Jorge Rafael Videla

Background

Spanish adventurers begin to explore what is now Argentina at the start of the 16th Century, establishing a permanent colony on the site of Buenos Aires in 1580. Buenos Aires formally declares independence from Spain on 9 July 1816, though Argentina is not completely united until 1862.

In the last quarter of the 19th Century Argentina experiences an era of growth and prosperity based on the expansion and development of its vast agricultural potential. At the start of the 20th Century Argentina is the richest nation in Latin America and one of world's 10 wealthiest countries.

In politics conservative forces dominate the parliament until 1916, when the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), popularly known as the Radical Party, wins a majority. However, as Argentina's social and political landscape becomes more complex and unstable, the military become more enmeshed in government. On 6 September 1930 the increasingly dysfunctional UCR is removed from power in the country's first military coup d'état against a constitutional government. In 1943 a nationalist military junta ousts another civilian the government. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 2 August 1925 in Mercedes, Argentina. He is the son of an army colonel. Videla's family is staunchly Roman Catholic, and Videla remains a devout Catholic throughout his life.

1944 - Videla graduates from the National Military College. During his long military career Videla will rise to the rank of lieutenant-general and be appointed as commander-in-chief of the army.

1945 - The Second World War starts on 1 September when German troops invade Poland. Argentina remains neutral for almost the entire duration of the war, balancing economic ties with the Allies against its political sympathies with the Axis block and the fascist dictatorship of Spain's Francisco Franco. After the war ends in 1945 Argentina will become a haven for Nazi fugitives.

1946 - Juan Domingo Perón is elected president of Argentina as the candidate of the Argentine Labour Party, later to become the Peronist Party. His policies favour the working classes and are reminiscent of Adolf Hitler's National Socialism, aiming for the nationalisation of infrastructure, businesses and institutions, and the industrial development of the economy. Perón is also an admirer of Italy's former fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. His charismatic wife Eva Duarte de Perón, known as Evita, further boosts his growing popularity.

However, when the economy begins to stall and the president starts to lose some of his appeal, Perón's government begins to use repressive measures to maintain control, including censorship of the media, restrictions on freedom of speech, and the imprisonment of dissidents.

1948 - The fugitive Croatian fascist dictator Ante Pavelic seeks and is granted asylum in Buenos Aires. Pavelic will spend the next eight years in Argentina. He acts as a security adviser to Perón and attempts to revive his Ustase movement. About 7,250 other members of the Ustase find refuge in Argentina between 1946 and 1948.

Videla marries Alicia Raquel Hartridge. The couple will have seven children, two daughters and five sons. One of the sons dies in 1971.

1949 - Josef Mengele, the Nazi 'Angel of Death', also finds asylum in Buenos Aires. Mengele will remain in the country for 10 years. He joins many other former Nazis, including Adolf Eichman, who have found refuge from justice in Argentina during Perón's rule.

1952 - Riots against Perón break out in Argentina's cities. Among those demonstrating is the young and idealistic Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

Despite the protests, Perón is reelected president and his party wins a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

1955 - On 16 September the military stages a rebellion. Perón resigns and goes into exile. His supporters, the Peronistas, will be politically marginalised by the military for the next 20 years.

The following decades are ones of confusion, with military and civilian administrations trading power while trying to deal with economic and social problems caused by a downturn in the country's growth and the effects of political instability.

Meanwhile, dissatisfaction among the community grows, with both leftist and rightist groups resorting to violence.

1956 - Videla is appointed as adviser to the military attaché at the Argentine embassy in Washington, DC. In 1958 he joins the Inter-American Defence Board.

1958 - Civilian government is restored following the 1955 coup. However, it will only last until 1962, when the military again intervene.

1963 - Once again civilian government is restored, this time lasting until 1966, when the military again take control.

1969 - Out on the streets the level of instability and violence continues to rise, with leftists, Peronistas, and rightists all engaging in terrorism. Among the guerrilla groups caught up in the violence are the 'Montoneros' (the left's youth arm), the rightist Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Alianza Anticomunista Argentina), and the leftist People's Revolutionary Army (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, or ERP).

Demonstrations against the military government break out in the inland city of Córdoba and spread to other towns.

1970 - The Montoneros kidnap and murder General Pedro Aramburu, who had headed the military government in power from 1955 to 1958.

