Letelier del Solar (Memoria y Justicia Chile) presented the
following reflections as her participation in a panel discussion
on "Human Rights and Humanitarian Intervention Conference:
Are We at War? Global Conflict and Insecurity Post-9/11"
at Chapman University Law School, Los Angeles California on
April 6, 2006, as part of a university speaking tour in the
United States organized by the non-profit Voices of Survivors.
I was so honored when in 1998 Chapman University conferred
upon me its award for that outstanding man of peace, Albert
Schweitzer. And I am grateful for the opportunity you have
extended to come here again to participate in this conference,
whose title Are We at War? Global Conflict and Insecurity
Post 9/11 sends me back 30 years in time to another 9/11,
in 1973, when my country entered 17 years of terror. Other
speakers have ably discussed war and terror from philosophical
and political perspectives. My personal experience, as sister
of a victim and lifelong attorney in defense of human rights,
perhaps brings a different focus to the topic.
In November 1973 Augusto Pinochet granted me the interview
I had sought for weeks after the arrest of my brother Orlando
Letelier. He allowed me to meet with him in his office only
because Orlando Letelier had been Defense Minister and Pinochet
his subordinate. I reminded the General that my brother had
not been charged with any crime and should be released. Pinochet
glared at me with his cold blue eyes and said, "We are
at war with the Popular Unity government and all leaders will
be put on trial." He also reassured me that he would
think over my request and give me an answer within 48 hours.
Pinochet did not respond in 48 hours but as the months and
years went by, his message was clear; and there never was
a trial for the former government officials he imprisoned.
My brother remained imprisoned more than a year with other
Popular Unity officials held as prisoners of war in remote
Dawson Island in southern Chile where frigid winds swept as
they performed hard labor. International efforts compelled
Pinochet to release and expel him from Chile. Two years later
the Military Junta stripped Orlando Letelier of Chilean nationality
and sent intelligence agents to plant a car bomb that killed
him and his US assistant Ronni Karpen Moffet in Washington
DC on September 21, 1976.
The assassination of my brother Orlando Letelier was the first
act of international terrorism committed on U.S. soil.
The military dictatorship headed by Pinochet exemplifies the
practice of terrorism as a state policy to maintain political
and psychosocial control of the population. In name of national
security, the regime ruthlessly pursued opponents within Chile
and across international borders.
The Chilean military became versed in the national security
doctrine from U.S. military instructors. Prior to September
11, 1973 600 members of the Chilean Armed Forces had attended
courses at the National War College and the School of the
Americas. The message transmitted to Chilean military men,
as well as officers from the other Latin American countries
was: Today our enemies are not from other nations. Now we
must fight against a more dangerous internal enemy who is
spreading the seeds of international Communism within our
countries. It is an enemy that does not wear a uniform nor
can be readily identified.
The concept of the enemy from within created the conviction
that this enemy had to be rooted out and neutralized regardless
of the cost. Like the Argentine, Uruguayan, Guatemalan and
Salvadoran military trained by the US in the National Security
Doctrine, these officers believed that because they were in
the front lines of the defense of Western-Christian civilization,
fighting against an internal enemy labeled as subversive-terrorists,
draconian and extreme methods were both necessary and justified,
despite the collateral damage and restriction on civil and
political rights of the population. During the 1960s, 1970s,
and 1980s, thousands of Latin American officers went through
such training resulting in military dictatorships, state terrorism
and the disappearance of over 200,000 people in the region.
