Augusto Pinochet Indicted on Humanitarian Abuse Charges
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GWEN IFILL: Yesterday, a Chilean judge indicted former dictator Augusto Pinochet on charges including kidnapping and murder.
For the past year, NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth has been working on an independent documentary on the Pinochet case. Here is part one of the report she’s prepared for us.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In Chile, the dead bear witness to crimes committed decades ago, and Judge Juan Guzman of the Santiago Court of Appeals and a forensic team decipher what bones reveal.
Judges here investigate and prosecute as well as try cases, and Guzman has overseen hundreds of exhumations like this one since 1998, when he was assigned the first cases against former dictator Augusto Pinochet.
JUDGE JUAN GUZMAN (translated on screen): Is this exhumation terribly painful for you? Because we’re trying to see if they have holes from a bullet wound.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On this day Guzman was gathering evidence in the case of Manuel Donoso, one of the thousands of people imprisoned and killed after Pinochet’s 1973 military coup against the democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende.
The Nixon administration had helped undermine Allende and then supported Pinochet as he dissolved parliament and began a repression of the left that lasted 17 years. Guzman’s experts determined that Manuel Donoso had been shot by security forces as part of a special operation called the Caravan of Death.
In 2001, Guzman had indicted the 86-year-old Pinochet for other murders in that case. But the Supreme Court ruled him too ill and demented at that time to stand trial. Guzman didn’t give up, but continued investigating cases against Pinochet, including one called Condor. Eduardo Contreras represents families of victims in the Condor case.
EDUARDO CONTRERAS, Human Rights Attorney (Translated): Condor refers to the organization of secret police in southern Latin America set up by Pinochet in November ’75. It coordinated activities against the opponents of the military regimes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In September, in an event widely covered by the press, Guzman went to Pinochet’s compound in suburban Santiago to interrogate him, a prerequisite to indictment in Chile. Later, outside his courtroom office, Guzman described Pinochet’s health.
JUDGE JUAN GUZMAN, Chilean Court of Appeals (September 2004): Yes, enormous difficulties to move. He is deaf in both ears. When I asked him things related with the torturing of people, well, he showed his temper, and as has always been, “Look, I don’t have anything to do with those things.”
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The judge ordered medical tests of Pinochet, and studied a controversial interview with reporter Maria Elvira Salazar of Channel 22 in Miami late last year, in which Pinochet seemed mentally alert and unrepentant about the past.
AUGUSTO PINOCHET (Translated): That’s a difficult question, how one sees ones self; always as an angel. I have no regrets at all. I have not assassinated anyone. I have not ordered the killing of anyone. I feel that would be an aberration. I am a Christian first, then the rest.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yesterday after weeks of consideration, Guzman indicted Pinochet for crimes of kidnapping and murder in the Condor case.
JUDGE JUAN GUZMAN (Translated): Pinochet has been declared mentally fit to undergo a criminal trial in Chile in all of its stages. That includes depositions and face-to-face interrogations. This decision has a second part, and in it, Pinochet is indicted for nine kidnappings and a homicide.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Guzman’s indictment of Pinochet was a dramatic new development in Chile’s exhumation of its past.
That’s a process, says Jose Zalaquett, a Chilean attorney and chairman of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, that is being closely watched by other countries dealing with the aftermath of dictatorship and repression.
JOSE ZALAQUETT, Chairman, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: We have been so much a case study far beyond the actual geopolitical importance of the country, which is a remote country of 15 million at the corner of the world.
But we are the object of international attention because many ideas and dreams and nightmares have been tested here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Most of those nightmares ended when Pinochet left office in 1990. President Ricardo Lagos, a socialist who was himself briefly imprisoned and then exiled after the 1973 coup, is the third democratically elected president since then.
Chile’s economy, which thrived under Pinochet’s rule, has continued to prosper, and Lagos has left it pretty much alone. Chile is outwardly stable, but under the surface lie anguish and fury, as stories and revelations from the past pour out.
GWEN IFILL: We’ll hear some of those stories in part two of Elizabeth’s report later this week.