1971 - Videla is promoted to brigadier-general and appointed head of the Military College.

1973 - On 11 March general elections are held for the first time in 10 years. While the Peronistas are allowed to stand, Perón himself is prevented from running. However, his stand-in, Dr Hector Campora, wins the presidential vote, while his supporters gain strong majorities in both houses of parliament.

In June, Perón returns to Buenos Aires. His arrival at Ezeiza international airport sparks a riot that results in 400 deaths. Campora resigns the following month.

After Campora resigns a new election for the presidency is held. Perón wins this election with more than 60% of the vote, returning as president in October. His third wife, Maria Estela Isabel Martinez de Perón, is vice president.

Meanwhile, Videla is appointed as army chief-of-staff.

1974 - Perón dies on 1 July. His wife succeeds him. The political situation quickly goes from bad to worse as Isabel Perón sets the armed forces on the Marxist guerrillas, ordering the "annihilation" of subversion and terrorism.

1975 - Videla is promoted to commander-in-chief of the Argentine Army.

Acts of terrorism by leftists and rightists escalate, claiming the lives of more than 700 people. Inflation jumps to over 300%. Strikes and demonstrations by students and workers are widespread and continuous.

Videla leads an army campaign against the People's Revolutionary Army in the country's northern Tucumán province. Hundreds of the leftist guerrillas are killed.

"As many people as necessary must die in Argentina so that the country will again be secure," Videla states during the year.

In November the intelligence services of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay launch 'Operation Condor', an information gathering and sharing alliance designed to eliminate Marxist terrorist activities in South America.

According to a United States Federal Bureau of Investigation officer working in Argentina at the time, "Chile is the centre for 'Operation Condor'." The officer also reports that "a ... most secret phase of 'Operation Condor' involves the formation of special teams from member countries who are to travel anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out sanctions up to assassination against terrorists or supporters of terrorist organisations from 'Operation Condor' member countries."

1976 - On 24 March the military led by Videla stage a coup d'état and seize power. A junta composed of the commanders of the army, navy and air force will rule the country until 10 December 1983. It will be the most repressive regime ever seen in Argentina.

Videla heads the junta and acts as president of the military government. He claims that the coup was necessary to end "misrule, corruption and the scourge of subversion." The military's rule will be "imbued with a profound national spirit and will only respond to the most sacred interests of the nation and of its inhabitants," he says.

Along with Videla the members of this first junta are Brigadier-general Orlando Ramón Agosti, commander of the air force, and Admiral Emilio E. Massera, commander of the navy.

Massera will later be replaced as commander-in-chief of the nay by Admiral Armando Lambruschini, who will in turn be replaced by Admiral Jorge I. Anaya.

Agosti will be succeeded as commander-in-chief of the air force by Brigadier-general Omar D. Graffigna, who will in turn be succeeded by Brigadier-general Basilio A.I. Lami Dozo.

Under the so-called 'Proceso de Reorganización Nacional' (Process of National Reorganisation) the junta imposes brutal and often indiscriminate measures to bring the country under control in what it considers is a counter-revolutionary war. The junta believes that the "subversivos" (subversives) number 25,000 recruits, of whom 15,000 are "technically able and ideologically trained to kill."

According to Videla, "A terrorist is not just someone with a gun or a bomb, but also someone who spreads ideas that are contrary to Western and Christian civilisation." He also states that "the aim of the Process (of National Reorganisation) is the profound transformation of consciousness."

The junta dissolves the parliament, proclaims martial law, places all legislative power in a nine-member military commission, fills all important government posts with military personnel, and begins to rule by decree. The civil courts are closed, political parties are outlawed, and the right to form trade unions is suspended. Strikes are banned, and union leaders and their supporters labelled subversivos.

During the so-called 'Dirty War' between 10,000 and 30,000 people identified as opponents of the regime will be hunted down by the armed forces or the police and murdered or "disappeared". About 500,000 will flee into exile.

A cable sent to the headquarters of Chile's secret police from Buenos Aires in July 1978 says that according to the records of Argentina's Army Intelligence Battalion 601 "the tally of those killed and disappeared from 1975 up to date is 22,000."

