Pinochet Watch no 33

30 January 2001

Pinochet Watch is an electronic news service of the Institute for Policy Studies.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

In this issue:


Less than a year after Pinochet was released from house arrest in London, a courageous Judge has made history in Chile by re-issuing an indictment of the former dictator on charges of homicide and kidnapping in the so-called 'Caravan of Death Case'. This decision, which also calls for Pinochet to be placed under house arrest, comes a week after Judge Juan Guzmán interrogated Pinochet about his role in the 1973 crime.

Juan Bustos, a lawyer representing the victims of the Caravan, responded to the indictment: 'This decision is of transcendental importance in the history of Chile and in the history of humanity, and it represents a milestone in the history of human rights'.

Judge Guzmán originally indicted Pinochet on December 1st, but his decision was overturned by the Chilean Supreme Court due to the fact that the Judge had not yet carried out an official deposition. The Court also ordered Judge Guzmán to carry out medical exams to determine if the aging General is fit to stand trial. These medical exams were carried out earlier this month, and in today’s decision, Judge Guzmán refused to end proceedings against Pinochet on medical grounds (see article #2).

Pinochet’s lawyers will likely file an appeal by the end of the day asking the Courts to stay Judge Guzmán’s arrest order. A series of appeals will certainly be brought to the courts by both sides over the next few months.

Attorney Joan Garcés, who brought criminal charges against Pinochet in Spain, cautions that, 'The judges [who will hear these appeals] will be subjected to intense pressure from Pinochet's powerful political allies, who will use any means necessary to prevent Pinochet from being held accountable for his crimes. Chilean politicians will also face pressure to craft political deals that will prevent Pinochet from being tried by undermining the judicial process.' Garcés adds: 'Chile's judiciary can show its independence by resisting the pressure that it will face.'

Despite the legal struggle that remains, families of Pinochet’s victims were elated with today’s decision. Viviana Díaz, director of the Chilean Association for the Families of the Disappeared, told reporters, 'We have waited a very long time for this moment, it seems incredible that it has really happened.' She went on to say that today’s decision represents a 27-year struggle in which, 'day after day, year after year, believing in what is just, that these crimes could not be committed with impunity, that our families never committed any crimes, that when they were tortured and assassinated, they never had the right to a fair trial or due we feel that despite all of the years that have passed, justice has finally begun.'

Pinochet’s Deposition

Insisting that he never ordered any executions, Pinochet maintained his innocence in a deposition with Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán. The 30-minute interrogation, that took place in the General’s home on Tuesday, January 23rd, was the last step in the process that culminated in today’s indictment.

Chilean press reported that Pinochet’s lawyers had initially recommended that their client refuse to answer the Judge’s questions, but stated that Pinochet did so because, 'that’s his personality...'

Judge Guzmán asked Pinochet several questions about his alleged role in the 'Caravan of Death', a military squad that traveled throughout northern Chile in October of 1973. The mission, led by Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark, resulted in the death and disappearance of over 75 political prisoners. Pinochet is accused of having ordered Arellano to carry out the extrajudicial killings.

Guzmán first asked Pinochet whether he had indeed commissioned Arellano to carry out the mission in 1973 and asked him to clarify its purpose. Pinochet responded that the mission was intended to investigate and speed up trials of the prisoners.

Guzmán then showed Pinochet a document signed by General Joaquín Lagos that has played an important role in the development of the case against the former dictator. This document states that during the mission, prisoners were executed 'by order of the Commander-in-Chief of the Army', that is to say, General Pinochet. The document also contains Pinochet’s handwritten redactions that strike this particular sentence and modify other parts of the report.

Pinochet acknowledged to Judge Guzmán that the edits were his own, but insisted that the information about him ordering the executions, 'is absolutely false, I am not a criminal.'

When asked if he applied disciplinary measures to Arellano upon learning of the 'excesses' committed in the various cities, Pinochet replied that he was not responsible for these sort of measures and that instead it was the regional commanders who should have undertaken such actions.

Guzmán then went directly to the heart of the matter, asking Pinochet if he gave orders to shoot people as a part of the 1973 mission. Pinochet answered: 'At no time did I ever order anyone executed.'

Responding to a question about whether he ordered that the bodies of those murdered should not be handed over to their families, Pinochet responded: 'If that happened, it was because many of the dead were recovered by their family members and in other cases, given that these people were terrorists and lacked documents, it was difficult to identify them and no one knew where they ended up because nobody came to look for them.'

