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Pilots charged over Argentine dirty war death flights

Friday, June 03, 2011 - 02:40

June 3 - Three Argentine pilots are charged with helping throw drugged political prisoners into the sea from military planes during the country's dirty war. Sunita Rappai reports

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She was a French nun helping mothers at this Buenos Aires church, whose children had disappeared under Argentina's brutal military dictatorship. But Leonie Duquet, pictured here with fellow nun, Alice Domon, was herself kidnapped and murdered, after having been held prisoner in this clandestine detention centre. Her severely injured body was found washed up on shore in 1977. A police autopsy concluded she had died from multiple traumatic injuries caused by a fall from high altitude. These were the military's so-called death flights, where hundreds of drugged political prisoners were dropped off planes into the ocean. But there was no proof - until now. Investigative journalist and former detainee herself, Miriam Lewis has discovered one of the planes in the hands of a private owner in the United States, complete with its old flight records. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) ARGENTINE JOURNALIST, MIRIAM LEWIN, SAYING: "When I first showed these records to people in human rights organizations, they told me it was golden find and that nobody had ever gotten so close to identifying the pilots of the 'death flights.'" Now three of the pilots are due to stand trial for their involvement in the flights. They had logged a flight just days before Duquet's body was washed up, making prosecutors believe they flew the plane from which the nun was thrown. The flights took off every Friday from Aeroparque airport, in the middle of Buenos Aires. Lawyer Horacio Mendez Carreras who represents Duquet's family explains what happened. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) 'DEATH FLIGHTS' PROSECUTION LAWYER, HORACIO MENDEZ CARRERAS, SAYING: "Every flight, according to what Scilingo said, was made up of a pilot, a co-pilot and five crew members: one officer, one sub-officer, two corporals and a doctor, who was responsible for giving the injections. Because in the ESMA they gave them a weak tranquilizer and then, when they got into the plane, they took off their clothes, took off the manacles, and then they gave them the final injection. They threw them out sleeping and alive. They threw them into the sea alive." According to a government report, more than 11,000 people died or disappeared during the dictatorship though human rights groups say the number is closer to 30,000. How many were thrown overboard in the death flights is uncertain. But at long last, there could be justice for just one of the dictatorship's victims. Sunita Rappai, Reuters

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Pilots charged over Argentine dirty war death flights

Friday, June 03, 2011 - 02:40