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Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón Tells the Story of the Arrest of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet

Web ExclusiveSeptember 11, 2013
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In this web-only exclusive video, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón recalls in detail how he and Spanish attorney Juan Garcés led the process that resulted in the historic arrest of General Augusto Pinochet in 1998 on torture and genocide charges. Judge Garzón went on to indict Osama bin Laden, Bush administration officials and many others on human rights grounds.

Pinochet seized power in a U.S.-backed military coup on Sept. 11, 1973. An estimated 3,000 Chileans were killed during his 17-year dictatorship. Judge Garzón told his story during a panel discussion on Sept. 9, 2013, as Garcés, who was a personal adviser to Allende at the time of the coup, looked on. The event was hosted by The Charles Horman Truth Foundation.

Watch our 2011 interview with Garzón and see all of our coverage of the Chilean coup over the years on our In-Depth page marking its 40th anniversary.

BALTASAR GARZÓN: [translated] I think that in this story you need to begin to acknowledge who were the true architects of the process. And without a doubt, for me, the great architect of the Pinochet case was not Judge Garzón or not any other judge, initially, but it was Juan Garcés. Juan Garcés was with Salvador Allende on that last day, on September 11, 1973. He left the presidential palace with a request, and I think that he was able to carry it out. For many years, 40 years total, and also in dedicating his life to the law—I know he doesn’t like to hear this, but that’s his problem. I think that in taking a very important initiative, that he alongside others, they converged during a very historic moment in a concrete country—not as important, perhaps—being Spain, but at that time the country was able to apply this principle of universal jurisdiction—for the first time, perhaps in a stronger way, in the Argentina case.

The Argentina and the Chile case were very parallel, very similar. Argentina was a little bit ahead, and, in a way, they were walking in lockstep. The initial proceedings to accept this process were first established in the Argentina case. And the arrest of Pinochet, it occurred within the context of the Argentina case, during what is known as the Condor Operation. That explains for the existence of two judges working at the same time. In my case, I was investigating the different kinds of torture, repression, disappearances, homicides, that were being carried out during the Argentinian dictatorship. After the complaint that was presented by the Progressive Union of Prosecutors in Spain—and they were also involved in presenting the case of Pinochet, alongside Juan—and with that dynamic, we arrived at the month of October 1998.

I must warn you that, by that point, the tribunal of the national audience—or, the Spanish National Court, at the moment, which is the tribunal under which we operate, had not ruled positively regarding the jurisdiction of our court over this case. What’s more, the prosecutor was in court actively opposing this measure, decidedly against it, combatively against it. We were almost about to throw punches at each other. I must tell you that in those two proceedings, beginning in October of 1998, I’ve resolved more motions by that prosecutor than I have in 32 years of practice.

To make a long story short, a week before the 16th, October 16th, Juan Garcés came and saw me. He was not defending the Argentina case. And he asked me—he informed me that Pinochet was in fact in London. I told him, “OK, very good. What do you want?” “Well, I want you to know that he’s in London. What can we do?” And I was told that I was chamber six out of a number of different chambers, and not judge number five, the one that has to make the decision. So, he told me, “Yes, that’s true. But we could perhaps—let’s see how we can proceed with this.” So I told him—he won’t tell you this, but I’m going to tell you—I told him, “You could perhaps tell my colleague that I will also—I’m going to take the affidavit or the deposition by Pinochet, and I’m sure when you tell him that, he will be for it.” So something like that occurred because my colleague took the initiative in order to present this request with the purpose to take a declaration from Pinochet in London. This agreement that Juan and I arrived at is that whatever action I took in this case would not be known, so that every pressure from the media was on chamber six. This was perhaps a small story on myself, but it wasn’t big. It never went anywhere. So, my colleague was very burdened down, because the media were on him, asking him, “Have you ruled on that request? Have you gone and taken a declaration from Pinochet?” and all this. And he said, “Yes, I’m going to rule. Yes, I have ruled.” I must tell you that that request was never honored, or physically it never was issued, because the events after that didn’t allow it.

Meanwhile, what I did was I did ask the British authorities whether Pinochet was in fact in London. It was evident that he was there, but we had to go through the formal request process. The answer that the British police gave me was something along the lines of “What do you care about this?” or almost something like that. I was a little surprised. But then I got a phone call from the British embassy in Spain.

