Tuesday, February 5, 2013


July 18, 1994, the scene of destruction at the AMIA heaquarters
in Buenos Aires.
Over the course of the past week or so, scores of headlines in the Argentine media have been devoted to what the Kirchner government has rather grandly called the “Commission for Truth”, the outgrowth of a deal cut between the administration and the unitary, theocratic government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. There are numerous ins and outs to the accord but the basic idea is that the Kirchner government has surrendered to the flat refusal by Ahmadinejad and his predecessors to honor any of Argentina’s extradition requests to bring the alleged perpetrators of the 1994 Islamic terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish mutual association in Buenos Aires to Argentina for questioning and possible trial, by agreeing, instead, to send a judicial commission to Iran to question suspects there.

Photo: Jewish Virtual Library.
The Crime.  On July 18, 1994, a massive explosion reduced the headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in mid-town Buenos Aires to rubble. The explosion was the result of the detonation of a terrorist bomb set in front of the AMIA building. So powerful was the blast and the damage done that investigators have yet to determine without a doubt, after nearly two decades, whether the approximately 275 kilograms (more than 600 pounds) of explosives were packed into a van parked directly in front of the targeted building, into a dumpster that had been left in front of a building under construction across the street, or both. But in subsequent investigations carried out by the FBI and the Mossad (Israel’s secret service) it has been established, almost without a doubt, that the suicide trigger man for the blast was Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a 29-year-old Hezbollah militant, who probably used a remote control device from the van to detonate the explosives. (The identification was made on the basis of witness testimony and migration data from the triple border crossing that Argentina shares with Brazil and Paraguay, where the terrorist is thought to have entered the country, since local investigators are alleged to have “lost” a human head found on the blast scene that very likely belonged to Hussein Berro, and that could otherwise have been used for DNA testing). The massive blast not only caused the total destruction of the five-storey AMIA headquarters, but also demolished buildings all around it, causing severe damage to an estimated one thousand apartments, businesses and offices in the immediate area and breaking windows in other buildings within a six-block radius. It was the worst bombing in Argentine history and is ranked among some of the worst radical Islamic terrorist attacks in the world.

The suicide bombing was obviously timed to do the greatest human damage possible, with the explosives going off at approximately 10 a.m., in the busy mid-town district.  Eighty-five people perished on the scene and another 300 were injured, many seriously. At least 18 of the fatalities were passersby and people from other buildings. The attack came only two years after another bombing by Islamic extremists in Buenos Aires, that time perpetrated against the Israeli Embassy, on the north side of the downtown area. That bomb attack destroyed the embassy building, killing 29 people and injuring approximately 250 others.
The Probe. The investigation of both Islamic terrorist attacks on the Jewish community in Argentina—at about 250,000 people, the largest in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world—was plagued from the outset by intrigues, disconnects and cover-ups. Indeed, neither ever led to a single conclusive conviction.
The worst by far, however, was the probe into the AMIA bombing.  Early work by detectives with the apparently impossible-to-avoid help of both US and Israeli agents quickly led to the conclusion that such a major terrorist attack never could have been pulled off without local collaboration. But the investigation began to stall when it pointed to the possible collusion of several Buenos Aires Province police officers and of a lawyer turned used car salesman called Carlos Telleldín who was alleged to have provided the Renault Trafic van that the suicide bomber used in the attack. Investigation of the AMIA case was handed over to Federal District Court Judge Juan José Galeano. The former attorney had been appointed to the federal court the previous year, allegedly with a behind-the-scenes nod from Hugo Anzorreguy, who headed up the Argentine Intelligence Bureau (SIDE) under the presidency of Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999). 
Families of the victims, seeking justice in the midst of corruption and
political intrigue.
Early on, the case hinged on Telleldín, the inconsistency of whose testimony made his level of involvement and reliability difficult to gauge but who linked police to the case, saying that he had been pressed into providing the van by former Buenos Aires Provincial Police Captain Juan José Ribelli. Ribelli, several other police officers and Telleldín were all ordered held by the judge, but the case itself languished in Galeano’s court. And finally, in September of 2004, the judge handed down a decision absolving all detainees in the case.
But the following year, hidden-camera footage was released on national television that implicated the judge in payment of a US$400,000 bribe to Telleldín (who was in jail for ten years while the court dragged its feet without convicting him) to change his testimony. The judge tried to resign in order to avoid trial, but his resignation was “neither accepted nor rejected” by the administration of then-President Néstor Kirchner, clearing the way for Galeano to be impeached and removed from his post in disgrace by a nine-judge jury of his peers. In addition to bribery, the impeachment proceedings accused Galeano, among other things, of destroying and/or tampering with evidence (such as a document identifying the engine-block number of the vehicle used in the bombing and which allegedly linked Telleldín to the case) and manipulating witness testimony.
But by then, subsequent probes and Galeano’s own testimony in the impeachment proceedings had involved SIDE chief Anzorreguy in the bribery scandal and, called upon to answer the charges, Anzorreguy (released from his secrecy vows by Néstor Kirchner, who called the failed AMIA investigation “a national disgrace”), quickly pointed an accusing finger at his former boss, ex-President Carlos Menem, who, he said, had authorized the bribe.
In late 2006, the subsequent Argentine prosecutors in the case, Marcelo Martínez Burgos and Alberto Nisman, who had centered part of their investigation on an Iranian connection, formally charged the government of Iran with directing the attack and accused the Hezbollah militia of carrying it out. The theory behind the prosecutors’ probe would appear to link the AMIA bombing to a much more far-reaching issue than a random terrorist attack. If they were correct, the bombing was a kind of warning to the Menem government after a decision by Buenos Aires to at least temporarily suspend the promised transfer of nuclear technology to the Iranians. While this hypothesis has been much debated, it would certainly appear to be in line with what is now the very clear intention of Iran’s radical leadership to gain access by any and all means to ever greater nuclear technology and material, so as to eventually achieve atomic warhead-manufacturing capability. However, Menem himself—whose family has long been prominent in the Argentine-Arab Community—has advanced the theory that the bombing was a vendetta for his support of the United States in the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) against Iraq. 
Local trails led back to Menem.

