Prisoner Pinochet. The Dictator and the Quest for Justice

21 December 1998
Peter Kornbluh

The prosecution of Pinochet, whose name became a virtual synonym for state-sponsored terror during his seventeen-year regime, has become a historic turning point for international and national efforts to hold him and other tyrants accountable.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

It was just before midnight when two detectives from Scotland Yard's organized crime division slipped into the quiet halls of the upscale London Clinic. The British agents quickly secured the private room in which the former dictator of Chile, Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, was recovering from back surgery. With hallmark efficiency, the detectives ordered his protesting bodyguards outside, disconnected his phone, removed his television and posted eight armed guards outside the door. They then served Pinochet with a "priority red warrant"-sent through Interpol from Spain-requesting the general's location and detention for "crimes of genocide and terrorism."

Within minutes the British, collaborating with the Spanish authorities, accomplished what the Chilean courts have refused to do since Pinochet stepped down as dictator in 1990-they placed him under arrest. For that reason alone, October 16, 1998, will forever be remembered in the annals of human rights history.

As this article goes to press, legal proceedings and political calculations continue in Britain over Pinochet's fate. The British government, facing legal obligations to extradite Pinochet to Spain, may yet allow him to return to Chile. But the highly dramatic decision by the British House of Lords on November 25-Pinochet's 83rd birthday-which overruled a London lower court ruling that Pinochet had immunity from prosecution, makes it far more likely that the former dictator will eventually face some form of judicial reckoning for his crimes against humanity.

The prosecution of Pinochet, whose name became a virtual synonym for state-sponsored terror during his seventeen-year regime, has become a historic turning point for international and national efforts to hold him and other tyrants accountable. During his detention in London, a cascade of murder charges has rained down on the former dictator from more than a half-dozen other European countries. His prolonged arrest, and the debate it provoked, has broken the conspiracy of silence in Chile about the past [see Marc Cooper, page 24]. The reverberations of the Pinochet arrest have been felt in Washington, where the Clinton Administration has all but come to the dictator's defense even as the cover-up of US complicity with him is slowly eroding.

Indeed, the long-hoped-for capture of Pinochet has radically energized and empowered the human rights movement, as well as vindicated his many victims. "This is a 100 percent moral victory," says Joyce Horman, widow of Charles Horman-one of the two US citizens who "disappeared" in the first days of Pinochet's rule. The story of his arrest is, in essence, about the unrelenting pursuit of justice by those Pinochet abused-their quarter-century-long struggle against the repression of memory, elimination of accountability and violation of history.

Spanish Superjudges Begin the Hunt

The genesis of General Pinochet's world-stunning arrest can be found in a quiet, methodical hunt that got under way-virtually unnoticed-in the summer of 1996 in Madrid. A team of dedicated and creative lawyers, known as the Progressive Association of Prosecutors, filed two parallel complaints of genocide and terrorism against former Chilean and Argentine military commanders-including Pinochet-in a novel legal effort to hold their regimes accountable for the deaths of hundreds of Spaniards. More than 300 citizens of Spain or their relatives lost their lives during Argentina's "dirty war" and Chile's military dictatorship. In particular, the case of Spanish citizen Carmelo Soria helped to trigger Madrid's quest to bring Pinochet to justice.

A Spanish economist working in Chile for the UN on a diplomatic passport, Soria was picked up by agents of Pinochet's secret police, the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), on July 15, 1976. According to human rights investigators, his captors dragged Soria into the basement of a DINA safehouse and, during a torture session, broke his neck. Then Pinochet's agents doused him with liquor and forged a suicide note. The next day his car and body were discovered in an irrigation canal.

Soria's death is described in detail in the Report of the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, a massive compendium of the crimes committed by Pinochet's security forces. Established by the first post-Pinochet civilian president, Patricio Aylwin, the Rettig Commission (named for its chairman, Raul Rettig) provided an accounting of the 3,178 cases of execution, murder and disappearance-and thousands of cases of the most sadistic forms of torture, including "unnatural acts involving animals"-but held no one accountable for them. Aylwin's government, the introduction to the report admits, was "subject to significant institutional and political constraints"-a euphemism for Pinochet's preconditions of amnesty, immunity and eternal impunity before allowing a partial return to civilian rule in 1990.

