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'Operation Condor' trial begins in Buenos Aires

Tuesday - 3/5/2013, 1:51pm  ET

Former dictator Reynaldo Bignone attends the first day of the trial for his alleged involvement in the so called operation, "Plan Condor,” in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Argentina began today its first human rights trial focused on the joint operation by the southern cone's 1970s dictatorships to track down leftists in each other's countries. Bignone has already been sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentina began a long-awaited human rights trial Tuesday focused on Operation Condor, the 1970s conspiracy launched by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to enlist South America's dictators in a combined effort to leave no refuge for their leftist critics.

The 25 defendants include former Argentine junta leaders Rafael Videla, 87, and Reynaldo Bignone, 85, both already serving life sentences for multiple human rights violations during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. This time, the charges include criminal association, kidnapping and torture.

Also on trial is a former Uruguayan army colonel, Manuel Cordero, who allegedly tortured prisoners inside Automotores Orletti, the Buenos Aires repair shop where many captured leftists were taken to be interrogated under orders from their home countries.

More than 400 witnesses are expected to be called in the two-year trial, which involves 106 victims from at least four countries who were killed in Argentina. The case also includes three Argentines killed in Brazil.

A key piece of evidence is a declassified FBI agent's cable, sent in 1976, that described in detail the conspiracy to share intelligence and eliminate leftists across South America.

The actual conspiracy went further than that: the U.S. government later determined that Chilean agents involved in Condor killed the country's former ambassador Orlando Letelier and his U.S. aide Ronni Moffitt in Washington, D.C., in September 1976, and tracked other exiles across Europe in efforts to eliminate them, as well.

Operation Condor grew to include the military governments of six countries: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Other Argentine defendants include Santiago Riveros, Carlos Humberto Caggiano Tedesco, Luciano Benjam
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