Pinochet is not immune, Chile's high court rules

Case involves murders by death squads in 1970s

The World

August 27, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SANTIAGO, Chile - Chile's Supreme Court ruled 9-8 yesterday that Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the country's former dictator, is not immune from prosecution for his alleged role in mass murders carried out by his and other right-wing South American dictatorships that cooperated in the 1970s.

That doesn't mean the ailing 88-year-old former strongman will face trial, although his detractors responded with jubilation. The same court stripped Pinochet of immunity in 2000, but after a long legal battle he was declared unfit for trial in 2002 because he suffered from mild dementia.

The case then involved the so-called Caravan of Death, in which Pinochet's soldiers traveled Chile in helicopters to carry out summary trials and executions of opponents in the weeks after seizing power on Sept. 11, 1973.

The current case involves Pinochet's participation in Operation Condor, an effort by the region's right-wing strongmen to identify, track and kill leftists in six participating countries: Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.

Chile's Supreme Court action came as the National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington prepared to post a declassified U.S. document on its Web site that archive analysts say shows that Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger knew about Operation Condor and countenanced attacks on leftists.

"If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly. But you must get back quickly to normal procedures," Kissinger tells then-Argentine Foreign Minister Adm. Cesar Augusto Guzzetti after hearing his complaints about Chilean "leftist exiles" surging into Argentina after Pinochet's coup.

The Argentine junta that Guzzetti served eradicated 10,000 to 30,000 opponents after it took power on March 24, 1976, less than three months before Kissinger's meeting with Guzzetti.

Their exchange is part of a declassified U.S. record of their meeting, obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act. The archive is a left-of-center independent institute whose analysts are among the sharpest critics of Kissinger and the military rulers of Latin America in his day.

Kissinger was unavailable for comment, an aide in his New York office said. However, William D. Rogers, a top diplomat who served under Kissinger and attended the 1976 meeting of Kissinger and Guzzetti, dismissed the archive's claim as "poppycock."

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