On the day of the coup the Junta declared state of siege,
and later issued military decree number 5, which reinterpreted
the Military Justice Code to define state of siege as synonymous
with state of internal war. Except for brief periods of normalcy,
state of siege and later state of emergency was enforced in
Chile from 1973 until 1988. That is, during more than 15 years,
the suspension of civil liberties and policies of repression
were justified because the country was in a state of siege,
synonymous with state of war. Under the guise of that fictitious
war, Chilean military rulers imposed dawn to dusk curfews,
imprisoned thousands, conducted summary executions and made
torture a systematic practice. In 2004 some 35,000 people,
testified before Chile’s National Commission on Political
Imprisonment that they were tortured during the years of the
Between 1974 and 1979 4,500 women and men of all ages were
brought to the Villa Grimaldi concentration camp, where they
were interrogated, tortured, held in secret detention, and
many of them assassinated and disappeared. One of the survivors
of Villa Grimaldi was a young medical student called Michelle
Bachelet who last month became the first woman to take office
as President of Chile. Prisoners at Villa Grimaldi were maintained
blindfolded, refused contact with lawyers or family, and routinely
tortured. The State of Internal War was profusely used by
the regime and the media under its control to justify such
practices. A survivor of Villa Grimaldi reflected upon his
detention as follows: "What impressed me most is that
they considered torture normal and routine. What they were
doing was good and they did it for the sake of the country."
Facile explanations arise to produce oblivion and to avoid
confronting things. They say, agents "went too far,"
or “this was the work of madmen." Or it was the consequence
of the climate of convulsion produced by the Popular Unity
government and its efforts to democratically change the status
quo. Therefore, those who produced the convulsion are to blame.
Those are all easy justifications intended to avoid the truth.
The truth is that Villa Grimaldi was not the result of a few
excesses or madness. It was a well-thought out, carefully
planned system of State terrorism, justified on the basis
of the military doctrine of National Security with which the
US trained the officer corps of Latin American military.
To desperate family members searching for their loved ones,
the Interior Minister denied they had been arrested. The Interior
Minister also denied that Villa Grimaldi even existed.
Yet the Chilean government was paying the light bills for
the electric current used to torture prisoners. The torturers
were on the government payroll. And the Chilean government
paid the airline tickets and salaries of the men who traveled
to the United States to assassinate my brother. That is the
institutionalization of state terrorism.
Alarmed by reports of human rights violations in Chile, the
international community responded immediately and effectively
after the coup. In September 1973 the Organization of American
States (OAS) through its Inter American Human Rights Commission
issued the first of four special reports on the state of human
rights in Chile. The United Nations began supervisory activities
with the appointment in 1975 of an ad hoc work group under
the Human Rights Committee. From that year until January 1990,
the UN maintained a Special Rapporteur for Chile.
World condemnation of the Chilean dictatorship deepened after
three acts of international terrorism planned in Chile and
carried out on foreign soil. The first was the assassination
in 1974 of General Carlos Prats, former Army Commander in
Chief, and his wife in Buenos Aires. The second was the frustrated
attempt to assassinate former Vice President Bernardo Leighton
and his wife in Rome in 1975. The third was the assassination
of Orlando Letelier on September 21, 1976 in the capital of
the United States, which prompted the US Congress to enact
the Kennedy Amendment cutting off military assistance to Chile
for the duration of the military dictatorship.
The insistent condemnations of the UN and OAS were joined
by the International Bertrand Russell Tribunal that denounced
the military dictatorships of Brazil and Chile. Parliaments
of democratic European and Latin American governments also
expressed concern for the situation in Chile. The Chilean
military dictatorship lent no credence to international condemnation
against it, reasoning that foreigners had no right to meddle
in its internal affairs.
In much the same vein, the United States responds today to
international critics of the imprisonment and treatment of
detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Graib and secret detention centers.
Like Chile, the United States is a party to the Geneva Conventions.
Villa Grimaldi yesterday and Guantanamo today violate the
Geneva Conventions by holding prisoners without trial, stripping
them of human dignity, depriving them of communication with
family, lawyers or doctors during long period of time. The
logic is the same "We are justified, because we are at
war against a new type of enemy."