Suspected terrorists, especially from the People's Revolutionary Army and the Montoneros, and their sympathisers (also labelled subversivos) become the junta's prime targets, although the net will quickly widen to include unionists, students, professionals, teachers, housewives, nonconformist members of the military and security forces, journalists, academics, actors, nuns and priests, the friends of the subversivos, and the friends of their friends.

Thousands will be illegally abducted then subjected to weeks or months of torture in one of about 340 secret prisons scattered throughout the country before they "disappear". One of the most notorious secret detention centres is the Naval Mechanics School (Escuela Mechanica de la Armada - ESMA) on Avenida Libertador in the centre of Buenos Aires.

Those who vanish without a trace come to be known as the "desaparecidos" (disappeared ones). After being executed their bodies are burnt then buried in mass graves. Others are thrown (sometimes while still alive) from aircraft into the Atlantic Ocean during so-called "vuelos de la muerte" (flights of death). No trace or record is left of their fate.

The disappearances prompt the formation of the 'Madres de la Plaza de Mayo' (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo), a group of women who begin protesting outside the presidential palace every Thursday, demanding information about their missing children.

"Dónde están? (Where are they?)," the mothers ask. In a television interview Videla eventually answers, "They are neither alive or dead. They are disappeared."

Many of the mothers will in turn also disappear.

At a US State Department staff meeting held on 26 March, two days after the coup, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is told by William Rogers, his assistant secretary for Latin America, that "we've got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they're going to have to come down very hard not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties. ... The point is that we ought not at this moment to rush out and embrace this new regime."

"But we shouldn't do the opposite either," Kissinger replies. "Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement from us. ... Because I do want to encourage them. I don't want to give the sense that they're harassed by the United States."

In April the US Congress approves a grant of US$50 million in military aid to the junta.

On 10 June, Kissinger meets with Argentine Foreign Minister Admiral César Augusto Guzzetti in Santiago. According to a transcript of the meeting, Kissinger says, "Let me say, as a friend, that I have noticed that military governments are not always the most effective in dealing with these problems. ...

"So after a while, many people who don't understand the situation begin to oppose the military and the problem is compounded.

"The Chileans, for example, have not succeeded in getting across their initial problem and are increasingly isolated.

"You will have to make an international effort to have your problems understood. Otherwise, you, too, will come under increasing attack. If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures."

The junta interprets Kissinger's comments as a green light for their repressive tactics, and a US public relations company is hired to improve its image overseas.

Another meeting between Kissinger and Guzzetti in New York on 7 October further convinces the junta that they have Kissinger's blessing.

"Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context," Kissinger tells Guzzetti.

"The quicker you succeed the better. ... The human rights problem is a growing one. ... We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help."

1977 - Speaking to British journalists, Videla states, "I emphatically deny that there are concentration camps in Argentina, or military establishments in which people are held longer than is absolutely necessary in this ... fight against subversion."

Meanwhile, tensions with Chile build over the sovereignty of three small islands off the southern-most tip of South America. Following the intervention of Pope John Paul II, a potential war between the two states is averted and the islands are ceded to Chile.

1979 - While the Dirty War has effectively been won and the terrorist threat removed, the junta has little success in alleviating Argentina's ongoing economic problems. The budget deficit soars as the country is flooded with foreign imports. When the value of the peso collapses the economy goes into depression.

Charges of corruption further undermine the junta's position. One scam involves the use of forged documents to appropriate the businesses and property of the disappeared. A more sinister practice is the abduction of as many as 500 babies borne to women detained in the secret prisons. The babies are fostered out to senior officers in the military and security forces or sent to orphanages. Their mothers are executed.

1981 - Videla retires as leader of the junta. On 29 March the "soft-liner" General Roberto Eduardo Viola takes charge of a new military government but has even less success in reviving the economy, despite trying to introduce greater civilian input. Viola also has to deal with a resurgence in demonstrations and strikes.

In May, General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, a "hard-liner", becomes commander-in-chief of the army.

Meanwhile, Viola falls ill. Major-general Horacio Tomás Liendo replaces him on 21 November.

On 21 December, Galtieri stages a palace coup and takes over as president. Rocked by internal conflicts between the soft and hard liners and between senior and junior officers, the junta is in its last throws.

1982 - Protesters against the junta take to the streets in late March. Attempting to deflect attention away from the renewed opposition, Galtieri authorises the seizing of the disputed Falklands Islands (Islas Malvinas), which Britain has occupied since 1833. On 2 April Argentine troops take possession of the islands.

