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2000-01-19

Is Pinochet Too Ill to Stand Trial?

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A Chilean plane is flying to Britain today in anticipation of the possible — some say imminent — release of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from house arrest, where he has remained since October of 1998. [includes rush transcript]

British officials may announce a final decision any time on whether the eighty-four-year-old general should be released or extradited to Spain to face charges of torture.

Home Secretary Jack Straw is wading through volumes of paperwork that lawyers in Spain, France and Belgium, as well as human rights groups, submitted in response to Straw’s preliminary decision last week that Pinochet is medically unfit to stand trial. Straw made that announcement after reviewing the results of a medical exam conducted by a team of doctors. Human rights groups have criticized the British government’s decision not to allow the parties seeking his extradition to review the results of the medical exam. Yesterday, several doctors delivered a letter to the British government saying Pinochet’s medical exam had not been thorough enough to determine whether he was fit to stand trial.

Further controversy erupted this week when the lead doctor of the medical team that examined Pinochet refuted Straw’s claim to the House of Commons that the doctors had reported Pinochet to be unfit to stand trial. The doctor, Sir John Grimley Evans, told the newspaper The Observer that the decision about whether Pinochet was fit for trial was "outside our field of competence and outside our responsibilities."

Guests:

  • Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP who led a delegation asking the Metropolitan Police of London to arrest Pinochet on torture charges.
  • Fabiola Letelier, sister of Orlando Letelier, former Defense Minister for Salvador Allende who was assassinated in 1976 Washington, D.C. by a car bomb traced back to Pinochet’s secret police (the DINA). She is a human rights attorney in Santiago, Chile.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez. Well, a Chilean plane is flying to Britain today in anticipation of the possible, some say imminent, release of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from house arrest, where he’s remained since October of 1998. British officials will announce a final decision any time on whether the eighty-four-year-old general should be released or extradited to Spain to face charges of torture.

British Home Secretary Jack Straw is wading through volumes of paperwork that lawyers in Spain, France and Belgium, as well as human rights groups, have submitted in response to Straw’s preliminary decision last week that Pinochet is medically unfit to stand trial. Straw made that announcement after reviewing the results of a medical exam conducted by a team of doctors. Human rights groups have criticized the British government’s decision not to allow the party seeking his extradition to review the results of the medical exam. Yesterday, several doctors delivered a letter to the British government saying Pinochet’s medical exam had not been thorough enough to determine whether he’s fit to stand trial.

Further controversy erupted this week when the lead doctor of the medical team that examined Pinochet refuted Straw’s claim to the House of Commons that the doctors had reported Pinochet to be unfit to stand trial. The doctor, Sir John Grimley Evans, told the newspaper The Observer that the decision about whether Pinochet was fit for trial was "outside our field of competence and outside our responsibilities."

We’re going to Britain, to Spain and to Chile in this segment. We’ll start with Jeremy Corbyn, who is a Labour MP who is asking Jack Straw to release the medical information on Pinochet. He’s led a delegation asking the Metropolitan Police of London to arrest Pinochet on torture charges, as well.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeremy Corbyn.


JEREMY CORBYN:

Good afternoon.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, tell us the latest.

JEREMY CORBYN:

Well, the latest is that 5:00 p.m. yesterday, our time, the Home Secretary set the deadline for all the submissions we’ve got to make. We presented a very large number yesterday morning on behalf of human rights groups and the Chilean exile community. And there was a big march down to the Home Office to hand them all in and a 17,000 signature petition. And the Home Secretary said he’s going to examine them all and make an announcement, which might not even be until next week, on what he thinks about it.

In the meantime, there’s a number of other things going on. One is the Spanish government is considering a judicial review of Jack Straw the Home Secretary’s decision, which would have the effect of releasing the medical information. And also I have taken a delegation, as you just described, to the Metropolitan Police to ask them to be prepared to arrest Pinochet in the event of the extradition proceedings collapsing under British law, because the International Convention Against Torture applies in British law, as well. And so, if the extradition case collapses, then we believe Pinochet would be liable to arrest here.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And what’s been the public reaction to doctor — to John Grimley Evans’s contradiction of the Home Secretary?

JEREMY CORBYN:

Quite vague, and I didn’t raise it in the House of Commons on Monday. I’ve got in front of me his letters to the Home Office he wrote afterwards, which is trying to clarify the situation. My understanding of it all is that Dr. Grimley Evans was part of the examining team, and it seems that they did not specifically say Pinochet wasn’t fit to stand trial. They described his medical condition.

There are two issues to be discussed here with the Home Office. One is that there wasn’t a psychiatrist as part of the examination, and part of the claim is that Pinochet is mentally not fit to comprehend the trial and follow it and all that is necessary for that. And secondly, that only two of the doctors spoke Spanish and indeed undertook to translate for the other two, which doesn’t seem to me to be a very satisfactory way of going about things.

