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Argentina is Still Helping Iran Cover Up its Role in the Bombing of a Jewish Community Center

Toby Dershowitz
18th July 2015 - Business Insider

July 18th marks 21 years since the largest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history: the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 individuals and wounded hundreds more. Evidence is mounting that Argentina’s president is seeking to whitewash Iran’s role in the attack. 

Earlier this year, Argentina’s special prosecutor in the case, Alberto Nisman, met a suspicious death just one day before he was due to present evidence of a secret Iran-Argentina backchannel. Nisman had already implicated senior Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing. As a result of his investigation, INTERPOL had issued red notices (tantamount to international arrest warrants) for these Iranian officials.

But Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government has taken a series of steps that appear aimed at covering up Iranian involvement. In the latest example, the Argentine government is trying to reverse a court decision that ruled an Iran-Argentina Memorandum of Understanding related to the AMIA attack (MOU) unconstitutional. 

In 2013 Kirchner’s government signed an MOU with Iran that ostensibly would have had the two countries jointly investigate the AMIA bombing. Nisman believed the MOU’s real purpose was to rid Iran of culpability in the attack. 

Then-Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi argued that according to the MOU, “INTERPOL must eliminate the charges against the Iranian authorities.” Salehi, a nuclear scientist and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was a key part of the secret backchannel.  

In 2014 a lower court determined that the MOU was unconstitutional and that it interfered with an independent judicial investigation. That ruling was being reviewed by a panel of three judges in the country’s highest criminal court, the Court of Cassation, which is second only to the Supreme Court in Argentina's legal system.

The panel of three judges was set to hold a hearing to announce its decision on June 22, but it was abruptly canceled. Three days later, Judge Luis Maria Cabral was removed by the Judicial Council without explanation and replaced by Judge Claudio Marcelo Vazquez, who is recognized as supportive of the government’s agenda. The Judicial Council, which holds a pro-government majority, took this action following new authority it was granted to replace surrogate judges with appointees more supportive of the government’s agenda.

Judge Cabral is the head of the Argentine Association of Magistrates, an organization that vigorously opposes efforts by the executive branch to interfere in the judiciary. His term had no end date.

Why would the Judicial Council suddenly remove him? Perhaps because Cabral had expressed his intention to uphold the lower court’s 2014 ruling that found the MOU unconstitutional — a position the government opposed. 

Four opposition members of the House of Deputies then filed a formal federal complaint against the Judicial Council demanding that Cabral be reinstated. AMIA and DAIA, the Jewish organizations that filed the original court challenge against the MOU, demanded that Cabral’s final opinion be used in the resolution of the case.

Cabral was removed during a session called with little advanced notice. One of the members of the Judicial Council, National Deputy Gustavo Valdes, said the government prevented him from attending the session by holding up the flight he was to take to get there.

Valdes’s flight on the state-run airline Aerolineas Argentinas was abruptly canceled. Poor weather was cited, despite the fact that the weather was fine in both the departure and destination cities. The pilots had received orders from the airline not to leave their hotel, according to media reports. The airline’s CEO is Mariano Recalde, who is also the government party candidate for mayor of Buenos Aires.

Judge Cabral filed a complaint to the Federal Administrative Court and argued that “it is incredible to illegally substitute one surrogate judge for another.”  The government is seeking to “discipline” the judicial branch, he said. 

Buenos Aires City prosecutor Martin Ocampo said, “I believe the process by which Cabral was removed is unconstitutional.”

Removing Cabral from his position days before a decision was to be rendered is part of a disturbing pattern of activities by Kirchner's government, whose singular purpose appears to be ending Nisman's investigation of Iranian complicity.

The Kirchner government replaced Nisman with three pro-government prosecutors, and engaged in an aggressive campaign to discredit Nisman. This included an effort to characterize his death as a suicide, despite substantial evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, judges and a prosecutor known to be supportive of the government declined several requests to investigate the complaint Nisman filed about the government’s secret back-channel negotiations with Iran. 

Argentinian journalist Eduardo van der Kooy writes that Kirchner’s “pact with Iran is what is keeping her awake at night the most.” If the Court of Cassation were to uphold the unconstitutionality of the MOU, that declaration “would include lethal arguments that would blame the President for having … surrendered to another nation the prosecution of a tragedy that happened on [Argentinian] soil.”

This would translate into treason, he said, and would “prevent Cristina’s desire to leave power with glory. For that reason she is demanding closure of the Iran circle. Even at the cost of undoing the judiciary.” 

Argentina should not be allowed to bury the truth of Iran’s involvement in the AMIA bombing along with Nisman.And as our own government reviews its terrorism policy and threats to our homeland, it should ensure Iran continues to be held accountable for its role in the 1994 atrocity.

Toby Dershowitz is Vice President for Government Relations and Strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, DC. 

Tags

argentina, iran, latin-america