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THE PINOCHET CASE: LEGAL COURAGE; POLITICAL COWARDICE


Saul Landau

It

finally happened. On January 29, Judge Juan Guzman Tapia charged Geralissimo

Augusto Pinochet, former dictator, President, chief of the armed forces, with 75

counts of murder and kidnapping. Five years ago, even most optimists had

abandoned hope of bringing the Criminal en Jefe before a court – much less a

Chilean tribunal.

Recall

that in September 1998, Pinochet, basking in the power of his own legend, took

his annual voyage to England. Pinochet had made himself president, accumulated a

personal fortune and maneuvered a permanent immunity deal. He had himself

appointed as Senator for Life. He scoffed when families of his victims and a

group of prosecutors had won jurisdiction to investigate him in Spanish courts.

He could not conceive that a Spanish judge might order his arrest under

international law; nor would the British government honor such nonsense.

In

October 1998, Pinochet emerged from his anesthetic in a British clinic where he

had undergone back surgery. A Scotland Yard detective through an interpreter

told him: “You under arrest. You have the right to an attorney….” For 15

months Pinochet remained under arrest until fearful politicians in Chile, Spain

and England cut a deal to spring him on grounds of poor mental health. No

telling what the old coot might reveal about western collaboration in his

excesses!

Chilean

doctors say he suffers from mild dementia. A Chilean humor magazine said that

anyone ordering bodies to be thr0own out of airplanes is a full-fledged psyco-path.

Last

week, in Chile, Judge Juan Guzman interrogated the 85 year old ex tyrant. “I’m

not a neurologist or psychiatrist or psychologist, “Guzman said. Yet, he found

Pinochet to be “an extraordinarily normal person, very well-mannered, very

brave and very gentlemanly.” Pinochet responded to Guzman’s questions about

his role in the Caravan of Death that occurred shortly after the September 11,

1973 military coup, which he led. Pinochet allegedly ordered his subordinate,

General Arellano Stark, to organize an itinerant murder squad that traversed

Chile. This military Caravan would arrive at a city and summarily execute

alleged opponents of the newly installed military dictatorship. Some 75 people

died during that October 1973 tour.

Pinochet

now blames subordinates for those murders. Indeed, the man who once said “not

a leaf turns in Chile without me knowing about it” now feigns ignorance of the

murder of thousands and the torture of tens of thousands of his compatriots.

Pinochet

told Judge Guzman he had never ordered executions. He said “to shoot only in

self-defense.” Stark’s mission, Pinochet testified, was to “speed up the

trials to bring them to a quick end: Sentence those that should be convicted,

and release those that were innocent.” Pinochet also claimed that he never

ordered subordinates to dispose of the bodies because the victims’ families

usually retrieved them. Some of Pinochet’s former officers have contradicted

the octogenarian ex-tyrant and said that not only did Pinochet know about the

executions, but actually witnessed some of the worst mutilations of live

prisoners in the northern city of Antofagasta.

Ironically,

Judge Guzman complained that the Socialist Party government officials have

pressured him to drop the case. These very same Socialist Party leaders know

that Pinochet ordered the assassinations and torture of tens of thousands of

their members and leaders during his 17-year rule. Nevertheless, they still

tremble at the consequences of a Pinochet trial. Will the military make trouble?

Will Pinochet involve US officials?

What

irony, those who initiated the Pinochet case have shown judges throughout the

world the way to distinguish between criminal and political acts. They have made

new law by insisting on the application of international treaties and laws

outlawing genocide in its broadest meaning and systematic torture. Judicial

courage has proven infectious, yet socialist and liberal politicians continue to

try to free the old criminal en jefe. Salvador Allende would feel a sense

of satisfaction that Pinochet has been indicted. Allende might also be rolling

over in his grave over the perfidy and cowardice of some of his former comrades.

 

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