The trial’s most high profile pilot, Julio Poch, was extradited from Spain in 2010. He allegedly confessed to colleagues at the Dutch airline where he worked about his role in the flights. But he has since denied the allegations, saying his words were misunderstood.
Until now, the only person convicted for direct involvement in the flights is Adolfo Scilingo, accused of being aboard a plane in which 30 people died. He was found guilty by a Spanish court in 2005 and sentenced to 640 years. He is now serving his sentence, which was later increased to 1,040 years, in a Spanish prison.
The latest trial is part of an ongoing lawsuit stemming from crimes committed inside the ESMA. The accused include ex-naval officers, policemen and two civilians.
In October last year, 16 of 18 accused, including Acosta and Astiz, were found guilty of actions linked to the detention center. Their sentences ranged from life to 18 years.
The initial ESMA trial in 2007 featured a sole defendant, Héctor Febres, a naval officer. He was found dead in his prison cell days before a decision was due. He apparently took a cyanide tablet.
Human rights trials linked to the dictatorship were reinitiated in 2003 when President Néstor Kirchner came to power. Kirchner, who died of a heart attack in 2010 and was the husband of current President Cristina Fernández, steered legislation through Congress overturning laws that had pardoned most military officials, except for top officers.
“Today, human rights is a state policy that doesn’t depend on governments,” explained Carolina Varsky from the Buenos Aires Legal and Social Studies Center, a non-government organization. “The president as much as the different political parties in Congress, as well as judges, are all in favor of pushing forward when it comes to judging these crimes.”
For Graciela, the many years that have passed and the frailness of the aging accused are immaterial.
While her husband “disappeared” without an arrest warrant and was held without charge, she wants one thing only — justice through correct, legal channels.
“The military thought they were exempt from punishment,” she said. “They carry on believing that what they did was for the good of the country and that they’re now being judged by a group of crazy people in need of revenge.
“The only thing I want them to have is what our loved ones were denied — a trial.”