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Argentina's judges

December 24, 1982



It may be hard to tell a hero from a distance. But, from the reports out of Buenos Aires so far, it appears that Judge Pedro Narvaiz represents members of an Argentine judiciary who deserve accolades. He recently resigned from the bench, dramatizing his protest against the military regime's refusal to obey court orders.

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This is the first known protest resignation by a federal judge since the military took over in a 1976 coup. But the Supreme Court seems in effect to have bolstered his criticism of the military by largely upholding legal precedents set by him in dozens of decisions ordering release of political prisoners.

Recently Judge Narvaiz told an interviewer that his nation's state of siege was no longer justified and therefore unconstitutional. Such views appear to be in keeping with a widening public mood of resistance to the generals.

This is reportedly spurred in part by awareness that they spread misinformation during the Falklands war. Another spur has been the disclosure of hundreds of unmarked graves, presumed to be those of some of the thousands of ''disappeared'' persons during the generals' so-called ''dirty war'' against guerrillas. Now political parties are demanding elections earlier than the military's schedule for 1984.

It is said that judges may be trying to establish credentials for fair and independent performance in order not to be ousted as military puppets if and when constitutional government returns. But the Supreme Court stood up to the regime as early as 1979 when it said Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman should have been freed on grounds of insufficient evidence after his arrest by security forces.

Perhaps it is not heroism for people to do the job expected by the standards of their profession. Still, when the conditions for justice are like those in Argentina, a decoration of some kind seems in order.