Photo credit: La Nación

César Milani, Army Chief during the latter stages of Cristina Kirchner’s administration, was placed into custody last Friday for his alleged involvement in crimes against humanity committed during the last military dictatorship.

The arrest has generated headlines in part because the accusations about Milani were made public by journalist Jorge Lanata during Kirchner’s presidency, but were dismissed at the time as being false. Indeed a number of Kirchnerist officials and even human rights advocates lent their support to Milani while he was Army Chief – like Hebe de Bonafini, leader of the more radical faction of the Mothers of The Plaza De Mayo, who sat down for a friendly interview with him in December of 2013.

Given this, perhaps Milani was expecting that his old supporters would come out to defend him. However, since he was arrested and transported to the Penitentiary Service of La Rioja, support from his former colleagues has not been forthcoming, a fact that many have drawn attention to.

Self-described Kirchnerist, Martín Sabbatella, was blunt: “May Milani answer to whatever he needs to answer to, and go to jail for life, if that is what the court rules,” he said in a radio interview republished on the Nuevo Encuentro website.

A most notable silence is that of former President Cristina Kirchner, usually a very active presence on Twitter and Facebook, who has remained tight-lipped on the topic of the arrest.

The current government has rushed to point out what they perceive is hypocrisy in her position. Minister of Public Works and Housing, Rogelio Frigerio, questioned the authenticity of the last administration’s commitment to human rights, and said: “The Kirchnerist government was the one that put Milani at the head of the armed forces, a man who is now being investigated for crimes against humanity.”

The only political figure who has come forward to defend Milani in no uncertain terms is Guillermo Moreno, former Secretary of Domestic Trade and Milani’s business associate. “Milani is innocent, I don’t have any doubt about this fact. He is my partner, my compañero and my friend,” said Moreno in a television interview. Moreno also claimed that Milani’s arrest was an attempt “to cover up the correo situation,” a reference to a recent deal between the State and Macri’s father, Franco, in relation to the Argentine postal service, which some view as unfair.

“Arbitrary” detention?

Milani’s defense lawyer, Mariana Barbitta, has said that she has requested his immediate release because there is no flight-risk and because his detention was “arbitrary” in the first place.

She also complained that her client is being kept in “alarming” conditions, and has said she will consider filing a habeas corpus petition if these conditions worsen. “He is worried, outraged, angry…he’s not good,” she responded, when asked about his mental state.

However, the prosecutor, Virgina Miguel Carmona, has maintained firm that preventative custody is necessary because Milani has “resources…that could obstruct the investigation.”

“He has been Intelligence Chief, we cannot forget that. He has more than sufficient resources to get access to tools that could both obstruct the investigation and elude the action of the judiciary,” she said to FM Blue.

Meanwhile, Infobae has published photos they believe contradict Barbitta’s claim that he is being kept in “alarming” conditions. The photos show an open prison block with trees and washing hanging from a line. The prison is reserved for police and military offers charged with genocide.

Photo credit: Infobae
Photo credit: Infobae

Milani was arrested unexpectedly last Friday as he made a statement at an inquest in relation to three abductions that took place during the dictatorship in 1976. At the time, Milani was a 22 year old Second Lieutenant in La Rioja’s 141st battalion of engineers.