Commentary Magazine


To the Editor:

In “Justice for Pinochet?” [March], Elliott Abrams claims that the extradition of General Pinochet from Great Britain to Spain depends on extraterritoriality—that is, on trying Pinochet for crimes committed outside of Spain’s jurisdiction. But the Spanish order of extradition charges Pinochet with crimes against Spanish citizens in Chile. This is no different from American law, which seeks to punish those who do harm to American citizens outside the territory of the United States.

Mr. Abrams also argues that the issues in this case were resolved by the people of Chile through various plebiscites and elections, and that their decisions should not be burdened by interference from outside their borders. But this is akin to saying that we should have allowed Germany to resolve the issues surrounding the Hitler regime by means of its own internal votes.

Mr. Abrams should have relied on diplomatic immunity as the most forceful argument against Pinochet’s extradition. Pinochet entered Great Britain on a diplomatic passport Great Britain was not obligated to admit him on these terms, and could have insisted on his admission under a general passport. Once admitted, however, Pinochet, like all other diplomats, was entitled to the immunities which that passport provides.

Jay M. Zerin
Pomona, New York



To the Editor:

If all of General Pinochet’s victims had been Chilean, Elliott Abrams might be right in his claim that the decision to prosecute rests entirely with the Chilean people. But the Spanish judge (to the best of my knowledge) was acting on a petition from Spanish citizens based on actions committed against a Spaniard. Thus the judge is following the course allowed for by Mr. Abrams in his own discussion of General Pinochet’s possible involvement with the murder of Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C.

As for the other abusers of human rights Mr. Abrams mentions, Fidel Castro and Yasir Arafat, it is not clear whether, in the case of Castro, he includes atrocities committed strictly in Cuba or those in Angola and elsewhere. Even if Angola is included, the political situation there is sufficiently unstable that Angolans have much more to worry about than the role played by Castro. And though Yasir Arafat’s minions have certainly killed innocents of numerous nationalities, I suspect that many nations might have arrested him but for fear of what gruesome atrocities might be committed against them in retaliation.

As Mr. Abrams says, binding up a nation’s wounds does involve dynamics far beyond the rules of a single courtroom. But the case of General Pinochet involves binding up multinational wounds. The trials of Nuremberg, Tokyo, and the Hague, flawed though they may be, provide the precedent for helping citizens of many countries come to terms with all the atrocities allegedly committed at his command.

Doron Becker
Silver Spring, Maryland



To the Editor:

On April 15, the British Home Secretary Jack Straw ruled for the second time that the Spanish extradition request for General Augusto Pinochet should proceed, thus rejecting arguments by lawyers for General Pinochet and the government of Chile as well as by Elliott Abrams. In particular, Straw dismissed suggestions that, on the facts before him, Chile’s sovereignty or its democratic transition should trump Britain’s obligation to extradite Pinochet for crimes pursuant to the United Nations Convention on Torture.

Mr. Abrams seems to ignore the fact that Pinochet directly organized the murder, disappearance, and torture of thousands of individuals. (Mr. Abrams uses the passive voice to note that the Pinochet years of supposed economic boom were also “marked by gross human-rights violations ranging from press censorship to torture and murder of the regime’s opponents,” as if these horrors were visited on Chile from above.) He similarly ignores the fact that international law authorizes, and in the case of the Torture Convention requires, the extraterritorial prosecution of such crimes. The point of these laws, like all penal laws, is to deter crime. No enforcement, no deterrence.

But Mr. Abrams relies on his experience “negotiat[ing] with several dictators concerning their departure from power” to argue that these despots might have clung to office had they been worried about prosecution. Presumably, he is talking about the likes of Haiti’s “Baby Doc” Duvalier and the military leaders of Guatemala and Argentina, all of whom were backed by the Reagan administration even as they committed atrocities against their own people. Perhaps if the United States had not been so indulgent—indeed, if it had threatened prosecution from the outset—these tyrants would not have been emboldened to commit such outrages in the first place. In any event, they all left when their support dried up, not because of promises of amnesty.

Mr. Abrams misrepresents the Chilean domestic situation. Pinochet’s self-amnesty was not “agreed upon” with the “incoming democrats.” It was imposed by the military twelve years before they left power. The elected democrats promised to annul it but could not. Polls consistently show that a large majority of Chileans and virtually all of Pinochet’s victims want to see General Pinochet tried for his crimes, something that is not possible in Chile.