The Challenge of Globalizing the Defense of Human Rights
During 25 years Chilean courts never accepted international
law as grounds for justice in human rights, routinely applied
the amnesty provision enacted by the dictatorship, to close
cases. Impunity seemed to be the outcome for flagrant human
rights violations. The trial against Augusto Pinochet in Spain
and his arrest in London in 1998 changed that. Expectations
were ignited that justice at last was possible in Chile. The
504 days Pinochet was under house arrest motivated attorneys
to revitalize old cases and to file new ones. Since 1999,
attorneys in Santiago and throughout the country have filed
more than 500 criminal complaints related to human rights
violations, and the courts have not applied the amnesty in
The international trial conducted by Baltazar Garzon in the
Audiencia Nacional of Spain accused both Chilean military
and civilian collaborators of genocide, crimes against humanity
and torture. Three thousand Chileans, including myself, became
parties to the complaint. In Chile the crime of genocide was
one of the prevalent causes of action in the hundreds of human
rights cases filed in the courts and increasingly, Chilean
courts have cited the Geneva Conventions as grounds for indictment
in human rights cases.
In July 2004, Pinochet again made headlines around the world
when a US Senate Subcommittee discovered incriminating evidence
that US bank had aided Pinochet in money laundering. This
most recent occurrence outside Chilean borders, as surprising
as the arrest in London, derives from the discovery that Pinochet
concealed millions of dollars in assets in the Riggs Bank
in Washington DC while under house arrest in London. The illicit
activities of the former dictator have led to charges of malfeasance
in office, fraud, bribery, falsification of documents and
other crimes. Today his wife and children have also been charged
All these developments are encouraging. Still, it is unacceptable
that there is more tolerance for economic crimes than for
human rights crimes. There cannot be a double standard and
Pinochet must be prosecuted for both. The connection between
human rights violation and appropriation of economic assets
by force and corruption is something that needs to be explored.
However, there cannot be zero tolerance for corruption but
impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations.
United States Citizens Among the Victims
of the Pinochet Dictatorship
Among the more than 3000 persons executed or disappeared in
Chile are three United States citizens: Frank Terruggi, Boris
Weisfeiler and Charles Horman Frank Teruggi, an economics
student, was arrested in the days following the coup and brought
to the National Stadium, converted in massive prison. He was
taken to an interrogation and on October 2, 1973 his body
was found in the Santiago morgue, from which it was returned
to the United States for burial. Boris Weisfeiler was a Russian
Jew who immigrated to the United States and became a naturalized
U.S. citizen. An avid outdoorsman, in 1984 he came to Chile
to hike and inadvertently wandered too close to Colonia Dignidad,
an enclave founded by German Nazis with close ties to the
military rulers. He was not seen nor heard from since. To
this day he remains one of hundreds of disappeared persons
in Chile. Neither the Teruggi nor the Weisfeiler cases have
However the Horman case is an example of how far justice is
able to advance in today’s Chile. In December 2000, I and
my colleague attorney Sergio Corvalan, filed the first criminal
complaint for the abduction, first degree murder, and torture
of the young journalist, Charles Horman, whose story became
widely known thanks to the movie Missing. In the days before
and immediately following the coup, Horman was in a coastal
resort town where he met United States military officials
who openly expressed satisfaction with the coup's success
and insinuated at prior knowledge about the overthrow. On
September 17, 1973 in Santiago neighbors observed a military
patrol remove Horman from his home and ransack the house.
When the body was located in the morgue, in late October,
the family's repeated attempts to remove the body from the
morgue were denied for technical reasons. Members of the United
States Senate had to pressure their government, threatening
to block authorization of arms to the Chilean Military junta.
In March 1974, seven months later, the Horman family received
a telegram from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, informing
them that the government of Chile had approved their request
to sent the remains to New York. The cable added that United
States Embassy in Santiago required the payment of US$900
to cover transportation costs.