However, the plan backfires when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dispatches a large military and naval force to recapture the islands. The turning point of the 'Falklands War' comes on 2 May when the British submarine HMS Conqueror torpedoes and sinks the Argentine battleship General Belgrano, killing 323 Argentine sailors.

The Argentine occupation force on the Falklands surrenders unconditionally to the British on 14 June. Argentina's humiliation during the 10-week conflict is the final nail in the junta's coffin. Galtieri resigns on 17 June. He will be convicted of negligence and imprisoned from 1986 to 1989.

General Alfredo Oscar Saint Jean takes interim control of the government. He is soon replaced by General Reynaldo Benito Bignone, who announces that elections will be held. The junta is dissolved. Bans on political parties are lifted and basic political liberties restored, including the right to form trade unions.

Meanwhile, on Bignone's orders, the military destroys its records of the detained and disappeared. Bignone also introduces a general amnesty for all members of the military implicated in crimes against humanity.

The junta also enacts the 'Law of National Pacification', granting immunity from prosecution to suspected terrorists and to every member of the armed forces for crimes committed between 25 May 1973 and 17 June 1982.

1983 - The junta steps down. Democracy is restored on 30 October when Raúl Alfonsín of the Radical Party is elected president with 52% of the vote. Alfonsín is inaugurated on 10 December, formally ending the military's rule.

The new president quickly issues an executive decree ordering the arrest of the members of the first three juntas for crimes committed under the laws in place during their rule. The Law of National Pacification is repealed in December, allowing the prosecutions to proceed.

Meanwhile, a National Commission on the Disappeared (CONADEP) is established to examine the fate of the desaparecidos.

The commission officially documents 8,960 cases of disappearance. A further 2,000 to 3,000 disappearances are reported to the ministry of the interior after the commission concludes. The official figure for the number of desaparecidos now stands at nearly 12,000.

The commission's report, titled 'Nunca Mas' (Never Again), finds that "the armed forces responded to the terrorists' crimes with a terrorism far worse than the one they were combating, and after 24 March 1976 they could count on the power and impunity of an absolute state, which they misused to abduct, torture and kill thousands of human beings. ...

"After collecting several thousand statements and testimonies, verifying or establishing the existence of hundreds of secret detention centres, and compiling over 50,000 pages of documentation, we are convinced that the recent military dictatorship brought about the greatest and most savage tragedy in the history of Argentina. ...

"This went far beyond what might be considered criminal offences, and takes us into the shadowy realm of crimes against humanity. Through the technique of disappearance and its consequences, all the ethical principles which the great religions and the noblest philosophies have evolved through centuries of suffering and calamity have been trampled underfoot, barbarously ignored.

The report finds that the secret detention centres "were under the command of high-ranking officers in the military and security services. The prisoners were kept in inhuman conditions and subjected to all kinds of torture and humiliation. ...

"Some of the methods used have no precedent elsewhere in the world. Some depositions referred to the torture of children and old people in front of their families to obtain information. ...

"We can state categorically - contrary to what the executors of this sinister plan maintain - that they did not pursue only the members of political organisations who carried out acts of terrorism. Among the victims are thousands who never had any links with such activity but were nevertheless subjected to horrific torture because they opposed the military dictatorship, took part in union or student activities, were well-known intellectuals who questioned state terrorism, or simply because they were relatives, friends, or names included in the address book of someone considered subversive. ...

"Certain terrorist organisations were wiped out, but in their stead a system of institutionalised terror was implemented which undermined the most basic human, ethical and moral principles and was backed by a doctrine which was also foreign to our national identity."

The commission recommends a judicial investigation of its findings along with the provision of economic and social assistance to the relatives of the disappeared. The commission also recommends that laws be passed which declare forced abduction a crime against humanity, make the teaching of the human rights obligatory in all state schools, strengthen the ability of the courts to investigate human rights violations, and repeal any repressive legislation still in force.

1984 - The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group set up a genetic database to trace babies abducted from the secret detention centres. The database is run by 30 doctors, biochemists and molecular biologists at the Durand Hospital in Buenos Aires and will help identify 59 of the 256 missing babies documented by the group.

1985 - The trial of the junta leaders begins on 22 April. On 9 December the leaders are convicted and sentenced to jail. However, due to pressure from the military and the threat of more violence, they will all be released before serving their full terms.