This inability to identify, let alone prosecute, human rights abusers inside Chile made the proceedings in Spain all the more necessary and important. Under Spanish law, groups and individuals can initiate "popular actions"-legal proceedings deemed in the public interest. The petitions for criminal investigation against Chile and Argentina were officially presented by the United Left, Spain's third-largest political party, to a unique branch of Spain's judiciary known as the National Audience. Investigative magistrate Judge Baltasar Garzón took the assignment to pursue atrocities in Argentina; Judge Manuel García Castellón received the case against Pinochet and his military commanders. Both were considered tenacious and well-respected "superjudges" who would aggressively pursue this legal experiment in the application of human rights law.

Spain's real Eliot Ness in the Pinochet case, however, is Joan Garcés, onetime political adviser to late Chilean president Salvador Allende and current head of the Madrid-based foundation that carries Allende's name. Garcés has spent the twenty-five years since the Pinochet coup searching for a legal recourse to hold the former military junta accountable for gross violations of human rights. "I was witness to a crime in which an entire people was victimized, where the democratic structures of a nation were deliberately exterminated," he says, explaining his motivation. Through Spanish law, which recognizes universal jurisdiction for offenses such as genocide, illegal detention and terrorism, Garcés foresaw a possible avenue for prosecuting Pinochet.

It was Garcés who moved to transform the case into a virtual human rights class-action lawsuit. Now it would cover not only Spanish citizens but all victims of Pinochet's abuses. For the first time countless Chileans, as well as the families of victims, including former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier, Letelier associate Ronni Karpen Moffitt, Charles Horman and others, had a potential legal remedy to break the shield of impunity that Pinochet had created for himself and members of his regime. With Garcés's assistance, the judge took depositions from hundreds of victims and witnesses, and identified no fewer than thirty-eight officials of Pinochet's regime who might be subject to prosecution-some of them still prominent members of Chilean society and its active political right.

Keeping Secrets

The achievements of the Spanish case are all the more remarkable given the complex political, legal and logistical obstacles prosecutors and human rights advocates faced. First, there was the political opposition of the Spanish government itself. As diplomatic tensions in bilateral Spanish-Chilean relations mounted, the chief prosecutor of the conservative administration of Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar repeatedly sought to shut down the investigation. Only after Pinochet was detained in London did the Spanish high court rule definitively that the National Audience had full and lawful jurisdiction to pursue -extradition.

Second, compiling evidence to prosecute Pinochet presented a critical challenge for the Spanish judges. Anecdotal material was gathered from numerous witnesses and many victims, but without Chile's cooperation, concrete documentation exposing those who committed atrocities under Pinochet's command proved difficult to obtain.

Inevitably, Spanish investigators turned their attention toward Washington. The largest holdings of evidence on human rights abuses in Chile remain sealed in the secret archives of the US government. Documents such as "Chilean Executions," a recently declassified top-secret report prepared for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in November 1973, summarize the bloody atrocities that took place in the nineteen days following the coup-320 people summarily executed, 1,500 killed, more than 13,500 arrested. But that document also reveals that Washington was expediting economic and military aid to Chile despite intimate knowledge of gross human rights violations under the new military junta. The vast majority of US intelligence records on Chile have never been declassified, precisely because the United States has so much to hide in its sordid and shameful history of helping Pinochet seize-and keep-power.

The damning secrets are less about Washington's role in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, which is relatively well known, than about the untold story of the CIA's relationship with the Chilean secret police in the mid-seventies, at the height of the torture, disappearances and international terrorism. The issue of extraditing Pinochet, as one former senior intelligence official recently told the New York Times, would effectively "open up a can of worms" in the secret record of US-Chilean relations.

The CIA was well aware of the DINA's practice of "completely barbaric" torture and murder, the official admitted to the Times. The CIA also knew about Operation Condor-the campaign of kidnappings and assassinations of political opponents carried out by a network of Southern Cone intelligence agencies, led by Chile. According to a still-classified US Senate committee report, the Chilean secret police asked the CIA in 1974 whether it could open a Condor office in Miami (the answer was no). CIA officials told the Senate investigators that they learned of assassination plots against Pinochet's opponents in France and Portugal and alerted government officials there, thwarting the attacks. The Chileans were sponsoring acts of international terrorism, yet the CIA's Santiago station chief at the time, Stuart Burton, maintained "a close relationship" with DINA commander Col. Manuel Contreras, as one former embassy official, John Tipton, told human rights researcher Lucy Komisar. They "used to go on Sunday picnics together with their families."

