US Refuses to Release CIA Files that could Aid Chile’s Investigation of Operation Condor (SF Chronicle 20/3/11)
Survivors of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship say justice has been thwarted by repeated U.S. refusals to release classified documents and by a Chilean government that has yet to live up to its promises on human rights. They hope President Obama’s visit next month will provide an opportunity for both governments to seek the opening of secret files that describe details of crimes against humanity.
Of all the Latin American countries that have shaken off brutal dictatorships, none has made greater strides than Chile in convicting those responsible for torturing and killing political opponents. But hundreds of investigations remain stymied because the identities of people involved in the crimes that followed the Sept. 11, 1973 coup – Chile’s own 9/11 – remain secret.
Authorities are under particular pressure from the daughters of two presidents whose deaths remain shrouded in mystery – Salvador Allende, who was said to have committed suicide as Pinochet’s troops seized the presidential palace in 1973, and his predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva, allegedly poisoned in 1982 as he led criticism of the dictatorship.
“Precisely because there has been such a radical change in the politics of the United States that we believe in the human rights (policies) of President Obama, this is the moment – if he’s coming to Chile he can receive the official requests and petitions,” Carmen Frei, daughter of Frei Montalva, told Chile’s Radio Cooperativa.
Allende’s daughter, Sen. Isabel Allende, said the coup “represents an unpaid debt for the justice system, to acknowledge the numerous crimes committed that day, identify those who participated, establishing their criminal responsibilities and knowing the entire truth of that day.”
Chile’s Supreme Court recently ordered investigative judge Mario Carroza to probe Allende’s death along with 725 others whose cases were never prosecuted. Another judge, Alejandro Madrid, began probing Frei Montalva’s death in 2002, and has charged six people, including doctors and former Pinochet spies, with poisoning him and covering up his death.
The U.S. has turned down several of Madrid’s requests for evidence, according to a Dec. 11, 2009, U.S. Embassy review recently made public through WikiLeaks. It said the requests were denied for lack of formal support from the executive branches of both countries.
U.S. agents and diplomats closely followed all these events, creating documents reviewed by U.S. congressional intelligence committees. These committees concluded that U.S. President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, spent millions interfering with Chilean elections, destabilizing Allende’s socialist economy and directing conspiracies with Chilean military figures to drive him from office.
Much of the historical record came out as a result of pressure from Peter Kornbluh, author of The Pinochet File, which summarized some of the more than 25,000 U.S. declassified documents. But many were redacted to avoid identifying people, and many more remain secret.
U.S. authorities should make the uncensored versions available to the Chilean legal process “as part of their commitment to diplomacy, history, and human rights,” Kornbluh said.
Even now, details about Allende’s death remain in dispute; last week Carroza was taking testimony from a doctor who said he saw Allende shoot himself rather than surrender. Judges also hope to identify those who killed Allende’s allies at the palace, the first victims of the campaign of terror against suspected leftists that followed.
Chile’s truth commission determined that 3,065 Pinochet opponents were killed. Most of these cases were investigated, and some 600 military figures and civilian collaborators have been put on trial. Pinochet died without standing trial, but about 150 others have been convicted of crimes against humanity, including his feared secret police chief, Miguel Contreras, who is 81 and probably will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Neighboring Argentina has charged more people, but returned fewer verdicts. Amnesties in Brazil and Uruguay have made it difficult to hold human rights trials there, and Paraguay lacks the political will to probe the crimes of its long dictatorship.
The U.S. ambassador to Chile, Alejandro Wolff, said human rights is on Obama’s agenda and “there is every disposition to be helpful.”
President Sebastian Pinera was riding high last year after overseeing the remarkable rescue of 33 miners, but his ratings have slid, and many worry he won’t fully support investigations that could shake his ruling coalition, which includes factions that were closely involved with the dictatorship.
To counter doubts that Frei Montalva’s death would ever be resolved, Pinera ordered his interior minister to formally join the judiciary investigation, saying, “Once and for all, the circumstances and those responsible should be made clear and those who have responsibility should assume the consequences.” But his Interior Ministry still hasn’t joined the probe of Allende and the 725 other murders, activists complained last week.
Pinera’s center-right government, the first since Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship ended, also recently transferred or fired veteran police investigators and human rights lawyers, including those gathering evidence in the deaths of Frei Montalva and folk singer Victor Jara. The ministry then declined to pursue arrest warrants for four suspects in the killing of Jara, who was among hundreds tortured and killed in a Santiago stadium during the coup.
Lorena Pizarro, president of the Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared, said that if Pinera is serious about upholding human rights, he should ask Obama for all the CIA files.
The U.S. congressional committees have summarized many of these secret documents. The Hinchey Report in 2000 found no information that U.S. agents were involved in Allende’s death, but acknowledged that coup plotters had been encouraged by U.S. hostility and previous CIA efforts to oust Allende. It also concluded that despite Kissinger’s public warnings to respect human rights, the CIA kept close ties to Chileans they knew were committing abuses, paying some for information even as they committed torture and other crimes.
“There is no doubt that some CIA contacts were actively engaged in committing and covering up serious human rights abuses,” the report determined.
This article appeared on page A – 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle