Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Chilean dictator and secret police get their comeuppance

Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has just been ruled fit to stand trial by a Chilean judge and placed under house arrest. This reverses previous rulings on his mental condition in both Chile and Britain.

Pinochet, after having successfully evaded the justice system with his "stroke" defense, unwisely went on Miami TV last year and displayed considerable mental agility. He was also found to be cunning enough to salt away millions of dollars in Riggs Bank, of Washington DC. Pinochet is 89 and frisky.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that

[the judge] has accused Pinochet of playing a role in the murder of one and the kidnapping of nine others during Operation Condor, an intelligence-sharing scheme by five South American dictatorships to execute thousands of left-wing activists in the 1970s.

Court documents show Operation Condor was largely organised by secret police working under the direct control of Pinochet, then commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay also took part in Condor. It reached into the US in what Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File, called the first act of "state-sponsored international terrorism".

Ah, yes. The good ol' days of Henry Kissinger.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch reports

The Chilean Supreme Court’s decision today to confirm the prison sentences of General Manuel Contreras and four other military officers for a 1975 case of forced disappearance is a major victory for accountability, Human Rights Watch said.

“Today’s ruling gives full backing to efforts by the lower courts to hold accountable those responsible for grave human rights violations under military rule,” said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch.

What is particularly interesting about this ruling is its novel legal rationale. A rather self-serving general amnesty had been issued by the military government in 1978 "that covers human rights crimes committed between September 11, 1973, and the date of the decree." In other words, if you murdered anyone during that time, it was all okay, and you could go on about your business.

But there were many people that the government never acknowledged killing—they just "disappeared." So since these people are still "disappeared," the court ruled that their disappearance is an ongoing crime and is therefore not covered by the amnesty.

Here is one example—

Government agents detained Miguel Ángel Sandoval Rodríguez, a 26-year-old tailor in January 1975. He was held in secret detention in the Villa Grimaldi, a clandestine camp in Santiago, where he was tortured. Sandoval was one of 119 missing detainees who were later falsely reported in the press to have been found dead in Argentina, a ruse concocted by the secret police to cover up their secret execution. His body has never been found.

It is a wonderful irony that their effort to conceal the murders has been their undoing. If they had just pointed out the bodies, they could be vacationing in Miami.

Will Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld 'fess up when the time comes?

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