Disagreement between CIA and State Department officials over Pinochet's DINA, the high-profile political debate over whether to cut off US economic and military assistance to Chile on human rights grounds and the massive FBI investigation into the 1976 Letelier-Moffitt car-bombing assassination in Washington, DC, generated thousands of pages of cables, reports, intelligence summaries and meeting minutes on the Pinochet regime in the mid- and late seventies. These documents, still buried in the vaults of the CIA, Pentagon and State Department, could help prove the Spanish case against Pinochet-if declassified.

So, in February 1997, Spain invoked a bilateral Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the United States, requesting that the Clinton Administration turn over its records on Operation Condor and other human rights abuses by the Chilean and Argentine dictatorships. Judge García Castellón traveled to Washington this past January and was treated cordially by US officials. "I want to assure you," President Clinton answered Congressional inquiries in April, "that we will continue to respond as fully as we can to the request for assistance from the Government of Spain."

In fact, the Clinton Administration stonewalled for more than a year before producing any records. Finally, this past spring the Justice Department turned over four boxes of "files" to the Spanish. One box was filled with 1,000 pages of Chilean newspaper clips, which the Spanish judge had not requested. Another held Pentagon documents on a contra operation in Honduras called "Condor" that was unrelated to Chile's Operation Condor. The other boxes contained thousands of pages of legal files on the prosecution of the anti-Castro Cubans who participated in the Letelier-Moffitt car-bombing. "They gave us zilch," said one Spanish lawyer in confidence.

Cornering the Quarry

Even without significant US assistance, the Spanish prosecutors plowed ahead. Their primary challenge was physically securing the target of their investigation. Spanish law forbids trials in absentia. While Spain does have a treaty of extradition with Chile, the possibility that the Chilean government would ever turn Pinochet over appeared unlikely. Catching him on one of his infrequent trips abroad offered slightly more promise.

Since becoming an international pariah in the mid-seventies, the general has been unwelcome in most countries, but England is a notable exception. Pinochet's September 21 flight to London marked at least the fourth time he had traveled there during the nineties. Britain was the one country in the world he felt he could safely visit. (One reported incident in London came when the owner of the Hammersmith River City restaurant, where Pinochet's party had dined, decided to donate the $800 bill to Amnesty International.) "Britain," Pinochet was quoted as saying in a lengthy New Yorker article that appeared on newsstands in mid-October, "is an ideal place to live."

The New Yorker profile, published only four days before the general's arrest, ironically represented the beginning of a major public relations push by the former dictator to improve his international image and obtain "history's blessing." His daughter had talked Pinochet into doing an unprecedented interview with a US magazine because, wrote author Jon Lee Anderson, "if people understand her father better he will be maligned less." The article included a photo of a seemingly venerable, civilian-suited older man-"he looks like someone's genteel grandfather," reported Anderson-taken on September 25 in London's five-star Park Lane Hotel. The article implied that Pinochet was about to seek medical assistance there.

By the time the New Yorker piece appeared, however, the human rights community already knew that Pinochet was in London. And, still unbeknownst to the rest of the world, a group of committed activists had already initiated an effort to arrest him. Indeed, Amnesty International's London-based secretariat, and its energetic British branch, proved instrumental in bringing justice to the general's door. In late September, officials at Amnesty's London headquarters learned that Pinochet had traveled to Europe and mobilized its human rights membership to locate him. Tipped off by a small news item that he had undergone surgery in London, an Amnesty legal adviser, Frederico Andreu, alerted Spanish lawyers at the Salvador Allende Foundation in Madrid. They, in turn, began a coordinated effort through the Spanish courts to formally question, detain and extradite the general.

With Pinochet's presence in London confirmed, the two Spanish magistrates rushed to seize this unique opportunity. On October 13 they sent their initial request to detain Pinochet to Scotland Yard. Two days later, Amnesty International ratcheted up the political pressure on Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor government by publicly prevailing upon Britain to hold Pinochet. "General Pinochet's presence in the United Kingdom," Amnesty's statement read, "is giving British authorities a unique opportunity to cooperate in the fight against impunity for human rights violations committed in Chile."

