Now, George W. Bush has picked up the mantle from his father for protecting the 90-year-old Pinochet from ever facing justice for the murder of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and an American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt, who were killed by a car bomb on Sept. 21, 1976, as Letelier drove down Massachusetts Avenue.
Six years ago, near the end of the Clinton administration, an FBI team reviewed new evidence that had become available in the case and recommended the indictment of Pinochet. But the final decision was left to the incoming Bush administration, which has failed to act while also withholding relevant documents from Chilean investigators.
"Every day it is clearer that Pinochet ordered my brother's death," human rights lawyer Fabiola Letelier told the New York Times. "But for a proper and complete investigation to take place we need access to the appropriate records and evidence." [NYT, Sept. 21, 2006]
The Letelier-Moffitt murder is considered the worst act of state-sponsored terrorism in the history of Washington, D.C. At minimum, George H.W. Bush's CIA operated with extraordinary incompetence and negligence in failing to act on explicit warnings about the assassination plot.
At the time, one of the most eloquent voices making the case against Pinochet's regime was Orlando Letelier, who was living in exile and operating out of a liberal think tank in Washington, the Institute for Policy Studies.
Earlier in their government careers, when Letelier was briefly defense minister in the leftist government of Salvador Allende, Pinochet had been Letelier's subordinate. In 1973, after Pinochet took power in a military coup that killed Allende, Pinochet imprisoned Letelier at a desolate concentration camp on Dawson Island off Chile's south Pacific coast. International pressure won Letelier release a year later.
By 1976, however, Pinochet was chafing under Letelier's criticism of the regime's human rights record. Letelier was doubly infuriating to Pinochet because Letelier was regarded as a man of intellect and charm, even impressing CIA officers who observed him as "a personable, socially pleasant man" and "a reasonable, mature democrat," according to CIA biographical sketches.
Pinochet fumed to U.S. officials, including to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that Letelier was spreading lies and causing trouble with the U.S. Congress. Soon, Pinochet was plotting with Manuel Contreras, chief of Chile's feared DINA secret service, on how to silence Letelier for good.
By summer 1976, Bush's CIA was hearing a lot about Operation Condor from South American sources who had attended a second organizational conference of Southern Cone intelligence services.
On July 30, 1976, a CIA official briefed State Department officials about these "disturbing developments in [Condor's] operational attitudes." The information was passed to Kissinger in a "secret" report on August 3, 1976.
The 14-page report from Assistant Secretary of State Harry Shlaudeman said the military regimes were "joining forces to eradicate 'subversion,' a word which increasingly translates into non-violent dissent from the left and center left." [See Peter Kornbluh's The Pinochet File.]