End the silence: U.S. should bring Pinochet to justice

November 04, 1998|By Maurice Zeitlin

THE WAR of Chile's armed forces against their elected government was almost a week old on Sept. 17, 1973, when the broken and bullet-riddled body of the Rev. Juan Alsina, a 29-year-old Spanish priest, was found on a bridge in Santiago.

Earlier in the day, an army officer and five soldiers had taken Alsina from the hospital where he served as chaplain. He was beaten, tortured and shot 10 times as he "tried to escape." The Spanish embassy claimed his body and returned it home for burial.

Alsina was one of many Spanish citizens and other foreigners, including Americans, and more than 15,000 Chileans who were summarily executed or "disappeared" by the military as part of the bloody coup and its aftermath led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Now, at last, Chile's ex-dictator and self-appointed "senator for life," is under police guard in London, after an extradition request from Spain, for the murder of Alsina and of many other Spanish citizens in Chile.

Eleven judges on Spain's National Court have ruled unanimously that under international law, Spain has the legal right to bring charges against Mr. Pinochet for crimes against humanity and to seek his extradition from Britain.

This contradicts a ruling by the high court in London that he is immune from prosecution as a former head of state. But the court ordered that he remain in detention, pending an appeal to the House of Lords.

If Spain's exemplary effort to extradite Mr. Pinochet and try him for murder succeeds, it will be the first judge and jury that Mr. Pinochet or any member of the junta has faced for the crimes they committed during a 17-year reign of terror.

Both the immediate post-dictatorship president, Patricio Aylwin, and current president, Eduardo Frei, have been afraid even to investigate let alone bring charges against them. The government is still vulnerable to pressure and threats by the unreconstructed military.

The crimes Mr. Pinochet would be charged with would certainly include the murder of three young Americans: Charles Horman, Frank Teruggi Jr. and Ronnie Karpen Moffit.

No refuge to be found

On that September day in 1973, while fighting was still raging in Santiago, Charles Horman went to the U.S. Embassy to request protection for his wife, Joyce, and himself. Embassy officials turned him away, saying they couldn't help him.

That evening he was arrested by soldiers and taken to the National Stadium, where thousands of other prisoners rounded up by the military were concentrated. He subsequently "disappeared."

On Oct. 5, his father, Edmund Horman, came to Chile, and, with Joyce, sought help from embassy officials. But as Frank Teruggi Sr. was also to experience months later, they were subject instead to evasions and indifference. They were forced to conduct their own investigation; and, on Oct. 18, were informed by the embassy that Chilean investigators had found Horman's body. He had been tortured and shot in the stadium, and buried in the wall of the National Cemetery.

Frank Teruggi Jr., an economics student at the University of Chile, and his roommate, David Hathaway, were arrested on Sept. 20, 1973, and taken to National Stadium. Somehow the two were separated.

Mr. Hathaway was later released, as the result of the intervention of a Chilean businessman, a family friend. Mr. Hathaway never saw his friend alive again. Frank Teruggi's body was found days later at the morgue in Santiago. He had been tortured and shot 17 times.

These facts were disclosed and confirmed only in February 1974, as the result of an independent investigation in Chile by Teruggi's father, and a Chicago commission of inquiry.

Car bomb attack

Ronnie Moffit was killed in Washington in 1976 by a car bomb planted by a Chilean hit squad. She was a passenger in the car of their target, Orlando Letelier, a former minister in the government of Salvador Allende, who was also murdered.

In this case, at least, a Justice Department investigation led to the imprisonment, in 1995, of Manuel Contreras, head of Chile's feared secret police, and his deputy.

But for none of these murders of U.S. citizens, and the incarceration and brutal beating or torture of at least eight other Americans in Chile -- including two Maryknoll priests and two of my own then-graduate students at the University of Wisconsin -- has the U.S. government sought to call Mr. Pinochet to account.

The U.S. government was complicit with Mr. Pinochet and his ilk in destroying Chile's constitutional government. For three years before Mr. Pinochet's coup began, the Nixon administration turned over every rock trying to find a general willing to betray the constitution and overthrow Allende, Chile's freely elected socialist president.

The CIA, in a shadowy alliance with U.S. corporations, carried jTC out "massive covert operations within a democratic state," as Sen. Frank Church, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, concluded in 1975 "with the ultimate effect of overthrowing [the] duly elected government."

A quarter of a century later, the U.S. government must acknowledge its responsibility for what happened in Chile by filing its own request for the extradition of Mr. Pinochet, to stand trial here for the murder of U.S. citizens.

Maurice Zeitlin, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Los Angeles, and a member of the advisory board of the Latin American Center, has lived in Chile and is the author of many articles and two books on that country, including "The Civil Wars in Chile" (Princeton University Press).

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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