Operation Condor: Multinational Murder

Two factors contributed to Britain's decision to execute the Pinochet arrest warrant on October 16. First, the Blair administration is peppered with a number of younger Cabinet members who care about human rights and an "ethical" foreign policy. When Scotland Yard initially conferred with the Foreign Office about implementing Spain's request for detention, officials offered no objection. More important, the expedited arrest was procedurally a law enforcement action rather than a controversial political statement about human rights.

It was, in fact, the extraterritorial nature of Pinochet's repression, rather than his regime's atrocities inside Chile, that enabled the British authorities to seize him. In order to obtain quick British cooperation, Spain invoked the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism-a mutual cooperation treaty that obligates signatories to identify, locate and hold suspected international terrorists. Spain's subsequent arrest warrant said that Pinochet was "in charge of creating an international organization that conceived, developed and carried out a systematic plan of illegal detentions, abductions, tortures, forcible transfers of persons, murders and/or disappearances of many people, including citizens from Argentina, Spain, the United Kingdom, the US, Chile and other countries. These actions were carried out in different countries...mainly to exterminate the political opposition."

The "international organization" that Pinochet used for his cross-border dirty work was Operation Condor. Chile, as the FBI reported in 1976, was "the center of Operation Condor." In telexes to his counterparts, DINA chieftain Manuel Contreras referred to himself as "Condor One." Through regional cooperation on surveillance, abductions, detentions and assassinations, this network defined state-sponsored terrorism in Latin America in the seventies.

Of the dozens of bloody missions conducted by the DINA, several Condor operations have become infamous: the September 1974 car-bombing in Buenos Aires that killed Pinochet's only significant rival, former Chilean Commander in Chief Gen. Carlos Prats, and his wife; the October 1975 shooting in Rome of Bernardo Leighton, the former vice president of the Christian Democratic Party, and his wife; and the September 1976 Letelier-Moffitt car-bomb assassination in downtown Washington, DC.

The pattern of these attacks, and the investigations they generated, produced circumstantial and concrete evidence directly implicating General Pinochet. According to former DINA agent Michael Townley, who arranged the Chilean regime's major international assassinations, Contreras and Pinochet used the occasion of Francisco Franco's funeral to meet with the Italian hit men whom the DINA had hired to kill Leighton. "There were meetings between [Contreras] his excellency [Pinochet] and the Italians in Spain after Franco died," Townley wrote in a prison letter to a DINA contact. In an affidavit filed before the Chilean Supreme Court a year ago, Contreras confirmed the meeting and identified the Italian as "the terrorist who a month earlier participated in the attempt in Rome against Bernardo Leighton and his wife."

Investigators in the United States also learned that Pinochet directed a cover-up of the Chilean military's involvement in the Letelier-Moffitt assassination. When one of his officials, Maj. Armando Fernandez Larios, decided in 1979 that he wanted to confess to US officials, Pinochet summoned him to the Defense Ministry. In later testimony, Fernandez Larios recounted the conversation: "I know you want to go to the US," Pinochet told him. "Be a good soldier. Wait till everything's all right. A good soldier remains at his post."

In the aftermath of the Letelier-Moffitt bombing, US federal investigators reviewed classified Defense Intelligence Agency documents on the military command structure in Chile and came away convinced that the DINA could not have carried out its murderous attacks without Pinochet's explicit authorization. One heavily censored April 1975 DIA report noted, for example, that since the DINA's creation "Colonel Contreras has reported exclusively to, and received orders only from, President Pinochet."

When former US Attorney Lawrence Barcella testified before Judge García Castellón earlier this year, he explained what the Justice Department investigation had learned about Pinochet's daily meetings with Colonel Contreras and the kind of "explicit orders" Pinochet gave. "I laid out my 'avenging angel's scenario,'" Barcella recalled. "Either angels were killing off his opponents year after year, or Pinochet was well aware that his secret police arm was out there directing the annual assassination of his enemies." It was "inconceivable," said Barcella, "that Pinochet did not know."

