Predictably, elements of the left are now waking up to the political implications of the death, on January 18, of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine Special Prosecutor who spent the last decade investigating the culpability of Iran and its Hezbollah ally in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered. A party line is coming together, uniting a rainbow coalition that extends from the Argentine government to the pro-Iranian conspiracy theorist Gareth Porter, which holds that Nisman, in accusing President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other top officials of fabricating Iran’s innocence over the atrocity, was acting at the behest of foreign powers–chiefly the U.S. and Israel.
A particularly heinous example of this thinking appeared today, in the pages, regrettably, of the liberal American Jewish newspaper The Forward. Written by Graciela Mochkofsky, an Argentine journalist who is the author of an “acclaimed” biography of Jacobo Timerman–the late dissident journalist whose son, Hector, is now Argentina’s foreign minister, and one of the officials named in the complaint Nisman was due to present to a congressional committee the day after his death–the piece carries the headline “Why Alberto Nisman is No Hero for Argentina – or the Jews,” and slides steadily downhill from there.
Before getting to the numerous errors, distortions, and outright lies in Mochkofsky’s piece, it’s worth ruminating for a second on that word, “hero.” There is a tendency on the left to regard heroes as the sort of people you put on a T-shirt; pure as the driven snow, motivated only by principle, and never compromising themselves in the pursuit of justice.
Such people, of course, don’t exist in the real world. Like any other judicial official, Nisman could not afford to rise above politics, which are particularly murky in Argentina. So when Mochkofsky spitefully condemns a man who cannot answer her as a “species born and bred in my country, a specimen of the politicized federal justice system — typically, someone who stretches the law, lives beyond his means and always stands close to power” and remarks darkly about “his close ties to Argentina’s intelligence services,” there is nothing here–nothing at all–to suggest that Nisman was wrong in pinning the blame for the AMIA bombing on Iran, or in asserting that Kirchner and her cohorts obligingly covered the Tehran regime’s tracks.
The issue, then, is not whether Nisman was an uncomplicated hero, but why, in the wake of his death, pundits like Mochkofsky are so keen to close down Nisman’s examination of the Buenos Aires-Tehran nexus. And the answer is revealed both by what her piece says and what it doesn’t say.
First, she attempts to smear Nisman by claiming that “his task was to make presentable the fabrication concocted by Judge Juan José Galeano”–a man who was subsequently impeached, along with former President Carlos Menem, for his role in trying to pin the blame for the bombing on low-level local operatives, thereby eliding Iran’s role. In fact, Nisman was a fairly junior official on that particular investigation, and was only able to pursue the Iranian connection with vigor once Menem’s successor, Nestor Kirchner, appointed him to run a renewed investigation at the end of 2004.
Mochkofsky then says that Nisman deliberately undermined a 2013 agreement between Argentina and Iran “to create an international commission of jurists to analyze the evidence provided by both countries on the AMIA case and to issue a nonbinding recommendation…The main point for Argentina was that Iran would allow these suspects to be interrogated by Nisman and the new judge of the case, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral.”
Not exactly. As the Buenos Aires-based political analyst Eamonn MacDonagh pointed out in The Tower magazine, “The proceedings of the commission were, naturally, to be held in Tehran. The Argentine court would be able to talk to the suspects; but only in Iran, and it could not formally question them under oath.” In other words, the restraints imposed by the Iranians on the proposed commission rendered it worthless, since no legal consequences could flow from it.
And it continues: “The first judge who received Nisman’s accusation rejected it as baseless,” says Mochkofsky. Actually, the judge in question, Ariel Lijo, recused himself from the case, which suggests that he foresaw a conflict of interest for himself–hardly the same thing as dismissing Nisman’s evidence out of hand. Judge Daniel Rafecas is said to have “demolished” Nisman’s accusations by, for example, revealing that “that Nisman wrote contradictory submissions on the same month of his death.” Only one document in that pile of paper had any legal validity–the complaint against Kirchner et al that he had initially unveiled a few days before he died. The rest was composed of the sorts of notes and hypotheses that any professional investigator would make. Meanwhile, Mochkofsky notably doesn’t disclose that Judge Rafecas currently has a malpractice complaint hanging over him on an unrelated matter, which might provide some explanation as to why he’s cozying up to the government over Nisman.
While Mochkofsky would have us believe that Nisman’s accusations are now dead and buried alongside him, they are being kept alive by his former colleague, federal prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita, who is appealing against Rafecas’s conclusion. That’s certainly something the Argentine government doesn’t want to see progress for many reasons, among them that it will force attention on the suspicious circumstances of Nisman’s death.
“Nah, it’s impossible,” harrumphed Hector Timerman, when the CBS journalist Lesley Stahl suggested to him that, with Nisman’s death, Argentina was returning to its old tradition of assassinating political opponents. Meanwhile, his boss, President Fernandez de Kirchner, has gone from saying that Nisman “probably” committed suicide to saying that he was “probably” murdered. As for Nisman’s former wife, federal judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, she has no doubt that he was murdered, and has even carried out a parallel forensic investigation into his death that revealed all sorts of incompetencies in the official attempt.
The Argentine government should not be given a pass this lightly. Nor should the Iranians, who have a long, bloodstained record of murdering their opponents abroad. Ultimately, Alberto Nisman–who always insisted that antisemitism was a key factor throughout the entire AMIA episode–was telling us that the murder of Jews cannot go unpunished, and that all avenues of investigation had to be pursued as a consequence. That a Jewish newspaper should see fit to publish an article that belittles and defames these efforts, and which contentedly concludes that we will never know who bombed the AMIA building (another way of Mochkofsky saying that she’d rather not know), is little short of reprehensible.