BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Newly elected President Nestor Kirchner overturned a decree Friday that prevented former military officers accused of abuses during the 1976-1983 dictatorship from facing human rights trials abroad.
The president's order came a day after a federal judge ordered the detention of 45 former officers and one civilian sought by Spain on charges of torture, murder and other crimes during the dictatorship's "dirty war" against suspected dissidents.
The judge, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, said authorities had so far arrested 15 of those on Spain's list, including former navy Capt. Alfredo Astiz, who was once dubbed the "angel of death" and became a symbol of the dictatorship's repression. All extradition requests will move through regular legal channels now that the decree has been overturned, the judge said.
"The president felt this decree weakened the principle that all are equal before the law," Justice Minister Gustavo Beliz said.
Kirchner, who began a four-year term on May 25, has already purged the armed forces high command -- targeting some who were junior officers during the junta years. He has signaled human rights issues will be a priority during his presidency.
A civilian lawyer and a former aeronautics police officer were among the first arrested. One former officer on the list was reported in critical condition at a naval hospital after what authorities described as an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon has said he wants to try dozens of Argentine suspects. Garzon has acted under a Spanish law that says genocide can be prosecuted in Spain even if it is alleged to have been committed in another country.
As a crusading prosecutor against human rights abuses, Garzon once indicted former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet and has filed similar charges against dozens of former members of the Argentine military.
During the dictatorship, at least 9,000 people were arrested, tortured and never seen again. Some human rights groups put the number at 30,000, including many citizens of other nations.
Two of the 45 officers on Spain's list, former junta leaders Jorge Videla and Emilio Massera, were under house arrest because of separate probes into alleged military era abuses.
Last year, Argentina turned down an extradition request for Astiz from Sweden where he is wanted for the disappearance of Dagmar Hagelin, a Swedish teenager kidnapped in January 1977 soon after the junta took power. He is also wanted in other European countries in other cases.