This evidence contributed significantly to Spanish efforts to detain Pinochet as part of a multilateral effort to fight terrorism. Since Judge Garzón had focused on Argentine, Chilean and Paraguayan collaboration in international terrorist activities, he therefore took the lead in petitioning for Pinochet's arrest. On October 20, four days after Pinochet's detention, García Castellón turned over his case file to Garzón in order to consolidate and simplify the legal and diplomatic effort to extradite Pinochet.

'Hitler Would Have Been Protected'

The decision by Tony Blair's government to detain Pinochet is virtually unprecedented; a former head of state has never before been held outside his homeland for extradition to another country. International tribunals have been established to address war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and Britain is one of 120 signatories of the 1998 Rome agreement to eventually establish a permanent international criminal court that will, theoretically, handle such human rights cases. But the legal principle that those who commit crimes against humanity should be treated like international criminals in other nations has not received such dramatic affirmation since Adolf Eichmann was tried in Israel in 1961.

International human rights experts hailed Britain's move as a quantum leap in the application of international human rights law; Pinochet's victims and their family members expressed the personal impact of sudden and unexpected justice after decades of frustration. "For many years, I felt so impotent and emasculated," said Jorge Rivera, who was imprisoned for his work as a Catholic youth activist. "I suddenly felt that impotence leaving me" after Pinochet was detained. "When I read about General Pinochet being arrested," recalled Murray Karpen, father of Ronni Karpen Moffitt, "my first reaction was, 'There is a God.'"

But the arrest also set off a firestorm of protest from powerful rightist forces in Britain-and Chile. Former prime minister Baroness Thatcher, who had had tea with the general just days before his capture, weighed in with a public plea for Pinochet-"a good friend of Britain's"-to be released. "English pirates, give us back our granddad," pro-Pinochetistas yelled outside the British Embassy in Santiago. Chilean President Eduardo Frei complained bitterly that "this is a violation of diplomatic immunity" because "Senator Pinochet" had traveled to England on a diplomatic passport; Frei's government canceled plans to purchase military ships from England. Pinochet himself vowed a "rigorous" fight and hired a team of high-priced lawyers to contest his detention in court.

On October 28 the British High Court surprised the world by issuing an initial ruling in Pinochet's favor. It was not diplomatic immunity but sovereign immunity, said Lord Chief Justice Thomas Bingham, that protected Pinochet from arrest in London. The ancient concept of the "divine right of kings," and more modern British law, Bingham determined, meant that "a former head of state is clearly entitled to immunity for criminal acts committed in the course of exercising public functions."

The court's ruling was subject to an appeal before the House of Lords-"the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of Appeal," as described in a fact sheet handed out to reporters covering the Pinochet case in London. The House of Lords hearings were held between November 4 and November 13 in the ornate gothic Houses of Parliament, adjacent to Westminster Abbey and in the shadow of Big Ben.

Dressed in traditional wigs and black robes, the lawyers for the Crown Prosecution Service, representing Spain, built their case around three arguments: (l) Pinochet was not actually "head of state" during the period some of the atrocities were committed; he was officially designated leader of the junta nine months after the coup in June 1974-a period during which hundreds of people were summarily executed and thousands "disappeared"; (2) even if he were head of state, British and international law based on the Nuremberg principles withhold immunity for crimes against humanity; and (3) acts of murder, torture, kidnapping and international terrorism could not be considered "public functions" of the state.

"Torture is conduct which no state seeks to defend," Christopher Greenwood, a prominent human rights lawyer representing Spain, told the five Law Lords. Since it is beyond the pale of legitimate state conduct, it cannot be considered an official act covered by British laws on immunity. Alun Jones, another lawyer, summed up Spain's legal position: "It is the argument of the Spanish authorities that the savage and barbarous crimes committed in Chile and the territories of other states, including the United States, Spain and Italy, are not within the functions of a head of state in English law, the law of nations or the law of Chile."

Pinochet's defense, conducted by the prestigious firm of Kingsley Napley, depended on an extraordinary submission: Torture, murder and terrorism were, in fact, the official functions of government, carried out by official entities of the state, under Pinochet's regime. Acts of torture or mass murder, according to his lawyer Clare Montgomery, would have been done "within governmental authority, under orders to the military or government forces." If Pinochet had committed such crimes as head of state, his lead lawyer, Clive Nicholls, argued, he was protected by Britain's State Immunity Act. The immunity language is so broad, Nicholls claimed (in the most memorable statement of the hearings), that even "Hitler would have been protected" from prosecution in London.

