U.S. Weighs Move to Try Pinochet
By TIM WEINER
WASHINGTON -- Justice Department officials are discussing whether to seek
extradition of Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile, in connection with four killings
that took place under his regime more than 20 years ago, Justice Department officials said Friday
They said the
move could take place if Pinochet is set free by Britain's House of Lords,
reviewing a request for his extradition on genocide charges filed by Spain.
Two of the killings
under discussion took place in Washington in 1976. The victims were a former
Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, who had escaped the Pinochet regime and worked at a
liberal research institute, and his American colleague, Ronni Moffitt.
They were blown
up in a car about a mile from the White House, by a time bomb detonated
members of the Chilean secret police. The former chief of the Chilean police, Manuel Contreras,
went to prison three years ago for the crime.
In the two other
killings, which took place in Chile, the victims were two Americans who
disappeared in the 1973 coup that swept Pinochet's military government to power. They were
Charles Horman, a 31-year-old Harvard graduate working in Chile as a filmmaker and writer, and
Frank Teruggi, who like Horman was associated with a left-leaning magazine published in Chile.
The film "Missing" was based on the story of Horman's disappearance.
officials said the move could take place if the British House of Lords
Spain's request to extradite the 82-year-old general, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.
"We are discussing
the extradition of Pinochet as a backup if he gets immunity in the U.K.,"
Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It's one of the options we are
Department spokesman, Bert Brandenberg, said the issue is under consideration
the middle ranks of the Justice Department. The move has not been formally discussed or approved
by Attorney General Janet Reno or by the White House, he said.
Suits have been
filed against the retired general by at least seven European countries.
Switzerland and France, prosecutors have asked for his extradition. Pinochet was arrested in Britain
on a Spanish warrant three weeks ago. Spain's national court ruled last week that he can be tried in
Spain on genocide charges.
has acknowledged that more than 3,000 people died or disappeared as the
general, his troops and his secret police crushed dissent after taking power. The dead included some
foreigners -- Spanish, French and American citizens among them.
case has few precedents. Attempts by nations to bring foreign rulers to
crimes against humanity are excursions into uncharted legal waters. It is uncertain how or where
Pinochet could be tried if he is released by Britain.
The move by the
Justice Department "could open up a can of worms" in secret U.S. government
files, a former senior U.S. intelligence officer who served in Chile in the 1970s said. President
Richard Nixon, his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and the CIA were deeply involved in
attempts to overthrow the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, a Marxist, before he was
killed in Pinochet's 1973 coup.
The CIA was keenly
aware of the murder and torture committed by the Pinochet regime, said
retired intelligence officer, who asked that his name not be published.
that they used was completely barbaric," he said. "But their army felt
that they were in a
war and the guys that they captured and tortured and killed were guys that would have killed them if
they could. And Pinochet was the head honcho so he's responsible for that war."
be tried in Chile. He has immunity from prosecution as a senator-for-life,
a job that
he created in a constitution that he shaped before he ended his 17-year dictatorship and stepped
down in 1990. A British court has ruled that he has absolute immunity from prosecution as a former
head of state. A five-judge panel in Britain's House of Lords is hearing an appeal.
The Chilean secret
police organization that killed Letelier and Moffet, the directorate of
intelligence, worked closely with the CIA in Chile, sharing intelligence on suspected communists. It
was disbanded in 1977. Thousands of U.S. government files on the era remain secret.