The Extraditions of Pinochet and Assange
By Manuel E. Yepe
Exclusive for the daily POR ESTO! of Merida, Mexico.
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann.
With Julian Assange in Britain facing possible extradition to the United States for publishing classified secrets, Consortium News reporter Elizabeth Vos reflects on the divergent but notorious parallelism of that case with that of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. In eight months time, one of the most important extradition hearings in recent history will take place in Britain. There a British court and the Home Secretary will decide whether WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange will be extradited to the United States to face charges of espionage for the crime of journalism. Twenty-one years ago, in another historic extradition case, Britain had to decide whether to send former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet to Spain to be tried for the crime of mass murder.
In October 1998, Pinochet, whose regime became synonymous with political assassinations, “disappearances” and torture, was arrested in London where he had traveled for medical treatment. A Madrid judge, Baltasar Garzón, had requested his extradition in connection with the death of Spanish citizens in Chile. Alleging it inappropriate to try Pinochet, the United Kingdom prevented him from being extradited to Spain in 2000, where he was allegedly prosecuted for repeated human rights violations. The lawyer’s immunity argument was overturned by the House of Lords. But the extradition court ruled that the poor health of Pinochet, a friend of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, would prevent him from being sent to Spain.
Montgomery reappeared in the Assange case to defend the right of a Swedish prosecutor to demand a European arrest warrant for Assange. His argument failed because a Swedish court denied the European arrest warrant. As in the Pinochet case, Montgomery helped buy time, this time allowing Swedish sexual accusations to persist and tarnish Assange’s reputation. Garzón, the Spanish judge who had requested Pinochet’s extradition, also reappears in Assange’s case. He is a well-known human rights defender, “considered by many to be Spain’s bravest legal guardian and the scourge of corrupt politicians and drug warlords around the world. But now he leads Assange’s legal team.
The question is whether the British legal system will let a famous dictator like Pinochet go and send an editor like Assange to the United States to face life in prison. Few elected officials have defended Assange (because of his image tainted by unproven Swedish accusations and criticisms of the 2016 U.S. elections that have nothing to do with the extradition request).
Pinochet, on the other hand, had friends in high places. Margaret Thatcher openly asked for his release.
Just two weeks before his arrest, General Pinochet visited the Thatchers at their Chester Square residence, according to the BBC. CNN reported on a “famous close relationship. A similar affection between Pinochet and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was also documented. Pinochet came to power after a violent U.S.-backed coup d’état on Sept. 11, 1973, which overthrew the country’s democratically elected president, socialist Salvador Allende. The coup has been described as “one of the most brutal in the modern history of Latin America.
The CIA financed operations in Chile with millions of dollars of U.S. taxes before and after Allende’s election, a U.S. Senate Committee reported in 1975. More than 40,000 people, many only tangentially linked to dissidents, were “disappeared,” tortured or killed during Pinochet’s 17 years of terror.
Pinochet’s Chile almost immediately after the coup became the laboratory of the Chicago School’s economic theory of neoliberalism, or a new laissez-faire, imposed at gunpoint. Thatcher and President Ronald Reagan defended a system of privatization, free trade, cuts to social services, and deregulation of banking and business that led the U.S. to the greatest inequality in a century.
In contrast to these crimes and corruption, Assange has published thousands of classified documents showing the U.S. and other nations’ officials involved in similar crime and corruption.
However, Assange is not expected to receive the leniency of the British extradition process enjoyed by Pinochet.
July 1, 2019
Originally published in the newspaper ¡POR ESTO! of Mérida, Mexico.