|TO STAND TRIAL?|
SPENCER MICHELS: Opponents of General Augusto Pinochet chanted in London today that the only right decision is extradition, as they awaited a decision on the former Chilean leader's legal fate. When the ruling came down from a British judge that Pinochet should be sent to Spain to stand trial on charges of torture and conspiracy, a roar went up from the crowd. The army general ruled Chile for 17 years from the time he took power in a coup in 1973 until he stepped down in 1990 to become a Senator for life.
Pinochet has been under house arrest in Britain for more than a year now. Last October he was arrested in London -- where he was recovering from back surgery -- at the behest of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon. Garzon alleged Spaniards were among those who suffered during the Pinochet era, and that the European Convention on the suppression of terrorism obligates Spain to identify and hold suspected international terrorists. The arrest warrant lists 34 specific incidents of torture since 1988.
Pinochet was leader of a military coup that, with U.S. backing, overthrew democratically-elected President Salvador Allende, who was a socialist. He died during the bombing of the presidential palace, possibly a suicide. The new right-wing regime was notoriously brutal toward opponents and those suspected of leftist leanings.
The Chilean Truth and Reconciliation Commission listed 3,200 Chileans and foreigners who were executed, murdered, or disappeared and thousands of others who were subjected to extreme forms of torture. In London today, elated anti-Pinochet demonstrators, who have been pushing for punishment for the general, reacted to today's decision.
ARIEL DORFMAN, Chilean Writer: Well, I think that the most important thing is that it's been proven that no matter how powerful you are, how rich you are, you cannot be above the law. For 17 years he was above the law.
SPENCER MICHELS: One American urging extradition is Michael Moffitt. He blames the general for the 1976 car bombing in Washington that injured him and killed his wife and her boss, Orlando Letelier, Allende's defense minister and ambassador to the U.S..
MICHAEL MOFFITT, Husband of Victim: Now it is time heard from the victims, for these are the people who have suffered at the hands of Pinochet, his dictatorship, his murders, his tortures and his bloody executioners.
SPENCER MICHELS: In Washington today, Spanish lawyer and former Allende associate Juan Garces argued that torture is a crime under international law.
JUAN GARCES, Spanish Lawyer: That means in the international community, and Chile in particular, have accepted that no one can take refuge for escaping justice when he's accused of torture.
SPENCER MICHELS: In Chile's capital, Santiago, Pinochet allies have been fighting any trial in Spain and urging his return home.
GEN. CORTES VILLA, Director, Pinochet Foundation: (speaking through interpreter) There is a belief on the part of Pinochet that it is unjust not for him as a person but it violates Chile's sovereignty. Chile has to be unified.
SPENCER MICHELS: Many Chileans still support Pinochet and credit him with overhauling the country's state- controlled economy in the 70's and 80's. They say Chile's current prosperity is a free-market model for other developing countries.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (speaking through interpreter) He is the best president Chile has ever had. He looked after the poor, got rid of all the slums around the country, got rid of the poverty belts, and now these people have risen to the middle class, have good homes, and now think about work, you see? Almost everybody.
SPENCER MICHELS: In Britain, Pinochet's most celebrated defender is Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She credits Pinochet with bringing democracy to Chile, and for siding with Britain during its 1982 war against Argentina over the Falkland Islands. She spoke on Wednesday on behalf of Pinochet.
MARGARET THATCHER: The chance of Senator Pinochet receiving anything resembling what we in Britain would recognize as justice in a Spanish court is minimal; not least because key witnesses for his defense run the risk of immediate arrest if they set foot on Spanish soil. What is planned there is a show trial with a pre-ordained outcome. We will fight on for as long as it takes to see Senator Pinochet returned safely to his own country.
SPENCER MICHELS: The 83 year-old Pinochet did not attend today's court session due to failing health, but he issued a statement. AI am not guilty of the crimes of which I am accused. The events in Chile have nothing whatsoever to do with Spain. It is clear that my extradition is politically motivated and being pursued clearly for political reasons. Pinochet's lawyers said they will appeal today's ruling to the high court, claiming too much time has elapsed since the alleged crimes. The process could go on for months. The final decision on extradition rests with the British equivalent of the U.S. Attorney General, the Home Secretary.