U.S. Judge: No Argentine Extradition in Killings

MIAMI -- A federal judge has denied Argentina's extradition request for a former military officer accused of taking part in a 1972 massacre of leftist guerrillas in his homeland.

The decision released Tuesday means, for now, that Roberto Bravo will not be returned to Argentina to face 16 murder charges arising from the killings at a military base near the southern Argentine city of Trelew.

U.S. prosecutors said no decision had been made on a possible appeal.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Dube ruled there are doubts about "the credibility, reliability and truthfulness" of statements made by three survivors shortly after the shootings. The three died in the 1970s, Dube noted, and "there has never been any way to test their allegations or subject them to cross-examination."

Dube also ruled that Bravo, now 68, had been cleared by a military investigation at the time and said he is covered by an Argentine amnesty law that applies to events prior to 1973, including the Trelew shootings.

Argentina's human rights office said Tuesday that it was aware of the ruling, and had no immediate comment.

According to the decision, the judge also found that Bravo's actions could be justified because they occurred as part of a political disturbance -- an attempt by leftist guerrillas to overthrow the Argentine government.

Bravo has contended that the charges against him are part of an effort by Argentina's left-leaning government to seek revenge.

"Because extradition requests are usually granted, this is a significant legal victory," said Bravo's attorney, Neal Sonnett, in a statement. "More important, however, is that it will allow Roberto Bravo to close this unfortunate chapter and resume his life."

Bravo, formerly a lieutenant in the Argentine navy, has lived in South Florida since 1973 and became a U.S. citizen in 1987. He has been free on $1.2 million bail and runs a company with several U.S. government contracts that places workers in health and security positions.

The guerrillas who died were part of a larger group that had broken out of a remote prison, with six of them fleeing the country on a hijacked airplane. The others surrendered after an airport standoff and were taken to the Trelew military base; the current Argentine government and human rights activists say they were executed, but military officials at the time said they were shot trying to escape again.

Argentina of the 1970s was marked by leftist guerrilla violence and counterattacks by military forces and death squads as a prelude to a 1976 military coup. Official records show nearly 13,000 people died or disappeared under the 1976-83 dictatorship. Human rights groups put the toll closer to 30,000.