The arrest warrants issued by Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral for a number of former Iranian officials allegedly involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish community Centre (AMIA) has been lauded by the White House. However, the reports surrounding this issue have circumvented the history of US and Argentine relations. Furthermore, the case is presented in absolute terms, while in reality, it is engulfed with controversy and inconsistencies.
History of US — Argentine Collaboration In 1967, in a bloodless coup, the military replaced Isabelita Peron as leaders of Argentina. A military junta was formed, consisting of the commanders of the three armed services and headed by General Jorge Rafael Videla, commander and chief of the army. The Videla government imposed a “Dirty War” in Argentina to silence the “internal enemy,” in essence, an all-out war was undertaken against political and non-political citizens in order to annihilate leftist movements which called for social, economical, and political equality in a nation traditionally engrossed by inequalities.
Another aim of the war was to create a state of fear which would seal the military’s reign. Behind the dirty war, a blueprint had been established by the French, created and sponsored by the United States called the “Doctrine of National Security.” According to the Doctrine “subversion warfare is a war to conquer the soul of the population,” in other word, nothing was off limits in the military’s fight to silence popular demands.
Aside from providing the theoretical framework for Argentina’s dirty war, the US government actively supported this repression by training Latin American soldiers in torture techniques at the School of the Americas and refusing to repudiate human rights violations committed by the Argentine military. It is estimated that 30,000 Argentineans were disappeared during the dirty war. It is also noteworthy that the biggest genocide against Jews after the Holocaust was the one that occurred in Argentina during the dirty war, where a disproportionate number of Jews were murdered due to anti-semitic tendencies of the military. One has to wonder why Argentina has not called for the arrest of Henry Kissinger, or other former Regan officials, and military officers who spiritually supported and trained the murders and rapists of Argentine citizens.
In fact, in its pursuit of international justice and fight against terrorism, how could Argentine officials forget their own history and US involvement in it? Why has Argentina decided to divert its attention? Why does this diversion coincide with the US and Israeli push to condemn Iran as a terrorist state? Would the United States be equally as excited in the fight against terrorism if it meant prosecution of former US officials who participated in terrorist acts? Would the United States hand Kissinger over to Argentina? It certainly has not handed him over to Chile. Is the US trying to finally pin an act of terrorism on Iran in order to rally international support for sanctions or an invasion? Why has the BBC labeled the 1994 bombing the worst terrorist act Argentina has ever experienced, when it clearly was not?
Following the dirty war, Argentina tried to push its way into the international arena through emulation of and submission to US demands, and the unification of the two countries in the fight on terrorism must be understood within this larger paradigm. It was during Menems’ Presidency that the United States began to meddle in the AMIA bombings. In 1998 the FBI informed Argentina that it believes Iranian embassy employees were involved in the 1994 bombing. US Defense Secretary William Cohen and Argentine President Carlos Menem announced their intention to collaborate on fighting terrorism “Mr Cohen said: We [the United States] are willing to cooperate in whatever fashion and manner that we can.
Mr. Menem welcomed the offer of intelligence and other unspecified help. He said: I believe that the United States can give us support in technology and in the supply of information of the way terrorism acts in the world.” (BBC, US and Argentina Target Terrorism,1998). Ironically, Menem, vowed to help the United States fight terrorism, while pardoning former Argentine leaders of the military involved in the disappearances, murders, and rapes of Argentineans and other Latin American nationals, ending sentences or prosecutions for human-rights offenses committed in the dirty war. In recent days, several Argentine government officials have announced their resignation in protest of what they argue is unsanctioned US and Israeli influence in Argentina’s domestic investigation of the 1994 bombings.
The desire to join the international community through US support, coupled with Argentina’s historical crisis over national identity, provide the political and cultural backdrop for Argentine and American unification regarding the 1994 bombing at AMIA. In the early 1990s, President Menem surprised his supporters by deviating from his nationalist and socialist origins and promoting neo-liberal economic policies as dictated by the IMF, and hence the United States, as well as actively supporting U.S. military actions in the Persian Gulf in 1991 and in Haiti in 1994. He also became a vocal critic of Cuba’s Fidel Castro, and abandoned political ties with developing countries of Asia and Africa. Additionally, Argentine history is marred by a national struggle over identity and nationhood.
Argentineans pride themselves in primarily having French, Italian, and Spanish blood, as opposed to Afro-Indio characteristics which are dominant in other Latin American countries such as Peru and Guatemala. In fact, during the 1976 military take over, the Argentine army argued it was defending Christianity and Western civilization by warring off alleged “subversives.” Therefore, culturally and socially Argentine elitists have attempted to align the country with the West, through the barrel of a gun, if deemed necessary.
The Case Aside from the skeptical political circumstances which surround US and Argentine relations, the case itself is tainted by inconsistencies, US lobbying, and corruption. In 2003, Judge Juan Jose Galeano issued eight arrest warrants for Iranian officials allegedly involved in the 1994 bombings. However, Judge Galeano was later dismissed from the case when it was discovered that he had been involved in bribing a key witness with 400,000 dollars and tampering with documents.
In another sign of inconsistency, in 2003, the Argentine Charge d’Affaires in Iran said he “regrets” newspaper reports accusing Iran of the bombing, he went on to state that Argentina is “willing to develop excellent relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran” (BBC, Argentina Seeks Iranian diplomats… , 2006). Additionally, neither the Argentines nor the Americans have yet to present credible documentation which illuminate Iranian involvement in the event. In fact, the main sources behind the allegations are the US-based World Jewish Congress and Jewish communities within Argentina making the vague statement that the AMIA bombing carries the hallmarks of Iranian influenced Hezbollah attacks, and an Iranian national living in Europe who has named Iran as an accomplice.
What makes the identification process particularly unsettling is the fact that “no proper autopsies or DNA tests were done on human remains at the site. In one of the most shocking incidents, police simply dumped in a bin a head found near the scene thought to have been that of the bomber” (BBC, Members of the Islamic Militant Group… ,2006). In previous years, five defendants accused of involvement in the case have been found not guilty. The case has also been haunted by disappearing witnesses, judicial delays, and false accusations.
Ibrahim Hussein Berro, 21, of Lebanon, was identified in a joint effort by Argentine intelligence and the FBI, however, Hezbollah has announced that Berro was killed during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. He was identified by vague eyewitness accounts “… a picture of the supposed bomber, a young man with heavy eyebrows, dark skin and short hair who was wearing a sports shirt and jeans.” (BBC, Members of the Islamic Militant Group… ,2006). This image describes most men in the world, and it hardly seems like sufficient incriminating evidence.
While only time will reveal the details of the case, it is important to be mindful of the inconsistencies which plague Argentina’s claim. Through its pursuit of the Islamic Republic of Iran is Argentina finally to achieve its long held dream of joining the “civilized, Christian West” by pleasing its patron the US?
Shirin Saeidi, Adjunct Instructor, Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University, USA.