Argentina's last dictator and 14 other former military officials were sentenced to prison for human rights crimes on Friday, marking the first time a court has ruled that Operation Condor was a criminal conspiracy to kidnap and forcibly disappear people across international borders. The covert operation was launched in the 1970s by six South American dictatorships that used their secret police networks in a coordinated effort to track down their opponents abroad and eliminate them. Many leftist dissidents had sought refuge in neighboring countries and elsewhere. An Argentine federal court sentenced former junta leader Reynaldo Bignone, 88, to 20 years in prison for being part of an illicit association, kidnapping, and abusing his powers in the forced disappearance of more than 100 people, the AP reports. The ex-general, who ruled in 1982-1983, is already serving life sentences for multiple human rights violations during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.
In the landmark trial, 14 other former military officials received prison sentences of eight to 25 years for criminal association, kidnapping, and torture. They include Uruguayan army colonel, Manuel Cordero Piacentini, who allegedly tortured prisoners inside Automotores Orletti, the Buenos Aires repair shop where many captured leftists were interrogated under orders from their home countries. The victims included Maria Claudia Irureta Goyena, the daughter-in-law of Argentine poet Juan Gelman, who was pregnant when she was kidnapped and held for months inside Automotores Orletti before an Argentine air force plane took her to Uruguay. She gave birth there, and then was disappeared. Decades passed before her daughter, Macarena Gelman, discovered her own true identity. (Read more Operation Condor stories.)