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Nation & World

Justice Elusive for Pinochet Victims

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Late in his life, former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet made a flat statement. He said in Spanish, I have no regrets at all. I haven't assassinated anyone.

Mr. AUGUSTO PINOCHET (Former President of Chile): (Spanish spoken)

INSKEEP: That he would even have to make such a denial hints at the crimes for which he was accused. Pinochet took over Chile in a military coup in 1973. His government was accused of many human rights abuses for which the dictator was never quite brought to trial.

This morning we brought in Peter Kornbluh. He's author of “The Pinochet File,” a history of the U.S. government's involvement in Chile based on declassified intelligence documents. He's in our studios. Good morning, Peter.

Mr. PETER KORNBLUH (Author, “The Pinochet File”): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Based on the documents, what role did the United States play in bringing Pinochet to power in the 1970s?

Mr. KORNBLUH: We were able to obtain the declassification of the Kissinger telcons, the transcripts of his telephone conversations.

INSKEEP: This is Henry Kissinger, a national security adviser at the time?

Mr. KORNBLUH: Yes, he was national security adviser. He was just becoming secretary of state at the time of the coup. And five days after the coup, he received a call from President Nixon, who said to him: Does our hand show in this? In other words, in the coup. And Kissinger said, we helped them. And then there was a deleted word, which I believe refers to the Central Intelligence Agency. And he continued that blank created the conditions as best as possible.

And that sums up the U.S. role. We undermined and destabilized a democratically elected socialist government in Chile, and then the declassified document show very, very clearly, we fully embraced - the United States government under Nixon and Kissinger embraced what was clearly a bloody dictatorship thereafter.

INSKEEP: You said a word that maybe hints at why the United did that; it was a socialist government, this is the middle of a cold war.

Mr. KORNBLUH: It was the middle of the cold war. Allende had - was a very prominent politician in Chile, had run for president four times. Since then, of course, many socialists have been elected around the world. He would not be an anomaly anymore. But in those days the United States feared precisely the Democratic aspect of his coming to power.

INSKEEP: Now you have written that Augusto Pinochet and his rule in Chile actually had an impact on American law. How did that happen?

Mr. KORNBLUH: Absolutely. Pinochet actually galvanized the human rights movement to become what we know it today in the United States. He and Kissinger - Secretary of State Kissinger's embrace of the Pinochet regime, despite its very, very open and clear repression, basically led to the U.S. Congress passing the first human rights laws that said human rights must be a criteria for U.S. foreign policy. Those laws were directed first and foremost at cutting off military and economic aid that the Nixon and Ford administration was giving to Pinochet.

INSKEEP: Now was Pinochet - or Pinochet, people say it different ways - ever really brought to account, ever really brought to justice?

Mr. KORNBLUH: Well, the press is reporting that he was never brought to trial, and that's just not true. He was in the middle of a series of trials at the point of his death yesterday. He'd been brought to trial on several cases - the Caravan Of Death case, Operation Condor, which was an international network of repression in the southern cone that he created. And some of those cases had been dismissed on health grounds, but other cases were ongoing. The Chilean legal system is not the same as in the United States.

Investigative judges had indicted him, even stripped of his immunity. He was actually under house arrest at the time of his heart attack a week ago.

INSKEEP: So he was never put in prison, but he certainly was brought to account.

Mr. KORNBLUH: He was never arrived at the point of a final conviction or a sentence, but he was in the middle of a legal process in cases involving disappearances, involving torture and involving murder when he died.

INSKEEP: And do you think that public opinion in Chile ultimately turned against this man?

Mr. KORNBLUH: Yes. The main revelation in the past few years was that he had absconded with $27 million and hidden that money in over a hundred secret bank accounts in the United States and elsewhere. At that point, when that became clear in Chile, many of the military supporters, the conservative supporters that he still had peeled off, said gee, you know, we didn't think he was an Anastasio Somoza type. When he died, he was as alone as he could be possibly be.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks very much. Peter Kornbluh is author of “The Pinochet File,” a national security archive book, a declassified dossier on atrocity and accountability about the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.