Two of my blog posts this week have caused me to ponder the similarities of the mind-sets of the people in Augusto Pinochet’s secret intelligence force (known as DINA) and those in George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s CIA. One blog post was about the CIA’s use of drone attacks to assassinate people in Pakistan and the other was about Pinochet’s assassination of a former Chilean president.
In Pakistan, the CIA is using drone missile attacks to kill people who the CIA is convinced are guilty of terrorism. There’s no attempt to take such people into custody and let a court determine whether they are in fact guilty of the offense. Instead, they are simply taken out based on the CIA’s conviction that they’re guilty.
That’s also how Pinochet’s DINA agents operated. If they were convinced that someone was guilty of being a communist, they simply took him out with an assassination. No trials were necessary to determine whether they really were guilty of being communists. Instead, the authority was vested in DINA agents to make that determination.
Interestingly enough, however, U.S. officials do sometimes call on the Pakistani police to arrest a suspected terrorist in Pakistan rather than simply have the CIA assassinate him. For example, this week U.S. officials requested Pakistani police to arrest several U.S. citizens who allegedly traveled to Pakistan to become terrorists. U.S. officials are now contemplating bringing the men back from Pakistan and making them face criminal charges for terrorism in a U.S. District Court.
Yes, you read that correctly: I said “criminal charges.” The reason that the feds are doing that is because terrorism is a federal criminal offense under the U.S. Code. That’s why the U.S. government has indicted and prosecuted such terrorists as Zacharias Moussaoui, Jose Padilla, and Ali al-Marri in U.S. District Court — because, again, terrorism is a federal criminal offense.
In fact, that’s not the only time that U.S. officials have secured the assistance of the Pakistani police in effecting an arrest of a suspected terrorist. They did the same with Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. After the Pakistani police arrested him, he was brought back to the United States where he stood trial for terrorism in federal district court, where he was convicted and sentenced. Today, Yousef is residing in a federal penitentiary because, again, terrorism is a federal criminal offense.
How does the U.S. government determine which suspected criminals to assassinate and which ones to arrest and bring back for trial? No one really knows the answer to that question. It appears to be a totally arbitrary and ad hoc decision-making process.
Another fascinating aspect to this is the calculus that goes into killing innocent bystanders.
For example, the CIA recently had the opportunity to assassinate a suspected terrorist in Pakistan named Baitullah Mehsud. The problem was that Mehsud was traveling with his wife and her parents.
What to do? If the CIA fired a missile at Mehsud, they’d also kill his wife and her parents. The CIA did a mental calculus and decided that killing Mehsud’s wife and her parents would be worth killing Mehsud. So, the CIA fired a missile that killed all four of them.
Pinochet’s DINA agents were faced with the same quandary when they assassinated a man named Orlando Letelier, who had served as Chile’s ambassador to the United States during the communist regime of Salvador Allende, the Chilean president who was ousted from power by Pinochet’s coup. At the time he was assassinated, Letelier was living in Washington, D.C., and his lobbying against Pinochet’s military dictatorship was considered by Pinochet to be a threat to national security in Chile.
So, Pinochet authorized DINA agents to take out Letelier. DINA agents, led by a man named Michael Townley, who ironically had previously worked for the CIA, planted a bomb in Letelier’s car. On the day that the assassination was planned, however, Letelier was riding with a 25-year-old American woman named Ronni Moffitt. (Here’s her bio and picture.)
Thus, the DINA agents were faced with the same mental calculus that CIA agents faced in the Mehsud assassination: Should they go ahead and kill Letelier knowing that Moffitt would be taken out as well? Like the CIA agents in the Mehsud killing, they decided that killing Moffitt would be worth taking out Letelier. They pushed the button that set off the bomb, killing both Letelier and Moffitt on the streets of the U.S. capital.
Interesting enough, U.S. officials treated the Letelier killing as a murder and ended up prosecuting Townley and other DINA agents who participated in the killing. Perhaps because of his CIA ties, Townley ended up in the federal witness protection program. Wikipedia states:, “According to the IPS [where Letelier and Moffitt worked], the Clinton administration de-classified more than 16,000 documents related to Chile, but withheld documents related to the Letelier-Moffitt assassination in Washington on the grounds that they were associated with an ongoing investigation.” Needless to say, it’s not clear what “ongoing investigation” they possibly could be referring to.
Finally, there was that missile that the CIA fired at an automobile in Yemen in 2002 carrying a suspected terrorist. It’s not clear whether the CIA knew that an American citizen was among the passengers traveling in the car. But the American was killed in the missile attack and there appears to be no regret on the part of the CIA in killing him. The killing of the American was obviously considered worth it.
What’s the difference between DINA’s assassination of Letelier and Moffitt and the CIA’s assassinations in Pakistan and Yemen?