We’re talking here of the basic problem is the decision Jack Straw took to allow Pinochet’s medical examination to go on on the basis that the only people who would have the results be Jack Straw and Pinochet and Pinochet’s lawyers. We think that any decision as to whether or not a court case goes ahead should be made in open court and not in private.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jeremy Corbyn, that’s pretty astounding. You’ve got these doctors evaluating his mental abilities, and they can’t even speak his language. What did they say? “He seemed to be speaking a foreign language that no one can understand”?

JEREMY CORBYN:

Well, unfortunately, I wasn’t there when they did it, so I’m not entirely sure about it. But it seems to me just not right that somebody who is indicted on major crimes such as the International Convention Against Terrorism should in effect now have a power of veto on whether or not the process goes ahead.

AMY GOODMAN:

What about what’s been happening behind the scenes? How did this happen? What were the negotiations that most people do not know about that took place between the Chilean government and the British government around sending Pinochet back to Chile?

JEREMY CORBYN:

The background to it all goes way back to 1998, when Pinochet arrived in Britain on a mission to buy arms. He also was having some minor surgery. When he was arrested on the extradition request from Spain, he immediately claimed diplomatic immunity. That was tested in the courts and eventually was rejected on the grounds that he did not have diplomatic immunity. He was not a diplomat. He then tried something called head of state immunity. That was also tested in the courts and again eventually rejected after lengthy hearings. And so, he had no immunity in that respect. The Chilean government have always been of the view that Pinochet should go back to Chile and claim that he should face justice in Chile, conveniently not telling the world that the Chilean constitution specifically gave Pinochet immunity from prosecution.

Over the past couple of months, they’ve been running this story that he’s medically unfit to stand trial. Indeed, Mrs. Thatcher has been saying so, as well. Yet, we find that only a month ago he managed to send out personally 300 Christmas cards, that he’s written letters to people, he’s given interviews, he’s made press statements. And now he’s claiming that he’s medically unfit. Frankly, many people are skeptical about this and doubt it, and we, at the very least, want the case to go back into court so it can be a legal decision. Otherwise, if he goes back to Chile, unless there’s going to be a suspension of his legal immunity, which is very unlikely, given that the Supreme Court was in part appointed by Pinochet in the first place.


JUAN GONZALEZ:

Now, what about in his house — the conditions of his house arrest? Does he receive visitors? Or can he only just see his lawyers? What are those conditions?

JEREMY CORBYN: Very lax conditions. He has a very expensive house set in countryside just outside London next to Windsor Great Park. It’s a very expensive house, and it costs several thousand pounds a week, I think 10,000 pounds a week, so like $15,000 a week in rent. It’s a lot of money. He pays for that himself. He can receive visitors. He can only go into the garden with the permission of the police who are on duty all the time and guarding the place. But he does receive visitors, he does have access to phone calls, does have access to computers, email and all the rest of it, and appears to have no problem in communicating with the rest of the world. What he cannot do is leave the property.


AMY GOODMAN:

We’re on the line with British parliamentarian Jeremy Corbyn. He’s a Labour MP in Britain, led a delegation asking the Metropolitan Police of London to arrest Pinochet on torture charges. We’re going to get to that point in a minute. But we’re also joined by Fabiola Letelier, who is the sister or Orlando Letelier, former defense minister for Salvador Allende, who’s a — he was — that is, Orlando Letelier — assassinated in 1976 in Washington, D.C. by a car bomb, along with Ronni Moffitt, traced back to Pinochet’s secret police, the DINA. Fabiola Letelier is a human rights attorney in Santiago.

Can you give us the latest from there the reaction to the plane being sent from Chile now to Britain with a probability that Pinochet will be coming back to Chile, Fabiola Letelier?

FABIOLA LETELIER:

You know, the announcement of the Minister of Interior, Mr. Jack Straw, was received in Chile when the Chilean people was in the middle of the election of the new president of the republic. So, it was really a very important issue, but it was impossible in the moment that we received this news to take care of it. But now that the election was made and was given the presidency to Ricardo Lagos, now the people of Chile is coming to be more concerned with this decision of or this announcement of Straw.

And, of course, the Chilean human rights organizations, and especially the relatives of the victims, we are of course trying to write to present a petition before the Britain authorities, in which we precise that in our concept the announcement of Mr. Straw is violating several international instruments, first of all, the convention of European extradition that in their norms does not include the humanitarian reasons, and of course is violating the convention — the International Convention on Torture, that because in one of the — his article, it’s expressed that the state that are in — working with the petition of extradition, they have to give themselves all the cooperation that is necessary in the procedures that are going on. In second — in third part, there is a convention of Vienna of 1969 that is related to the treaties and the law, and it says clearly in one of the articles of this convention that has been approved by India and, of course, Spain, that it says that never a norm of the interior legislation can be [inaudible] about an international rule. So, for us, there are many arguments in the law that are giving for that Mr. Straw review the position that he has assumed.

