BY JOHN DINGES
Special to The Herald
WASHINGTON -- A document bearing the signature of an imprisoned
military officer appears for the first time to directly implicate Chile's former
president, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, in the 1976 intelligence operation that resulted
in the car bomb assassination in Washington of exile leader Orlando Letelier.
The affidavit is a key piece of evidence in the hands of Justice
investigators who arrived in Santiago, the Chilean capital, this week to question
witnesses in the revived case, which is still considered the most serious act of
international terrorism ever committed in the U.S. capital.
A grand jury has been convened in Washington to investigate the
which Ronni Moffitt, an American associate of Letelier, was also killed.
The Justice Department investigators, including Assistant U.S.
Beasley and several FBI officials, are expected to question a number of
witnesses, including imprisoned Col. Pedro Espinoza Bravo, who was once
second in command of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), Chile's
SIGNED AND DATED
Espinoza's signature and that of a notary appear on a typewritten
that provides previously unknown details about Pinochet's alleged role in the
Letelier case and efforts to cover up his involvement. So far its authenticity has
not been questioned by FBI and former Justice Department officials who know its
In a key sentence, Espinoza says: ``The Director of National Intelligence
me to his office and told me that by order of the president we must begin an
investigation of Orlando Letelier, who is threatening the stability of the Chilean
Espinoza and two other DINA officers were charged in the United
carrying out the Sept. 21, 1976, car bombing that killed Letelier and Moffitt.
Espinoza was never extradited to the United States to face charges, but he and
the DINA chief, Gen. Manuel Contreras, were convicted in Chile in 1995 and are
being held prisoner in a special military facility near Santiago.
Pinochet was never charged and has consistently denied any role
assassination or investigation of Letelier. Until now, none of the participants had
directly linked Pinochet to the DINA operation.
But the document, in addition to declaring that Pinochet ordered
that resulted in the assassination, portrays a Chilean army general as distorting
evidence in order to protect Pinochet.
In the document, Espinoza says the general, Hector Orozco, forced
him to sign
an inaccurate statement about the case ``in order to clear his excellency the
president of any dust or dirt.''
Espinoza says in the document that he was insulted and humiliated
who was conducting an internal military probe of the case. Espinoza says in the
document that after ``an examination of conscience'' he decided to provide the
information in the document ``under oath of honor as a soldier in the Chilean
He says Orozco interrogated him and asked him to admit his involvement
Letelier murder, but then prevented Espinoza from including in his statement that
the Letelier mission was initiated ``by order of the president.''
E. Lawrence Barcella, a former assistant U.S. attorney who once
Letelier investigation, said the document corroborates previous testimony in the
case, principally that of an American who worked for DINA, Michael Vernon
Townley, who confessed to building and planting the car bomb that killed Letelier.
``We never had anybody back then that gave us a direct link to
Barcella said. ``Now we do.''
A Chilean court accepted a U.S. request to subpoena 42 Chilean
submit them to detailed questions prepared by U.S. investigators in a process
known as ``letters rogatory.'' Espinoza, Contreras, Orozco and another officer,
Gen. Nilo Floody, to whom Espinoza addressed his affidavit, are all on the list.
The Espinoza document is dated April 27, 1978, after the initial
of the Letelier murder. Several weeks before, Chile had expelled Townley, whom
the investigators had identified as the hitman, to the United States, where he was
known to be cooperating.
In Chile, Orozco was assigned the task of conducting an internal
which U.S. investigators assumed was ordered by Pinochet, who was
commander of the Chilean army as well as president.
Espinoza said Orozco threatened that if he did not admit his guilt
in Chile in a
way acceptable to Orozco, he would be ``put on a plane to the United States
within 24 hours'' and his ``wife and children will have a sad future, being as they
will be, abandoned in Chile, with no guarantees of safety.''
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald