An Argentinian former naval officer who threw prisoners, drugged and naked, to their death from planes was convicted of crimes against humanity and jailed for a total of 640 years by a Spanish court yesterday for his part in the "dirty war" against dissidents conducted by the Argentinian military regime in the 1970s.
Captain Adolfo Scilingo killed 30 leftwing prisoners, who were thrown out at 4,000 metres (13,000ft) above the Atlantic, on two flights.
Scilingo, 58, will serve a maximum of 30 years.
The judgment, reached by three judges in the national court in Madrid, described how naval officers tortured victims with electric shocks which burned their flesh. The torture sessions were called "barbecues".
Judge José Ricardo de Prada said, delivering the judgment, said: "As a macabre joke they would make them [the prisoners] dance to Brazilian music."
Scilingo is the first officer of the Argentinian military junta to be jailed by a foreign court for crimes against humanity.
The prosecuting lawyer, Carlos Slepoy, told the Guardian: "This shows that, wherever they go, people like this can and should be pursued."
Carla Artes, a witness in the case, whose mother disappeared and may have been thrown alive into the sea on one of the many regular death flights, said: "I won't say I am happy, but I feel satisfaction. This is a very, very important sentence.
"This is a serious warning to people who do these things that they should be careful never to set foot out of their own countries."
Scilingo blew the whistle on the death flights himself in a series of recorded interviews with the Argentinian journalist Horacio Verbitsky 10 years ago.
He said that every week for about two years groups of up to 20 prisoners held at the infamous Naval Mechanical School in Buenos Aires were drugged and taken to the airport, where they were put on board a plane, flown out to sea and pushed out.
"We took their clothes off and, when the commander gave the order, opened the door and threw them out, naked, one by one," he said at the time.
He eventually agreed to give evidence in a case against the Argentinian regime being assembled in Madrid by the examining magistrate Baltasar Garzón, who tried to extradite the Chilean former dictator General Augusto Pinochet from London in 1998.
Once in Madrid, Scilingo was arrested and, although he gave numerous interviews confirming the story of the death flights, he later claimed that he had made it all up.
His trial was the first successful prosecution under a Spanish law which allows crimes against humanity committed in other countries to be tried in Spain.
Relatives and friends of victims of the junta, some wearing stickers with pictures of missing or murdered loved ones, hugged one another in court when the verdict was announced.
"Murderer, rot in jail," a man in the gallery shouted at Scilingo, who sat quietly as the sentence was read out.
His lawyer said that he would appeal against the conviction.
He was sentenced to 21 years for each of the 30 people thrown from plane, five years for torture, and five years for illegal detention.
The verdict bodes badly for Miguel Angel Cavallo, another alleged Argentinian naval torturer awaiting trial in Spain after being extradited from Mexico.
"We have many more witnesses who can give exact eyewitness testimony against Cavallo," Mr Slepoy said.
The number who were killed or disappeared between 1976 and 1983 is put at between 13,000 and 30,000.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005