  • Orlando Ramón Agosti is sentenced to 4 1/2 years in jail. He will be released before serving his full sentence.
  • Jorge I. Anaya is acquitted.
  • Reynaldo Benito Bignone is sentenced to jail but receives early release.
  • Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri is acquitted on charges of committing crimes against the Argentine people. In 1986 he is convicted on charges relating to the Falklands War and sentenced to 12 years jail. He too receives early release.
  • Omar D. Graffigna is acquitted.
  • Armando Lambruschini is sentenced to eight years in prison but released after four.
  • Basilio A.I. Lami Dozo is acquitted.
  • Emilio E. Massera is convicted of multiple cases of homicide, aggravated false arrests, torture, torture resulting in death, and robbery, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He is released after serving only four years.
  • Jorge Rafael Videla is convicted of multiple cases of homicide, aggravated false arrests, torture, torture resulting in death, and robbery, and sentenced to life imprisonment at the military prison of Magdalena. He too is released after serving only four years.
  • Roberto Eduardo Viola is sentenced to 17 years in prison but released after serving only four years.

1986 - In December the 'El Punto Final' (The Final Point, or Full Stop) law is introduced. The law sets a 60-day deadline for victims of the Dirty War to file complaints against members of the military and police suspected of human rights abuses.

1987 - Rebel military personnel (the so-called Carapintadas - The Painted Faces) stage a series of barrack uprisings against the Alfonsín government, demanding that the trials of those not exempted under the Final Point law be aborted.

Thought the uprising is squashed the rebels achieve their aim, with the government introducing a 'Obediencia Debida' (Due Obedience) law granting automatic immunity from prosecution to all members of the military ranked lower than colonel on the principle that they were just following orders.

Up to 2,000 military officials are spared from prosecution, although the law does expressly exclude the crimes of rape, illegal appropriation of minors, and the falsification of civil status and appropriation of real estate by extortion.

1988 - In mid-January the Carapintadas rebel again. After the uprising is put down by troops loyal to the government, the rebel leaders and about 300 of their followers are arrested and sentenced to prison.

In December about 1,000 Carapintadas from several army, navy and air force units rebel for third time. The rebels have many of their demands met and suffer few repercussions.

1989 - On 5 October, as part of a sweeping military appeasement policy, the newly elected president, Carlos Saúl Menem, pardons 39 of those convicted for Dirty War abuses, those convicted for negligence in the Falklands War, and most of those involved in the Carapintadas uprisings.

1990 - On 3 December the Carapintadas rebel for a fourth time. The rebellion is again put down, but not before several troops loyal to the government are killed in the fighting. About 600 of the rebels are arrested.

Menem pardons about 280 members of the military who still faced trial for human rights abuses.

On 29 December, Menem grants amnesty to the leaders of the junta convicted and jailed at the end of 1985.

Videla, Massera, Agosti, Viola, Bignone, Galtieri, Lambruschini, and Viola are all set free.

1995 - Adolfo Scilingo becomes the first Argentine military officer to speak publicly about the abuses of the junta. According to Scilingo, up to 2,000 people were thrown 15 or 20 at a time into the sea during "flights of death" run every Wednesday for two years.

Scilingo will later become the subject of the first trial held in Spain of a foreign national charged with crimes against humanity committed outside of the country. He will be accused of 30 assassinations, 93 charges of beating, 255 acts of terrorism, and 286 acts of torture.

On 19 April 2005, Scilingo is found guilty by the Spanish court and sentenced to 21 years in prison for each of the 30 assassinations, along with a further 10 years for torture and illegal detention. The cumulative sentence is 640 years.

1998 - On 9 June, in a case brought by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Videla is arrested for permitting and concealing the abduction of five babies born to women held in the secret detention centres during the Dirty War. After being held in the Caseros prison for serious offenders he is placed under house arrest.

Massera is arrested and placed under house arrest on similar charges.

2001 - In March, Federal Judge Gabriel Cavallo rules that the Final Point and Due Obedience laws are unconstitutional and void.

In the middle of the year a federal judge issues three judicial decisions indicting and requesting the arrest of a number of former members of the armed forces of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay for their involvement Operation Condor.

