Pinochet About Killings Under His Rule
The New York Times
September 27, 2004
By LARRY ROHTER
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept. 26 -After lawyers
for Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile's dictator from 1973 to 1990,
failed to stave off an investigating judge's questions, the general
was officially interrogated Saturday about his involvement in
a coordinated effort by six South American military governments
to hunt down and kill exiled political opponents in the 1970's.
The judge, Juan Guzmán Tapia, was
able to ask General Pinochet only 6 of the 14 questions he had
prepared before the general, 88 and ailing, grew tired and the
session was cut short. But the information he obtained is seen
as increasing the likelihood that General Pinochet, whom the Chilean
Supreme Court stripped of his immunity from prosecution in the
case in August, will once again be indicted for human rights violations
under his rule.
"I am quite satisfied," Judge
Guzmán told reporters in Santiago, the Chilean capital.
"General Pinochet's declaration lasted 20 or 30 minutes.
I found him to be quite tired. He answered all of my questions
directly. I would say that it was an encounter between gentlemen."
Both the questions put to General Pinochet,
who seized power on Sept. 11, 1973, in an American-supported coup,
and his responses are supposed to be kept secret. But accounts
published in the Chilean press on Sunday, citing sources involved
in the case, said that when he was asked about the deaths of 19
Chileans resulting from what was called Operation Condor, he responded
that he had no knowledge of such "small stuff" because
he was too busy running the country.
Operation Condor was conceived in Santiago
in November 1975 at a meeting of state security and secret police
chiefs of South American countries, with a second meeting there
in June 1976 authorizing assassination missions. Besides Chile,
the driving force behind the effort, the right-wing military governments
of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay also took
part in the secret death squad campaign.
The account attributed to General Pinochet
would contradict that of Gen. Manuel Contreras, chief of the Chilean
secret police, known by the Spanish acronym DINA, during the worst
years of the dictatorship. General Contreras says he reported
daily to General Pinochet about his agency's activities, a version
of events that coincides with statements in United States intelligence
documents of the time that have recently been declassified.
"Pinochet would meet Contreras every
morning and drive to work with him and be briefed on what DINA
was doing," said Peter Kornbluh, author of "The Pinochet
File" and a researcher at the National Security Archive.
"All the contemporary U.S. intelligence reports are clear
and repetitive in saying that Pinochet was directly involved in
and exercised clear authority over Chilean secret police operations,
among which Condor was the most significant."
A Defense Intelligence Agency report from
December 1975 that is quoted in Mr. Kornbluh's book, for example,
reports a Chilean official as saying "the president issues
instructions on DINA, is aware of its activities and in fact heads
it." A United States Embassy cable two months earlier states
that "DINA reports directly to Pinochet and is ultimately
controlled by him alone."
Lawyers for General Pinochet described
him as fatigued by the interrogation but cooperative. "In
spite of his years and his health problems, my general was able
to respond with all the dignity of a soldier, a man and a former
president," Gustavo Collao Mira, one of General Pinochet's
lawyers, told reporters.
Judge Guzmán first questioned General
Pinochet in January 2001, in connection with another Chilean secret
police action known as the Caravan of Death, in which 75 political
prisoners disappeared and were shot to death. General Pinochet
was placed under house arrest as a result, but the Chilean Supreme
Court later ruled that he was unfit to stand trial because he
suffered from mild senile dementia.
The interrogation on Saturday is a step
required by Chilean law before Judge Guzmán, whose function
is similar to that of a prosecutor, can announce a formal indictment
of General Pinochet on charges connected with Operation Condor.
It was made possible after the Supreme Court ruled Friday that
General Pinochet should submit to questioning by Judge Guzmán,
whom the general's lawyers wanted to see removed from the case.
The new prosecution, however, is also likely
to be challenged on medical grounds. Lawyers for General Pinochet,
who suffers from diabetes and heart disease, said that he would
undergo new medical examinations this week and that they would
continue to seek to have the charges dropped because of his poor