By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Two suspected “death pilots” have been arrested and are being detained for their alleged involvement in the murders of 950 people during Argentina’s “dirty war” in the 1970s and 80s.
A Spanish judge ordered former Argentine Navy Lt. Julio Alberto Poch to remain in jail until a decision is made about whether he should be extradited to Argentina to be prosecuted.
Poch was arrested in Valencia, Spain after police found an Argentine army pistol in his home. Poch holds Dutch and Argentine nationality and works for the airline Transavia. Poch reportedly told airline colleagues that he was involved in the death flights in 2007. An international warrant for Poch’s arrest was issued in March of this year. A spokesperson said that the extradition decision could take several months.
In Argentina, police arrested former Navy Captain Emir Sisul Hess last week in the town of Bariloche, near the Chilean border. An initial hearing was held on Friday. Sisul also reportedly discussed his involvement in the “death flights” with colleagues. He was a helicopter pilot in Argentina from 1976-77.
Argentine federal Judge Sergio Gabriel Torres is pursuing the extradition of Poch and handling the arrest of Sisul Hess. The men are suspected not just of drugging, blindfolding, and dumping people into the sea or the Rio Plata, but also of being involved in murders at the Argentine Marine Academy. Poch denies any involvement, saying that “it is practically impossible” and that he was a jet fighter at the time. Sisul has also denied the allegations.
Executed prisoners included students, labor leaders, intellectuals and leftists who were politically opposed to the dictatorship. Most of the people were snatched off of the street or arrested and held without trial in secret prisons and subject to torture. As many as 30,000 people disappeared or were held in secret prisons during the dictatorship.
There have been four major “dirty war” convictions. The first was the 1984 conviction of Ex-President Jorge Videla for the murder, torture, and detention of thousands. He is currently serving a life sentence. In 2005, an ex-naval officer was sentenced to 640 years in prison for his involvement in the “death flights.” In 2006, an ex-police chief was sentenced to life in prison for human rights abuses and earlier this year Ex-General Santiago Omar Riveros was sentenced to life in prison for kidnap, torture, and murder.
Hebe de Bonafini, the well known president of the Association of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children went missing during the “dirty war” said that she found no joy in the arrests. She urged the government to find other criminals from the period, “there are several. They are not the only ones.”
For more information, please see:
Aljazeera – Argentine Held Over “Death Flights” – 7 October 2009
BBC – Jail Ruling for “Dirty War” Pilot – 6 October 2009
CNN International – Argentine “Death Pilot” Held In Spain – 6 October 2009
Dutch News – Pilot Suspected of Role in 950 Murders – 6 October 2009
United Press International – “Death Flight” Pilot’s Release Bid Denied – 6 October 2009