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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CELS to further incriminate Milani in Senate

By Luciana Bertoia & Santiago del Carril
Herald Staff

Recently revealed case suggests head of the Army had decision-making power

The promotion of Army Chief-of-Staff César Milani’s from major-general to lieutenant-general will be discussed today in the Senate.

Even though a new case of human rights violations that has roots for Milani in La Rioja province was revealed, the Kirchnerite administration seems determined to move forward with Milani’s promotion, despite this denunciation and the opposition of some human rights organizations.

Sources told the Herald yesterday that the the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) will be providing more evidence that links Milani with crimes against humanity during the dictatorship at tomorrow’s hearing.

CELS, which first derailed the promotion by presenting information that seemed to link Milani with human rights abuses, continues to oppose the promotion, executive director Gastón Chillier told the Herald yesterday.

Although CELS supports the idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty, Milani has become a political issue.

“Given all the evidence against him, he does not fulfill the conditions to hold such a post,” Chillier said.

Ten days ago, CELS delivered a letter to the members of the Senate’s Appointments Committee, in which a new case involving Milani was mentioned. Repeated requests to obtain this information directly from CELS were repeatedly rebuffed.

Needless to say, the new information CELS will present today could further compromise Milani’s promotion.

A new case

The case involves Plutarco Schaller and his son, Oscar Plutarco Schaller, who were abducted and ferociously tortured during the last dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Plutarco Schaller was abducted in the first hours of the March 24, 1976 military coup while he was working at daily El Independiente’s newsroom, which went through a similar process to the Papel Prensa newsprint supplier, when military officers forced its owners to transfer ownership.

After days of torture, he had to be taken to La Rioja’s Hospital Plaza. One night, the journalist heard strange noises — people running or shooting — and a young man appeared.

“Here is the bastard,” the young military officer said to Plutarco Schaller, who was lying in bed. In the morning, he asked who it was: “Oh, that was lieutenant Milani.”

Schaller, who is now 85, spent years as a forcibly disappeared person until he was released and emigrated to Cuba.

Almost at the same time that Milani appeared at Schaller’s hospital room, his 18-year-old son was abducted.

“I cannot forget that night,” Gabriela Schaller, Plutarco Schaller’s daughter, who was then seven years old, told the Herald. She also said that her family had suffered at least five police raids and had been constantly harassed by the dictatorship’s death squads, who abducted her parents and elder brother.

Months ago, Oscar Plutarco recognized Milani as one of the military officers responsible of his illegal detention at La Rioja’s Engineers Battalion Number 141, which was reported to have operated as a clandestine detention centre during the regime.

“My brother didn’t ask for his name when Milani told him that he would be free after days of torture,” Gabriela said. But when the Milani affair first began in July, he immediately remembered his face.

His father appeared before a judge to report his ordeal during the last dictatorship months ago. He mentioned Milani’s arrival at his hospital room and also spoke about his son’s release. Gabriela complained that his brother had not been called to court to testify.

“Our case is important because it proves that Milani served in La Rioja province during the dictatorship. He denied that, but his alibi is over,” Gabriela said.

Schaller’s case is not the first that involves Milani in the repression in that province. In 1984, Milani was mentioned in La Rioja’s “Never Again” brief as one of the people who took part in the kidnapping of Alfredo Ramón Olivera.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that he signed the declaration of conscript Alberto Agapito Ledo, labelling him a deserter, when in fact he was forcibly disappeared in June, 1976.

Today, human rights organizations and leftist organizations are expected to protest outside Congress to show their disapproval of Milani’s promotion.

However, the human rights movement does not have a homogeneous position. Some leaders back Milani and others prefer to be cautious.

“Milani should step aside and let judges investigate. If there is nothing he can be blamed for, then he should become the head of the Army,” Gabriela Schaller said yesterday. “But the courts have to investigate first.”

@LucianaBertoia @delcarril

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