Finally, Guzmán asked Pinochet why the 'excesses' were committed and why many bodies were not handed over to family members. Pinochet’s response was curt: 'Regarding the first question, I don’t know, and regarding the second question, I already responded.'

After the deposition ended, Judge Guzmán told reporters that although Pinochet clearly suffered certain physical ailments and wasn’t able to move about the house freely, he otherwise seemed 'perfectly normal' and 'quite the gentleman.'

Retired General Respond to Pinochet’s Statements

Pinochet’s statement that regional officers were responsible for disciplining those who executed the prisoners during the 'Caravan of Death' led retired General Joaquín Lagos to defend himself on Chilean television. Gen. Lagos, one of the key witnesses in the Caravan case, was the officer responsible for the region in which the murders took place. In his televised address and in subsequent interviews with the Spanish newspaper El País, Lagos insisted that Pinochet was directly responsible for the murders and should have been responsible for punishing those who carried out the executions.

General Lagos claims that Gen. Arellano Stark informed him of the executions the day after they occurred. Lagos told reporters that, 'I felt completely impotent and hurt, I was outraged that such an act had been carried out in my jurisdiction behind my back.'

Lagos raised the issue of the murders with Pinochet on numerous occasions. Pinochet repeatedly denied having ordered the executions, but, according to Gen. Lagos, he 'never seemed bothered by them... nor did he ever suggest that Arellano Stark had acted outside his capacity as an official delegate of the President.'

Gen. Lagos brought a document to Pinochet that provided detailed information about the executions. The report stated that Pinochet had ordered Arellano Stark to execute the prisoners. When presented with this document, the Commander-in-Chief made corrections with a red pen and insisted that it be re-written. The new document made no mention of Pinochet or Arellano Stark. Instead, it implied that Gen. Lagos was responsible for the crimes. General Lagos saved the original version of the document for nearly 27 years, and eventually presented it to Judge Guzmán as evidence of Pinochet’s involvement in the Caravan of Death Case.

Gen. Lagos, who explained gruesome details about how the prisoners were executed during his recent interview, reportedly confronted Pinochet about these changes telling him, 'sooner or later, we are all going to be judged, especially you, because you are the Commander-in-Chief.' Lagos was retired from the Army in 1974.

Gen. Lagos also insisted that it was Pinochet as head of the Armed Forces, who was responsible for punishing those involved with the murders. Instead, lawyers allege, Pinochet promoted those who were involved in the crime. Carmen Hertz, one of the lawyers representing the victims in the Caravan of Death Case, agrees with Gen. Lagos, Hertz points to Article 74 of the code of Military Justice which states that the Commander-in-Chief of the Army is responsible for military jurisdiction and that in the case of a crime, it is he who must order the military prosecutor to judge those who are responsible.

Roberto Garretón, a Chilean human rights lawyer, also discredited Pinochet’s claim that the bodies of those killed were not returned to their families because they could not be identified. 'None of them were terrorists,' Garretón insists, 'and all of them were identified.'

For more information:
Pascale Bonnefoy, Pinochet Indictment Re-Instated by Chile, Washington Post, 30 January 2001
Human Rights Watch, Reinstatement of Pinochet Charges Hailed, 29 January 2001
Auto de Procesamiento (Indictment), El Mostrador, 29 January 2001
Andrea Lagos, El hombre que acusó a Pinochet, El País, 29 January 2001
Interrogatorio de juez Guzmán a senador Pinochet, El Mercurio, 24 January 2001
Chris Aspin, Chile Judge Questions Pinochet in Rights Probe, Reuters, 23 January 2001

DEMENTED BUT NOT CRAZY: Results of Pinochet’s Medical Exams

Earlier this month, Pinochet underwent a series of psychological and neurological exams to determine whether he is fit to stand trial. Press reports and statements from doctors who were present during the testing suggested that although Pinochet suffers from a moderate form of 'dementia' as a result of several strokes, he is not crazy. Chilean law stipulates that a defendant must be declared demented or crazy in order to avoid standing trial.

This conclusion provided no easy answers for Judge Guzmán. However, yesterday the Judge refused to end proceedings against Pinochet on medical grounds, arguing that his fitness for trial may in some ways be diminished, but not enough to end proceedings at this time. He also insisted that Pinochet continues to enjoy all of the protections of due process. Guzmán referenced the medical reports as well as his own encounters with the defendant as the basis for his decision.

