by Alexander Cockburn
general turns out to be a coward. When Chilean police knocked on Augusto Pinochet's door and threatened to slap the cuffs on him, Pinochet fainted.
Pinochet was placed under house arrest on Jan. 28 for his role in ordering the massacre known as the Caravan of Death, one of his innumerable crimes in his 17 years as dictator of Chile. Pinochet had already deployed the "doddering don" routine, feigning the Alzheimer's disease that afflicts his pal Ronald Reagan. It got him out of England last fall. And it may yet save him from culpability for the killing of more than 3,000 people during his years of terror.
Pinochet's increasing desperation probably stemmed from the fact that right there in Chile, his minions, loyal these many years, are beginning to turn on him to save their own skins.
On Jan. 7, Chilean president Ricardo Lagos made a nationally televised speech detailing new evidence of the atrocities committed during Pinochet's reign of terror. Lagos described how Chilean military intelligence agents dumped more than 120 bodies of murdered Chileans (many of them members of the Chilean Communist Party) into "the ocean, lakes and rivers of Chile." Lagos said that the government had also located a mass grave inside Santiago, containing more than 20 bodies. Other evidence emerging from the files of the Chilean military describes summary executions, torture, and how bodies were blown up with dynamite.
Then on Jan. 27, Pinochet's old friend, Gen. Joaquin Lagos Osorio, implicated him in the assassinations committed by the Caravan of Death unit. It was payback, of a sort, since only the week before Pinochet had told his interrogators that Lagos was the person behind the killings and that he had acted without his authority. "I am not a criminal," Pinochet exclaimed.
But Lagos had evidence to undermine the general: a list of political prisoners on which Pinochet had marked the ones to be killed. Lagos told his story to an interviewer with Chile's Television Nacional on Jan. 27, when he also disclosed a copy of the list. "In the last conversation I had with Pinochet, he did something I never expected. He ordered me to 'Never mention the list' and for me to sign it. In that case, I would be the only one responsible, as the crimes were committed in my jurisdiction. I told him that, and he said he would fix it. I said, 'What are you going to fix? They are all dead!'"
Then Lagos described in gruesome detail how the murders took place. "They were torn apart," he said. They were no longer human bodies. I wanted to at least put the bodies back together again, to leave them more decent. But you couldn't. They cut eyes out with daggers. They broke their jaws and legs. Even at the firing squad, they killed them slowly. They shot them to pieces, first the legs, then the sexual organs, then the heart, all with machine guns."
After Pinochet was placed under house arrest in London following his indictment by a Spanish court, Bill Clinton instructed the CIA and the State Department to open their files on Chile from the Allende government through the Pinochet regime. Documents released in November revealed a direct Pinochet link to the assassination on Sept. 11, 1976, of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean diplomat in the Allende government who, along with his American associate, Ronni Moffitt, was killed by a car bomb in Sheridan Circle in Washington D.C.
The State Department cables reveal that in the summer of 1976, Pinochet called Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner asking him to issue "cover" passports with phony names for Letelier's assassins, Michael Townley and Armando Fernandez Larios, so that they could travel to the United States to complete their mission. Ultimately, the killers entered the United States on doctored Chilean passports. The CIA and FBI knew the men were in Washington and probably knew their mission, yet did nothing to impede them.
Letelier and Moffitt's attorney, Sam Buffone, says that the State Department documents provide convincing proof of Pinochet's direct involvement in the assassination and should form the basis of an indictment for the murders.
The documents also show yet more blood on the hands of the CIA. Some months prior to the Letelier and Moffitt killings, the State Department had instructed its ambassador to Chile, David Popper, and the CIA to express concern about Pinochet's Operation Condor, the assassination program against dissidents run by Chilean intelligence. Popper refused, writing in a cable that Pinochet "might well take as an insult any inference that he was connected with such assassination plots."
At the same time, the CIA was amassing the names and addresses of Chilean dissidents, who would later be hunted down and murdered by Pinochet's band of killers. There is the case of Frank Teruggi, a leftist American journalist, who, only days after the coup in 1973, was dragged out of his home in Santiago, tortured and killed by the military. Teruggi's name and address showed up in CIA files from a year prior to the coup, leading Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archives, to suggest that the CIA may have fingered Teruggi to Pinochet's men.
Most Chileans see the writing on the wall. In a recent poll by the Santiago-based Fundacion Futuro, only 8 percent said that they thought Pinochet was innocent of the charges from the Caravan of Death massacres. But even so, 60 percent polled said they didn't think the general would ever spend a night in jail even if convicted.
February 24, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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