Last year, Judge Ariel Lijo charged former President Menem and a group of alleged co-conspirators—including Galeano, Menem’s brother Munir, Anzorreguy, and the former SIDE director’s deputy Juan Carlos Anchezar and Metropolitan Police Chief Jorge “Fino” Palacios, among others—with obstructing the 1994 investigation and with protecting possible accomplices in the crime, and called for them to be bound over for an oral, public trial. Menem also stands accused of allegedly covering up the possible involvement in the AMIA attack of Syrian-Argentine businessman Alberto Kanoore Edul. Kanoore Edul, who died in 2010, was suspected of having made contact with Menem to seek to convince the president to use his influence to keep Galeano from progressing in the AMIA case.
One of the witnesses that Galeano interviewed while still on the case was known as “Witness C”. Reports in international news media indicated that this mysterious witness was allegedly a former Iranian intelligence agent called Abolghasem Mesbahi. “Witness C” is reported to have told the judge that the Iranian government paid ten million dollars into a Swiss numbered account belonging to “a former president,” in order to ensure that the AMIA investigation was blocked. When The New York Times published a report including this information, Menem moved quickly to deny the charge, but admitted to having a Swiss bank account.
Rogue Iranian leader Ahmadinejad

Despite long years of theories, accusations, lies, cover-ups, new probes and still more accusations, however, the AMIA case remains stymied and, as I said earlier, not a single conviction has been made to date.
The Policy: Yet Another Diversionary Maneuver?  While the administration of Néstor Kirchner gave every outward appearance of seriously seeking justice in the AMIA case, this latest move by his widow and current President Cristina Kirchner appears destined to once again cloud the picture regarding compelling evidence of Iran’s involvement in this heinous crime, whose perpetrators have gone untried and unpunished for the past two decades. It seems at least naïve, if not ill-intentioned, to try to convince the public that a criminal regime like that of Ahmadinejad, which has denied the existence of the Holocaust, rejected the right of the State of Israel to exist and is now threatening its neighbors with the possibility of nuclear war, besides being a declared enemy of the West and express archenemy of the Jewish people, could possibly be trusted to provide a venue in which to objectively question suspects in the AMIA case, especially when at least one of them is a ranking Iranian official.
Cristina: Admiration for Muammar Gaddafi...
Worse still, according to an article last weekend by former Foreign Minister—and erudite foreign affairs specialist—Dante Caputo, “memoranda of understanding [as the Argentine-Iranian pact is being called] are...used to formally agree on the wills of two or more parties, usually representatives of governments. The more elaborated and complex form is the treaty. Contrary to the memorandum, the treaty commits the will of the Nation, and non-compliance with it brings sanctions. Since they oblige not just the administration, but the Nation that signs them, treaties require the approval of the Legislative Branch...What was signed in Ethiopia, then, doesn’t require legislative approval. But curiously enough, the text signed indicates the contrary...”
Here, Caputo tacitly suggests that drafting a memorandum that includes a clause that promotes legislative approval by both countries is, by all appearances, a diplomatic subterfuge aimed at, well, turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse—or, in other words, a memorandum into a full-scale treaty.
...for the half-century Castro dictatorship...
Quoth Caputo: “If legislative procedure is undertaken, the memorandum will become a treaty and will be made law. Its legal validity will endure over time regardless of [changes in] administrations... Legislative approval of this agreement will signify, then, that Argentina, not just this administration, will have accepted impunity.”
The administration of Cristina Kirchner in general and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman in particular, are clearly being disingenuous when they and their “talking heads” (like erstwhile sports announcer and full-time Kirchner propagandist Víctor Hugo Morales) cry crocodile tears about how misunderstood the government’s intentions are in accepting Ahmadinejad’s rules and surrendering the sovereignty of the Argentine justice system whose repeated extradition efforts have been rejected and ignored. And the government’s barely veiled attempt to use the “good offices” of Timerman to attempt to convince the local Jewish community that an agreement with Ahmadinejad isn’t a veritable pact with the devil and that it will somehow end up being “good” for the families of the victims of the AMIA bombing in bringing them closure and justice in a case that has been abusively manipulated and has gone unsolved for two decades is clearly cynical if not plain cruel.
And an almost "carnal" relationship with the Chávez regime.
