Politics

Macri points finger at Iran 25 years after AMIA bombing

18th July 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

Macri points finger at Iran 25 years after AMIA bombing

Mauricio Macri prepared an agenda loaded with high-impact news to mark the 25th anniversary of 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish organization, which killed 85.

The president blacklisted Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, in line with the policies promoted by the Donald Trump administration, while also pushing for a trial in absentia bill in Congress, looking to try a number of Iranian citizens that the Middle Eastern country is unwilling to extradite.

His approach has been backed by the AMIA and DAIA leadership, but caused backlash among victims’ organizations, who believe the decisions are more based on foreign policy alignment than on the search for the authors of the bombing.

</p> <p>One day before the anniversary, Macri published three decrees in the Official Gazette. The President also created a registry of people and organizations allegedly linked to terrorism and its financing (REPET in Spanish), which will be placed under the umbrella of the Justice Ministry led by Germán Garavano. He also declared July 18 a day of national mourning and extended the economic compensation for AMIA employees who were present on the day of the attack.</p> <p>In the House of Representatives, meanwhile, the government is promoting a bill to try Iranian officials in absentia for orchestrating the bombing. The bill is being criticized by the opposition and is causing concern within the governing coalition of Cambiemos because it nullifies the possibility of defending oneself before a court.</p> <p>&#8220;We want the Islamic Republic of Iran to cooperate with Argentine judicial authorities,&#8221; Macri said. &#8220;Terrorism does not respect borders. Every nation must cooperate to deal with this transnational menace.&#8221;</p> <p>Only a few opposition members were vocal against the announcements. &#8220;This is a gift for (Secretary of State Michael) &#8220;Mike&#8221; Pompeo,&#8221; Kirchnerite Congressman Rodolfo Tailhade said during the discussion of the bill.</p> <p>Pompeo is scheduled to arrive tonight in Argentina to participate in the second hemispheric meeting against terrorism, which will take place tomorrow in Buenos Aires City. His attendance represents a clear message of support from Washington to Macri, who is seeking re-election and has sided with Trump soon after he took office.</p> <p>The US presidency has been pushing to isolate Hezbollah since Trump took office. That’s what the United Kingdom did months ago, when it <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47359502">also blacklisted it</a>. Hezbollah holds parliamentary representation in Lebanon and currently has three ministers in the coalition that governs that country, as well as ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran.</p> <h2><strong>Commemoration events</strong></h2> <p>Macri did not participate in the event outside the AMIA building on Pasteur Street in the City of Buenos Aires on the 25<sup>th</sup> anniversary. He only attended the ceremony in 2016, a couple of months after taking office.</p> <p>The president&#8217;s main activity today will be the presentation of the book <em>Justicia Perseguirás</em>. The event will be held in the Museum of the Casa Rosada with businessman Andrés Werthein, head of the Latin American Jewish Congress. The book gathers texts by Macri and other world leaders, such as Donald Trump (US) Angela Merkel (Germany), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil) and Tabaré Vázquez (Uruguay).</p> <p>&#8220;We want everyone involved in the attacks to appear before Argentine courts, so that they can be tried and eventually convicted,&#8221; Macri wrote in the book – according to an early release published by <a href="https://www.clarin.com/politica/opinion-mauricio-macri-25-anos-atentado-amia-impunidad-gran-cuenta-pendiente-democracia_0_KnQ9XuGXM.html">Clarín</a>.</p> <h2><strong>Critical views</strong></h2> <p>The Macri administration has been criticized for two decisions related to the AMIA case. On the one hand, the president decided to downgrade the AMIA unit that operated within the structure of the Ministry of Justice and placed it under the orbit of the Human Rights Secretariat, commanded by Claudio Avruj, a former leader of AMIA Jewish community organization.</p> <p>The decision led to fierce criticism from its former chief, Mario Cimadevilla, who also accused the Justice minister of seeking to protect two former prosecutors accused of covering up the 1994 attack.</p> <p>Relatives of the victims organized in APEMIA have also blasted the government for seeking an agreement with the software company Palantir, aimed at processing the intelligence files of the case, due to its strong ties with the US government. “We managed to stop that attempt from happening,” Laura Ginsberg, of APEMIA, told <em>The Essential</em>.