Los Angeles Times
Thursday, February 17, 2000

Medical Report Cites Pinochet 'Brain Damage'

           By RICHARD BOUDREAUX, Times Staff Writer

                ROME--Gen. Augusto Pinochet is unfit to stand trial because of "extensive brain damage" that
           dims his memory, comprehension and ability to express himself, according to disclosures Wednesday
           of a British medical report on Chile's detained former dictator.
                Two newspapers in Spain and one in Chile published translations of the report a day after Britain's
           High Court ordered it sent to authorities in Spain and three other European countries seeking
           Pinochet's extradition from Britain on charges of human rights abuse during his 17-year rule.
                Pinochet's brain damage dates from a series of strokes last year, and enough time has passed to
           conclude that "a sustained and significant improvement [of his condition] is unlikely," wrote the three
           British doctors who examined the 84-year-old retired general last month.
                Their report had a sobering effect on the international legal struggle that began with Pinochet's
           arrest on a Spanish warrant in London in October 1998. He is accused of crimes relating to the deaths
           and disappearances of leftist opponents of his regime, some of whom were citizens of the countries
           now pursuing his extradition.
                "If the conclusions are correct, then Gen. Pinochet is not fit to stand trial and should return to
           Chile," said Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch, which had championed the landmark effort to
           prosecute him. "However, different doctors can come to different conclusions based on the same
                "Pinochet should not be excused lightly," he added. "Ideally, we'd like to see any state that has
           doubts ask for a new exam."
                Prosecuting judges and other officials in Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and France have until
           Tuesday to review the report and make comments. The High Court ruled that Home Secretary Jack
           Straw had been wrong to keep the report from their governments when the British minister announced
           last month that he was inclined to send Pinochet home on grounds of ill health.
                Judicial sources in Spain said that Judge Baltasar Garzon, who issued the initial arrest warrant for
           Pinochet, might demand a second exam in the presence of Spanish doctors. Human rights lawyers in
           France are asking a judge there to appoint his own doctors and make the same demand.
                Whether or not he goes on trial, the leak of the report was a new humiliation for Pinochet, whose
           iron-pumping physique and mental toughness were part of his anti-Communist strongman aura. His
           reported maladies indicate how diminished he would be if allowed to return to Chile, where he had
           wielded considerable power after relinquishing the presidency in 1990.
                Doctors John Grimley Evans, Michael J. Denham and Andrew J. Lees issued the report to Straw
           after performing a CT scan and other tests on Pinochet at the mansion outside London where he is
           under house arrest.

                Indications of Parkinson's Disease
                In addition to his known ailments of diabetes, low blood pressure, kidney trouble, ulcers and
           arthritis, the doctors revealed for the first time that Pinochet suffers muscle spasms that are
           symptomatic of Parkinson's disease.
                They said he has trouble dressing himself, walking more than 200 yards at a time and shaving
           without cutting himself. He has suffered two falls--in the mansion's bathroom and garden--and often
           loses control of his bladder.
                Taking medication, he overcame depression last summer only to suffer strokes that damaged the
           frontal and temporal lobes of his brain, the doctors said. They also said he once failed to recognize his
           wife and has lost his keen interest in writing on his computer and reading.
                "Now he tends to sit in front of the television and claim that he has forgotten how to work the
           computer," the report said.
                The doctors emphasized that Pinochet, though suffering 16 different ailments, was physically
           capable of facing his accusers and said it was debatable whether the stress of a trial would weaken
           him further. But they said he would have trouble recalling events, understanding questions and
           answering them "in an audible, succinct and relevant way."
                Pinochet's supporters were furious at the disclosures of the doctors' findings, which the High Court
           had ordered kept from the public. But no one challenged the authenticity of the document that
           appeared in near-identical language in Spain's ABC and El Mundo and Chile's La Tercera de la Hora.

                Luis Cortes Villa, a retired general who heads a pro-Pinochet foundation in Chile, called the leaks
           "an attack on the dignity" of a man who is still a Chilean senator. Pinochet's lawyers had argued before
           the High Court that releasing his medical records would expose him to "the stigma of being considered
           mentally deficient."
                The report was apparently leaked by the Spanish government and by authorities in Chile who are
           not eager to see Pinochet tried outside his own country.
                "It's a betrayal of personal information," said Gerald Howarth, a Conservative member of the
           British Parliament and a Pinochet supporter. "But now that everybody knows it, the case for his return
           to Chile is absolutely overwhelming."
                Some legal and medical experts disagreed.
                "There are thousands of people in prison today who have lower levels of comprehension than he
           does," said Carlos Slepoy, an Argentine human rights lawyer in Spain. "If his memory is faulty, there
           are other ways to arrive at the truth."

                Possibility of Faked Symptoms Is Raised
                Victor Penchaszadeh, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said the
           British doctors may have unduly dismissed Pinochet's chances of recovering his mental capacity over
           time. He also said he doubts that the examiners could be certain, as they said they were, that Pinochet
           wasn't faking some symptoms of mental illness.
                Henri Leclerc, president of the League of Human Rights, said the four countries pursuing Pinochet
           have little power under international law to influence his fate.
                "The decision is London's," he said. "All the other countries can do is express an opinion. We
           cannot do anything more. In matters of extradition, the British have all the power."
                Janet Stobart of The Times' London Bureau and Times staff writers Sebastian Rotella in Buenos
           Aires and John-Thor Dahlburg in Paris contributed to this report.