Murder of Diplomat Deplored

Probe is Urged by Senator
22 September 1976

Considerable outrage was expressed over the murder of Orlando Letelier yesterday.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

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Considerable outrage was expressed over the murder of Orlando Letelier here yesterday. Friends and ennemies deplored the passing of a kind and gentle man, and once again the forces of law, politics and diplomacy were set in frantic motion by an act of international terror. A resolution was introduced in Congress calling for a thorough investigation, and Sen. James Abourezk (D-SD) declared on the floor of the Senate that 'The tyranny of the dictatorship in Chile has now been extended in part to the United States'. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) joined in this accusation, saying that Letelier's 'criticisms of the junta's violations of human rights had produced a rare and totally unjustified removal of his Chilean citizenship by the junta. Now his murder follows'.

But Chilean Ambassador Manuel Trucco called these statements 'incredible' yesterday as protesters marched on his embassy with signs condemning the 'Bloody Fascist Junta' and 'US-Backed Assassins'. Trucco said, 'We're as interested as anyone else' [in an investigation] 'and more so because we're the ones to lose in this case. A vindictive act would be absurd. Letelier was deprived of his nationality according to the constitution. No government would do that legally if thinking of other recourses'. Letelier was stripped of his citizenship earlier this month. Trucco issued a statement, saying his government 'roundly repudiates the outrageous act of terrorism' and blamed the murder of unidentified 'hostile elements'. In a telephone interview, the ambassador also charged that some of the things that are being said against his government in the wake of the murder are 'irresponsible' and a further 'invitation to violence'. Trucco said he was referring to a statement by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs charging that yesterday's murder is 'merely the latest effort at intimidating the Chilean exile community by DINA, the dreaded secret police of Chile...' The Council is a private organization whose members include churchmen, labor leaders, congressmen and academics.

Another broad-based group, the Latin America Strategy Committee whose members include representatives of major religious faiths, yesterday endorsed the resolution for a full investigation of the murder introduced in Congress yesterday by Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) and others. 'We view this tragic incident as part of a spreading pattern of violence, torture and assassination in Chile, extending throughout Latin America, and Europe, and now the US', said a statement by this group. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence also made moves in the direction of such an inquiry yesterday by requesting a report on the killings from the FBI. A committee source said last night, however, that no decision had yet been made to investigate.

The State Department, President Ford, and presidential candidate Jimmy Carter all issues statements expressing concern and regret over the incident. Carter's statement called for a thorough investigation, and Ford's said that an investigation is being 'vigoriously pursued' by law-enforcement agencies. Carter's statement didn't take any position on Letelier's antijunta politics, but it did identify him as 'the most prominent of Chilean exiles'. One administration official said he thought the statements by Abourezk and Kennedy were 'pretty despicable really. Well, great, I wish they had proof' [that the Chilean junta was responsible for the murders] '- I wish to hell they'd come down here and show us'. Asked about this, Abourezk said metropolitan police had told him that there had been threats against Letelier's life by the Chilean government, but he could not specify further and referred inquiries to the police.

At the Institute for Policy Studies at 1909 Q St. NW - where Letelier had been director of a subsidiary study organization - there was sadness and some fear as a bomb squad using police dogs cleared the building prior to a press conference. Co-director Marcus Raskin, appearing red-eyed, said the death of the former ambassador was a 'horrible, horrible tragedy'. Said Raskin: 'He' [Letelier] 'was one of the leaders of the Chilean movement around the world. He was a symbol of a free Chile'. William Wipfler of the National Council of Churches said, 'Whether or not we wish to accept it, this kind of terrorist attack is a fallout of our own policy of 'destabilizing' the democracy of Chile under Allende... Now it has resulted not only in the death of Orlando Letelier but in the death of an American citizen in Washington DC'.

Law-enforcement officials in Washington working on the case yesterday pointed out that such an attack is virtually impossible to prevent. A spokesman for the Executive Protective Service said the service's job is basically to 'protect buildings', and that when an ambassador travels away from his embassy the metropolitan police 'protect him as they would any citizen' FBI agents said privately that bombings will be more difficult to prevent because of new domestic security guidelines pubslihed in the wake of disclosures that the FBI improperly infiltrated some radical domestic organizations. However, an official in the attorney general's office said the new guidelines 'certainly would allow for infiltration of terrorist groups'. The deputy chief of security for the State Department, James Misselbeck, said that Letelier, as a former ambassador, 'isn't someone we protect'. Misselbeck said his office protects visiting heads of state for the most part, when there are requests. 'We're getting more requests than ever before', he said. And Ambassador Douglas Heck, who heads an antiterrorist working group at State, noted all the hijackings and international terror incidents that have occurred recently and added sadly, 'September is a crazy month for terrorism. I don't know why it is, but during the past few years there have been more incidents during September than at any other time. It's just one of those things'.

Copyright 1976 The Washington Post