Yes, I fully realize that some conservatives will claim that I’m smearing the reputation of Chile’s former military dictator Augusto Pinochet by comparing him to President Obama, but since Obama’s assassination program is so similar to Pinochet’s, the comparison is worth exploring, if for no other reason than to show how the U.S. government has become the worlds premier international dictatorial state.
First of all, I think everyone would agree on one fundamental point: Pinochet was a genuine dictator. He was a military general serving as commander in chief of the Chilean Army in 1973, when he violently ousted democratically elected socialist/communist Salvador Allende from the presidency of the country and installed himself into power.
For 17 years, Pinochet ruled Chile without standing for elections. But that’s not all that made him a dictator. What also made him a dictator was the fact that his powers were omnipotent. That is, he could do whatever he wanted without any legislative or judicial constraints. That’s what makes a dictator the extent of his powers. When a ruler has the power to do whatever he wants, that’s a dictator.
Pinochet exercised his dictatorial power by arresting people without warrants, incarcerating them indefinitely, torturing them, and even executing them, all without any judicial process or due process of law. Of course, he didn’t do these things himself. His military, his police forces, and his intelligence agency did them on his orders.
What I wish to focus on in this article, however, is Pinochet’s assassination program, given that it was virtually a mirror image of Obama’s assassination program.
Pinochet had an intelligence agency named DINA that was similar to the CIA. In fact, after the coup the CIA worked closely with DINA for many years, under the rationale of protecting national security from the communists.
Part of DINA’s mission was to assassinate Chilean citizens who Pinochet determined were threats to national security. Just like the CIA today, DINA agents were assassinating people in foreign countries on orders of Pinochet.
Among the people ordered assassinated was a man named Orlando Letelier, a socialist who had served in the Allende regime. After the coup, Letelier was arrested, incarcerated, and tortured by the Pinochet regime, but ultimately released.
Letelier came to the United States, where he established an office in Washington, D.C. His activities were devoted to trying to bring down the Pinochet regime by lobbying U.S. officials to terminate support to Chile.
An assassination team headed by a man named Michael Townley made its way to Washington with the aim of taking out Letelier. While Pinochet denied that he had ordered the hit, Townley later claimed that Pinochet had issued the order. And it would have made sense, at least from the standpoint of national security. Letelier was a genuine threat to Chilean national security in that he was doing everything he could to bring down the Pinochet regime. Here’s an article about the murder.
One of the interesting things about Townley was that he was an American. And guess who he worked for while he was in Chile. You guessed it: the CIA, which was working closely with DINA (much as the CIA was already working closely with the brutal Iranian intelligence force, the Savak, after the CIA installed the dictator Shah of Iran into power).
Townley later claimed that when he made the hit on Letelier, he was no longer working for the CIA. Nonetheless, his team of assassins consisted of a group of anti-Castro Cubans. You’ll recall that the CIA had partnered with anti-Castro Cubans for the Bay of Pigs invasion, whose mission was to oust Fidel Castro from power. You’ll also recall that the CIA’s assassination program included a partnership with the Mafia in the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro countless times.
In any event, Townley and his assassination team set a bomb in Letelier’s car, which exploded while Letelier was on his way to work. In the car was his young assistant Ronni Moffitt. Both of them were killed in the blast. Moffitt’s husband, who was also in the car, survived.
One can easily understand Pinochet’s mindset because its really no different in principle from that of Obama. As a dictator, Pinochet believed that he had the omnipotent authority to protect Chile from all threats to national security, especially from socialists and communists who would destroy the country or surrender it to the Soviet Union if they regained power. Letelier was a socialist who had even served in the Allende government, a government whose policies, Pinochet said, were taking the country to destruction and ruin.
So, Pinochet sent his assassination team abroad and eliminated a grave threat to national security. There was no arrest, trial, or conviction of Letelier. No trial was necessary because Chile was at war a war against communism, a cold war. Moreover, an arrest and extradition of Letelier was obviously out of the question. The nation had a right to protect itself. National security was clearly at stake.
Interestingly, lawyers in the U.S. Justice Department, perhaps under public pressure, didn’t see things that way. They viewed Letelier’s national-security assassination on the streets of Americas capital as murder. They indicted and prosecuted Townley and his assassination team. Townley and some of his assassination assistants were convicted. Oddly, even though he killed Letelier and Moffitt in cold blood, Townley only had to serve about 5 years and then, even more oddly, got released into the Federal Witness Protection program, which has enabled him to live in obscurity ever since.
As an aside, the CIA definitely participated in the assassination or, if you will, the murder (I’m not really sure what the difference is) of a young American citizen in Chile during Pinochet’s coup. His name was Charles Horman and he was working as a journalist during the coup. Here’s an article about him.
Its interesting to compare Horman’s murder with that of the recent CIA assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. While Obama himself has remained silent with respect to the factual and legal reasons he ordered his forces to assassinate Awlaki, statist supporters are alleging that Awlaki was engaged in operational terrorist attacks on the United States.
Not so with Horman. All he was doing was working as a journalist an American journalist living and working abroad. For years, the CIA denied playing a role in the Pinochet coup, although there was no doubt that the U.S. government was ecstatic that the military dictator Pinochet had taken power.
Many years after the coup, the State Department released a document revealing that the CIA had in fact played an undefined role in the murder of this young American. Why had the CIA helped murder Horman? Who were the CIA agents involved in the murder? How was the murder carried out?
We don’t know. The CIA refused to answer questions, and no one forced them to. No congressional investigation was ever held which, I suppose, is not too surprising. What congressman wants to take on an agency that has the omnipotent power to assassinate Americans with impunity?
I don’t know if Horman’s family ever filed suit for Horman’s wrongful death, but it wouldn’t have done any good anyway. Federal officials would have walked into court, mentioned the magic terms national security and state secrets and the federal judge would immediately have dismissed the case, just as they do now when Obama’s assassination team takes out Americans or threatens to do so.
The point we need to keep in mind is that Obama’s powers in foreign affairs are no different from those of Pinochet. He wields the power to send his military and CIA abroad to kill anyone he feels is a terrorist or a threat to national security. Like Pinochet, Obama’s determination is final and non-reviewable. Like Pinochet’s forces, Obama’s military and CIA will faithfully and loyally follow orders, especially since in their minds, they are protecting the nation from threats to “national security. And just like in Chile, the Congress and the judiciary are impotent, deferring to Obama and his forces to do whatever is necessary to keep us safe.