On September 21, 1976, agents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet placed a bomb in a car in Washington, D.C., used by Chile’s former ambassador, Orlando Letelier. When detonated later that day, the bomb killed Letelier and an American citizen accompanying him, Ronni Moffitt. Did the U.S. government play some sort of role in this double homicide, carried out in the nation’s capital? On Friday, as Ken Silverstein notes, the Associated Press’s Pete Yost published the essence of a damning new document, showing that Henry Kissinger canceled a State Department warning that was to have gone to Chile just days before the assassination:
In 1976, the South American nations of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay were engaged in a program of repression code-named Operation Condor that targeted those governments’ political opponents throughout Latin America, Europe and even the United States. Based on information from the CIA, the U.S. State Department became concerned that Condor included plans for political assassination around the world. The State Department drafted a plan to deliver a stern message to the three governments not to engage in such murders.
In the Sept. 16, 1976 cable, the topic of one paragraph is listed as “Operation Condor,” preceded by the words “(KISSINGER, HENRY A.) SUBJECT: ACTIONS TAKEN.” The cable states that “secretary declined to approve message to Montevideo” Uruguay “and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter.” “The Sept. 16 cable is the missing piece of the historical puzzle on Kissinger’s role in the action, and inaction, of the U.S. government after learning of Condor assassination plots,” Peter Kornbluh, the National Security Archive’s senior analyst on Chile, said Saturday. Kornbluh is the author of “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.”
In 2001, former Harper’s Washington editor Christopher Hitchens published the essential facts in “The Case Against Kissinger,” describing the essential role that Kissinger played in the events that brought Pinochet to power and held him there. Kissinger’s relationship to “Operation Condor” is discussed at some length.
A “Condor” team also detonated a car bomb in downtown Washington, D.C., in September 1976, killing the former Chilean foreign minister, Orlando Letelier, and his aide, Ronni Moffitt. United States government complicity has been uncovered at every level of this network. It has been established, for example, that the FBI aided Pinochet in capturing Jorge Isaac Fuentes de Alarcon, who was detained and tortured in Paraguay, then turned over to the Chilean secret police and “disappeared.” Astonishingly, the surveillance of Latin American dissident refugees in the United States was promised to “Condor” figures by American intelligence.
As Hitchens notes, “a rule of thumb in Washington holds that any late disclosure by officialdom will contain material that is worse than even the cynics suspected.” The new documents clearly put Kissinger close to the scene of the crime, with greater knowledge and a more readily discernible wink to the assassination squads than even many of his enemies imagined. There is almost certainly more yet to come. In the meantime, Kissinger continues to face the prospect of arrest and prosecution when he travels abroad.