By Brian Low
It took 15 minutes to read the gruesome details of the torture charges against General Augusto Pinochet in the British Court. Bowstreet Magistrate’s Court will decide whether or not the former military dictator can be extradited to Spain to face criminal charges for human rights atrocities. There are a number of legal hoops to jump through in order for any extradition hearing to be successful, and it is by no means a sure thing that Pinochet will be extradited to face justice any time soon. If it does happen, though, it won’t be soon enough.
Pinochet led a bloody coup d’état in 1973 to topple Chile’s democratically elected President Allende. His next step was to appoint himself president. He promptly closed parliament, banned all political and trade union activity, and even imposed a national curfew. It appears he didn’t think all this was enough to secure power, though, because he ordered purges of Allende supporters, killing 3,000. Thousands more were tortured, and still thousands more were exiled. It appears that at least 1,200 family members were never told what had happened to family members who disappeared under his brutal regime.
It wasn’t until 17 years later, in 1990, that Pinochet reluctantly stepped down as Head of State. Nine years after that he finally resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, limiting himself to a position he created especially for himself: senator-for-life. Just who the hell does this guy think he is?
The British House of Lords has finally ruled that Pinochet does not benefit from diplomatic immunity. It also ruled on the crimes for which Pinochet is eligible for extradition to Spain. They essentially have to be crimes against Spanish nationals, committed between the years of 1988-1990. That cuts out the bulk of what Pinochet is probably responsible for. So now Spain only has 34 counts of torture to bring against him. That’s right, only 34 counts of torture. They ought to throw the book at this guy.
In fairness, Pinochet does have his supporters. Once he took over, Chile saw an economic boom as he denationalized industries, dropped trade tariffs and disbanded unionized labor. And Hitler made the trains run on time. Sorry, but a few political good deeds are not going to be enough to expiate the human rights atrocities Pinochet ordered and oversaw personally. This guy needs to face trial and account. There is also a camp that argues that Pinochet is a sickly old man who can only be prosecuted for a fraction of what he did, (and that’s if Spain is lucky). He’ll probably die before he ever gets to trial. Britain may as well let him go home to live out the remainder of his days.
If Pinochet really is on death’s doorstep, it is only all the more reason to expedite the entire extradition process. It is important that this man makes it to trial before he joins the choir invisible. It is only in this way that the world will be able to send a message to the rest of the tin-pot dictators out there: no matter who you are, you are not immune from justice.