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Police Disrupt Start of Argentine Human Rights Trial

September 26, 1986

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ The trial of two retired army generals and five former police officials for alleged human rights abuses was disrupted when four of the defendants shouted that the proceedings were a sham.

″They aren’t providing us enough constitutional guarantees 3/8″ ex-police Cmdr. Miguel Etchecolatz cried out Thursday as guards removed him from the Federal Criminal Court of Appeals trial chamber.

Similar outcries followed from Cmdrs. Alberto Rousse and Hector Vides and police physician Sgt. Jorge Berges, and they were removed by guards from the courtroom.

The seven defendants are on trial for the alleged abduction, torture and murder of suspected leftists in a harsh anti-subversion campaign under Argentina’s former military dictatorship.

Since attendance at the trial is voluntary, Gens. Ramon Camps and Pablo Richieri were not present Thursday. Only Cmdr. Norberto Cozzani, who remained silent throughout the session, was not ejected.

The arrest and prosecution of Camps, 59, was ordered by elected center-left President Raul Alfonsin shortly after his December 1983 inauguration ended nearly eight years of rightist military rule.

Camps, who suffers from cancer and is in a military hospital, is described by human rights groups and survivors of the repression as one of the most extreme participants in a campaign known as ″The Dirty War.″

He and Richieri successively headed the provincial police force during the dictatorship.

More than a dozen army and police officials, all called by the defense, testified Thursday. They consistently maintained they did not participate in nor witness any atrocities and that official codes of conduct were never violated.

One witness, Army Col. Rodolfo Anibal Campos, told the court that participants in the campaign often dressed as civilians. ″Some police couldn’t use uniforms because of the work they were doing,″ he said.

A government investigatory commission has documented 9,000 cases of people, many believed to be innocent of any subversive activity, who were abducted, tortured and disappeared during the ″Dirty War.″

Some human rights groups put the total as high as 30,000.

The trial began Tuesday with two days of closed-door sessions.

Prosecutors said they plan to call about 230 witnesses, and that the proceedings are expected to last several weeks.

The ejections Thursday came after Etchecolatz was denied permission to read a statement before testimony started. He became angry, and announced he was firing his lawyer and would not participate in his own defense.

Rousse, Berges and Vides then announced they were ″withdrawing″ from the trial.

The court’s chairman, Guillermo Ledesma, told public defenders Carlos Tavares and Victor Valle they would have to defend the four.

Tavares and Valle were already acting as court-appointed lawyers for Camps, who has refused to name his lawyer or cooperate in the trial.

Etchecolatz’s statement contended that military law barred the prosecution of any armed forces or police official for actions ″in compliance with duty.″

Last year, nine former military junta members were tried before the same six-man civilian appeals court. Five, including two ex-presidents, were convicted and sentenced to prison. The rest were acquitted.

In both trials, the defendants have challenged the civilian court’s authority to try them, contending that only military courts have that power. They also maintain they were doing their duty to protect the country from subversives.

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