Furthermore, whatever one’s politics might be in the vast spectrum from far-left to far-right and everything in between, it’s hard to judge as wise or even vaguely on target such a policy at a time when the vast majority of emerging economies (including the biggest of all, China) are seeking to modernize, Westernize and become the potential powers of the future in a rapidly transforming world in which the emerging economies are precisely the ones that are seeing the dawning of a new day and in which they will be the stars. You needn’t go further away than neighboring Brazil to see just how erroneous the Kirchner administration’s policy is. Already having had a leg up on Argentina when the two South American giants became Mercosur trading partners twenty years ago, Brazil has thrived and is currently acceding to the position of a true world economic and diplomatic power, particularly thanks, in recent years, to the creative pragmatism of the former Lula da Silva administration that quickly allayed early fears of a harshly anti-business leftwing regime and proved not only to have the necessary negotiating skills to make Brazil grow without surrendering its wealth to foreign powers but also to carve a high-ranking place for itself on the world political and economic stage (so high, in fact that the country has long been a candidate to occupy one of ten permanent seats on the UN Security Council if the respective initiative can ever achieve the clout it needs to overcome resistance from the five powers that have dominated the Council since the institution was founded following World War II).
The concept behind this projected commission appears to form a coherent part of an erroneous foreign relations policy on the part of Argentina’s current government that is obviously bent on removing the country completely from the Western mainstream (where historically, socially, politically and economically it should surely be) and aligning it on the world stage with as many rogue dictators, authoritarians, autocrats and assorted other marginal miscreants as possible. The administration’s almost carnal relations with the Chávez regime in Venezuela, its fawning reverence for the five-decade-long Castro dictatorship in Cuba, its express admiration for the murderous and long-reigning former regime of Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya, and its latest unsavory and shamefully accommodating pact with anti-Western authoritarian hardliner Ahmadinejad all bear clear witness to this trend. It is a policy that unequivocally demonstrates, as critics including myself have pointed out from the start, that the Kirchners (and particularly Cristina Kirchner) have shamelessly used the cause of human rights to gain domestic and international recognition, while formulating an overall policy bent on disdain for Western democracies and their principles abroad, and the undermining of basic rights like freedom of expression, the right to privacy and private property, free transit, and respect for the law and legal security within Argentina itself. 



rab said...

Clearly, legislative confirmation of this misguided manouver must be avoided at all costs. In the USA, my friends would say: "write to your congressman". To whom shoud we write? Our constitution states that ours is a "federal representative democracy". Who are my representatives? Can we stop this?

Dan Newland said...

Rab, some opposition polititans are very active on Facebook. It's a question of starting to look them up and seeing where they lead. It's probably better than sitting on our hands.

rab said...

OK Dan, today the UCR announced they will not endorse the agreement:


Perhaps you are right!

Dan Newland said...

Good for them, Rab, it's about time somebody took a stand against these lunatic policies.

rab said...

After reviewing three different sources on the AMIA bombing quoted in Bob Cox's column (BAH 02/10/13), I find your overview of the case the most useful by far.
The other two do little more than illustrate why, with the present evidence, the case would be thrown out of court by the judiciary.
Faced with yet another whitewash, we can only speculate but, relieved of the burden of proof, common sense can guide us. In the absence of evidence, we can look at who is responsible, be it by action or by omission.
The proposition that the case is unrelated to the prior Israeli Embassy bombing is unreasonable. If nothing else, the impunity of the first incident invited reiteration.
In both instances, local logistic support was indispensable and the resources to investigate those involved have been (or should have been) available to our governments (all three of them).
Iran's flat denial and uncooperative attitude so far is inconsistent with total innocence and bodes ill for any "joint" investigation.
If the proposition that antisemitic elements of our past military governments were responsible had any real or perceived merit, the present government would have jumped on it long ago, in keeping with its policy of attributing all our misfortunes to their actions.
Ignorance breeds fear; fear breeds hatred and hatred breeds violence.

Dan Newland said...

My profound thanks to Robert Cox for publishing the link to this blog in his column in the "Buenos Aires Herald" last Sunday. His own analysis of the government's current AMIA/IRAN policy is, as usual, incisively brilliant, well informed and on target. He remains one of the truly outstanding international journalists of our time.