César Milani, the former head of Argentina's Armed Forces under president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner accused of committing crimes against humanity during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, expressed his "solidarity with the family" of a kidnapping and torture victim as he gave testimony before a La Rioja court today.
Milani, who served as commander-in-chief of the Army between 2013 and 2015, is accused of participating in an operation that led to the kidnap and torture suspected father and son dissidents Pedro and Ramón Olivera, in 1977. He denies the charges, recorded as illegitimate deprivation of aggravated liberty, carrying out an illegal search, the "imposition of aggravated torture" and illicit association.
"This is the first time since 2013 that I can explain the facts," said Milani, dressed in military uniform and wearing his badges, who warned that "no deputy chief of the La Rioja Army is [being] prosecuted or detained because of this."
After interrupting his statement when he became emotional, Milani said he has "a deep respect for all the victims of the military government ... they have all my solidarity because I know today, as Argentine society knows, the disappeared, the tortures, the torment."
He said he wanted to offer his "solidarity to the Olivera family," adding that "their suffering ends where the suffering of the Milani family begins, which is unjustly and arbitrarily accused," he told the Federal Oral Court of La Rioja.
The trial is taking place in the capital of the western province, where the events allegedly took place. Milani, who is detained at the Campo de Mayo military base, was flown in on an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight under a large security operation. He saw the first hearings via videoconference.
Two others involved in the trial are former federal judge Roberto Catalán, who is accused of covering up the crime and former military officer Alfredo Santacrocce is also in the dock. In total, 12 people have been indicted in the case.
At the time of the alleged offences, Milani – now 64 – was a young second lieutenant in Batallón 141 of La Rioja. He asked the court officials to take into account "the function, mission and scope of a 21-year-old lieutenant in a brigade."
Pedro Olivera, who died in 1999, suffered a stroke while being tortured and survived, despite having been abandoned by his captors.
Ramón, who was freed during the dictatorship, first denounced Milani in 1984 before the Provincial Human Rights Commission of La Rioja, though the case did not progress until he reconfirmed those statements before the courts in 2013.
Milani faces three trials overall. The former Army chief is also accused of being involved in the forced disappearance of a soldier in 1976, for which he is facing a separate trial, beginning in Tucumán in September. Others charged in the case are being tried for aggravated homicide, illegal trespass, deprivation of liberty and torture, according to the Judicial Information Center.
In addition, Milani faces allegations of "illicit enrichment" related to irregular operations involving the purchase of materials in the United States.
Speaking to the Télam state news agency, Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj, who was in court, said that his presence ratified "the position of the national government, that there are no shortcuts or impunity on issues of [crimes against] humanity."
Moving to politics, he added that "this trial was impossible during the government of Cristina Kirchner, who, on the contrary, gave Milani the position of head of the Army."