IPS Applauds Intensified US Investigation of Pinochet

IPS Press Advisory
20 March 2000
Article

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) is greatly encouraged by recent signs that the US government has intensified their investigation of the 1976 car bomb murders of IPS colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt by agents of former Chilean General Augusto Pinochet.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

(Washington, DC) - The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) is greatly encouraged by recent signs that the US government has intensified their investigation of the 1976 car bomb murders of IPS colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt by agents of former Chilean General Augusto Pinochet. Justice Department officials confirmed last year that they were looking into Pinochet's alleged role in the assassination. Recent signs of a serious investigation include the following:

  • On March 13, the Chilean Supreme Court, responding to a US request, announced that it would require 46 officials of the Pinochet regime to testify as witnesses for a US Justice Department investigation.
  • US Embassy officials in Santiago have said that in addition to the court testimony, any other individuals who would like to come forward and give testimony could do so discreetly at the Embassy.
  • On March 11, US Attorney General Janet Reno attended the inauguration of Chilean President Ricardo Lagos. While in Chile, Reno also met with prominent victims of the Pinochet regime, while other Justice Department officials met with Isabel Morel Letelier, widow of Orlando Letelier.

After discussing these developments with Justice Department and FBI officials, IPS Fellow Saul Landau, said: They have finally picked up the trail that was dropped during the Reagan-Bush years, and are aggressively pursuing the case with the apparent cooperation of Chilean authorities. We are very encouraged by their commitment. IPS Director John Cavanagh added: This was the worst act of state-sponsored terrorism to ever take place on American soil. All those responsiblefor the murder of our colleagues, including Pinochet, must face justice.

The Justice Department's actions come after 16 months of intense public pressure. IPS, working with other human rights groups, has mobilized thousands of activists in support of a US trial of Pinochet, generating hundreds of letters to Attorney General Reno and other members of the Administration. Recent actions include the following:

  • Last month, 31 US Representatives sent letters to the Clinton Administration urging support for the investigation. In addition, several members of Congress had previously requested a briefing with the Justice Department on the status of the case.
  • Last week, John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO, sent a letter to Madeline Albright and Janet Reno asking them to ensure a thorough investigation into the assassination and calling on Albright to secure the full cooperation of Chilean authorities. The letter also requested that the US government communicate support for the Chilean judicial proceedings against Pinochet and ask that the Chilean government ensure the safety of all witnesses who present testimony.

The flurry of US activity also coincides with an international firestorm of criticism of the former dictator. Released from arrest in Britain on medical and humanitarian grounds, Pinochet provoked the anger of millions of human rights supporters around the world by showing signs of vigor and smug triumphalism upon his arrival in Santiago. Indeed, doctors from France, Belguim, Spain, and other international medical experts have questioned the British medical report that deemed Pinochet unfit for trial, calling it incomplete and inconclusive. The Chilean courts, faced with nearly 80 cases against Pinochet, will likely request new medical exams to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.

Meanwhile, the international campaign to bring Pinochet to justice continues. Samuel Buffone, US lawyer for the Letelier-Moffitt families, explained, Recent judicial proceedings in Spain, Italy, Chile and the US have produced a wealth of information that could easily lead to an indictment. All countries should immediately come forward with this information and cooperate in the current investigations. We all support the same goal: prosecution of all those responsible for these murders and other crimes of the dictatorship, including Pinochet.

If the evidence gathered for the Letelier-Moffitt investigation points to the former dictator, Pinochet could be indicted for conspiracy to murder. Already, two FBI agents and a former Assistant US Attorney, who participated in an earlier investigation that resulted in the conviction of Chilean secret police agents and Cuban exiles who assisted them, have stated that it is 'inconceivable' that the murders took place without Pinochet's authorization. In fact, General Manuel Contreras, one of two Chileans serving a prison sentence for the murders, stated in an affidavit that he took his orders strictly from Pinochet.

One obstacle to putting Pinochet on trial in Chile for the more than 3,000 murders committed under his regime is a 1978 amnesty law enacted during his rule. Thanks to US government pressure, however, this law excludes the Letelier-Moffitt murders. Hence, if other Chilean cases are thwarted due to this amnesty, the Letelier-Moffitt slayings could prove to be Pinochet's Achilles heel.