Finally, Mr. Abrams’s principal warning of the “real dangers in proclaiming that any judge, anywhere, may try any former official” ignores not only the mandate of international law, but the role of the political branches of the Spanish and British governments. Jack Straw, after weighing the legal and political factors, twice made the difficult decision to authorize Spain’s extradition bid for Pinochet. Had Chileans been united in support of Pinochet’s immunity, as Mr. Abrams claims, the Home Secretary presumably would have decided differently.

The debate on Pinochet’s arrest offers an opportunity to acknowledge the evidence on Pinochet’s involvement in crimes against humanity, to remember his victims, to re-examine U.S. government support for Pinochet’s coup and its complicity in his abuses, and to seek the release of information still being withheld by Washington that could illuminate these questions. Sadly, Mr. Abrams is virtually silent on these matters.

Reed Brody
Sandeep Puri
Human Rights Watch
New York City



To the Editor:

As an addendum to Elliott Abrams’s excellent article on the Pinochet case, it is helpful to know something of the conditions that brought about the overthrow of the Allende government I spent a great deal of time in Chile in 1972 and 1973, negotiating with officials of the Allende regime over compensation for an expropriated copper mine. I was there during the 1973 coup and for a great deal of time thereafter.

In my judgment, things had gotten so bad by 1973 that a coup was inevitable. The only question was whether it would come from the Right—i.e., the armed forces—or from the extreme Left, which was militant, heavily armed, and influenced if not dominated by Castro (I call it the “extreme” Left to distinguish it from the Allende regime, which was itself Marxist).

Just how bad were dungs? The country had ceased to function. Food was scarce on all sides, from the best hotels to the homes of the poor. Farmers feared that their land was about to be expropriated, so they did not invest, and food production plummeted. In all of 1972-73, I saw meat once, at an official government lunch. Housewives rose before dawn to get into line in hopes of buying a loaf of bread.

Production of copper, the mainstay of the economy, fell drastically. Travel between cities virtually ceased, since the extreme Left had scattered tire-cutting devices on the highways. Pipelines were blown up, and gasoline was so scarce that when a gas station had some, customers had to push one another’s cars to move the line forward. Inflation was out of control, on the order of 700 percent or more in 1973; people carried currency around in large envelopes or boxes.

In downtown Santiago there was constant turmoil and strife. Teenagers wearing helmets marched around carrying clubs and chanting opposition slogans. The smell of tear gas was often in the air, and fires were set on street corners with burning tires. The sound of automatic weapons was sometimes heard.

Anyone with experience in Latin America knew that this untenable situation was about to blow up. In the event, a Castro-type regime did not take power, and a military government did. There followed a protracted, clandestine civil war between the military and the disappointed and outraged Left.

In a 1980 plebiscite, Pinochet won with a large majority, which gave him eight more years in office. The people apparently chose stability. In accordance with the plebiscite, Pinochet conducted elections in 1988, and stepped down when he lost. Meanwhile, out of the ashes of the Allende years, he had established a prosperous Chile that became a model for the economies of developing nations.

Surely innocent people died or were harmed in the violence of 1973 and the warfare that followed. Surely there was much cruelty. But if there had been a Castro-type regime or an open civil war, the carnage would have been greater.

Philip C. Walsh
Peapack, New Jersey



To the Editor:

Elliott Abrams might have pointed out that General Pinochet was detained in Britain under European human-rights law. Unfortunately, human-rights law is not really the issue. If it were, then of course (as Mr. Abrams suggests) Fidel Castro, receiving an honorary degree in Spain when all this began, would have been arrested too. It is worth noting that those who are howling for General Pinochet’s blood, especially his victims, were and are happy to applaud and support Castro at his vicious worst.

To preserve even a minimal sense of decency one must ask: why immunity for Castro (and, indeed, the Left in general) in the sanctimonious campaign of those who bellow against Pinochet? The answer lies in the record of the revolutionary Left in Latin America, and of the bien-pensant support for it in Europe and the U.S. That record is, without exception, a story of hideous, bloody, embarrassing failure, an outrage to common humanity, let alone “rights.” Cuban-backed uprisings in Central and South America failed. Nicaraguan Marxist-Leninists, after slaughtering the Miskito Indians and imprisoning, torturing, and murdering their other opponents (all with direct help from Castro), supposed that they had their country wrapped up, and found they did not.

Of course, there is the “success” of Castro. He has ruined Cuba’s economy, and his human-rights record recalls the darker pages of Asian despotism. But he is still in power, thumbing his nose at the United States. Against all the odds, this ragged, nasty caudillo is still able to strut the political stage, lionized, stroked, smiled at, and cuddled by Europe’s vicarious revolutionaries.