And then, finally, I would like to tell you that yesterday morning before 11:00, because that was the deadline for present this litigation before the Minister Straw, a group of relatives of the victims, that we are all of them part of the process in Spain, we went to the Britain Embassy to make a petition to Mr. Straw saying all these arguments not only under the international law, but also adding that, for us, the victims, this is a new damage that has given us, because Mr. Straw, if he in his final decision accepts the liberation of Pinochet and the return to Chile, all the victims — there are thousands of thousands — we are going to be in the negation of justice for ourselves.


JUAN GONZALEZ:

Well, Fabiola Letelier, what about the new government now? Do you expect any change in the policy of the Chilean government over this Pinochet issue now that Ricardo Lagos has been elected president?

FABIOLA LETELIER:

President Lagos, in the speech that he made before more than 60,000 people said, when the people that was in that square started to scream, saying "Juicio Pinochet," "Judgment to Pinochet," President Lagos said that this is a matter of the tribunals in Chile. That was the argument that he made. That, I would like to add, that it is very complex for the Chilean people to obtain justice in a trial of Pinochet before our tribunals, first of all, because Pinochet is a senator for life. So, before that he face a tribunal, he must to be before the court of appeal in Chile, a court that has to decide that he can be submitted, submitted to a process. So, they have to pronounce about the parliamentarian immunity that cover Pinochet now. So, after that, he will be able to face a tribunal, a minister in Chile, Juan Guzman. As you know, he is investigating more than fifty-two petitions against Pinochet. So it is very complex for us.

AMY GOODMAN:

Fabiola Letelier, sister of Orlando Letelier and a human rights attorney, speaking to us from Santiago, Chile. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP, speaking to us from Britain. On this issue, Jeremy Corbyn, of the Metropolitan Police of London arresting Pinochet on torture charges, what exactly would this mean? So, you’d have it ruled that he could be — he would be sent back to Chile, most likely Straw will rule this, and then the police would pick him up again?

JEREMY CORBYN:

No, if Jack Straw says that the extradition isn’t going ahead and then subject to an illegal challenge, and that is quite a strong possibility, then there would be a further legal proceedings in Britain on the medical issue. In the event of the entire process of extradition not going ahead, then we believe that he could and should be arrested under British law. That’s a matter for the police to decide whether or not they’re going to do that.

We went to see the Home Office on — the police, rather, on Monday morning with all the necessary evidence concerning torture of individuals both in the physical sense that they were tortured during Pinochet’s regime, but also the continuing torture, where their relatives are missing because they’ve never — the bodies have never been discovered. In those cases, that is — in international law that is continuing torture. So, we believe that Pinochet is liable on two counts there. One is the actual torture, and the other one is the continuing torture.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

But given the apparent unwillingness of the British government, who actually have to confront this issue, do you expect the Metropolitan Police to act independently of the national government?

JEREMY CORBYN:

They have a duty to follow the law that has been laid down for them to follow. The Criminal Justice Act quite specifically includes the International Convention Against Torture. I made a formal reference to them in September of last year to ask them to prepare arrest documents. The meeting on Monday morning confirmed that they have an active file on Pinochet’s case, confirmed that they have a great deal of evidence, confirmed they have access to the Spanish evidence that Baltasar Garzon has put together in his application for extradition. And also, we offered any further information from specific exiles in this country who have suffered and continue to suffer torture. There is, in my view, a duty on the Metropolitan Police to act in this way. Now, I am not the police; they will have to make their decision on this. But we are putting all the pressure we can on to ensure that justice goes ahead.

AMY GOODMAN:

Final question to Fabiola Letelier in Santiago, Chile, and we just have thirty seconds. This is opening up a massive discussion in Chile about the crimes against humanity that took place during the Pinochet years. Here, we’ve talked about it, but I understand in Chile, it is new. What’s happening to people who were traumatized then, who are survivors or had loved ones killed?

FABIOLA LETELIER:

No, in this moment in Chile, there are many, many different groups that are organizing themselves to act if Pinochet is returned to Chile. I really believe that we are going to organize a very huge public manifestation. And, of course, the lawyers, the group of lawyers of human rights that are acting before the Minister Juan Guzman, they are ready to make all the decisions before the tribunal. We are not going to be passive. We are going to ask and demand for justice as well as we have done for twenty-five years, the last twenty-five years, especially during the military dictatorship.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Fabiola Letelier —

FABIOLA LETELIER:

We are [inaudible] and very conscious that if Minister Straw stops the procedure in Spain, we are going to lose the only opportunity to obtain a real and just process that is in Spain, not in Chile. And, of course, this decision of Minister Straw could end a process that’s happening in the middle of the consciousness of all around the world and are asking for —

AMY GOODMAN:

Fabiola Letelier, I want to thank you very much for being with us. We’re sorry we have to end this segment. Speaking to us from Santiago Chile, a human rights attorney. And Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP from Britain. And you are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Looking at a piece in The Guardian, it says that General Pinochet is as likely to go to trial in Chile as he is to go to heaven. You’re listening to Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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