IPS Applauds Pinochet Arrest And Calls for Increased US Support for Spanish Case

IPS Press Release
19 October 1998

The Institute for Policy Studies applauds the arrest of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, whose regime ordered the assassination of two IPS colleagues, Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, in 1976 and carried out other documented acts of international terrorism.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

(Washington, DC) The Institute for Policy Studies applauds the arrest of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, whose regime ordered the assassination of two IPS colleagues, Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, in 1976 and carried out other documented acts of international terrorism.

IPS Fellow Saul Landau responded to the news of Pinochet's October 17 arrest in London: It shows that if people stick to their just cause they can sometimes achieve a measure of justice. Pinochet is known throughout the world as a mass murderer, but it took more than two decades through the use of the law to bring about his arrest. Now we shall see whether or not President Clinton will reinforce his words about combatting international terrorism with deeds.

President Clinton, who recently addressed the United Nations on the problem of international terrorism has told members of Congress that the US government is cooperating with the Spanish proceedings to the fullest extent possible. However, Landau claims that the US government has classified documents related to Pinochet's participation in several international terrorist acts that it has yet to turn over to the Spanish judge investigating the Pinochet case. Indeed, IPS has learned that the judge is planning to submit an expanded request to the US Department of Justice for help in obtaining documents and witness testimony due to dissatisfaction with the US response to the original request.

IPS Co-founder Marcus Raskin states that Pinochet's regime was responsible for the most heinous act of international terrorism to strike our capital city. We commend the British government for cooperating with the Spanish effort. Now the US government must do all it can to support this historic case and also take steps towards obtaining the authority to question Pinochet with regard to the Letelier and Moffitt murders.

Landau is the co-author (with John Dinges) of Assassination on Embassy Row, an investigation of the murders of IPS colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt at the hands of agents of the Chilean military regime in 1976. Letelier was the former Chilean ambassador to the United States and a Cabinet Minister under the regime of Dr. Salvador Allende, who was overthrown in a bloody September 1973 coup led by Pinochet. At the time of his death, Letelier was leading an international campaign to restore democracy and human rights in Chile. Moffitt was a 25-year-old IPS development assistant. They were killed when Chilean government agents detonated a car bomb as they rode to work on September 21, 1976.

An FBI investigation led to the conviction of several of the assassins-a US citizen working for the Chilean secret police, two Cubans he hired to detonate the bomb and a Chilean army officer working for the secret police. In 1995, two Chilean generals, including Manuel Contreras, chief of the secret police from 1974 to 1977, were finally imprisoned for their roles in the conspiracy to assassinate Letelier. Contreras recently filed a petition with a Chilean court swearing that in every action he had undertaken as head of the secret police he was following the orders of his commander, Pinochet.

Pinochet's arrest in London was in response to a request that the former dictator be extradited to Spain as part of a criminal case against him in that country. This case was initiated by former IPS Associate Fellow and Madrid-based lawyer Juan Garcées, who filed charges in 1996 against Pinochet and his fellow generals on behalf of victims of the Chilean military regime. A Spanish court accepted jurisdiction of the case under international law and under a national law that allows prosecution of crimes against humanity no matter where they were committed. Garces argues that while Pinochet granted himself immunity from prosecution in his home country, international law does not allow immunity for the charges brought in the Spanish case, which include genocide and terrorism. The Chilean government has documented that the Pinochet regime executed or disappeared more than 3,000 people (including two US citizens) between 1973 and 1990.

The Spanish investigating magistrate has examined evidence from the Letelier-Moffitt case and taken testimony from individuals involved in that investigation. E. Lawrence Barcella, who served as prosecutor in the case against some of the assassins in a trial in Washington, travelled to Madrid, where he testified that it is inconceivable that the Letelier assassination could have taken place without the express authority of the Chilean commander in chief.

The Spanish case is the latest of several efforts to obtain a measure of justice for Letelier and Moffitt, both in and outside of Chile. In 1992, DC-based lawyers Sam Buffone and Michael Tigar won a civil suit against the Chilean government on behalf of the victims' families. According to Tigar, of American University Law School, the Spanish case represents the universalization of human rights law. The theory is that a violator of international law - a murderer, torturer, a genocide-committer-is no different from a pirate in the 17th and 18th century, thus subject to be adjudged guilty and punished in any forum anywhere in the world where any responsible sovereign state chooses to bring him or her to trial. According to Tigar, this notion is the single most powerful development in international human rights because it prevents countries with a desire to hide the truth from obstructing inquiries.

The Institute for Policy Studies has also worked to keep the memory of Letelier and Moffitt alive by hosting an annual human rights awards program in their names for the past 22 years. In addition, a memorial program is held every year at the site of the assassination, at Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Avenue.