Argentine dirty war figure gets U.S. sentence

WASHINGTON Mon Sep 24, 2007 12:10pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former Argentine military officer has been sentenced to six months in a U.S. prison for visa fraud and is likely to be returned home to face war-crimes charges, immigration officials said on Monday.

Ernesto Barreiro, 59, stated on his 2003 visa application he had never been detained for a crime in Argentina, despite having been held on torture charges in the 1980s, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

Barreiro faces life in prison in Argentina if convicted of torture, kidnapping and murder while chief of interrogation at a secret torture facility during Argentina's "dirty war" in the 1970s and 1980s, according to court documents.

An estimated 11,000 to 30,000 people died or disappeared in the purge of leftists and dissidents, which also swept up people without political involvement.

One woman testified that Barreiro beat her and shocked her with electric needles in torture sessions that lasted 12 hours and caused her skin to fall off.

"We lost the best generation that we had, people who were thinkers and are no longer here," Teresa Celia Meschiati said in a statement submitted to the court.

Barreiro and other military personnel were granted immunity from prosecution under a 1987 law. When that law was repealed in 2003, Barreiro applied for a U.S. visa but did not mention he had been detained in 1984 and 1987, according to prosecution documents.

By the time Argentine officials issued a warrant for his arrest, Barreiro had fled to the United States, where he lived in The Plains, Virginia, a rural area about 50 miles west of Washington.

"By virtue of his fraud, Barreiro lived an anonymous life in Virginia horse country. His alleged victims remain scattered, left to wonder whether the defendant would ever be held accountable for the war crimes charged," U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

Barreiro pleaded guilty to one count of visa fraud and was sentenced on Friday in U.S. court in Alexandria, Virginia.

He faces removal to Argentina when his sentence has been completed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

His lawyer did not immediately return a call for comment.

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