Bomb Survivors Push US on Pinochet

31 October 1998
Article

Survivors of a Chilean diplomat and his American aide who were assassinated in Washington by agents of former dictator Pinochet's government are urging the Clinton administration to reopen an investigation of Pinochet's involvement in the attack.

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Associated Press

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

Survivors of a Chilean diplomat and his American aide who were assassinated in Washington by agents of former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet's government are urging the Clinton administration to reopen an investigation of Pinochet's involvement in the attack. The survivors, who also want US officials to cooperate fully with a Spanish inquiry into Pinochet's responsibility for human rights abuses, are seeking a meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Pinochet is in Britain, fighting extradition to Spain. 'I am writing to ask your assistance in supporting the governments of Britain and Spain in the currently pending effort to extradite General Pinochet to Spain for trial on charges of crimes against humanity, murder and terrorism,' Samuel J. Buffone, attorney for the survivors of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, wrote to the cabinet secretaries Oct. 23. The letters were obtained Friday by The Associated Press. Spokesmen at Justice and the State Department did not return requests for comment.

Separately on Friday, President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, indicated that the administration had not closed the door to further action in the Pinochet case. 'We, obviously, need to enforce our own laws where our own laws have been violated here in the United States,' Berger said at a National Press Club appearance. 'We need to pursue those as far and vigorously as we can.'

Letelier and Moffitt were killed in Washington by a car bomb planted by Chilean secret police in 1976 in one of the worst acts of terrorism ever in the US capital. An investigation led to convictions in Chile of the former head of the nation's secret police and one of his deputies, as well as plea bargains in the United States by two men who carried out the attack. But investigators who handled the case felt Pinochet was ultimately responsible and that he tried to block their inquiry, and others familiar with the probe say a still-classified US intelligence report holds evidence that could warrant a case against Pinochet in Washington.

In his letter, Buffone said a review of evidence from the Letelier bombing 'indicates that there is a significant volume of information directly linking General Pinochet to the planning, execution and subsequent cover-up of the Letelier-Moffitt assassinations.' Berger said he couldn't directly respond to a question about whether the US government would declassify more materials in the Letelier case. 'The president, generally his instinct here is to provide as much openness and transparency as we can, consistent with other national security interests,' Berger said.

Pinochet came to power in a military coup in 1973 that toppled President Salvador Allende. The Chilean government says 3,197 political opponents were killed during Pinochet's regime. After his release from prison, Letelier returned to Washington, where he had served as Allende's ambassador, and continued to speak out against Pinochet until he was assassinated. One conspirator in the killing testified that Pinochet personally encouraged him to frustrate the US investigation, and the former head of Chile's secret police said in December that Pinochet always approved his operations.

Copyright 1998 Associated Press