Britain Lets Spain Start Pinochet's Extradition

09 December 1998
Article

Britain is allowing Spain to begin extradition proceedings against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, now in custody in England, to face charges of genocide, torture and kidnapping.

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TNI and the Pinochet precedent

Britain is allowing Spain to begin extradition proceedings against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, now in custody in England, to face charges of genocide, torture and kidnapping. 'I find an authority to proceed in respect of Senator Pinochet today. The Spanish request for his extradition will now be considered by the courts', Home Secretary Jack Straw said Wednesday. Spain wants to extradite Pinochet on charges dating from his 1973-1990 military dictatorship. Pinochet now holds a lifetime seat in Chile's Senate, and granted himself immunity from prosecution before turning power over to a civilian government.

The 83-year-old Pinochet is under armed guard at a mansion outside London. He now faces months -possibly years -of battles through British courts in his fight against extradition. His lawyers have said they may seek an urgent review before a judge, arguing that Straw would be legally wrong to let Spain have the general. A Chilean government report says 3,197 people, including Spanish citizens, were murdered or disappeared during Pinochet's 17-year rule. Pinochet came to power in a US-backed coup that overthrew Salvador Allende, an elected Marxist.

Human rights groups praise decision

Straw's decision delighted human rights groups and victims of the Pinochet years. 'We congratulate the home secretary on this difficult but courageous decision, which brings us one step closer to the day when Pinochet will have to answer to his victims', said Reed Brody, a spokesman for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. Straw's order came as the Spanish judge seeking Pinochet's extradition asked the United States to produce its files on the retired general, as well as a witness in a 1976 bombing case in Washington. Judge Baltasar Garzón wants to question Michael Townley, a former member of Chile's secret police who has admitted participating in killing the country's former foreign minister, a Spanish newspaper reported Wednesday. Townley served a prison term for his involvement in the assassination of Orlando Letelier, killed in a car bombing in Washington in 1976. Townley is now living with a new identity through a US witness protection program. The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that Garzón has also asked Washington for access to certain FBI and CIA documents that deal with Operation Condor -an anti-leftist conspiracy involving the Chilean military and security forces from other South American nations.

'It's time to finish the job'

Straw had until Friday to decide on extradition. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International launched a preemptive strike in the Pinochet case Wednesday, going to court to ask that he be kept in Britain if Straw blocked Pinochet's extradition.

Some victims' relatives said Monday the United States should at least seek to bring Pinochet to trial for the bombing that killed Letelier, a prominent Pinochet critic, and his aide, Ronni Moffitt. 'When we set out 22 long years ago to solve the Letelier-Moffitt case, we sought to locate and prosecute each and every one of those responsible', said Michael Moffitt, the only survivor of the car bombing that killed his wife and Letelier. 'With one exception, we got them all. And now it's time to finish the job'. Letelier's widow, Isabel, said evidence that Pinochet orchestrated the bombing is 'immense'.

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