The Miami Herald
December 9, 1998

Uneasy U.S. torn over Pinochet case

             By FRANK DAVIES
             Herald Staff Writer

             WASHINGTON -- One of the biggest human rights questions in years -- what to
             do with former Chilean military ruler Augusto Pinochet -- has left U.S. officials
             tongue-tied, conflicted and defending an awkward neutrality.

             This week, as British officials decide whether to allow the extradition of Pinochet
             to Spain to face charges of genocide and torture, pressure is growing in
             Washington to do more: to promptly declassify documents and turn them over to
             Spain, or even seek the extradition of Pinochet to face charges in the assassination
             of a Chilean exile leader and a U.S. citizen in the nation's capital 22 years ago.

             ``This case has had tremendous impact,'' said Jose Miguel Vivanco, a
             Chilean-born Human Rights Watch activist and lawyer who monitors events in
             Latin America. ``And it is forcing the United States to deal with important issues of
             universal human rights.''

             Michael Moffitt, the only survivor of the 1976 car bombing on the streets of
             Washington ordered by Pinochet's secret police, has a complaint: ``My own
             government has been absent without leave in the Pinochet case.''

             U.S. officials say that assessment is unfair, and they're trying to achieve a tricky
             balancing act. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has said she understands the
             desire for justice and accountability in this case, and last week even acknowledged
             U.S. complicity in helping Pinochet seize and keep power in the 1970s.

             ``We are reviewing and releasing documents related to the Pinochet era,'' she said
             in Atlanta. ``It is part of trying to deal with the terrible mistakes and problems of
             that time.''

             Many U.S. officials also say they are sympathetic to the Chilean government's
             request that Pinochet be returned home. Albright said Chile's position should be
             given ``significant respect.''

             The new assistant secretary of state for human rights, Harold Koh, discussed these
             competing pressures in a recent visit to Miami.

             ``Accountability is an important issue,'' Koh said. ``On the other hand, we also
             recognize that Chile is going through a process. And we need to understand what
             Chile has gone through to get where they are.''

             Chile granted Pinochet and other military leaders immunity, while finding that his
             rule was responsible for the death or disappearance of 3,197 people.

             In Washington, officials in and out of the government cite three main reasons that
             U.S. policy has amounted to quiet support for Chile and a hands-off attitude
             toward Britain and Spain:

               Genuine concern for the fragile nature of democracy in Chile, where Pinochet's
             arrest has polarized the nation and angered a military that retains considerable

             Chile's ambassador to Washington, Genaro Arriagada, has argued that his nation
             -- like South Africa, El Salvador, and post-Franco Spain -- has worked hard to
             achieve its own path to peace and stability, building ``a political consensus
             whereby we tolerate those who until yesterday we did not tolerate.''

             But human rights advocates complain that the Chilean solution ended any real
             chance for justice.

             ``What Pinochet demanded to leave power 10 years ago was extortion -- he got
             impunity,'' Vivanco said.

               A consistent, wary approach to any advance in international human rights that
             U.S. leaders can't control. U.S. officials, for example, have opposed the creation
             of an international criminal court.

             ``The world is moving toward a set of universal principles on human rights,
             especially with regard to torture,'' said Arturo Valenzuela, a former deputy
             assistant secretary of state who heads Latin American Studies at Georgetown

             ``But getting there, and enforcing these laws, is proving very difficult -- for the
             United States and others,'' he added.

               A desire for flexibility in easing dictators out of power, as U.S. officials have
             done in Haiti and the Philippines. U.S. officials worry that the Pinochet precedent
             may make future strongmen more reluctant to leave the protection of their

             That's a short-term view, say some rights activists. Their hope is that the Pinochet
             case will deter future atrocities.

             ``What can we do to prevent rights abuses?'' said Carroll Bogert, communications
             director of Human Rights Watch. ``The best answer is insuring that guilty parties
             don't get away with it.''

             The Pinochet case has special resonance in Washington, where Orlando Letelier, a
             Chilean exile leader, and Ronni Moffitt, Michael's wife, were murdered in the
             Embassy Row car bombing.

             On Capitol Hill Monday, six relatives of victims of Pinochet's rule praised
             European nations for their pursuit of the 83-year-old former ruler, and pressed
             U.S. officials to join the effort. They said clear evidence exists showing that
             Pinochet ordered the 1976 murders.

             In a recent interview, the prosecutor who handled that investigation, Lawrence
             Barcella, said he is convinced that Pinochet ordered the murders, and he wants the
             United States to seek Pinochet's extradition for that crime.

             Herald staff writer Rick Jervis contributed to this report.


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