Major Push Underway In Israel To Extradite Suspected Argentine War Criminal
Teodoro Anibal Gauto is wanted for crimes against humanity perpetrated during Argentina’s military dictatorship from 1976 until 1983
Human rights organizations, members of the Israeli parliament and representatives of the Argentinean-Jewish community have joined forces to demand that Israel extradite alleged Argentine war criminal Teodoro Anibal Gauto. According to Interpol’s website, Gauto is wanted for crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and abductions during Argentina’s military dictatorship from 1976 until 1983.
Israel’s Interior Ministry has until June 10 to respond to a Supreme Court deadline to determine whether to pursue legal measures against Gauto.
Gauto worked for Argentina’s military intelligence unit, compiling files on the junta’s political opponents. He also is accused of having served as a guard at La Cacha, a notorious secret detention center where the regime tortured political prisoners.
In 2003, Gauto—who is not Jewish—immigrated to Israel and obtained citizenship under the Law of Return after marrying a Jewish woman. Shortly thereafter, Interpol issued an international warrant for his arrest, to which Israel has yet to respond. Gauto eventually changed his name to Yosef Carmel and currently lives in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
Gauto’s history was exposed a few years ago by journalist and documentary filmmaker Shlomo Slutzky, who reported his findings on Channel 1’s investigative program “Mabat Sheni.”
“It was very easy to find Gauto in Israel,” Slutzky, who attended a public conference on the matter in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, told The Media Line. Slutzky, a relative of someone who was abducted and killed by the Argentinean dictatorship, added that he recently traveled throughout Argentina to gather impressions on the possibility of Gauto’s extradition.
“I interviewed Argentinean government officials, members of the Jewish community and people from human rights organizations and all support Gauto’s extradition,” he noted. “This should have an effect on the Israeli government’s upcoming decision.”
Slutzky originally filed a petition to Israel’s Supreme Court in 2016 to have Gauto extradited based on the Interpol warrant, as well as for having lied on his immigration form about his criminal past. Last December, Israel decided against taking recourse, arguing that Gauto had not committed any crimes during his fifteen years in the country. The Supreme Court, however, did not accept the state’s decision and ruled that it reconsider its position by June 2018.
“Israel doesn’t have an extradition agreement with Argentina and Israel cannot extradite someone without filing charges [first],” Itay Mack, a Jerusalem-based human rights lawyer, explained to The Media Line. “But if Israel were to revoke his citizenship it would solve the problem very easily.”
For his part, Gauto denies any wrongdoing. “Everything I have to say, I will say it in court,” Tami Ullman, one of Gauto’s lawyers told The Media Line. “He [Gauto] was not aware of what was happening in the [La Cacha] camp and he is not connected to the camp. He was a clerk and it was his job,” she concluded, an argument reminiscent of the one used by Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann, who orchestrated the Holocaust, during his highly-publicized 1961 trial in Jerusalem.
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“Even if he only wrote files on people, at that time during the junta these files were death sentences for people,” Mack retorted. “People were kidnapped just because of their political views.”
Following the 1976 coup in the Latin American country, the military targeted students and activists, especially those espousing left-wing views, and placed them in illegal detention centers. By the time the dictatorship officially ended in 1983, around 30,000 people had either been abducted, killed or tortured in concentration camps throughout Argentina. Today, the majority of those who belonged to the junta are in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide.
While many in the former Argentinian regime held anti-Semitic beliefs, Israel nevertheless maintained ties with the dictatorship. According to recently declassified files from the British Foreign Office, Israel sold weapons to the junta, including fighter jets.
Despite the Israeli government’s agreement with the junta enabling Jews arrested for political reasons to leave and immigrate to Israel, some 3,000 Jews nevertheless perished at the hands of the regime.
“Gauto and his family abused the goodwill of the Jewish Agency, which was trying to help the Jewish community in Argentina [relocate to Israel] during a time of crisis,” Mack explained.
At this week’s conference in Tel Aviv, parliamentarians Tamar Zandberg (Chairwoman of Meretz), Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) and Amir Peretz (Zionist Union), among others, gave speeches intended to raise awareness not only of Gauto’s story but also to apply pressure on the governing coalition ahead of the upcoming June 10 deadline.
Mack, who in the past has worked on cases involving alleged Israeli arms sales to dictatorships, said he believes this time around the Israeli government will move forward with the case. “[After] we filed a petition to the Supreme Court in 2016, [Gauto] then had two meetings with the Ministry of Interior and Israeli authorities agreed with us that he had lied when he entered Israel in his [formal] declaration,” he said.
Mack conceded, though, that even if the Israeli government decides to take action, the process of extraditing Gauto to face justice could take years.
The battle may therefore be far from over.