Let Pinochet Stand Trial in the US, Too

26 August 1999

When Spanish justice finishes with Pinochet, the United States should seek his extradition to Washington for his role in the murders of Letelier and Moffitt, which happened just a mile from the White House.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

When it comes to Chile, old allies are not always reliable.

Earlier this month, Juan Gabriel Valdes, Chile's new foreign minister, met with US Secretary of State Madeleine Alrbight ostensibly to discuss trade and commerce. But Valdes also petitioned her to help free former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from British detention and from the risk of extradition to Spain, where he would have to stand trial on charges of crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism.

Valdes belongs to the left. I knew him as an exile during the early years of Pinochet's military government. In 1976 he was my colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies, where we both worked with Orlando Letelier. Letelier had been defense minister under the government of Salvador Allende.

On September 11, 1973, the morning of the military coup against Allende's government, Letelier was arrested and sent to a concentration camp near the South Pole. A year later, thanks to international pressure, Pinochet released Letelier. I invited Letelier to join me as a colleague at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-of-center research center in Washington.

Kissinger knew of Pinochet's methods

Letelier accepted my offer and subsequently askes Valdes to help him in his campaign to restore democratic government to Chile. Pinochet saw Letelier as an immediate threat to his illegitimate military rule, so much wso that he mentioned Letelier's name twice in a June 1976 conversation with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Pinochet cited Letelier as a source of his problems with Washington. Kissinger blamed Pinochet's problems on the international left and went out of his way to assure the Chilean dictator that Washington approved of his methods.

When Kissinger said those words, he knew - as a result of thousands of recently declassified US embassy cables - that Pinochet's methods included wholesale torture, murder and extra-territorial assassination.

Three months after this cozy conversation, Pinochet's agents detonated a bomb underneath Letelier's car in Washington, killing him and Ronni Moffitt, also an Institute for Policy Studies colleague.

I would expect Valdes to want to see Pinochet brought to justice, and that is more likely to happen in Spain than in Chile. But Valdes is compromising principles to the dictates of politics by putting forth the notion that sovereignty requires Britain to return the 83-year-old dictator to Chile.

In Chile, Pinochet would almost certainly go free. Before stepping down as junta leader, he issued amnesty provisions to army officers, including himself, and made himself senator-for-life. In this way, Pinochet fortified himself against the law.

Valdes does concede that Washington has the right to ask for Pinochet's extradition for the Letelier-Moffitt murders should the US Department of Justice have enough evidence to do so. The FBI traced the killings back to the head of Chile's secret police, who was working for Pinochet.

No amnesty provisions

Former Assistant US Attorney Lawrence Barcella wrote in December in The Washington Post that it was inconceivable that Pinochet did not authorize Letelier's murder. Because of US pressure to keep the case open, the Letelier-Moffitt killings akways have remained exempt from amnesty provisions.

As my experience with Valdes makes clear, he will not push to bring Pinochet to justice. But Spain can, and the United States should support that effort. But it should go one step further.

When Spanish justice finishes with Pinochet, the United States should seek his extradition to Washington for his role in the murders of Letelier and Moffitt, which happened just a mile from the White House.

Copyright 1999 The Miami Herald

About the authors

Saul Landau

TNI Senior Fellow and former Director of TNI (1976), Landau was an award-winning filmmaker, journalist and author. Landau wrote on US politics and foreign policy and produced more than forty films on social, political and historical issues, and worldwide human rights. He died from cancer at age 77 on September 9 2013.

Landau wrote fourteen books and received an Edgar Allen Poe Award for Assassination on Embassy Row, a report on the 1976 murders of Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his colleague, Ronni Moffitt.

Gore Vidal said, "Saul Landau is a man I love to steal ideas from"

Saul received the Bernardo O'Higgins award from the Chilen government in 2010.

In 2011, he produced 'Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up' with Danny Glover and Fidel Castro, a film about 50+ years of US-Cuba relations.