Sep 4, 2021 - World

Argentine ‘death flights’ trial gets underway

A wire fence with a grid black and white photos in front of a tall building
The Campo de Mayo case builds on the Megacausa ESMA trial of 2017, in which dozens were convicted for kidnapping, torture and forced disappearances. Portraits of missing people were set up outside the court. Photo: Javier González Toledo/AFP via Getty Images

For the first time, Argentina is carrying out a trial against Army members specifically for the so-called vuelos de la muerte, where thousands of dissidents between 1976 and 1983 were drugged, forced onto military aircraft and dumped into the ocean to drown.

Why it matters: The trials show how Latin American countries are still trying to reckon with the toll of the U.S.-backed dictatorships and provide a modicum of justice over 40 years later.

  • With testimony from the trials, this week Argentine authorities located a mass grave site where some bodies that floated back to shore were buried.
  • Five retired military officers are accused of killing three men and one woman whose bodies ended up on the Buenos Aires coast.
  • It is believed there were two “death flights” per week, with aircraft carrying around 25 people each time.
  • The Campo de Mayo court case, so called after the base the flights took off from, is being held on Zoom sessions open to the Argentine public every Monday. The trial started in October after prosecutors compiled more than 400 statements from former officers and witnesses confirming the existence of the flights.

Of note: Similar judicial processes have been partly facilitated by the ongoing declassification of CIA reports in which American diplomats and agents' showed awareness of the tactics.

  • The Chilean, Paraguayan and Uruguayan dictatorships are also known to have carried out “death flights” around the same time.
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