Argentina’s legal system's response to the crimes committed against Los Desaparecidos and the guilt of the military has been inconsistent. Courts have reversed and repealed their decisions, handing down both convictions and pardons over the past twenty years. Consequently the history of Los Desaparecidos continues to be a point of social tension and debate even today. Below is a brief overview of some of the major judicial and legislative decisions:
In 1982, after the junta’s defeat on las Islas Malvinas, General Reynaldo Benito Bignone offered a blanket amnesty with la Ley de Pacificacion Nacional for all crimes committed in the Dirty War before returning the government to civilian rule.
In October 1983, Argentina held democratic presidential elections. The winner, Raul Alfonsin of the radical party, established the National Commission of Disappeared People (CONADEP) quickly after being sworn in and charge it to ‘clarify the tragic events in which thousands of people disappeared’(Castior xv).
In September 1984, CONADEP handed over its report to President Alfonsin. It was nearly 50,000 pages long and documented the disappearances of almost 1000 individuals, as well as the locations, floor plans and crimes committed at the estimated 340 CCDs. That November a condensed version of the report, Nunca Más (Never Again), was published and made available to the general public. It can be read online at www.nuncamas.org.
In April 1985, the Junta members were tried in the Federal Criminal Court of Appeals in Buenos Aires for crimes committed during the Dirty War. After a five month trial, Videla and Massera received life sentences, Agosti a 4.5 year prison sentence, Viola a 17 year sentence, Lambruschini an 8 year sentence (Kohut 29) and Graffigna, Galtierei, Anaya and Dozo were all acquitted (Bouvard 160).
On December 24, 1986, La Ley de Punto Final gave February 22, 1987 as the cut-off date for any new charges to be brought against military officers for crimes committed during the Dirty War. Despite the miniscule timeframe, 400 officers were indicted.
In April 1988, after a military rebellion led by Lt. Colonal Aldo Rico and known as Operación Dignidad, all officers below the rank of brigadier general were pardoned under la Ley de Obediencia Debida (Law of Due Obedience). The 400 previously indicted shrank to 39.
In 1989, Carlos Saul Menem became the new president of Argentina. Citing the necessity of forgiveness in the process of national reconciliation, he pardoned 277 officers in October including the 39 generals waiting to stand trial (Kohut 31).
On January 2, 1990, Generals Viola, Videla and Massera are pardoned and released. Nearly 40,000 people protested these pardons in Buenos Aires (Kohut 31).
In 1998, both la Ley de Obedencia Debida and la Ley de Punto Final were repealed with the promise that no new charges would be brought against those already pardoned. In 1998, General Videla was charged for his participation in “the baby trade” (a reference to the children illegally adopted by military families after their disappeared mothers gave birth to them in detention centers) and was placed under house arrest. Massera and Bignone were charged with the same crime in 2000.
In 2003 the Argentine congress repealed La Ley de Obediencia Debida and La ley de Punto Final and in June 2005, both La Ley de Obediencia Debida and La ley de Punto Final were declared unconstitutional by the national supreme court. Trials are currently in process for crimes committed during the Dirty War.
Legally, politically and socially, the Dirty War represents an unresolved period of history that continues to have a hand in the present. Consequently, it necessitates both continued reflection and historical study.