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  •   Pinochet Vows to Fight Extradition

    Augusto Pinochet
    Chilean protesters hold a nightime protest Monday against the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet outside the London clinic where he was arrested. (Reuters)
    By T. R. Reid
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Tuesday, October 20, 1998; Page A13

    LONDON, Oct. 19—Adamant even from his hospital bed, former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet said today he will "resolutely" fight any attempt to extradite him to Spain. But the Spanish magistrate who wants to try the former authoritarian ruler for murder and torture added to his list of charges and prepared to argue his case for extradition in a British court.

    Pinochet remains under arrest here -- not in a jail, but rather as a patient in a posh London clinic -- pending legal and administrative hearings on his possible extradition. Jack Straw, Britain's home secretary, roughly equivalent to the attorney general in the United States, said a decision on the case would be strictly a matter of applying international law.

    In fact, though, the case has become a hot political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, sparking demonstrations and angry debate in Chile, Britain and Spain. This is partly because of Pinochet's own history, and partly because his case may set a precedent governing other former heads of state charged with systematic human rights violations.

    Britain's decision to arrest the 82-year-old retired general was a considerable coup for Baltazar Garzon, the independent Spanish judge who has been investigating alleged murders of Spanish citizens by Pinochet and other South American rulers in the 1970s.

    Because of the standing threat of an extradition attempt by the Spanish magistrate, Pinochet for years has been careful where he traveled. He has frequently visited London, however, and enjoyed good relations with the Conservative Party, which controlled the government here until 18 months ago.

    Accordingly, Pinochet evidently considered Britain a safe destination, particularly when he traveled using the diplomatic passport he holds because of his lifetime seat in the Chilean Senate.

    Last month, Pinochet arrived at an expensive private hospital, the London Clinic, for back surgery. He is recuperating and reportedly requires two more weeks of hospitalization.

    Garzon discovered that his target was bedridden in London and unable to flee. So he informed Interpol, the international police organization, of his intention to file a formal extradition motion in the British courts. Interpol relayed the announcement to London, and the British police late Friday declared Pinochet under arrest pending action on the motion.

    Despite official assertions that the case is governed strictly by international law, the news media here reported that Britain's Labor government made a conscious political decision to arrest the former dictator -- a decision bound to please the party's left wing and human rights advocates, who have been somewhat impatient with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    The government's attitude was crystalized in a comment by a senior member of Blair's brain trust, Peter Mandelson, the minister for trade and industry. Asked by a BBC reporter about Pinochet's claim that diplomatic immunity bars his extradition, Mandelson replied in the language of the human rights activists: "I think the idea that such a brutal dictator such as Pinochet should be claiming diplomatic immunity is, for most people, pretty gut-wrenching stuff."

    The Chilean government today dispatched a special envoy to London to argue against extradition. Reflecting the love-him-or-hate-him split over Pinochet back home, Chile's embassy in London refused to defend Pinochet personally. Chilean Ambassador Mario Artaza said his government sought only to protect the principle that a person traveling on a diplomatic passport should be immune from arrest.

    Pinochet retained a British attorney, Michael Caplan, who said "any attempt to extradite him from the United Kingdom will be resolutely opposed."

    In Spain, public prosecutors announced they are opposed to the extradition request. But Garzon, whose investigatory powers are independent of the Spanish government, has the authority to pursue the case despite the opposition of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a conservative.

    Garzon said today he has added to the charges he intends to bring against Pinochet. He said he will charge him with genocide, torture and terrorism, involving 94 people. About 80 of the victims are said to be Spanish citizens, but Garzon's list may also include Britons, Americans and Chileans.

    Garzon and another magistrate, Manuel Garcia Castellon, are expected to arrive in London this week to present their case at the first stage of the extradition proceeding.

    Normally, the target of a criminal extradition case would be expected to appear in a British court within a matter of days for arraignment. Because Pinochet is hospitalized, this step could be delayed until next week, a Home Office spokesman said.

    A final decision on extradition could take weeks and would require several more hearings.

    A British doctor, Sheila Cassidy, told the BBC that she was arrested in Santiago in 1974 on charges of treating a patient whom Pinochet had declared to be a security risk. Cassidy said she was stripped and given electric shock torture repeatedly during two months of captivity. She was released after the British government told Pinochet that her arrest would damage British-Chilean relations.

    "Although he's an old man and frail, there's no doubt he was the head of a vicious, vicious regime," Cassidy said in supporting the arrest. "It is only fair, in all sorts of ways, that he should now know fear."


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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