Underneath this hero-worship, of course, there burns a deep resentment over the debacles of the Latin American Left. And Pinochet did something which rouses that resentment to white heat. His draconian rule was a spectacular success, healing the economy and restoring a base for democracy in the body politic that Allende had destroyed. The process was painful, often brutal, but it worked well and ended well—in marked contrast to the “socialist” pain and brutality that were and, in the case of Cuba, still are nostalgically excused and applauded by the very people who are screaming for Pinochet’s head.

Herb Greer
Manchester, England



Elliott Abrams writes:

In the lead opinion in the Pinochet case, Lord Browne-Wilkinson candidly states that “it may well be thought that the trial of Senator Pinochet in Spain for offenses all of which related to the state of Chile and most of which occurred in Chile is not calculated to achieve the best justice. But I cannot emphasize too strongly that that is no concern of your Lordships.” This is a key point the Law Lords were concerned with construing the law, not matters such as stability, democracy, or even justice. But if the Law Lords could not consider these matters, my view was (and is) that statesmen must For example, South Africa’s Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, recently called for a new round of amnesties for apartheid-era human-rights violations, stating that endless trials would produce political divisiveness and violence that would threaten his country’s future.

Still, Jay M. Zerin and Doron Becker are right in suggesting that cases must sometimes be tried by foreign governments. The question is when. Mr. Becker is wrong in suggesting an analogy between the Letelier case and the Spanish cases being brought in London: in Letelier, the crime was actually committed in the United States, while the cases being raised in London involve acts committed in Chile—not in Spain. Mr. Zerin is correct in saying that the United States, Spain, and many other countries prosecute crimes against their citizens committed outside their territory, but here again the issue is when that effort is wise and when it is not.

Nuremberg is an easy case, but is it really a precedent for trying Pinochet? The analogies between Pinochet and Hitler, and between Germany in 1945 and Chile today, appeal to both Mr. Zerin and Mr. Becker, but not to me. “Helping citizens of many countries come to terms” with human-rights abuses (per Mr. Becker) is too vague a goal for me to accept, and may come at too high a price. And Mr. Zerin is wrong about Pinochet’s passport. Mere possession of a diplomatic passport does not automatically bring the bearer diplomatic immunity, which is only accorded to accredited persons on diplomatic missions. It can be argued that as Pinochet was an official guest of the British Ministry of Defense, this was tantamount to accreditation. The British courts saw it otherwise.

I am grateful to Philip C. Walsh for his account of the situation in Chile in 1973. Coups in Latin America often have very broad popular support, which is one reason they succeed. (Attempts in the 1980’s against Argentina’s president Raúl Alfonsín and Venezuela’s president Carlos Andrés Pérez failed for lack of wide backing.) But Mr. Walsh goes too far, I think, in complimenting Pinochet for his achievements, for some of these were squeezed out of him under great pressure, and in any event his human-rights violations were indefensible.

Herb Greer is absolutely right in suggesting that the Pinochet case tells us more about leftist politics than about true commitments to human rights. One of those “howling for General Pinochet’s blood” but who was “happy to applaud and support Castro” and other leftists is Reed Brody, whose mendacious letter I have left for last. Mr. Brody (whose co-author, Sandeep Puri, I do not know) is famous in some human-rights circles as the author of the 1985 “Brody Report” on allegations of human-rights abuses by the contras in Nicaragua. He posed as an honest and balanced analyst, but it later emerged that during his three-month stay in Managua his hotel bill was picked up by the Sandinista regime, which also provided him with cars and office space. Somehow Mr. Brody never got around to reporting on Communist human-rights abuses.

His letter is a museum piece of leftist agitprop. All Latin dictators, he says, were backed by the Reagan administration; the fact that the Reagan administration removed “Baby Doc” Duvalier goes unmentioned, as does the relentless pressure for human-rights improvements in Pinochet’s Chile. Mr. Brody’s explanation for human-rights problems in the region is that rulers were “emboldened to commit such outrages in the first place” because the United States was “so indulgent.” This kind of simple-mindedness cannot explain why there was democracy in Costa Rica and Venezuela but dictatorship in Argentina and Haiti, for it denies the existence of Latin American political culture altogether. What is bad, according to Mr. Brody, must have come from Washington. His misreading of the Chilean political situation and the Pinochet case itself would take too much space to refute in detail. Fortunately his knee-jerk anti-Americanism, which during the cold war characterized all too much of the human-rights movement, is now a personal idiosyncrasy rather than a significant problem.




In Igor Golomstock’s article, “The Forger and the Spy,” which appeared last month, the names of the art historian Marc Fumaroli and of John Costello, the author of The Mask of Treachery, were misspelled. We regret the errors.—Ed.


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