A State Terrorist, Still at Large
A little over 25 years ago, my daughter, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, was murdered by Chilean terrorists in Washington. This past summer one of those terrorists was freed after serving his prison term.
A little over 25 years ago, my daughter, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, was murdered by Chilean terrorists in Washington. This past summer one of those terrorists, Jose Dionisio Suarez Esquivel, was freed after serving his prison term. Although it is disturbing to know that Suarez is now a free man, at least he had to face a judge and serve his sentence.
A short time after his release came the awful events of Sept. 11 and President Bush's declaration that this country would not tolerate terrorism or the governments that foster and sustain it. Meanwhile, our family has continued to wait for justice to be done to the man we believe most responsible for Ronni's death: former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
My daughter was also killed on a September day, in 1976, by a car bomb detonated as the automobile she was riding in entered Sheridan Circle. Killed with her was a former Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier. Both were on their way to work at the Institute for Policy Studies.
The FBI traced the murders to the very top of the Chilean government. It managed to grab Michael Townley, a Chilean secret police agent, who confessed that his superiors had ordered him to plan and execute the terrorist act in Washington. The Justice Department later indicted several of the assassins, including Gen. Manuel Contreras, Pinochet's right-hand man and the head of the Chilean secret police.
But Augusto Pinochet escaped indictment, despite the fact that the FBI agents who investigated and the assistant US attorney who tried the case believed it "inconceivable" that such an act of international terrorism could have been carried out in the capital of the United States without Pinochet's authorization. Presumably because he was a sitting head of state whom the United States had helped gain power in a bloody 1973 military coup, the Justice Department did not pursue the investigation.
Five years ago, a Spanish judge began to investigate Pinochet's role in crimes against humanity, genocide and terrorism. When he requested help from the US Justice Department under a mutual legal assistance treaty, some US officials began to ask why the Letelier-Moffitt case had been shelved. Finally, after Pinochet was arrested in London and was facing extradition requests from five European courts, the FBI began to re-investigate the case, this time focusing on Pinochet's role in the crime.
According to what I have learned from Washington sources, the FBI found evidence sufficient to indict Pinochet for his role in blowing up Orlando Letelier's car. But the indictment apparently sits unsigned on the desk of the US attorney.
I am baffled that after almost 25 years, faced with newly marshaled evidence and horrific new evidence of the consequences of not combating terrorism, the US government would still hesitate to indict Pinochet. President Bush has made himself clear on the subject of terrorism. But is his Justice Department being selective about which terrorists it prosecutes?
Some argue that because of Pinochet's poor health, we should leave him alone. Pinochet appears to have succeeded in convincing some people and certain courts in Chile that he is mentally impaired, seriously ill, unfit for trial. Indeed, the British home secretary released him from house arrest in London on similar grounds in 2000 - after which I recall seeing TV clips of Pinochet practically doing a jig after he stepped off the plane in Santiago, then striding to embrace his fellow military officers and greet them by name.
At the least, US courts need to independently verify Pinochet's condition before allowing the general to use his health as an excuse to escape justice. Five other countries - Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Argentina - have not hesitated to indict Pinochet and request his extradition, despite the Chilean court's recent decision.
Unless I see some action from the Justice Department on this case, I shall be left with my doubts, unresolved suspicions and the certainty that yet another US president is not quite so consistent and steadfast on terrorism as he appears to be.
It's time to close the murder case of this act of terrorism. The man responsible for the only proven state-sponsored terrorist attack committed on US soil must be held accountable. Can we have the dignity of seeing an American indictment of Pinochet before he dies of old age?
The writer is a retired businessman.
Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company
To help amplify Mr. Karpen's demand for a US indictment of Pinochet, please send letters to the current US Attorney for the District of Columbia.
Roscoe C. Howard Jr.
United States Attorney for the District of Columbia
555 4th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001