General Augusto Pinochet, approaching his 90th year, has survived many years of legal harassments resulting from alleged human rights violations during the period of the Chilean military government’s war on terrorism. On the basis of a U.S. Senate staff report, Pinochet is now going to be investigated for stashing $13 million in U.S. banks.
What is interesting about the Pinochet case is that everything the former president of Chile is accused of, George W. Bush and his cronies are guilty of. Indeed, why are Senate staff wasting their time on 30-year-old alleged crimes of an elderly Chilean when the president of the United States ought to be in the dock? The prosecutor’s brief the Downing Street Memo is already written.
In December 2004, a Chilean appeals court ruled that Pinochet could be put on trial for murders resulting from Operation Condor. An agreement by six South American governments in the 1970s, Condor was a "coalition of the willing" organized to hunt down and kill the terrorists who were attempting to destabilize their societies.
How does Operation Condor differ from the actions of the U.S. and Israeli governments to hunt down and kill terrorists? Both George Bush and Ariel Sharon have used precision missiles, snipers, and special forces hit teams to "take out" suspected terrorists, often with collateral damage. Why can Bush and Sharon conduct a war on terror, but not Pinochet?
Given what we know about the "collateral damage" that often accompanies the "taking out" of terrorists and about the large number of innocent detainees mistaken for terrorists and held in America’s gulag of detention centers, it is more than likely that Pinochet’s war on terror had collateral damage of its own. However, there is no question whatsoever that
Chilean terrorists committed bombings, assassinations, robberies, and other crimes. The Chilean press of the time was full of reports of such acts of terrorism.
Unlike the U.S., Chile faced many and continuous acts of domestic terrorism, including a professionally planned ambush of Pinochet himself. Pinochet did not create the terrorism by invading another country on false pretenses or by supporting an ally’s genocidal ethnic policies.
Uninformed people believe that terrorism was a response to Pinochet’s ousting of Allende. Few Americans are aware that the Chilean parliament denounced Allende for abrogating the Chilean constitution. Allende made it clear that both he and the armed revolutionaries he unleashed represented a threat to Chilean democracy.
Pinochet was called to power. He put down terrorism. He assembled scholars and members of the opposition to devise a new constitution. When the task was done, Pinochet submitted to elections and handed over power to a civilian government.
I spent several years researching the story. My coauthor, who had lived in Chile during the Pinochet years, spent two years in Chile during the 1990s locating and interviewing many former terrorists. She interviewed the generals and Pinochet himself on many occasions. She gained access to military files. She interviewed the "Chicago Boys" who ran the offices of the military government and rebuilt the economy that Allende had shattered. She read the newspaper files from the time.
I myself interviewed Pinochet and a former terrorist who had once been on the most wanted list.
The terrorist had been, in effect, pardoned by Pinochet, and at the time I interviewed him was head of the private telephone company, with an expansive office looking out onto the Andes.
The former terrorist told me that he had been mistaken, that his side did not have the support of the people. He maintained that he was motivated by humane sympathy for the downtrodden. He recognized that by resorting to violence he had fallen victim to the belief that the end justified the means.
The result of our inquiry is a book, Chile: Two Visions The Allende-Pinochet Era, published in Spanish by a university in Chile.
Pinochet was successfully demonized. What we have to learn about propaganda is that every side has it. Truth everywhere takes a beating.
People get emotionally caught up with "their side," like fans of a sports team and like so many of my conservative acquaintances, who reject out of hand any information, no matter how factual, that does not uphold their belief that Bush is a great leader who is standing up for America against Islamic fanatics who wish to kill us all in our beds.
There are some things about which some people are incapable of rational thought.
For the left wing, Pinochet is one of those things.
But my purpose is not to defend Pinochet. It is simply to note that if he stole $13 million, it does not represent one day’s takings from the fraud in Iraq. And if it is an indictable offense for a head of state to pursue terrorists, then Bush and Blair and the "coalition of the willing" are all indictable.
To apply law selectively is not law. It is vengeance.
The terrorists to whom Pinochet turned his attention were real. The weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaeda that Bush used to justify a war of aggression against Iraq were not.