While deliberations continued inside the packed hearing room, London became a coliseum of contested accountability. "A wrong so enormous cannot go unpunished without diminishing all of us," said Joyce Horman, widow of Charles, when she arrived from the United States. "We must take a stand for right, and this is the place and time to do so." A delegation of Chileans-among them the sons and daughters of Chile's most prominent slain leaders-arrived to testify in a public hearing held in the Houses of Parliament. Isabel Allende, daughter of the late Chilean president, recounted the day of the coup; Juan Pablo Letelier, the youngest son of Orlando Letelier and now a Chilean Socialist congressman, said that international law provides no immunity for heads of state who commit crimes against humanity. Sofía Prats, whose parents were killed by a DINA carbomb in Buenos Aires, said it was time for Chile to know the truth about such atrocities. In London's Trafalgar Square hundreds of Chileans and human rights activists from around Europe gathered to call for Pinochet's extradition to Spain. Similar demonstrations took place around the world.

Meanwhile, the general's supporters established a media presence in London, waging a concerted public relations campaign to win him a pardon on humanitarian grounds. "He is ill, and about to be 83," Chile's deputy foreign minister, Mariano Fernandez, said after visiting the clinic. "We are talking about an old man, an infirm man," former Pinochet crony Miguel Schweitzer told the press. "He has a heart pacemaker and suffers from diabetes and a chronic spine condition."

Their lobbying campaign won the attention of the government and media in Britain. "Your beloved general is safe with us," columnist David Aaronovitch smartly responded in The Independent: "He will not be tortured, stabbed or shot, or have electrodes attached to his genitals. We will not drop him from a helicopter into the sea, kidnap his grandchildren, break his hands or gouge his eyes. Our most vengeful hope is that he and his family may feel-if only for a second-one billionth part of the terrible pain and mental agony that he so pompously and callously visited on others."

British Home Secretary Jack Straw said that if his office had the final ruling on Pinochet's extradition, he might consider releasing him on "compassionate grounds."

The stunning decision by the Law Lords on November 25 gave Straw the final disposition on Pinochet. The decision by the five lords-televised live around the world-constituted one of the most dramatic human rights rulings of modern times. One by one the lords offered their opinions on the appeal to overturn the lower court ruling. The first two upheld the ruling to free Pinochet; the second two said it should be overturned. When the fifth judge, Lord Hoffmann, stood up and said, "I too would allow this appeal," pandemonium ensued in Europe and the Americas.

Outside the House of Lords there was an explosion of emotion among the nearly 300 demonstrators. As the crowd burst into applause, some began to cry; one woman fainted. To chants of "presente," the crowd read off names of the disappeared in Chile. Finally, they sang "Happy Birthday" to General Pinochet.

In Clinton's Court

Pinochet was ordered to appear in a London courtroom on December 11 to respond to Spain's extradition request. There may be other court appearances as well. In addition to Spain, a number of other nations have formally filed charges against him or are seeking his extradition. In Britain, Amnesty International, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims and Redress Trust have filed criminal charges against the general on behalf of two British citizens: Sheila Cassidy, a doctor who was seized and tortured in 1975, and William Beausire, a stockbroker who was abducted in the airport in Buenos Aires, turned over to Chile, tortured for months and then desaparecido-disappeared. France has formally requested Pinochet's extradition on charges of "sequestration followed by torture" of a Chilean with French citizenship. Switzerland requested Pinochet's extradition for "terrorism and sequestration" involving Swiss-Chileans. Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg have initiated similar requests on behalf of their citizens who were killed or disappeared by the Chilean military regime. Sweden and Germany are also weighing legal actions against Pinochet. The United States, however, has made no such effort.

Two US citizens, Charles Horman-the subject of the 1982 Costa-Gavras movie Missing-and Frank Teruggi, were executed in Santiago's National Stadium in the nightmare days following Pinochet's September 1973 coup. Ronni Moffitt, who was only 25 at the time of her death, was also American, while Ambassador Letelier was a US resident. Former US Attorney Barcella points out that their assassination by Chilean secret police was "the only act of state-sponsored terrorism to claim lives in the nation's capital." That fact alone would lend considerable weight to any Washington request for Pinochet's extradition.

