A Spanish court on Tuesday sentenced a former Argentine naval officer to 640 years in prison for crimes against humanity, convicting him of throwing political prisoners from airplanes during Argentina's so-called dirty war against dissidents.

Adolfo Scilingo, 58, was tried for genocide in Spain's first such case under laws allowing the prosecution of crimes committed in another country. The three-judge High Court ruled that "crimes against humanity" was the correct legal term.

"Without a doubt this is a historic sentence from a historic trial. We are extremely satisfied," said Carlos Slepoy, an attorney for Argentine victims who brought the case.

"This is partial justice for the 30,000 disappeared," said Andrea Benites-Duomont, who was kidnapped by the Argentine military.

Scilingo's court-appointed defense attorney said his client was unfairly made to answer for all the atrocities carried out from 1976 to 1983 by Argentina's military junta, which imprisoned students, teachers, labor union members and others in the guise of fighting a leftist insurgency. He said he would appeal the verdict.

Scilingo was found guilty of helping to kill 30 people on two so-called death flights in which drugged and naked prisoners were pushed out of planes into the sea.

Scilingo received 30 terms of 21 years for the deaths and five years each for torture and illegal detention. However, under Spanish law he cannot serve more than 30 years on the charges.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 9,138 years.

Amnesty International said the ruling "confirms a fundamental norm of international law, that all states have universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity."

"In addition it counteracts the impunity that has traditionally reigned in Argentina," a statement said.

Scilingo, who came to Spain voluntarily in 1997 to testify, told the investigating magistrate, Baltasar Garzon, and reporters in dozens of interviews that he had taken part in the death flights, but he later retracted the story, called it an elaborate lie and asserted his innocence.

Scilingo sat with head bowed as the sentence was read and then was taken away by guards.

Adolfo Scilingo leaves court in Madrid after being convicted of helping to kill political prisoners.