Among those indicted is Videla, who remains under house arrest in connection with the case involving the abduction of babies. The judge also requests the provisional arrest, pending requests for extradition, of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet.

In September the Argentine government publicly acknowledges that 15,000 people had "disappeared" during the Dirty War.

2002 - In July the Federal Appeals Court upholds the ruling that the Final Point and Due Obedience laws are unconstitutional and void. Twenty-nine high-ranking officers from the junta again face human rights prosecutions relating to the Dirty War.

2003 - Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri dies on 12 January.

On May 25, Néstor Kirchner is inaugurated as president of Argentina. Kirchner supports the complete overturn of the laws granting amnesty to the military. "There were 30,000 people who went missing in Argentina only because they thought differently," he says during a trip to Washington in July.

On 24 July an Argentine judge orders the arrest of one civilian and 45 military officials, including Videla and Massera, on the request of a Spanish judge who has charged them with the murders of Spanish citizens during the Dirty War. (The arrests are rescinded five weeks later when the Spanish Government decides not to request the extradition of the detainees, although Videla and Massera remain in custody on other charges.)

The following day, on 25 July, Kirchner annuls a decree blocking the extradition of military officers to face criminal charges brought against them by foreign states.

On 21 August the Argentine Senate votes 43-to-7 to repeal the amnesty laws, clearing the way for as many as 2,400 former military officers to be tried on charges of torture and murder.

The decision is then taken to the Supreme Court to test its constitutional validity. The Supreme Court refers the case to the Criminal Causation Panel.

On 1 September, Argentine judges reopen human rights cases against about 80 former military officers. The same day the newspaper 'Pagina 12' publishes an interview with Reynaldo Benito Bignone in which the former junta leader admits that 8,000 people were abducted and killed during the Dirty War.

According to Bignone, French instructors schooled the Argentine military in torture techniques, while leaders of the Roman Catholic Church gave blessing to its use "as long as the man speaks while in his right mind."

At the start of December German prosecutors issue arrest warrants for Videla, Massero and three others for the "indirect murder" of two German students, Elisabeth Kaesemann and Klaus Zieschank, during the Dirty War.

Kaesemann was allegedly killed at a secret detention centre in May 1977. Zieschank disappeared in March 1976. His body was found in 1983.

2004 - On 9 February, President Kirchner announces that the Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires will be converted into a 'Museum of Memory' to commemorate the disappeared of the Dirty War. The school operated as a notorious torture centre during the conflict.

A month later, the current head of the Argentine Navy, Admiral Jorge Godoy, admits that the school "was used to commit acts aberrant and offensive to human dignity, ethics and law, and ended up becoming a symbol of barbarism and irrationality."

Meanwhile, on 3 March Germany requests the extradition of Videla and Massero to face the charges relating to the murders of Elisabeth Kaesemann and Klaus Zieschank.

On 19 March a federal judge declares that pardons issued to six army officers in 1989 were unconstitutional.

On 29 March two police officials are sentenced to seven years each for abducting babies from political detainees who disappeared during the Dirty War. They are the first senior officials from the military regime to be jailed for the offence.

At the start of September Federal Judge Jorge Urso indicts Videla and 17 others for further abductions during the Dirty War. Videla is accused of being the chief of a "criminal plan" and charged with 34 abductions.

2005 - The Argentine Supreme Court finally revokes the amnesty laws on 14 June. Hundreds of former and serving military officers could now be subject to prosecution for their involvement in the Dirty War.

2006 - In March, President Kirchner announces that the anniversary of the coup, 24 March, will become a national holiday, to be called the 'National Day of Memory for Truth and Justice'. At a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the coup Kirchner calls for the pardons granted to members of the military by former President Menem in 1990 to be revoked.

"Perhaps the time has come to disarticulate the network of impunity that comes with those pardons," he says. "The justice system has already declared them unconstitutional in some concrete cases. ... And now it is the judiciary that must determine whether the pardons are valid or constitutional."

The first trial since the revocation of the amnesty laws begins on 20 June when Miguel Etchecolatz, former chief of police detectives in La Plata, capital of Buenos Aires province, faces charges of illegal arrest, torture and six counts of homicide.

Etchecolatz had been sentenced to 23 years in prison in 1986 on charges of illegal arrests but was released the following year after the introduction of the Due Obedience laws. In 2004 he was one of the two former senior police officials sentenced for abducting babies.

