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The Man Who Woke Chile From Its 'Sleep of Disinformation'

Slowly he brought discipline and decorum to his chambers, arbitrating many cases of land seizures by peasants. Although he was "indifferent politically," he said, his support for the military coup helped him move up through the system to become a criminal court judge in Santiago.

But when he was shown photographs of petty thieves and beggars who had been tortured to death, he began to realize that military rule had perverted the system.

"I wanted to believe in the order that was being established, but I always voted against government decisions and for habeas corpus," he said. An amnesty law was promulgated by Pinochet to absolve the military from all crimes committed before 1978. Most judges, trained in a strict legalistic environment, simply shelved those cases.

Guzman next moved to an appeals court in the city of Talca, where he observed more military repression of the poor and his aversion to dictatorial rule deepened. But because he was outnumbered by pro-government judges on the panel, he acknowledged, "I became mute. You had to. I had no power to do anything."

In 1990, Chile finally held presidential elections and Pinochet was forced to step down, but the Supreme Court was still controlled by his allies. Over time, however, hundreds of abuse cases were filed against the former regime. At age 59, Guzman was chosen in a lottery to handle several major cases against Pinochet.

"I knew that second I would no longer be promoted," he said.

His superiors reprimanded him, but Guzman pressed ahead. Finally, by a careful but innovative interpretation of the law, he managed to reverse Pinochet's 1978 amnesty, ruling that as long as a body was missing, a case of disappearance could still be declared open.

"In one moment, he made the military vulnerable," said Peter Kornbluh of the nonprofit National Security Archive here.

In May, Guzman retired to dedicate his time to writing, and his memoir was recently published in Spanish. He said that he knows that the ailing Pinochet, 89, may never face trial but that he believes his own life's work is done.

"I was always a conservative with traditional democratic values, just a man of the law who respected order and the loyalty of armed forces towards a constitutional government," Guzman said modestly. "You see, I am no hero at all."


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