How Do You Defeat a Dictator When He Gets to Write the Rules?

NO_ecard_AmnestyI didn’t think it was possible. As a student at Rutgers in 1988, I sarcastically asked my friends, “Who do you think is going to win the referendum in Chile? Pinochet or Pinochet?”

Following his bloody overthrow of the democratically elected Allende Government in 1973, Pinochet murdered thousands of dissidents and outlawed opposition parties. Like many dictators, he legitimated his rule by holding a plebiscite on a “constitution” that gave him unchecked power in 1980. He was able to do so, of course, because the climate of fear and impunity guaranteed his victory.

Facing growing international pressure to step down, General Pinochet tried to pull this same trick again in 1988, by offering a pseudo-election in which Chileans could vote to either let Pinochet remain in office for another eight years or hold a presidential election the following year. Given that he was writing the rules again, how could human rights activists and other opposition groups possibly win? It seemed hopeless.

But it wasn’t! No!, an Oscar-nominated film, tells the story of the brave and creative Chileans who helped their fellow citizens stand up and say, “NO!” to repression. This movie opens in New York and Los Angeles on February 15. You can find a list of theatres and dates for other cities by clicking here.


Remember 1973. Hold Torturers Accountable.

By Kalaya’an Mendoza, Field Organizer for Amnesty Western Region

On July 15th a group of activists from Amnesty International USA and Survivors of Torture International held a protest on board the Chilean vessel “La Esmeralda” as it docked in San Diego Harbor.

Activist Hannah Bogen in front of La Esmeralda in San Diego Harbor.

In 1973, after former Chilean General Augusto Pinochet seized power in a military coup, the ship served as an interrogation center for political prisoners. Survivors described torture that included beatings, electric shocks and sexual assault.

Currently, the Esmeralda is traveling around the Americas acting as a roving ambassador for Chile on a mission of “goodwill.” The crew invited happy families, wide-eyed tourists and, unbeknownst to them, a small group of human rights activists ready to unfurl signs on board that read: “Remember 1973. Hold Torturers Accountable.”


"Torture Ship" Sails to U.S.

The Esmeralda

The Esmeralda

Do you remember when Pinochet was arrested in London?  The news flew around the world.  The Chilean dictator is now dead, but the victims of torture and their families and friends are still asking the government and the judiciary for the truth about what happened after the military coup in 1973.

At least 110 people were tortured on the training ship Esmeralda that arrived in Boston yesterday.  One of them was my brother, Michael Woodward, a catholic priest who had dual nationality (Chilean and British), and who lived and worked with the poor in Valparaiso.

He was driven from his home by a naval patrol to a University which had been taken by the Navy and used as a detention and torture center.  He was then fiercely tortured at the Naval War Academy.  In a very critical state of health, Michael Woodward was taken to the Esmeralda, anchored in the port.  He may well have died on the ship, or on the way to hospital or they might have shot him before leaving the Esmeralda.  Information has recently come to light due to the efforts of judge Eliana Quezada who is investigating the law suit presented in 2002.  To date 19 retired members of the Navy have been indicted.

The Esmeralda is the Chilean Navy’s four-masted training ship.  It goes on a cruise every year to teach the young cadets the law of the sea.  At every port it is greeted by the Chilean ambassador and naval and local authorities, before embarking on social, cultural, and sightseeing activities.   The Chilean government openly considers it an “ambassador of all Chileans”.  President Bachelet emphasized this when she said
farewell to the ship in Valparaiso on 15 March.

Those of us who are still struggling to see justice applied do not feel that the Esmeralda is our ambassador.  The attitude of the Chilean Navy clashes with our ideals of human rights.  The Navy, as an Institution, needs to take responsibility for the violations of  human rights perpetrated.

– By Patricia Woodward, sister to Michael Woodward and Human Rights Activist

Arrest warrants coming for 6 Bush-era officials in Madrid?

Last week the National Court in Madrid received a complaint filed on behalf of five Spanish nationals formerly detained in Guantanamo who have charged that they were tortured in U.S. custody. The complaint was referred for investigation to one of Spain’s most high-profile law enforcement officials, Judge Baltasar Garzon.

Judge Garzon is best known for bringing similar charges against the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and seeking his arrest and extradition from the United Kingdom. In 2002, Judge Garzon also sought unsuccessfully to question Henry Kissinger concerning alleged U.S. complicity in acts of state sponsored assassination carried out by Latin American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Spanish complaint names six senior lawyers from the Bush administration: former Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Douglas Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy. Feith went on record in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in May 2004 in support of observing the Geneva Conventions in the context of the War on Terror and his inclusion on the list raises some intriguing questions.

The Spanish action comes at the same time as the British Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, has directed London’s Metropolitan Police Service to investigate the participation of a Security Service (MI5) officer known only as Witness B in the interrogation of former Guantanamo inmate Binyam Mohamed during his detention in Karachi in 2002.

Yet calls inside the United States for Bush administration officials to be held accountable for the abusive policies adopted as part of the global war on terror continue to fall on deaf ears in Washington. Although Judge Baltasar’s investigation is unlikely to lead to those named in the complaint appearing in a Spanish courtroom any time soon, it is nonetheless a timely reminder that crimes were committed and that those responsible have walked away from the mess they created scot free.

In the next few weeks Americans will have the opportunity to reverse this situation without looking to a foreign court to take the lead. The Senate Armed Services Committee is soon expected to re-release its damning bipartisan December 2008 report on the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody reinforced by more than 200 pages of newly declassified material not previously released to the public.

The first version of this report identified those senior officials most responsible for the detainee abuses that occurred in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. This expanded version will lay out the evidence of their complicity in compelling detail. The Committee Chairman, Senator Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan), has already stated that he plans to refer the report to the Department of Justice. The Obama administration will then face the first great test of its campaign rhetoric. The President has said that no one in America is above the law, he will soon have the opportunity to prove it.