I don’t know how my time is going, but it’s worth noting a small story within a story. A year before, there was a big controversy that I had had with the counsel or the ministerial counsel to the embassy, because I was complaining that Gilbraltar was not cooperating with Spain in a case related to money laundering. And he said, “You’re being unjust with me. You have not made a request. If you make a request, we’re going to try and work with you.” And he said, “If you have any doubts, we can talk.” And then I said, “OK, let’s talk.” And at last we formed a very important relationship.

When he calls me that afternoon, he tells me, “They have answered you inadequately from London. That shall not happen again, because that would break up the important relationship that Great Britain has with your court. OK, well, so then you can make your request again.” I can’t tell this whole story in two minutes, but… I said, “OK, fine. I’m going to receive another request.” “I shall answer that request.” They tell me, “Yes, Pinochet is in London.” They ask me, “What do you want with him? What are you accusing him of?” And that’s where I have to go to Juan, because the main process was going on in the other courtroom. I had an open case, which was the Condor Operation, so I told Juan, “Here we can proceed with this case.” And, in fact, that’s what I did. And at that point, different informations and different kind of files were being exchanged.

On October 16 of 1998, they had said that Pinochet had wanted to leave. I had asked for the possibility to send an interrogatory with the questions for Pinochet, in order to get the testimony from Pinochet. I had asked Juan to prepare the questions. And that’s how everything finished that day, by 1:00 p.m. on a Friday. And we said, “OK, let’s go home,” at that point. And around 2:00, I received a message from the British police telling me, “Pinochet leaves tomorrow. We won’t be able to take this testimony from him. You have to make the decision you need to make, because he’s going to leave.” That’s when there was no one left in the court. There was only one person there. I made the decision, first, to hold back this office worker to not—for that person not to leave, because he was about to leave. And when I gave her the request by hand, this person came back to my office, and the person said, “Are you sure about this?” And I told you, “Just write and be quiet.” And that’s how the arrest warrant was issued. I asked the Spanish police to also be quiet, because the judge may do so if he decides. The request was placed, filed. The ministerial counsel informed me of how the situation was going. And I went back to my native home, Andalusia.

I must say it was a popular, popular holiday in my home town. All the way home, I was getting differing messages from London. I must acknowledge that I wasn’t too sure that this arrest warrant would actually take effect. I went to watch some bullfighting with my favorite bullfighter. Julio Ramiro is his name. It was a disaster. And when I was back at the hotel—right before that, actually, while I was still in the bullfighting, I received a call from the ministerial counsel, and he said, “The police is going to the home of the judge with the arrest warrant.” “What do you mean they’re going with the arrest warrant?” “Didn’t you issue it?” they asked. “Yes, I did.” It was about 8:00 p.m. at that time. I began to finally understand that this was indeed working. And around 10:00 p.m. I got a call again from him, and he said, “Pinochet has been arrested.”

I’m finishing up now. I remember I was in my hotel room. I was talking on the cellphone. My wife tells me, “What’s going on?” “I’ll tell you later.” And really, that’s how it happened.

A short anecdote, right before I finish. Sometime after, I was with Luis Moreno Ocampo and with the Chilean consul at Harvard. We were at the university. And when the moment came to speak about the Pinochet case, I was still working on the case. Luis Moreno Ocampo said, “Judge Garzón cannot speak on the subject. I’m going to explain all about it.” And I told him, “Thank you.” We were in a big hall with all the students there, and he begins to explain how the arrest of Pinochet had occurred. He said, “Judge Garzón, with his team, 15 people, they all together issued…” And I was looking at him. And under the table, he was tapping me on the knee. Everybody started clapping. And he asked him, “Why did you do this? Why did you explain it like that?” “If I tell everyone that you and one office worker did all of this on your own, they would never believe it.”

But the truth is, the day after, I called Juan Garcés. I told him, “Juan, Pinochet knows he’s arrested. We need to reaffirm and complete the arrest order,” because since all of us did not have the complete history of it, we only put one case there, and then we added 104 more cases. So we had to finish up the case. And thanks to Juan, we consolidated in 24 hours, with 18 translators, without sleeping, there in the court, eating sandwiches there, finished up the order. The order was issued. Thanks to that order, Pinochet remained arrested, because the first one, the English judge made a mistake, and he put there in the writing that it was homicide instead of disappearance. The Hague court, they annulled the order, and they continued on the second arrest warrant that we issued.

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