision contradicts jurisprudence that establishes that direct victims and their relatives can be taken as “necessary witnesses” in cases linked to the clandestine repression unleashed during the last dictatorship as there is no other evidence.

Salman also said that Milani could not have been aware that he was transferring a political prisoner and that he could not have led a raid as he was a 22-year-old officer. However, the CELS made it clear that young officers also had a leading role during era of state terrorism.

The human rights organization also complained that the prosecutor did not take into account how prisoners were taken to Catalán’s office before being sent to a legal jail. For them, that was part of a repressive circuit and that is what Olivera has reported over the past decades.

Risks

Since the late president Néstor Kirchner took office in 2003, human rights have taken centre stage. However, Milani’s appointment was something more than a headache for the government.

For CELS, if Milani goes unpunished, this could be the prologue of a new era of impunity in the country.

“If the state does not investigate, it will be leaving the victims stranded and endorsing the worst recoil since the reopening of human rights violation cases in the country,” the group warned.

Past controversial appointments

There have been several military leaders that were accused of committing crimes against humanity who were appointed in past governments before President Fernández de Kirchner’s administration. One example, is former UCR president Raúl Alfonsín’s army chief of staff Héctor Ríos Ereñú who was sentenced to a life prison last December, 2013. Another is the appointment of Admiral Enrique Molina Pico in former president Carlos Saúl Menem’s government. Former president Fernando de la Rúa also had Ricardo Brinzoni as the head of the Army though he faced accusations of having taken part in a massacre in Chaco province in 1976. With the reopening of the crimes against humanity trials in 2003, CELS and other human rights organizations want the government to break from this past tradition and implement a zero tolerance policy to any government appointments that involve accusations of crimes against humanity.

@lucianabertoia @delcarril
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