Alleged 'Dirty War' Torturer Extradited From Spain to Argentina

Ricardo Cavallo, accused of "dirty war" torture and illegal kidnappings of dissidents under Argentina's last military dictatorship, was extradited from Spain on Monday.

Cavallo, one of the most-sought alleged human rights violators from the military crackdown on dissent that officially claimed nearly 13,000 lives from 1976 to 1983, was flown on a commercial flight early Monday to the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

Outfitted with a bulletproof vest and cuffed with his hands out front, Cavallo was hustled past gawking tourists at the Ezeiza International Airport under police guard and rushed in a gray van to the federal court complex. He showed no emotion and made no statements.

The government's official news agency, Telam, said he was expected to face an initial hearing later Monday before Federal Judge Sergio Torres, who is handling the case.

Cavallo faces charges of illegal kidnappings, torture and extortion as part of an investigation of human rights abuses at the former Navy Mechanics' School, the main clandestine torture center of the dictatorship.

Some 5,000 people are believed to have passed through the colonnaded, red-brick campus of the former military academy, most in chains, to face repeated torture sessions. Prosecutors say many were made to "disappear" — generally killed without any word to relatives — as part of a crackdown on leftist students, trade unionists, academics and other dissidents during the era of the military junta.

A former navy commander in Buenos Aires, Cavallo allegedly played a key role in interrogation sessions at the school, which has since been turned into a memorial museum to the victims. His lawyers have vehemently denied accusations of wrongdoing.

After years of legal wrangling over where to hold a trial, Spanish authorities decided to close the case against Cavallo in Spain, where he had been charged with genocide, terrorism and other crimes under a law that allows Spanish courts to try cases of genocide even if committed overseas.

Cavallo had been extradited to Spain in 2003 from Mexico, where he was living under an assumed identity while operating a motor vehicle registry until a former political prisoner spotted him.

Argentina has repealed laws that once granted immunity to military personnel accused of abuses during the junta era, reopening scores of cases against suspected human rights violators.

Nearly 13,000 Argentines were killed or "disappeared" during the so-called "dirty war," officials say. Human rights groups say the toll was closer to 30,000.

Estela de Carlotto, president of the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, lauded Cavallo's extradition but said it took far too long.

"Cavallo was arrested eight years ago in Mexico," she said. "This is way too much time."