Ex-head of Argentina air force convicted in ‘dirty war’ case
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The former head of Argentina’s air force was convicted Thursday in the kidnapping and torture of a left-wing activist couple during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
The court then sentenced Omar Graffigna, 90, to 25 years in prison for the 1978 abduction of Patricia Roisinblit and Jose Manuel Perez Rojo, who belonged to the Montoneros guerrilla group.
Roisinblit was pregnant when she and Perez Rojo were taken to a clandestine government detention center. Their 15-month-old daughter, Mariana, was raised by the paternal grandmother, and the couple has never been seen again — two victims among the thousands “disappeared” by the military regime.
The plaintiffs in the case included Roisinblit’s mother, Rosa de Roisinblit, who is vice president of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, and Guillermo Perez Roisinblit, the son born to Roisinblit at the notorious Naval Mechanics School in 1978.
Guillermo was known as Guillermo Gomez for decades, until he was contacted by his biological sister and the Grandmothers of the Playa de Mayo to finally learn about his biological parents.
He had been raised by Francisco Gomez, who has served time for stealing Guillermo when he was an infant. Gomez was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for the abduction and torture of Guillermo’s parents.
Another former subordinate of Graffigna, Luis Tomas Trillo, was sentenced to 25 years.
“I waited for 38 years to reach this moment,” Guillermo’s grandmother, 97-year-old Rosa de Roisinblit said, trying to hold back tears in court. “The fight goes on. We’re not done here ... but, still, I never thought I’d live to see this moment.”
Since 1977, the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo have fought to recover their stolen grandchildren. In the dictatorship years, they marched every week in front of the main square in Buenos Aires at great risks to their lives. After Argentina’s return to democracy, they lobbied the government to create a DNA database and dedicate judicial resources to the effort.
Argentina’s search for truth remains focused on the 500 or so newborns raised by surrogate families after the military junta launched a systematic plan to steal babies born to political prisoners. To date, 120 cases of stolen children have been resolved, but several hundred have yet to be accounted for.
“Our parents have been disappeared for 38 years. We don’t know where they are and we’ve never received an answer. But today, at least three of the criminals received their sentence,” said Mariana Perez Roisinblit, who embraced her brother and grandmother when the ruling was announced.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced during a visit to Buenos Aires this year that coincided with the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought the junta to power that Washington would open up a trove of U.S. intelligence files from Argentina’s dirty war era.
Human rights groups estimate about 30,000 people were killed or forcibly “disappeared” during the dictatorship.
Associated Press video journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.