Witnesses located in Buenos Aires began to give their testimony by video-conference in the trial of Lieutenant Commander Scilingo.

On the 8th February 2005 the witnesses located in Buenos Aires began to give their testimony by video-conference in the trial of Lieutenant Commander Scilingo.

From Buenos Aires, the Argentinian judge Bonadío linked up with the President of the Third Section of the Criminal Division, Fernando García Nicolás, in order to comply with the existing permanent rogatory commission which allows for the witnesses to be examined from Madrid.

The judges in Madrid had hoped to begin with the testimony of Ernesto Sábato, President of CONADEP, but his age prevented him from being present in the courtroom where the Officers in the case known as "Causa 13" were tried. The courtroom has been designated for use in this trial by the Argentinian Federal Chamber because of its symbolic significance.

As a result, at the express request of the Court, Judge Bonadío agreed, by way of exception, to allow for Ernesto Sabato to give his testimony from home so that he could, at the least, ratify the testimony he had previously provided before the Spanish courts.

The process of the international rogatory commission was carried out pursuant to the Treaty on Extradition and Judicial Assistance in Criminal Matters signed by the Kingdom of Spain and the Republic of Argentina on 3rd January 1987 and drawn up via an Exchange of Letters between the Embassies of the Republic of Argentina and the Kingdom of Spain and published in the Spanish Official Gazette on 22nd May 1991. The process is also based on article 9 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, signed in New York on 10th December 1984.

The court hearing the trial in Spain issued the first judicial request to the Argentinian Government on 30th November 2004. This was subject to an unjustifiable delay with the consequence that it arrived at the Ministry of Justice in Argentina in the first days of January 2005.

The second request from Spain was sent on 24th January and by the 2nd February it had still not been delivered to the competent judge, Judge Bonadio. These delays put into question the possibility of commencing the witness examinations and also raised doubts as to the efficiency of the process given that if every modification to the witness lists were treated similarly it would result in an immediate delay to the relevant time periods applicable to the stages of the trial

Finally, the matter was resolved last Thursday,10th February, when Judge Bonadío agreed to make such decisions by video-conference, without prejudice to the requirement to issue letters rogatory via the two respective Foreign Ministries. This effectively dealt with the excessive and unjustifed delays in transmission of such requests notwithstanding that they were sent as urgent.

The problem with the time periods applicable in this trial acquired particular relevance given that the list of witnesses approved in November 2003 by all but two of the accusing parties raised insurmountable issues regarding the number and nature of the witnesses who were to testify.

The testimony of the witnesses had hardly begun when, in the course of these proceedings, the Court gave a warning on at least three occasions to the lawyers representing the prosecuting parties about the relevance of the witnesses.

This problem was exacerbated by the slowness of the examinations, which raised alarm concerning the expiry of the fixed procedural time limits and the clear possibility that the accused could be set free.

The Argentinian Association for Human Rights in Madrid ( "la Asociación Argentina Pro Derechos Humanos"), one of the prosecuting parties, took the initiative in the matter, following by the Izquierda Unida and the Spanish Association for Human Rights ("la Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España"), and the other parties agreed to support the proposal.

On this occasion the dispute between the various lawyers reflected the acknowledged differences existing between the prosecuting parties, but after hard negotiations, the opposition of the advocate Mr. Slepoy, the true architect of this failed strategy, was overcome. It was then possible to reduce the list of witnesses although problems remained concerning the relevance of their testimony to this case.

The new list of witnesses was passed to Judge Bonadío by video conference at the end of the session on the evening of Thursday, 10th February.

Pursuant to the new list, witness testimony should finish on February the 22nd, with the last two witnesses: the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and the prosecutor in the case known as Causa 13 and the case against ESMA, Julio Strassera.

In the light of all these events, the proceedings should be at the point where the case will be ready for judgement in the first fortnight of March.

On Tuesday, February 15th, this list was rearranged for logistical reasons. Strassera and Esquivel will testify on February 21st and the witnesses who were supposed to testify on February 21st will now testify on February 22nd.

It should be borne in mind, however, that once the witnesses for the public and private prosecution have finished with their testimony, the following stages in the trial are commenced: the testimony of the defence witnesses, the testimony of expert witnesses, documentary evidence and final summing up.

This all suggests that we can still expect some surprises and even more so since the defence strategy of Lieutenant Commander Adolfo Scilingo has procedural room to maneuvre.

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