Ten U.S. citizens who knew Horman traveled to testify before
the Chilean judge. The Horman case has advanced so much that
we now know details about the military patrol that arrested
him as well as possible negligence of the U.S. Embassy. Declassified
State Department and CIA documents have been key in establishing
the facts of the case. A State Department report dated August
1976 states: "There is some circumstantial evidence to
suggest US intelligence may have played an unfortunate part
in Horman's death. At best it was limited to providing or
confirming information that helped motivate his murder by
the GOC [government of Chile]. At worst, US intelligence was
aware that the GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and
US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome
of GOC paranoia."
Lessons from Chile and Latin America
At the present time, I think that our experience as human
rights lawyers in Chile over the past 30 years offers some
lessons for current debates about strategies to protect human
rights in the world today. The experience garnered by the
human rights movement throughout Latin America has taught
us lessons on how to construct a genuine democracy. A genuine
democracy is one in which respect reigns for all human rights
established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and
other international treaties, serves as the core ethical framework
for society. International human rights doctrine taught us
the value of universal jurisdiction over national law when
it fails to lead to justice.
The practice of torture and crimes against humanity are entering
international consciousness as universal common law and the
principle of jus cogens. These are mandatory norms binding
upon all states. A Chilean court ruled that even though Chile
has not ratified all treaties, it is still obligated to adhere
to those norms.
The creation of the International Criminal Court is the most
significant and promising achievement for the world community
because it establishes the principle of universal jurisdiction
regarding parties to the treaty, in crimes against humanity,
genocide and crimes of war. It does not preempt national judiciaries;
rather it has a complementary function in cases in which national
courts cannot or do not wish to investigate and sanction these
crimes. One of our great expectations for the government of
President Michelle Bachelet is that Chile’s Senate may ratify
the Statutes of Rome.
A Global Partnership to Protect Human
As US historian, Steve Volk has stated, Chile and the US have
been bonded by two September 11s. Not only because in Chile
and the US, terror arrived on wings of airplanes - the Hawker
Hunter jets diving to bomb the Moneda presidential palace
on September 11, 1973, and on the commercial jets that crashed
into the World Center on September 11, 2001.
Both of our countries have become linked in a deeper sense.
In both countries, September 11 led to a rewriting of internal
guidelines and the abandonment of long-standing precepts of
international law to create a new category of criminal (so
called enemy combatants) who can be detained without charge,
denied access to legal counsel or trial, and brutalized by
The experience and suffering of over thirty years in Chile
and Latin America offer two important lessons that we need
to reflect upon, as we struggle to create a justice, democracy
and security in today’s globalized world.
First, impunity for human rights violations, wherever they
occur, whether in Villa Grimaldi or Guantanamo, undermines
democracy. We must maintain the struggle against impunity
for crimes against humanity, because these crimes affect not
only the victim and his or her family, but also society as
a whole. With impunity, it becomes impossible to build a genuinely
democratic society. Impunity is a new crime that adds on to
the crimes already committed. Impunity violates the right
to equality under the law, since it grants a specific group
of victimizers, exclusion from the rule of law, something
that must apply to all without exceptions. Achieving truth,
justice and reparation to the victims is a legal duty of governments,
that should always be demanded and that does not prescribe
Second, the defense of human rights requires the active participation
of the population as many times States and governments become
derelict in the protection of these rights and accomplices
in their violation. An active and vibrant international human
rights movement is the best guarantee that such rights will
be respected locally, nationally, and internationally. An
important aspect of ensuring the defense of human rights today
is the expansion, not the weakening of international human
rights jurisprudence and protection mechanisms.
Now, more than ever, the United States in particular must
become partners with Chile and Latin America in a globalized
society that strives to attain universal respect for human,
civil, social, economic and cultural rights. As global partners,
we must enforce international norms that protect democracy
and human rights in every corner and under every circumstance.
Now, more than ever Chile as well as the United States must
ratify the International Criminal Court and support international
human rights instances.
The struggle against impunity and the permanence of a vibrant
international human rights movement is the best guarantee
that, in the globalized world, security will not be achieved
at the expense of justice and democracy.