To date, the Clinton Administration has declined to pursue Pinochet or even voice any support for his arrest. "We have no intention of requesting General Pinochet's extradition from Britain," State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters in late October. "This is a legal matter between the governments of the United Kingdom, Spain and Chile to resolve."

In fact, Washington has been a pivotal player in Pinochet's fate-and a highly negative one. For all its rhetoric about human rights and fighting international terrorism-at a UN speech on September 21 Clinton urged all nations to "give terrorists no support, no sanctuary...to act together to step up extradition and prosecution"-the Administration has refused to uphold an international standard on human rights and take advantage of the opportunity to bring a renowned terrorist to justice.

"There is a struggle going on in here," a White House aide admitted privately in the aftermath of Pinochet's arrest. "This has been an incredibly divisive issue at State and the NSC." On the one side, staff at the National Security Council's Office of Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs and the State Department's human rights bureau saw the benefits to US policy of assisting the Spanish case. But they were stymied by two NSC officials: chief legal council Jamie Baker, who seized control of the issue on the grounds that it involved the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, and the President's NSC adviser on Latin America, James Dobbins. "We don't want to upset Chilean democracy, we want to help Frei," is the way one US official characterized Dobbins's position. Baker's position on declassifying US documents under the MLAT, according to this official, was to "do as little as possible as slowly as possible."

Well-publicized pressure brought by Congress, human rights organizations and the families of US victims has at least moved the issue of Pinochet's accountability in the United States from midlevel bureaucrats up to the Cabinet. Led by Democratic Representative George Miller, thirty-six members of Congress called upon Clinton to provide Spain with "material and testimony that the US government has thus far withheld." Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth reminded Clinton that "Pinochet is wanted for crimes against American citizens, and even crimes on American soil. Washington needs to speak out in favor of prosecuting this tyrant." And the families of Ronni Moffitt, Orlando Letelier and Charles Horman all petitioned the President and Attorney General Janet Reno to open the files and cooperate with the Spanish inquiry. "We must adhere to our policy that terrorists cannot run and hide to avoid prosecution under domestic or international law," Michael Moffitt, the sole survivor of the car bomb that killed his wife and colleague, wrote to Clinton. "The government of the United States must assist in the effort to hold Pinochet accountable for his crimes."

In late November, Spain presented the Justice Department with a second, far more specific request for documents. The new list includes Defense Intelligence Agency records, State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research files, and other human rights reporting on Chile, as well as a request that investigators in the Letelier-Moffitt case be allowed to review and testify fully about classified materials relating to Pinochet's role. According to one State Department official, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger decided to conduct an NSC-led documents review to "declassify what we can so that we can say we did our share." On December 1 spokesman Rubin said the United States will "make public as much information as possible, consistent with US laws and the national security and law enforcement interests of the United States."

Regardless of Britain's final disposition on Pinochet, Spain will continue to press for declassified US records. Judge Garzón is planning a trip to Washington to review whatever documents the White House is willing to show him. "Declassification" is now the battle cry for human rights organizations and victims' families. If their efforts are successful, the discovery process is likely to yield an abundance of information on US knowledge of Operation Condor and the CIA's relations with the DINA, among other untold stories-providing a verdict of history on Washington's sorry role in Chile and, perhaps, a possible court verdict in Madrid.

"The torturer, like the pirate of old, is hostis humanis generis-the enemy of all mankind," concludes a landmark US ruling in 1980 on the rights of torture victims. As the world commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Pinochet's detention represents another landmark, a pinnacle in the struggle to punish crimes against humanity. At a time when former rulers like Pinochet appear to have repressed the collective memory of the dark seventies and eighties, the accounts payable of their bloody dictatorships have finally come due-with appropriate moral interest. The eruption of consciousness that the saga of Pinochet's arrest has generated around the world makes clear that the cause of human rights cannot and will not be desaparecido.

And for the victims, there will forever be a deep sense of vindication and victory. Whatever happens next, "it doesn't matter," says Charles Horman's 93-year-old mother, Elizabeth, in a simple statement of fact. "From now on the world will always know Pinochet as a dirty, rotten murderer."

Copyright 1998 The Nation