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Pinochet naked — at last!


Saul Landau

Picture

Homer Simpson’s boss, naked, a scrawny figure bent with age, covering his

genitals with his general’s hat. The caption: "You’ve stripped me, but

don’t take my hat!" Augusto Pinochet, former President, Generalissimo, King

of the world, now naked, stripped of immunity. The Chilean Supreme Court has

removed the imperial armor that has covered his treacherous butt since he led

the September 1973 coup to overthrow the elected socialist government of

Salvador Allende.

Pinochet,

head of the army under Allende, didn’t join the coup plotters until the last

minute. He vacillated, procrastinated, anguished. Then, when he understood that

the armed rebellion had strong US backing and would succeed, he joined the

conspiracy and, as head of the largest unit in Chile’s armed forces, he declared

himself head of the military junta. Overnight, he became more fanatic than the

most rabid of the fascist ideologues inside the military. Shortly after the

military takeover, Pinochet established DINA, a secret police and intelligence

agency, answerable only to him. DINA thugs began their caravan of death,

committing wholesale murder. They also tortured tens of thousands suspected of

"subversion." Some members of the original cabal began to complain

about the "excesses." By June 1976, however, Pinochet understood: he

had gotten away with murder – mass murder.

In

June, according to declassified documents, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

visited Chile, symbolically blessing the illegitimate government. Kissinger met

with Pinochet and obsequiously pleaded for the General’s understanding that he

had to make a human rights speech to the OAS meeting in Santiago, but that his

excellency should not take this in any way as directed against his government.

"We approve of your methods," Kissinger told Pinochet.

Which

methods?

Did

Kissinger refer to the free market economic model that he had imposed through

military fascism, or the method of eliminating his political opponents by

murdering, torturing and exiling them? US Embassy and CIA officials had

carefully reported the data on Pinochet’s efficient death squads, torture

chambers and concentration camps. Kissinger understood these

"methods." Kissinger also had information on Operation Condor, a

sinister collusion of secret police and intelligence agencies from Argentina,

Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia. The CIA and FBI had both assisted Condor

agents in rounding up "subversives." On several occasions, as

Kissinger knew, Condor agents had gone beyond their boundaries to assassinate

enemies. In late June, just after Kissinger’s departure from Chile, a Condor

mission from Santiago commenced. Its target: Orlando Letelier, Allende’s former

Defense Minister. Did Pinochet interpret Kissinger’s approval of his methods as

a green light to kill Letelier? On September 21, 1976, just three months after

Kissinger’s visit, Pinochet’s secret police agents detonated a bomb under

Letelier’s car in Washington, DC. Ronni Moffitt, Letelier’s colleague, at the

Institute for Policy Studies, also died in the explosion.

In

1978, The Justice Department indicted Chile’s secret police chief and eight

other conspirators. Privately, the FBI agents concluded that Pinochet had

authorized the hit on Letelier, but unfortunately he would "get away with

it."

Indeed,

Pinochet had gotten away with 3,192 murders during his seventeen year rule. He

made some concessions to US power. Two high DINA officials ultimately went to

prison in Chile for the Letelier hit, but in 1990, Pinochet, as he stepped down

from the presidency to become army chief, had wrapped himself and his military

minions in an amnesty decree — absolving the killers and torturers. Pinochet,

almost everyone in power and out agreed, had gotten away with murder. In 1996,

former Allende advisor, Juan Garces, representing families of Pinochet’s

victims, and a Spanish law team, filed charges against Pinochet and other high

military officers – in Spain. The political and legal community laughed at this

act of futility. In 1998, Pinochet retired as army chief and made himself

Senator for Life, adding yet another immunity blanket for his old age. By now he

had accumulated a sizeable fortune and enjoyed the routine of the fearful bowing

and scarping before him. The once deferential army officer behaved as if he had

been born Emperor of Chile.

The

Spanish case proceeded. In the Fall of 1998, some of his legal advisers worried

about the proceedings in the Spanish court, which the Spanish government had

tried and failed to derail. But Pinochet dismissed such concerns as he prepared

for his annual voyage to London to visit his dear friend, Lady Margaret

Thatcher. Pinochet sipped tea with the fomer British Prime Minister who hailed

him as an ally in her 1982 war against Argentina over the Malvina/Falkland

Islands. Pinochet and Lucia, his wife, shopped and tasted the fine cuisine of

London;s posh restaurants before the general entered a high-priced clinic to

repair a back problem.

Meanwhile,

the Spanish judge issued an order to British authorities to arrest Pinochet.

They held him for fifteen months, accused in Spain of violation of international

law, torture. The House of Lords upheld the arrest, thus affirming a sea change

in international law. A torturer, like a pirate was fair game for any court in

the world. In March, 2000 Home Secretary Jack Straw, after cutting a deal with

Chilean and Spanish authorities, released Pinochet on flimsy health grounds.

Now, at age 84 and in Chile, no one can touch him, said the cynics. But the

determination and courage evinced by those who had pressed the Spanish case and

the judgment by the House of Lords proved infectious. Those who once trembled

before Pinochet, now filed suit against him — in Chile. Once timid Chilean

judges upheld the newly discovered international law. And Pinochet’s victims and

their families can laugh at the naked, former tyrant, whose lawyers maneuver

desperately to keep him out of court.

The

lessons: Aspiring human rights violators have also learned this lesson and aging

criminals like Kissinger checks carefully with foreign governments before

travelling abroad. For those who pressed the care: Sometimes, with courage and

determination, you can achieve a measure of justice – and change international

law.

 Saul

Landau is the Hugh O. LaBounty Chair of Interdisciplinary Applied Knowledge at

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, 3801 W. Temple Ave. Pomona,

CA 91768

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