For Chilean Coup,


By Larry Rohter

New York Times
March 28, 2002

With a trial of Gen. Augusto Pinochet increasingly unlikely here, victims of the Chilean military's 17-year dictatorship are now pressing legal actions in both Chilean and American courts against Henry A. Kissinger and other Nixon administration officials who supported plots to overthrow Salvador Allende Gossens, the Socialist president, in the early 1970's.

In perhaps the most prominent of the cases, an investigating judge here has formally asked Mr. Kissinger, a former national security adviser and secretary of state, and Nathaniel Davis, the American ambassador to Chile at the time, to respond to questions about the killing of an American citizen, Charles Horman, after the deadly military coup that brought General Pinochet to power on Sept. 11, 1973.

General Pinochet, now 85, ruled Chile until 1990. He was arrested in London in 1998 on a Spanish warrant charging him with human rights violations. After 16 months in custody, General Pinochet was released by Britain because of his declining health. Although he was arrested in Santiago in 2000, he was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.The death of Mr. Horman, a filmmaker and journalist, was the subject of the 1982 movie "Missing." A civil suit that his widow, Joyce Horman, filed in the United States was withdrawn after she could not obtain access to relevant American government documents. But the initiation of legal action here against General Pinochet and the declassification of some American documents led her to file a new suit here 15 months ago.

Last fall, after gaining approval from Chile's Supreme Court, Judge Juan Guzmán, who is also handling the Pinochet case, submitted 17 questions in the Horman case to American authorities. An American Embassy official here confirmed that the document, known as a letter rogatory, has been received in Washington, but said it has not yet been answered and that he did not know if or when there would be a response.

"We're pressing the case in Chile because this is the first opportunity we have had to see if there is still some real evidence there," Mrs. Horman said by telephone from New York. "But the letters rogatory seem to be in a paralyzed state."

William Rogers, Mr. Kissinger's lawyer, said in a letter that because the investigations in Chile and elsewhere related to Mr. Kissinger "in his capacity as secretary of state," the Department of State should respond to the issues that have been raised. He added that Mr. Kissinger is willing to "contribute what he can from his memory of those distant events," but did not say how or where that would occur.

Relatives of Gen. René Schneider, commander of the Chilean Armed Forces when he was assassinated in Oct. 1970 by other military officers, have taken a different approach than Mrs. Horman. Alleging summary execution, assault and civil rights violations, they filed a $3 million civil suit in Washington last fall against Mr. Kissinger, Richard M. Helms, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and other Nixon-era officials who, according to declassified United States documents, were involved in plotting a military coup to keep Mr. Allende from power.

In his books, Mr. Kissinger has acknowledged that he initially followed Mr. Nixon's orders in Sept. 1970 to organize a coup, but he also says that he ordered the effort shut down a month later. The government documents, however, indicate that the C.I.A. continued to encourage a coup here and also provided money to military officers who had been jailed for General Schneider's death.

"My father was neither for or against Allende, but a constitutionalist who believed that the winner of the election should take office," René Schneider Jr. said. "That made him an obstacle to Mr. Kissinger and the Nixon government, and so they conspired with generals here to carry out the attack on my father and to plot a coup attempt."

In another action, human rights lawyers here have filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Kissinger and other American officials, accusing them of helping organize the covert regional program of political repression called Operation Condor. As part of that plan, right-wing military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay coordinated efforts throughout the 1970's to kidnap and kill hundreds of their exiled political opponents.Argentina has also begun an investigation into American support for and involvement in Operation Condor. A judge there, Rodolfo Cancioba Corral, has said he regards Mr. Kissinger as a potential "defendant or suspect." But lawyers say it is virtually impossible for a foreign court to compel former American officials to answer a summons.During a visit by Mr. Kissinger to France last year, for instance, a judge there sent police officers to his Paris hotel to serve him with a request to answer questions about American involvement in the Chilean coup, in which French citizens also disappeared. But Mr. Kissinger refused to respond to the subpoena, referred the matter to the State Department, and flew on to Italy.

"I think it is clear that Kissinger is now one of many, many officials who have to think twice before they travel," said Bruce Broomhall, director of the international justice program at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "It will be surprising to many that an American secretary of state is among that group, but times have certainly changed" as a result of the Pinochet case, he said.

The uproar appears to have forced Mr. Kissinger to cancel a trip to Brazil. He was scheduled to make a speech and receive a government medal in Sí£o Paulo on March 13, but withdrew after leftist groups there said they would demonstrate against him and also called on judges and prosecutors to detain him for questioning about Operation Condor.

A spokeswoman for Kissinger Associates in New York attributed the change of plans to a "scheduling conflict." But the organizer of the event, Rabbi Henry Sobel of the Congregací£o Israelita Paulista, said "the situation had become politically uncomfortable" both for Mr. Kissinger and local Jewish community leaders who had invited him.

"I spoke with him many times on the telephone and made it very clear to him what was happening behind the scenes, and he was very sensitive to that," Rabbi Sobel said in a telephone interview. "This was a way to avoid any problems or embarrassment for him and for us."

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