(New York) - Human Rights Watch today called on President Fernando De la Rúa of Argentina to extradite former naval officer Alfredo Astiz, who is wanted for trial in Italy for the kidnapping and torture of three Italian-Argentines.  
 
Captain Astiz, notorious for human rights abuses committed during Argentina's military dictatorship (1976-1983), surrendered to Interpol on July 1 in Buenos Aires. He is being detained on orders of Argentine Federal Judge María Servini de Cubría, who recently received a formal extradition request from the Italian courts.  
 
José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Americas Division, urged President De La Rúa to allow the extradition to go forward. "After twenty years of impunity, this may be the final chance to bring this brutal criminal to justice," he said. "There is no valid reason to refuse Italy's request."  
 
Astiz narrowly escaped extradition to France in 1982 after he surrendered to British troops during the Falklands/Malvinas conflict. Here again, there may be official resistance to his extradition. The day after Astiz was arrested, Argentine Defense Minister Horacio Jaunarena said that Argentina would not extradite him. "Crimes committed in Argentina, whoever the person is who commits them, must be judged by Argentine judges," the minister reportedly said.  
 
Astiz is sought in Italy because of his role in the kidnapping of Angela María Aieta, Giovani Pegoraro, and Pegoraro's daughter Susana. Angela María Aieta was abducted from her home on August 5, 1976, and was held at the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA), a secret detention center. A survivor of the ESMA camp has testified that she saw Aieta being taken away, possibly for execution. Giovani and Susana Pegoraro were kidnapped in a railway station on June 18, 1977, when Susana was five months pregnant. None of the three were ever heard from again.  
 
An estimated 5,000 people "disappeared" from the camp during the dictatorship. Thousands were drugged, boarded on planes and dropped unconscious but alive into the Atlantic.  
 
Astiz, known as the "Blond Angel," was a member of the notorious 3.3.2 task force at ESMA, which specialised in abductions. He was said to frequently watch torture sessions in order to act quickly on the information gleaned. He is also wanted for trial in Sweden in connection with the "disappearance" of a young Swedish-Argentine, Dagmar Hagelin. An Argentine court closed the case in 1986 because of the statute of limitations.  
 
Astiz also participated as an undercover agent in the "disappearance" in 1977 of two French nuns, Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet. In 1990 a French court sentenced Astiz in absentia to life imprisonment for this crime, but Argentina refused to extradite him.  
 
In March 1998, Astiz was given a three-month suspended prison sentence for boasting in an interview that he was "the most highly skilled person to kill a politician or a journalist." Only then was he dismissed from the navy. Aside from this conviction, he has enjoyed complete impunity in Argentina.  
 
"Argentina has had twenty years to bring Astiz to justice, but has failed to do so," Vivanco said. "It is time for him to face up to his crimes in the Italian courts."