The doctors who examined Pinochet discussed at length whether to use the term 'demented' to describe Pinochet’s mental condition. Their decision to use the word has been interpreted by many experts as a reference to certain areas of Pinochet’s brain that are not properly irrigated by the blood vessels, resulting in certain physical problems and fatigue, not to suggest that he is psychologically 'demented'.

Guzmán stated today that the doctors had concluded that although Pinochet retains long-term memory and makes a great effort to respond to questions, his attention, short-term memory, and complex reasoning processes were 'compromised'. According to Guzmán, some doctors also reported that although Pinochet was not completely demented, he was often 'apathetic' and did not appear to be entirely aware of what was going on around him. The doctors acknowledged, however, that Pinochet appeared to understand questions and expressed himself clearly.

Earlier this week, Dr. Luis Fornazzi, appointed by the victims’ lawyers to oversee the exams, suggested that Pinochet was alert and responsive throughout the testing. When Fornazzi, who was exiled from Chile during the military regime, first met the former dictator, Pinochet told him, 'I know you, you’re from Iquique. I know your aunts.' He went on to comment, 'You remind me of Joan Garcés' (the lawyer who brought the case against Pinochet in Spain). At a later point, Pinochet and Fornazzi argued over who was really responsible for the development of the Iquique—the military government or the former mayor of the city. Fornazzi also claimed that Pinochet answered quite well when asked questions about the leaders who had participated in World War II and was able to name former Presidents of Chile.

Although Judge Guzmán stated that the exams had been conducted in a completely transparent and reliable manner, questions have been raised about some procedures as well as the final conclusions of the doctors.

At one point, the doctors interviewed Pinochet’s personal assistant in order to assess his general day-to-day functioning. The assistant told the medical team that Pinochet always dressed himself, chose his own ties, put on his own shoes, and managed money. He added that Pinochet had even signed Christmas cards and helped decide who they should be sent to. One medical official refused to sign the document validating this interview, however, because he was not present at the time it was conducted. Rather than re-interviewing the assistant, the doctors opted instead to interview Pinochet’s wife Lucia, who contradicted the assistant on every account.

Dr. Fornazzi has also insisted that the group of doctors originally decided to use the term 'slight to moderate dementia' and then later changed their findings to state that Pinochet suffered from 'moderate dementia' without his approval.

Ultimately, it appears that the question of Pinochet’s medical fitness to stand trial will continue to surface as the case continues. Although Judge Guzmán has decided to proceed 'for now', despite some indications of compromised mental health, the defense will surely appeal to the results of these exams in the future as a way of ending the proceedings against their client.

For more information:
María Eugenia González, Los cuatro días más honestos de Pinochet, El Mostrador, 20 January 2001
Tiffany Woods, Lawyer Says Pinochet Has Dementia, But Can Be Tried, Reuters, 16 January 2001
BBC World News, Pinochet Fit Enough for Trial, 16 January 2001


Manuel Contreras, former head of the infamous Chilean secret police 'DINA', completed his seven-year sentence for the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt last week. Contreras was released from the special military 'Punta Pueca' prison on Tuesday, and is currently under house arrest in the Santiago neighborhood of Peñalolen, pending the resolution of other criminal charges that have been brought against him for human rights crimes.

Contreras has been indicted in Chile for his role in the 1974 disappearance of David Silberman as well as the 1976 kidnapping of the officers of the Communist party; his role in a number of other human rights crimes is currently under investigation in Chile. Contreras is also a defendant in the Argentine case of the 1974 car-bomb assassination of Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife Sofia Cuthbert that took place in Buenos Aires. Earlier this month, the Chilean Supreme Court refused to extradite Contreras to Italy to serve a 14-year prison sentence for his role in the 1975 assassination attempt against Bernardo Leighton and his wife, Anita Fresno in Rome.

Contreras’ seven-year stay in the Punta Pueca prison was apparently quite comfortable. According to Chilean paper La Tercera, the retired General was housed in an apartment-like complex that included a living room, a desk with a computer that had internet and fax access, and a large library that housed books on military history as well as books on the Letelier-Moffitt case. He kept healthy on a treadmill and exercise bike and enjoyed the companionship of a pet German Shepherd.

Eduardo Contreras (no relation to the defendant), a lawyer in one of the cases pending against Gen. Contreras, has appealed Judge Guzmán’s decision to release the retired General. The attorney explains, '[Manuel] Contreras is a danger to society and is a paradigmatic figure, a symbol of the horrors of the military dictatorship. Because of this, we find it incomprehensible that he is allowed to simply go home.'

For more information, go to:
Manuel Contreras Salió Punta Pueco, El Mostrador, 24 January 2001