A former military officer admitted on February 1 in court to having thrown dissidents off of planes during Argentina’s military dictatorship in an ongoing junta trial. Former vice-admiral Luis María Mendía, now 82-years-old, on trial for human rights abuses during the time of the junta-run government testified in court that he participated in a plan to wipe out dissidents. He admitted that he gave orders to drug prisoners and drop them from planes and helicopters into the Atlantic Ocean in the so-called "vuelos de la muerte" – or "death flights".
During his court appearance, Mendía defended torture and other illegal methods used by his subordinates, saying that they were only following former president Isabel Peron’s orders. A federal court is investigating Mendía in a mega trial into human rights violations at the ESMA Navy Mechanics School, the largest of the 375 clandestine detention centers used during the 1976-1983 dictatorship to disappear nearly 30,000 people.
Alfredo Astiz, one of the nation’s military captain is also under trial in the ESMA investigation. In his first court testimony on January 23, ex-navy captain Afredo Astiz, denied involvement in the kidnapping of two French Nuns who were later killed. Astiz, known as the "blond angel of death," suggested that French secret agents were responsible for the nun’s kidnapping. Astiz is facing trial for the 1977 disappearances of nuns Alice Domon and Léonie Duque and a dozen other people, including Azucena Villaflor, the founder of the human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.
His defense team appealed in court that Astiz could not reveal military secrets under constitutional law. Following Astiz’s testimony, President Kirchner signed a decree in late January that will allow military personnel to reveal secret information to prevent any roadblocks in the upcoming trials of security officers accused of human rights abuses during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.