Clinton Pressed to Cooperate on Pinochet Extradition

22 October 1998

A group of US congressmen want Clinton to hand over classified US material to Judge Baltasar Garzón relating to Pinochet's alleged role in 'international terrorism' in Latin America and elsewhere.

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Interpress Service

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

The clamour over the arrest in London of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet grew in Washington Thursday and 36 US Congressman called on President Bill Clinton to cooperate with the Spanish judge who has requested his extradition. The congressmen - all Democrats - want Clinton to hand over classified US material to Judge Baltasar Garzón relating to Pinochet's alleged role in 'international terrorism' in Latin America and elsewhere - including within the United States. That information has been withheld despite formal assurances last June that Washington was cooperating fully with Garzón and a related investigation. It would help establish Pinochet's knowledge and responsibility for the disappearance or killing of dozens of Spanish and other citizens after Pinochet seized power in the 1973 military coup d'etat, according to the lawmakers. Another demand for the US government to publicly support and promote the extradition of Pinochet came Thursday from Human Rights Watch (HRW). 'The government can't sit on the sidelines in this case,' said HRW Executive Director Kennth Roth. 'Pinochet is wanted for crimes against American citizens, and even crimes on American soil. Washington needs to speak out in favour of prosecuting this tyrant.'

At the same time, the families of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, who were killed in car bomb set off by Chilean agents in Washington in Sep. 1976, mulled their options against Pinochet and would make an announcement within several days, according to their attorneys. One option, said the lawyers, wouild be to ask the Justice Department to empanel a grand jury to to indict Pinochet - who retired from the military earlier this year to become a senator-for-life - for the murders of Letelier and Moffitt. 'If we are serious about dealing with terrorism, the government should consider indicting Pinochet,' said attorney Michael Tigar. The families also want Clinton to hand over the classified information to Garzón. 'My understanding is there is a large volume of classified information, none of which has been turned over so far,which establishes Pinochet's responsibility for the operations of DINA, CNI and Operation Condor,' said lawyer Sam Buffone, who represented the families in a successful civil case against Pinochet's government filed in 1978. 'DINA' and 'CNI' were names given the secret police which operated both inside Chile and abroad against Pinochet foes. Operation Condor, which Garzon has been investigating for almost two years, was a secret network of the intelligence agencies of military-ruled Southern Cone countries which cooperated in the abduction and murder of dissidents. The families also were considering asking Garzón to include Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States who was organising an international campaign against the military government when he was killed, and Moffitt, a research assistant, among the specific cases which he is investigating. 'We consider the Spanish case a very important proceeding,' said Buffone. 'There's been a lot of testimony in the Spanish courts, and it's our hope that that case will proceed.'

The Clinton administration has not stated a public position on either Garzón's extradition request or Britain's decision to arrest Pinochet. The State Department denied reports earlier this week, that Washington was urging both governments to drop the case. 'We are not involved, and this is a legal matter between the three governments,' said spokesman James Rubin.

The third government is Chile itself, whose elected government has protested the arrest, claiming that Pinochet enjoys diplomatic immunity.

For the 36 US lawmakers, however, Washington must get involved. In their letter sent to the White House they argued that the Garzón case represented an important opportunity to show that Clinton was serious about his fight against international terrorism - which he featured in his address last month to the UN General Assembly. 'We appreciate your commitment to stop international terrorism,' the letter stated. 'We strongly believe, however, that without concrete actions to back up your commitment, international terrorism will continue unabated.'

At the time of the case against some of the Letelier-Moffit assassins, E. Lawrence Barcella - who served as chief prosecutor - travelled to Madrid to testify before the Spanish court. 'It is inconceivable that the Letelier assassination could have taken place without the express authority of the Chilean commander-in-chief,' he told the court.

The families' civil suit against the Pinochet government was filed in 1978 after the criminal case which resulted in convictions and prision terms for Chilean agent Michael Townley, a Chilean army captian, and two Cuban exiles hired by DINA. In 1980, lawyers Baffone and Tigar obtained a judgment for the families of three million dollars. In 1992, an international arbitration panel set up by presidents Patricio Aylwin and George Bush ordered Santiago to pay about 2.6 million dollars to the families to conclude the case. In 1995, two Chilean generals, including Manuel Contreras who led DINA in the mid-1970s, were imprisoned in Chile for their roles in the conspiracy to assassinate Letelier. Contreras recently testified that, as DINA chief, each of his actions was taken at the behest of Pinochet.

Copyright 1998 InterPress Service