THE PINOCHET CASE: LEGAL COURAGE; POLITICAL COWARDICE
It finally happened. On January 29, Judge Juan Guzman Tapia charged Geralissimo Augusto Pinochet, former dictator, President, chief of the armed forces, with 75 counts of murder and kidnapping. Five years ago, even most optimists had abandoned hope of bringing the Criminal en Jefe before a court – much less a Chilean tribunal.
Recall that in September 1998, Pinochet, basking in the power of his own legend, took his annual voyage to England. Pinochet had made himself president, accumulated a personal fortune and maneuvered a permanent immunity deal. He had himself appointed as Senator for Life. He scoffed when families of his victims and a group of prosecutors had won jurisdiction to investigate him in Spanish courts. He could not conceive that a Spanish judge might order his arrest under international law; nor would the British government honor such nonsense.
In October 1998, Pinochet emerged from his anesthetic in a British clinic where he had undergone back surgery. A Scotland Yard detective through an interpreter told him: “You under arrest. You have the right to an attorney….” For 15 months Pinochet remained under arrest until fearful politicians in Chile, Spain and England cut a deal to spring him on grounds of poor mental health. No telling what the old coot might reveal about western collaboration in his excesses!
Chilean doctors say he suffers from mild dementia. A Chilean humor magazine said that anyone ordering bodies to be thr0own out of airplanes is a full-fledged psyco-path.
Last week, in Chile, Judge Juan Guzman interrogated the 85 year old ex tyrant. “I'm not a neurologist or psychiatrist or psychologist, “Guzman said. Yet, he found Pinochet to be “an extraordinarily normal person, very well-mannered, very brave and very gentlemanly.'' Pinochet responded to Guzman's questions about his role in the Caravan of Death that occurred shortly after the September 11, 1973 military coup, which he led. Pinochet allegedly ordered his subordinate, General Arellano Stark, to organize an itinerant murder squad that traversed Chile. This military Caravan would arrive at a city and summarily execute alleged opponents of the newly installed military dictatorship. Some 75 people died during that October 1973 tour.
Pinochet now blames subordinates for those murders. Indeed, the man who once said “not a leaf turns in Chile without me knowing about it” now feigns ignorance of the murder of thousands and the torture of tens of thousands of his compatriots.
Pinochet told Judge Guzman he had never ordered executions. He said “to shoot only in self-defense.'' Stark's mission, Pinochet testified, was to “speed up the trials to bring them to a quick end: Sentence those that should be convicted, and release those that were innocent.'' Pinochet also claimed that he never ordered subordinates to dispose of the bodies because the victims' families usually retrieved them. Some of Pinochet's former officers have contradicted the octogenarian ex-tyrant and said that not only did Pinochet know about the executions, but actually witnessed some of the worst mutilations of live prisoners in the northern city of Antofagasta.
Ironically, Judge Guzman complained that the Socialist Party government officials have pressured him to drop the case. These very same Socialist Party leaders know that Pinochet ordered the assassinations and torture of tens of thousands of their members and leaders during his 17-year rule. Nevertheless, they still tremble at the consequences of a Pinochet trial. Will the military make trouble? Will Pinochet involve US officials?
What irony, those who initiated the Pinochet case have shown judges throughout the world the way to distinguish between criminal and political acts. They have made new law by insisting on the application of international treaties and laws outlawing genocide in its broadest meaning and systematic torture. Judicial courage has proven infectious, yet socialist and liberal politicians continue to try to free the old criminal en jefe. Salvador Allende would feel a sense of satisfaction that Pinochet has been indicted. Allende might also be rolling over in his grave over the perfidy and cowardice of some of his former comrades.