On 19 September, Etchecolatz is found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Another trial of a former police officer begins on 28 June. The accused, Julio Simon, is charged with human rights abuses in connection with the 1978 disappearance of Jose Poblete and his wife Gertrudis Hlaczik and abducting their baby daughter.

The trial ends on 4 August. Simon is found guilty of torture and "illegal privation" and sentenced to 25 years in jail. It is the first conviction of a former member of the security forces since the amnesty laws were revoked.

According to the Centre for Legal and Social Studies, there are 222 former police, military and intelligence officials in custody and awaiting trial for crimes committed during the Dirty War. Another 96 have died and 46 have fled the country or gone into hiding.

On 5 September, Federal Court Judge Norberto Oyarbide rules that the presidential pardon granted to Videla in 1990 was unconstitutional, opening up the possibility that the former junta leader may face further charges for crimes committed while he was in power.

2007 - On 25 April a federal court finds that the pardons granted to Videla and Emilio Massera were unconstitutional and rules that the life sentences originally handed down to the pair must be reinstated. The ruling is largely symbolic as both men are already under house arrest and Massera is said to be mentally unfit after suffering a stroke in 2002.

Also in April, a criminal court rejects a request for Videla to be extradited to Germany to face charges for the 1977 abduction and murder of Elisabeth Kaesemann. The court argues that as the crime took place in Argentina the case should be prosecuted in an Argentine court.

At the same time, a federal judge rules that Reynaldo Bignone, the last head of the junta, must stand trial for the kidnapping of babies borne to women who were detained and executed by the regime.

Meanwhile, another investigation into human rights abuses committed during the Dirty War focuses on the tacit approval given by many within the Roman Catholic Church. On 9 October Christian von Wernich, a former Catholic police chaplain, is found guilty of collaborating in torture, kidnapping and murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

According to witnesses, Wernich was not only present at torture sessions but also passed on information from the religious confessions of detainees.

On 7 November the focus shifts to the victims of the Dirty War when outgoing President Kirchner unveils a memorial bearing the names of thousands who were killed or disappeared. The memorial is located on the banks of the River Plate in Buenos Aires.

2009 - Bignone is brought to trial on charges of kidnapping, torture and murder of 56 people at detention centres in the Campo de May army base on the outskirts of Buenos Aires from 1976 to 1978. He is joined by seven other former military and police officers. The trial begins on 2 November. Bignone is found guilty on 20 April 2010 and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

An estimated 5,000 people were held at the Campo de May detention complex. According to the Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence, less than 50 survived.

2010 - At the start of May, Videla is charged with an extra 49 counts of kidnapping, torture and murder.

He goes to trial on 2 July, facing murder charges for the deaths of 31 political prisoners shot soon after the 1976 coup.

"I accept the responsibility as the highest military authority during the internal war," Videla tells the court. "My subordinates followed my orders."

Meanwhile, Emilio Massera dies of a heart attack on 8 November.

On 21 December, Videla gives a lengthy deposition at his trial, saying that it was the government of Isabel Perón which had called for the "annihilation" of subversive groups and that this call had been unopposed by the parliament and supported by the majority of citizens.

"It was precisely the Argentine society that was the main protagonist," he says.

"Much of what took place in the 1970s has been distorted, and perverse facts about the war have been concealed. ...

"Argentina had to confront directly a violent internal conflict, irregular in its form, of revolutionary character, with deep ideological roots and supported from outside the country. ...

"We have to admit that in our country there was an internal war, initiated by terrorist organisations. Some describe it as a dirty war. I refuse to accept this label. ...

"In this war we used force against an enemy who was trying to alter Argentine society's way of life. It (the war) was also backed by a majority of the population, who felt relieved by our actions. ...

"I ask myself, when did it really end? I ask myself if even today we can assure ourselves that, beyond military operations, this war using nonviolent methods has really ended?

"We had won the war in the military arena and unfortunately we didn't think of securing our victory in the political arena. ...

"Yesterday's defeated enemies have achieved their goal: Today they govern our country and put themselves on pedestals as champions of human rights. They're now in power and from there they are attempting to install a Marxist regime ... taking captive the institutions of the republic.

Videla says he considers himself a political prisoner and doesn't recognise the court's authority to judge him. However, he would accept his sentence "as my contribution to the national harmony, to offer one more act of service to the Lord our Father and to the country."

