U.S. Leaders are Using Pinochet's
(Pinochet's Condor vs. Bush's
by Peter Kornbluh
Baltimore Sun, December 9, 2005
It has been 30 years since the Chilean
military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet convened a "strictly
secret" convention of officers from the repressive neighboring
military regimes to create a Latin American "Interpol"
dedicated to fighting leftist subversion and terrorism. By the
end of their clandestine three-day gathering, the delegates proposed
to honor their hosts in Santiago by naming this new cross-border
consortium after Chile's national bird, the Andean condor.
Operation Condor soon became one of the
most sinister transnational forces in the world.
During the mid- and late 1970s, the secret
police agencies of the Southern Cone - Chile, Argentina, Paraguay,
Uruguay and Bolivia - as well as Peru and Brazil, actively consorted
in the surveillance, kidnapping, secret detention, torture and
elimination of dozens of militant and civilian opponents of their
With General Pinochet and his officers
now being prosecuted for these atrocities, three decades later,
the crimes of Condor remain relevant to the international uproar
that the Bush administration is facing over the methods of "rendition"
and torture that the CIA is using in today's war on terrorism.
Under the leadership of the Pinochet regime,
Condor became a sophisticated system of multilateral repression.
Condor nations shared intelligence and communications through
a special cryptographic system provided by Brazil known as Condortel.
Agents from one nation would fly to another to organize kidnappings,
covert transportation of suspects and brutal interrogations at
secret detention centers. Often the Condor victim would be secretly
rendered back to his country of origin to another secret torture
camp for further interrogation before being killed.
These operations were conducted in the
name of countering terrorism. "The terrorist problem is general
to the entire Southern Cone. To combat it, we are encouraging
joint efforts to integrate with our neighbors," Argentine
Foreign Minister Cesar Guzzetti told Secretary of State Henry
A. Kissinger in 1976, according to a secret memorandum.
In fact, these joint efforts were acts
of state-sponsored international terror. Among their operations,
Condor regimes targeted specific individuals for death. A declassified
CIA summary noted in 1977 that the Condor nations would "undertake
the assassination of allegedly subversive opponents of participating
governments residing in Western Europe or Latin America."
In the most infamous of Condor missions,
former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and an American associate,
Ronni Moffitt, were killed by a car bomb in downtown Washington
in September 1976.
Until 9/11, the assassination of Mr. Letelier
and Mrs. Moffitt was considered the most egregious act of international
terrorism ever to be committed in our nation's capital.
Since 9/11, the United States has conducted
its own aggressive war on international terrorism, as indeed it
should. The methods of dealing with suspected terrorists authorized
by the Bush White House, however, are shockingly similar to those
practiced by the Southern Cone secret police forces during the
heyday of Operation Condor.
Just as General Pinochet ordered his secret
police to create Condor, President Bush has authorized the CIA
to organize a system of "rendition." The CIA also relies
on covert international collaboration between secret police services
to kidnap suspects, secretly transport them to a network of clandestine
detention centers and brutally abuse them during indefinite interrogations.
The Condor nations were the first to practice
the art of rendition. Their prisoners became known as the "disappeared."
Today, suspected terrorists who have been rendered by the CIA
to other nations such as Jordan, Egypt, Morocco or Romania are
known as "ghost detainees."
The methods of interrogation also are
similar. Condor victims were submitted to what their Southern
Cone torturers called "the submarine." Mr. Bush has
authorized a series of "enhanced interrogation techniques"
that includes "waterboarding" - simulated drowning -
which is the CIA's modernized version of the same type of torture.
Even the official denials sound the same.
"We do not torture," President Bush stated recently.
"The United States government does not authorize or condone
torture of detainees," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
reiterated as she arrived in Europe this week.
In the wake of overwhelming evidence that
U.S. officials have authorized, condoned and even committed acts
of torture - in some cases torturing prisoners to death in Iraq
and Afghanistan - those denials carry about as much credibility
as General Pinochet's did during his 17-year dictatorship.
Ms. Rice faces a furor in Europe, where
citizens are condemning the CIA for engaging in human rights abuses
and for using Europe to facilitate ongoing atrocities. And that
repudiation also has echoes of the near-universal condemnation
of the barbaric practices of the Condor nations three decades
But there is a fundamental difference
between then and now. The Condor countries were understood to
be vicious police states. The United States purports to be the
leader of the civilized world.
Peter Kornbluh is a foreign policy analyst
and the author of "The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier
on Atrocity and Accountability." His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.