September 11th From Chile to Washington: Bush Follows in Pinochet’s Footsteps

The 35th anniversary of the September 11th, 1973 Washington-backed coup which saw Chilean general Augusto Pinochet overthrow the democratically elected administration of Salvador Allende offers a standard to measure President Bush’s "War on Terrorism," his legacy of human rights abuses, and how he might one day face justice.

ImageTorture. Murder. Kidnappings. Secret Prisons. Concentration Camps. War. Impunity.

This is the legacy of human rights abuses September 11th sadly leaves us–a legacy first executed by former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and, more recently renewed by an equally culpable President George W. Bush.

The 35th anniversary of the September 11th, 1973 Washington-backed coup which saw Pinochet overthrow the democratically elected administration of Salvador Allende, and the General’s subsequent "War on Terrorism" targeting so-called communists (which included anyone who opposed his bloody regime), offers a standard to measure President Bush’s "War on Terrorism," the U.S. Commander-in-Chief’s legacy of human rights abuses, as well as how he might one day face justice.

The parallels between the two regime’s crimes are frighteningly similar, though it shouldn’t be lost that Pinochet carried out many of his crimes with financial, intellectual and political support from Washington.
The Washington Post wrote in 2004 that, "The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy." Two years later Amnesty International echoed The Post’s observation when it accused President Bush of taking pages out of Pinochet’s playbook in his "acceptance of torture and disregard of legal restraints."

Flight of the Condor and the Eagle

"The first September 11 was a day in which everything changed in Latin America…It was the beginning of a total war justified as a ‘war on terrorism’," wrote
John Dinges, a former Latin American correspondent for The Washington Post and Time, in his book The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents.

Dinges’s book unearths the horrors behind Pinochet’s primary weapon in his
"Long War", a secretive security network created with the region’s military dictatorships formed to capture, murder, torture and disappear perceived "enemies", wherever they may be. What came to be called "Operation Condor", unleashed an era "when mass arrests, secret prisons, concentration camps, even the use of extermination methods and crematoriums are comparable only with the worst practices of the Nazi era."

While Washington’s
aiding and abetting of Pinochet’s crimes emerged from a "deluded belief that the Cold War left Washington no other choice," the Bush Administration’s similar delusions regarding the "War on Terror" has allowed it to justify the use of identical criminal and inhumane methods.

In Iraq, which President Bush
repeatedly has described as "the central front on the war on terror," even though the 9/11 Commission concluded that there is "no evidence connecting Iraq" to Al Qaeda or the September 11th attacks, the death toll may be upwards of 200 times what Pinochet is responsible for. In addition, mass arrests of so-called "terror suspects" in Iraq has led to overcrowding of prisons with innocent people. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, between "70% and 90% of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq have been arrested by mistake." The Red Cross also alleged that the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was not as President Bush suggested "the wrongdoing of a few," but rather policy.

Guantanamo Bay, another 
prison where the Bush Administration sanctioned torture in its "total war," has been described by Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, as a  "concentration camp". This might explain why President Bush blocked UN human rights experts from visiting the prison in 2005, just as Pinochet’s government canceled a similar UN investigation 30 years ago. And like Pinochet, the CIA under Bush’s direction have used secret prisons, also referred to as "black sites", which The Washington Post has described as a "hidden global internment network [that] is a central element in the CIA’s unconventional war on terrorism." And as for torture, one method both Bush and Pinochet legally justified and used is waterboarding.

Then there is the case
Maher Arar, a Canadian Citizen who found himself the victim of President Bush’s extraordinary rendition program. Mahar, innocent of any ties to terrorists, was kidnapped and renditioned to Syria where he was kept for eight months. He testified before Congress in October 2007 that he was kept in a 3-foot by 6-foot cell, strip-searched, chained, shackled and was repeatedly beaten with a shredded electrical cable.

"The physical and mental torture that I experienced during this time continues to haunt me daily," said Arar, a
recipient of the The Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, named after former Chilean diplomat and outspoken critic of Pinochet Orlando Letelier, and Institute for Policy Studies development associate Ronni Karpen Moffitt, who were assassinated by Pinochet agents who bombed their car in the streets of Washington D.C. in September 1976.

No Justice, No Peace

According to International Law Expert
Francis A. Boyle:

"the Bush administration’s foreign policies constitute ongoing criminal activity under well-recognized principles of both international law and U.S. domestic law, and in particular the Nuremberg Charter, the Nuremberg Judgment, and the Nuremberg Principles, as well as the Pentagon’s own U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 on The Law of Land Warfare (1956)…[and Bush’s] criminal responsibility also concerns the Nuremberg crimes against humanity and war crimes as well as grave breaches of the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and of the 1907 Hague Regulations on land warfare:  For example, torture at Guantanamo, Bhagram, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere; enforced disappearances, assassinations, murders, kidnappings, extraordinary renditions, "shock and awe," depleted uranium, white phosphorous, cluster bombs, Fallujah, and the Gitmo kangaroo courts."

But like his predecessor Pinochet, who 
created an amnesty law to protect himself and his cohorts, Bush, with the help of Congress, was able to achieve the same feat through the Military Commissions Act. But the fact that Pinochet was arrested in London as a result of an extradition request from a Spanish judge for a list of crimes including torture should give President Bush and his co-conspirators such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, John Yoo and David Addington pause before vacationing outside of the country. William Schulz, head of the U.S. chapter of Amnesty International, has said that foreign governments should investigate and prosecute any Bush Administration official responsible for Washington’s violation of the Geneva Conventions and UN Convention Against Torture.
"I would be very surprised,"
said William Aceves, professor of international law at California Western School of Law, "if the government officials that were involved in drafting the torture memos, that played a role in the policies in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, were not very cautious about their foreign travel."

But there is a reason why the Bush Administration refuses to ratify the
International Criminal Court, and why Bush, with Congress, would pass the "Hague Invasion Act", which allows the use of military force to "liberate" any U.S. citizen brought before the court on charges. While Pinochet’s arrest and trials in Chile offered a glimmer of hope for some, the fact that he died before facing justice for his crimes should be a sober reminder that impunity is the law that rules the globe for the powerful. At this point in history it would be naive to think that Washington would allow someone like President Bush to be arrested and tried for crimes against humanity, no matter how guilty he is–the Hague Act attests to this.

Michael Mandel, a law professor and author of
How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity put it best when he wrote that, "The real Pinochet Precedent is that international criminal law, for all its dramatic pronouncements and precedents, will always know how to distinguish between useful and troublesome prosecutions, between friend and foe, between ‘our’ war criminals and theirs."

This is unacceptable. On this anniversary of September 11th, to honor the innocent people killed and tortured, Americans, as citizens of the country that largely perpetuates the unjust aspects of the global justice system, should shout out in their words and actions ‘Enough!’

Only when human rights and justice triumph over impunity will there ever be peace. And when this happens it may just be called the Bush Precedent.


Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at, a website covering activism and politics in Latin America.