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Pinochet: a master of duplicity

Hugh O'Shaughnessy (The Guardian, London)

So the Home Secretary has chosen to be hoodwinked and tells us he is minded to send Augusto Pinochet back to the scene of his crimes, unrepentant and scot-free.

How the duplicitous old terrorist will be sniggering in his comfortable Surrey billet. Throughout his life he has prided himself on his foxiness. For years he successfully tried to be all things to all men. For instance, he faithfully discharged the responsibility for the security of Fidel Castro during the Cuban leader's visit to Chile in 1971: he so completely fooled Salvador Allende that the Chilean president trusted him totally until the very morning of the putsch of 11 September 1973.
Excommunicated from the Catholic church in 1980 for his direct
responsibility for torture, he persuaded a willing Vatican to interced with the British for his release in 1998. Financing his secret police with the funds raised by large-scale smuggling cocaine, as I set out in a new book Pinochet: the Politics of Torture, he avoided any censure from a US government which in its weird and unwinnable "war on drugs" is happy to see its own young people jailed by the thousand for using marijuana.

The man is a master of duplicity, the Ernest Saunders of the Southern Hemisphere.

His release is a pity for the reputation of the Labour Party, for Jack Straw's own standing. Seldom have I been happier to be a journalist and more content with a Labour government than when I wrote in this newspaper on 15 October 1998 that the Chilean should be arrested as an international terrorist and murderer and found that was taken into custody the next day.
The arrest showed that a British government, which under Conservative and Labour had ignored its duty to arrest torturers under solemn conventions it had signed, was at last prepared to move against them even if it was only under the prodding of a brave Spanish judge and Interpol. Jack Straw's name went round the world and the attitude of the British judiciary was
seen as exemplary in its thoroughness and impartiality.

Now that immense world-wide store of admiration for a legal process well handled is going to drain away in a welter of secrecy and farce.

The government, which had for months been telling its friends that it was keen to get rid of the hot Chilean potato, has finally given in to pressure. Here the Conservative Party has made common with its allies in the British media on the matter, as exemplified in Rupert Murdoch's exclusive deal to televise Margaret Thatcher's visit to Pinochet last year. (One of the mysteries of the past 15 month is why not one serious and
thoughtful Tory chose to criticise William Hague, Lamont and Widdecombe for their ill-informed partiality to a man who trained dogs to violate women. The Conservatives who emphasise the aid Pinochet gave Britain in the Falklands War choose to forget that the same man had Dr Sheila Cassidy, a British surgeon and daughter of an Air Vice-Marshal, tortured to the borders of dementia in 1975.)

The Home Secretary has also been pressed by a conservative Spanish government, worried that Judge Garzón's case against him could harm Spain's investments in Chile, by a wobbly Chilean government and by a US establishment worried about its own skeletons in the roomy Central and South American cupboards which store so many of them.

He is trying to cover his retreat behind medical testimony gathered in the absence of any of the representatives of Judge Garzon, presented and considered in secret. The medical examination, it seems and not vouchsafed to those who are seeking justice. The case which, we were told for months,
was being left to the courts, is suddenly resolved in a political way on the untested evidence which we must accept because a member of the government tells us to.

The saddest thing is that the British government's action is a
disappointment for all those who felt that the lumbering and sleepy giant called international law was on the verge of being woken up by a British Home Secretary and a British judiciary. People round the world cheered when it seemed that international lawyers might be made to do something more
useful for humanity than protecting the profitable copyright for Mickey Mouse in Bangladesh, nurturing tax-evaders in Bermuda and ensuring that defenceless patients in sub-Saharan Africa had to pay over the odds for Western pharmaceuticals. But it is not to be.

Meanwhile one must be grateful for small mercies. The Pinochet case has put the fear of god into some criminals in uniform. The Chilean government has warned many of Pinochet's active supporters not to venture abroad. Judges in Argentina are charging their military monsters for the crime they committed during the Argentine dirty war. Generals and admirals are in the
dock in Buenos Aires today as the court considers how they seized the babies of political prisoners and sold them off for private profit. (The price was, understandably, higher for the more white-skinned ones.)

But the principal criminal, the one from Chile, is getting away. Jack Straw has dropped the ball.