BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has admitted for the first time that the country's brutal 1976-1983 dictatorship "disappeared" leftist opponents, a euphemism for kidnapped and murdered, and said babies were taken from their parents.
Videla, 86, who was jailed for life in 2010 for murder, torture and kidnapping, has repeatedly justified the brutality of the military junta in the so-called Dirty War crackdown on left-wing opponents. Until now, he has also denied the forced disappearances.
Local media said that Videla admitted in interviews for a new book that the dictatorship killed 7,000 or 8,000 people.
"In every war people are crippled, killed and disappeared, their whereabouts unknown, that is a fact," Videla said in an interview broadcast on local television.
"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," he added. "And that's not the case, it is the unfortunate result of a war."
Videla denied that babies were systematically stolen from leftist opponents and then put up for adoption, but said there were some cases in which babies were taken.
"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," Videla added in the interview. "But it was not a systematic plan."
Human rights groups say up to 30,000 people were kidnapped and murdered or vanished during the dictatorship, which began when Videla and two other military leaders staged a coup on March 24, 1976.
"Let's say there were 7,000 or 8,000 people who needed to die to win the war against subversion," newspaper La Nacion quoted Videla as saying in a new book "Final Mandate," by journalist Ceferino Reato, based on a series of interviews with Videla.
"There was no other solution," La Nacion reported Videla as saying. "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."
At the height of the 1970s bloodshed, Videla famously denied the kidnappings that were taking place, saying: "There are no disappearances, they're a nonentity, they don't exist."
Reporting by Magdalena Morales; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Vicki Allen