The next day Videla is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, to be served in a civilian jail.

2011 - Videla returns to court on 28 February to stand trial for the kidnapping of 34 babies born to dissidents held in detention. He is joined by Reynaldo Bignone, who faces the same charges.

In October, 16 former officials from the Naval Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires are found guilty for their role in crimes committed at the notorious detention centre during the Dirty War.

2012 - Bignone is convicted for setting up a secret torture centre inside the Posadas de Haedo hospital in Buenos Aires province during the 1976 coup. He is sentenced to 15 years in jail.

On 14 April, Reuters newsagency reports that Videla has admitted that the junta killed 7,000 or 8,000 people, "disappeared" opponents and took children.

"Let's say there were 7,000 or 8,000 people who needed to die to win the war against subversion," the newsagency quotes Videla as saying.

"There was no other solution. We were agreed that was the price to win the war against subversion and that we needed it not to be evident so that society didn't notice.

"For that reason, to avoid provoking protests inside and outside the country, it was decided that those people disappear. Each disappearance can certainly be understood as the cover-up of a death. ...

"In every war people are crippled, killed and disappeared, their whereabouts unknown, that is a fact.

"How many there were can be debated, but the problem does not lie in the number but in the fact - a fact which occurs in every war - that we allowed the pejorative term of disappeared to ... remain as a term to cover up something dark that was wanted to be kept secret, and that is what is weighing - that there was something dark which has not been sufficiently cleared up.

"The error was using and abusing disappeared like a mystery. And that's not the case, it is the unfortunate result of a war. ...

"I am the first to admit ... at this time children were taken, some with the best intention that the child would go to a good, unknown home. But it was not a systematic plan."

On 5 July, Videla is convicted in the baby kidnapping case and sentenced to 50 years jail. Bignone is also convicted. He receives a 15-year sentence.

At the end of November the trial of 68 former junta officials accused of crimes associated with the operation of the ESMA detention centre begins. It is Argentina's largest ever human rights trial and is expected to run for two years and to call as many as 900 witnesses.

Among the defendants are former members of the armed forces and police, including eight pilots of the so-called "flights of death", and two civilians. They are accused of participating in the kidnapping, torture and murder of 789 victims.

2013 - The long-awaited trail of former members of the armed forces involved in the Operation Condor conspiracy of the mid-1970s begins on 5 March. Videla and Bignone are among the defendants. Meanwhile, Bignone receives another life sentence, this time for the illegal arrests, kidnapping, robbery, torture and murder of 23 detainees in the Campo de Mayo military base.

Videla dies in his prison cell on 17 May. It is reported that he dies quietly in his sleep from a heart attack caused by injuries sustained after a fall in the prison shower five days earlier.

2016 - The Operation Condor trial concludes on 27 May. The trial has run for three years and taken testimony from about 370 witnesses. Reynaldo Bignone and 13 other former military officers are found guilty. Bignone is sentenced to a further 20 years in prison.

In September the former commander-in-chief of the air force, Omar Graffigna, is found guilty of the abduction and disappearance of two activists during the Dirty War. He is sentenced to 25 years in jail.

Comment

There can be few comments more revealing of the depravity of the Argentine military regime than those attributed to the killers themselves:

"In a dirty war the innocent pay for the guilty" - General Reynaldo Benito Bignone.

"First, we must kill all subversives, then their sympathisers; then those who are indifferent; and finally, we must kill all those who are timid" - General Ibérico Saint Jean.

"One becomes a terrorist not only by killing with a weapon or setting a bomb but also by encouraging others through ideas that go against our Western and Christian civilisation" - Lieutenant-general Jorge Rafael Videla, 1977.

"We waged this war with our doctrine in our hands, with the written orders of each high command" - General Santiago Omar Riveros, 24 January 1980.

"It's easier to find a green dog than an honest Jew" - Colonel Mohamed Alí Seineldín, 1988.

"The continuous weeping, the very odour of adrenaline that comes from those who can feel their end coming, their desperate cries begging us that if we were really Christians we would swear we weren't going to kill them, was the most pathetic, agonising and saddest thing I ever felt in my life and I will never forget it" - Lieutenant-colonel Guillermo Bruno Laborda writing in May 2004 of his experiences with political detainees during the Dirty War.