BUENOS AIRES — A former navy captain, dubbed the Blond Angel of Death, went on trial here Friday for the kidnap and murder of two French nuns during Argentina's military dictatorship.
Alfredo Astiz, 58, is charged along with 18 other soldiers of carrying out the killings in the notorious Naval Mechanics School, which became a symbol of the violence of the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
He entered the courtroom Thursday dressed in jeans and blue sweater, eschewing the suits worn by his co-defendants and touting a book about the dictatorship entitled "Kill Again."
Women belonging to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers whose children disappeared during the dictatorship, covered their heads in unison with the white cloths associated with their movement when Astiz entered the court.
Among the most infamous crimes Astiz is accused of is the murder of nuns Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet, who were kidnapped on December 8 and 10, 1977.
Astiz is also accused of a role in the disappearance of dozens of others, including the founder of the Mothers of the Plaza movement, Azucena Villaflor, a Swedish adolescent and scores of political dissidents.
He has garnered international notoriety for his role in Argentina's so-called "dirty war" against leftist dissidents, and was sentenced in absentia to life in prison by a French court in 1990 and by an Italian court in 2007.
Astiz's co-defendants include former Naval Mechanics School members Jorge "The Tiger" Acosta, his former commander at the school, and Alfredo Donda Tiguel, who is accused of having kidnapped his own brother.
Close to 5,000 people are believed to have been tortured at the Naval Mechanics School, and many of them died there.
Human rights groups estimate that 30,000 people "disappeared" during the military regime, including 18 French citizens.
The remains of Leonie Duquet, Azucena Villaflor and three other activists were buried in 1978 after washing ashore from a river, but their bodies were not formally identified until 2005.
Alice Domon's remains have not been recovered.
Argentina is still reckoning with the violence that wracked the country during decades of military rule.
Last month, former general and Argentine strongman Reynaldo Bignone went on trial charged with the kidnapping and torture of 56 people who were held in secret detention centers at the Campo de Mayo military base, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Bignone, who is being prosecuted with five retired military officers, is also accused of having stolen children from some of the people he kidnapped.
An estimated 500 children born to dissidents during the dictatorship were taken away from their parents and given to regime loyalists.
Argentina's Senate passed a bill in November mandating DNA tests for some of those believed to have been forcibly removed from their parents.
I don't have much commentary about this except to say that there was rejoicing in our house when we read it in the paper. My mother worked to help dissidents during and bring justice after the Dirty War.