BUENOS AIRES — Argentina's last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, 82, was Tuesday sentenced to 25 years in prison after being found guilty of ordering torture and illegal detentions during his 1982-1983 rule.
Six other officials from that era were also given prison terms of 17 to 25 years at the end of the five-month trial during which relatives of those killed or disappeared brandished photos of their loved ones.
Bignone took power after Argentina's disastrous 1982 war against Britain over the Falkland Islands, and handed the reins over to his elected successor Raul Alfonsin at the end of 1983.
His departure marked the end of decades of repression, turmoil and coups d'etat that characterized Argentina for much of the 20th century.
The court judging the case found Bignone responsible for horrors perpetrated at Campo de Mayo, an army base on the outskirts of the capital that served as an execution and torture center.
Some 4,000 dictatorship opponents were held there. Most of them disappeared in murky circumstances that included the babies of women prisoners being stolen and given new identities in foster families.
The court ruled all seven convicts would serve their terms in prison and not under the house arrest Bignone had been under.
Relatives of victims in the court applauded the sentence.
"That's what we wanted: prison," said Ella Espen, who lost her son during the dictatorship.
"Justice was delivered late, but it was delivered," said Estela de Carlotto, who heads the Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo (Grandmothers of May Square) organization that has long demonstrated for answers about what happened to their kin.
"Like with the Nazis, wherever they run, wherever they go, we will find them," chanted a dozen of the relatives and humanitarian activists in the court.
In a speech defending himself before the verdict was read out, Bignone said being convicted would be preferable "to the repudiation of my superiors and subordinates who with me fought the horrors of this war against terror."
He said he did not recognize the legitimacy of the court, but admitted his regime had made "no more than 8,000" people disappear -- far less than the 30,000 figure advanced by rights groups.
The others convicted were: Santiago Riveros, a general who commanded military institutions; Fernando Verplaetsen, a general who was in charge of Campo de Mayo's intelligence service; and retired generals Carlos Tepedino, Jorge Garcia and Eugenio Guanabens Perello. All of them are over 80 years old.
A former police officer, German Montenegro, was acquitted.
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