Pinochet Indicted on Human Rights Charges

13 December 2004
Article

A Chilean judge indicted former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet on Monday on charges of kidnapping nine political dissidents and killing one of them.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

A Chilean judge, known for pursuing human rights violators, indicted former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (news - web sites) on Monday on charges of kidnapping nine political dissidents and killing one of them during his 17-year military regime.

Pinochet also was placed under house arrest to await this third attempt to try him for alleged abuses during his rule in the South American country. But the aging general's defense team quickly filed an injunction with the Santiago Court of Appeals, effectively freezing the house arrest until the court rules on it, probably in the next day or two.

Judge Juan Guzman said he decided to try the 89-year-old retired general — reversing a previous court decision to exempt Pinochet from trial on health grounds — after questioning him and examining reports from court-appointed doctors. "Gen. Pinochet has been declared mentally competent to face a criminal trial in Chile," Guzman ruled.

The defense appealed on the grounds that Pinochet suffers from worsening dementia. The pretrial legal proceedings could take months.

Guzman has won a reputation as a crusader in prominent human rights cases, including a previous trial of Pinochet that was blocked by the Supreme Court three years ago on health grounds. Pinochet also suffers from diabetes, arthritis and has a heart pacemaker.

A small group of victims of abuse during the Pinochet regime and their relatives celebrated Guzman's announcement in the crowded court hallways. "This is great news for all those Chileans who do not accept impunity in the violations of human rights," said Viviana Diaz, a member of an organization of relatives of dissidents who disappeared under Pinochet.

Pinochet, who remained at his guarded suburban Santiago mansion, had no immediate reaction.

Guzman said he also was influenced by an interview Pinochet granted last year to a Spanish language Miami television station. Pinochet told the station that he sees himself as "a good angel," and he blamed abuses on subordinates in his regime. Guzman said Pinochet's answers made him appear mentally alert. "It was not difficult," Guzman said of his decision, which was angrily disputed by Pinochet's chief defense attorney, Pablo Rodriguez. Rodriguez recalled that the Supreme Court in 2001 dismissed Guzman's previous indictment of Pinochet after doctors diagnosed the former ruler with a mild case of dementia — a condition the lawyer said had worsened. He called the indictment and detention a violation of Pinochet's rights. "This is a person that is being tried without having any possibility whatsoever of defending himself," Rodriguez claimed. "Everybody in Chile knows that Gen. Pinochet has been constantly persecuted by Judge Guzman."

Prosecution lawyers said the decision sets a precedent. "We now expect other indictments will follow in other cases," attorney Eduardo Contreras said. The indictment is part of the investigation into the so-called "Operation Condor," a joint plan by the dictatorships of several South American nations in the 1970s and '80s to suppress dissent.

The charges against Pinochet that were dropped in 2001 stemmed from a case known as the Caravan of Death, a military patrol that toured several cities after the 1973 coup. Seventy-five political prisoners were killed.

In a separate case, the Santiago Court of Appeals this month voted 14 to 9 to strip Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for a 1974 car bombing in Argentina that killed Chilean general Carlos Prats and his wife — a ruling that opened the possibility of a new trial. Prats, Pinochet's predecessor as army chief, had opposed the 1973 coup that put Pinochet in power. Chilean legal authorities also are investigating the source of up to $8 million kept by Pinochet in secret bank accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington, as disclosed by a U.S. Senate investigative committee.

Copyright 2004 AP