BY KEVIN G. HALL
Herald World Staff
SANTIAGO, Chile -- A top officer from former military president
Pinochet's secret police has been detained here for possible extradition to Italy in
connection with an assassination plot.
Retired Gen. Raul Eduardo Iturriaga Neumann was being detained
at a local
regiment, Chief Justice Hernan Alvarez said after questioning him for several
The decision by Chile's Supreme Court raises the possibility that
could force former military officials to face justice abroad on charges of human
rights violations during Pinochet's rule, from 1973 to 1990.
And with U.S. officials seeking to interview unspecified Chileans,
including Iturriaga, the case also may shed light on the 1976 bombing murder of
former Foreign Secretary Orlando Letelier and his U.S. associate Ronni Moffitt in
In 1995, an Italian court convicted Iturriaga and Pinochet's longtime
chief, Manuel Contreras, in absentia for their role in an attempt by a right-wing
Italian group to assassinate former Chilean Vice President Bernardo Leighton in
Rome on Oct. 6, 1975.
Iturriaga was sentenced to 18 years in prison; Contreras to 20.
extradition last October. Contreras is serving a seven-year prison term in Chile in
connection with the Letelier and Moffitt murders.
Michael Townley, an American who was once an agent for the Chilean
intelligence agency known by the acronym DINA, had accused Contreras and
Iturriaga of being involved in attacks in the 1970s in Washington, Rome and
Buenos Aires against Chileans who served in the administration of Socialist
President Salvador Allende. Allende was deposed in a 1973 coup led by
Italian prosecutors and human rights groups say Iturriaga oversaw
operations of DINA during that time. Iturriaga has denied that role, saying his
duties in the military government involved domestic social issues.
Pinochet, 84, returned to Chile on March 3 from more than 16 months
arrest in London, avoiding extradition to Spain, Belgium, France or Switzerland,
all of which wanted to try him for murders and tortures of their citizens while he
was Chile's chief executive.
The Santiago newspaper, El Mercurio, said Chilean court officials
unidentified Chileans in relation to the Letelier case.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy confirmed that unspecified ``legal
have been made to the Chilean government in connection with the Letelier case.
Word of Iturriaga's detention was welcomed by U.S. researchers
on the abuses of
the Pinochet era.
``Pinochet's secret police, which answered only to him, carried
out a pattern of
international terrorist attacks which include the murder attempt on Bernardo
Leighton in Italy. . . . Those acts have come back to haunt them,'' said Peter
Kornbluh, director of the Chile documentation project at the National Security
Archives in Washington.
Chile's new president, Ricardo Lagos, said in a news conference
Monday that an
expected declassification of additional U.S. State Department documents may
shed new light on the workings of DINA and what the U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency knew about events in Chile.
Iturriaga's detention in Chile would have been unthinkable just
a few years ago.
But after Pinochet was detained in London in October 1998, the legal atmosphere
has changed dramatically.
``The arrest of Pinochet, even without the extradition and trial,
has meant the
perception of immunity is gone,'' said Tom Blanton, who heads the National
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald