Alfredo Astiz, Argentina's infamous Blond Angel of Death, and 11 other death squad members from the 1970s were jailed for life Wednesday.

Astiz stood trial with former officials accused of horrific crimes, at the ESMA Naval Mechanics School, where about 5,000 dissidents were held and tortured during the 1976-1983 Dirty War dictatorship. The ESMA was opened to the public as a human rights memorial in 2007.

Among his victims were two French nuns and the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group. Astiz has already been convicted in absentia in France for the murder of nuns Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet, who disappeared in Argentina in 1977.

In his defence, Astiz said he had acted to save Argentina from left-wing terrorism and he dismissed his trial as an act of political vengeance.

Human rights groups campaigned for years to bring the perpetrators to justice and there were celebrations as the sentences were read out. Human rights groups say Argentina's military government killed up to 30,000 people during the six-year dictatorship. Most of them disappeared and their bodies were never found. Astiz, 59, is one of the most notorious symbols of the era.

When the dictatorship fell in 1983, courts convicted former members of the military junta of human rights crimes. They were later released under an amnesty.