On the Damning Evidence Against Augusto Pinochet
A review of Hugh O'Shaughnessy's Pinochet: The Politics of Torture
by Nicholas Lezard
Following Jack Straw's decision not to let anyone see Pinochet's medical reports (which supposedly make such a strong case for his being sent back to a comfy retirement in Chile "Dear Mr Straw, Senator-for-Life Pinochet has a nasty sniffle, persistent earache and a wonky knee, so please excuse him from standing trial for torture and murder"), I am minded to make this book Paperback of the Week in the modest hope that it will provide ammunition for those who do not like the idea of the treacherous bastard getting away with it.
You may remember Margaret Thatcher saying that Pinochet's arrest in this country was nothing more than "gesture politics"; I remember Alan Bennett's rejoinder, which was to say that Thatcher herself was involved in gesture politics when she stood up for him, "the gesture in question being two fingers to humanity". This book, from one of the most authoritative commentators on South American politics, supplies us with the details of Pinochet's contempt for ethical standards in a sober and unanswerable manner.
The strange thing is that there are times during this book when one feels a mystifying lack of hatred for Pinochet. You do not come away with an impression of Pinochet's evil although this might be because O'Shaughnessy does not care to bandy terms like that about. Rather, you learn about a grey, unimpressively ambitious man, one whom Allende trusted right up to the coup. (When he saw Pinochet's name at the head of the junta's ultimatum, demanding his resignation, his reaction was to say: "Poor Pinochet, he's been captured.")
Most heartbreaking apart from the various details of torture O'Shaughnessy slips in is the way that political malevolence both internal and external ("make the economy scream" was Kissinger's plan, noted by CIA director Richard Helms at a meeting 11 days after Allende's election) conspired to overturn an economic miracle in the making: an elected, truly socialist state, with workers' wages rising faster than inflation, across-the-board improvement in social conditions, and impressively rising popularity for the urbane, but honest and dedicated Allende. And Pinochet almost literally stabbed him in the back.
It is perhaps a desire to pretend that this was not an act of the basest treachery that has led to Pinochet's innocent demeanour ever since, the impression you get that he sincerely believes he never did anything wrong. But while he may fool himself, and useful idiots like Thatcher and (give us a break) Norman Lamont, he will not fool us.
O'Shaughnessy's book, produced at speed so as to maximise its timeliness, is pretty much essential background for those who want to be clued up about just how disgusting Pinochet's regime was, and how spectacularly, gleefully and self-righteously vicious were his secret police, the DINA. You will also find details which implicate them strongly in the murder of Jonathan Moyle, a British subject, who in all probability discovered that the Chileans were sending, along with their cluster bombs, tons (around 12, between 1986 and 1987 alone) of cocaine to Iran and Iraq; and the murder of Olaf Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister who did much behind-the-scenes work to establish Chile as a pariah state.
Still, as Thatcher might well believe, along with various Pinochet supporters in Chile, you cannot make an omelette without breaking a few eggs along the way, even if this is a coded phrase for "the state-sponsored murder of innocent people". Which is incontestably true; but who on earth with a trace of human feeling and decency would want such a putrid and inedible omelette in the first place?
This review (text only) first appeared in The Guardian, 2000-02-05.
* It is interesting to note that, according to U.K. government documents released 2001-01-01 CE, when Thatcher was Minister of Education in Edward Heath's government in 1970 she drew up secret plans to abolish free access to Britain's public libraries. Some Minister of Education! She could not persuade the British Cabinet to adopt this plan, but she did convince them to do away with free milk in schools for children over seven years of age.
- Pinochet & Allende : Role of USA & CIA
- The Truth About Pinochet: Chile's legacy of torture, murder, international terrorism and "the disappeared"
- General Pinochet and human rights abuses
- Chile and the United States: Declassified Documents Relating to the Military Coup, September 11, 1973
- Pinochet decision: The birth of a new era for human rights
- Special report: The Pinochet fileBBC News Online records the twists and turns of the Pinochet case and unlocks the dark secrets of the general's past.
- Christopher Hitchens: A Man of Straw
As a matter of fact, I doubt myself whether Pinochet is capable of understanding the charges laid against him. He almost certainly thinks that torture, murder, kidnapping and intimidation are lawful and recreational activities of the ruling class, and he's almost certainly right about that. However, he wouldn't be the first psychopath to be made to stand trial. And I say this as one who cares more than Straw does for the general's civil liberties. It was wrong to keep the man cooped up for so long, with only Thatcher for company ...
- Pinochet flies out of Britain (March 2, 2000)
Looks like the bastard got away with it. ... But what awaits him in Chile?
- Pinochet immunity in doubt (May 24, 2000)A Chilean court is reported to have decided to strip the country's former military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, of his immunity from prosecution.
- U.S. Uncovers New Evidence Against Pinochet
- Pinochet fights to escape trial
- Pinochet 'loses court battle'
- Chile Judge Orders Arrest, Trial of Pinochet
- Pinochet charged with kidnapping
- Marc Cooper: Now the U.S. Must Face Its Past on Chile
If a former Chilean head of state can be tried by his own courts for the heinous crimes he committed, why shouldn't American officials be held morally and legally accountable for their complicity with him? Are the intellectual authors and financiers of mass murder any less guilty than the material executors? Clearly not.
- Supreme Court rules Pinochet unfit for trial (July 2, 2002)
Chile's Supreme Court ruled last night that Augusto Pinochet was mentally unfit to stand trial ... In a 4-to-1 ruling, the court cited the mental health problems of Pinochet, who suffers from dementia, an irreversible mental illness, as the reason for its decision. ... Monday's decision did not acquit Pinochet rather, it just determined that he can't be put on trial because of his health.
- Pinochet Indicted for Kidnap and Murder (2004-12-13)
A judge today indicted Chile's former leader General Augusto Pinochet for the kidnapping of nine dissidents and the killing of one of them during his 1973-90 military regime, and placed the former dictator under house arrest.
- Former Nazi Pedophile Nabbed in Argentina (2005-03-11)
Chilean officials also want [Paul] Schäfer [former head of Colonia Dignidad] in connection with torture during the 1973-1990 Pinochet dictatorship. The colony apparently served as a torture center for the Chilean secret service as well as a torture school where former Gestapo and Nazi officers gave lessons.
- Pinochet loses immunity over 1975 killings
A Chilean court yesterday stripped General Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution in a human rights case involving the killing of more than 100 dissidents. The decision by the Santiago court of appeals is linked to charges stemming from the 1975 deaths of 119 dissidents, whose bodies were found in neighbouring Argentina.
- Augusto Pinochet Dead at 91
General Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Chile's democratically elected Marxist president in a bloody coup and ruled the Andean nation for 17 years, died Sunday [2006-12-10] at the age of 91, dashing hopes of victims of his regime's abuses that he would be brought to justice.
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