</p> <p>&#8220;Everything the government is doing seems wrong to me. It scares me,&#8221; Diana Wassner, one of the leaders of Active Memory, which groups family members of victims of the attack, also said in conversation with <em>The Essential</em>. &#8220;Argentina, once again, is being placed into a role of ‘fighting terrorism’ in the region, and all that is done in the name of the AMIA attack,&#8221; Ginsberg added.</p> <p>The investigation into the bombing is currently led by Morón prosecutor Sebastián Basso, who has focused on <a href="https://www.lanacion.com.ar/politica/sebastian-basso-el-principal-sospechoso-del-atentado-contra-la-amia-podria-estar-en-el-libano-nid2267313">foreign involvement</a> from Lebanon and Iran after being named by<span style="font-weight: 400;"> acting Attorney General Eduardo Casal</span>.</p> <p>But with little new findings made since his appointments (Basso has mostly pointed fingers at Salman Salman, or Salman El Reda, who has been named in the probes for at least a decade), Ginsberg described the UFI AMIA prosecution unit as being “in the process of dissolution”, while Wassner said the government is “doing everything possible to close the case.”</p> <h2><strong>The Trials</strong></h2> <p>The investigation into the AMIA bombing has undergone multiple judicial shocks in the 25 years since the bombing. In 2004, the Federal Oral Court declared null and void the trial against Carlos Telleldín, who allegedly sold a truck used in the attack, and a group of Buenos Aires police officers who had been framed by the State Intelligence Secretariat (SIDE).</p> <p>Earlier this year, suspects were convicted for links to the AMIA case for the first time. Yet it was not for having participated in the attack, but for helping in its cover up. Among them was the first judge in the case and its two prosecutors, as well as a former head of the secret services. At the trial, then-President Carlos Menem was charged, but acquitted by the oral court.</p> <p>&#8220;The verdict was very important not only because of the investigation of the attack but also because it showed that high state authorities had paid one person to involve others in the country&#8217;s biggest terrorist attack and those people were later declared innocent,&#8221; prosecutor Roberto Salum, who worked at the UFI AMIA prosecution unit, told <em>The Essential</em>.</p> <p>Yet Ginsberg believes that, ultimately, there was too much involvement from the Argentine state in the cover ups to have any confidence in what these trials will lead to. &#8220;The Argentine state is not going to clarify the attack. The Argentine state is responsible,&#8221; said Ginsberg, who is promoting an independent investigative commission with access to secret archives to elucidate what happened on and after July 18, 1994.</p> <h2><strong>After Nisman</strong></h2> <p>The AMIA case was brought back into the mainstream of Argentine political discussion after Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran to deal with the citizens that refused extradition from their country to deal with accusations in Argentine territory.</p> <p>On January 14, 2015, AMIA bombing prosecutor Alberto Nisman shook the political scene by accusing then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and then-foreign minister Héctor Timerman of signing the memorandum to leave those who orchestrated the AMIA attack unpunished. The situation worsened four days later when the special prosecutor was found dead with a bullet wound to his head behind the closed doors of his apartment’s bathroom, sparking a heated national debate over whether he had been murdered or committed suicide.</p> <p>Nisman’s complaint against the former president was closed that same year after a ruling from Federal Judge Daniel Rafecas, who considered that no crime had been committed. His decision was endorsed by Federal Court of Appeals judges Jorge Ballestero and Eduardo Freiler, and by Javier de Luca from the Court of Cassation later.</p> <p>One year after Macri&#8217;s arrival at the Government House, the Court of Cassation ordered the reopening of the investigation, which was left in the hands of federal judge Claudio Bonadio, who accused Fernández de Kirchner of treason, a legal qualification that was later rejected by an upper court.</p> <p>The case has not yet gone to trial. Last week, Bonadio summoned Alberto Fernández, the Frente de todos presidential candidate, to testify because in 2015 he had stated in an interview that Fernández de Kirchner – his current running mate – was using the memorandum to cover up the attack.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the probe into Nisman&#8217;s death has also changed course since Macri took office. The investigation was originally in the hands of prosecutor Viviana Fein, who was skeptical of the homicide hypothesis. Fein was left without a case after former Intelligence Secretariat operations chief Antonio &#8220;Jaime&#8221; Stiuso, a key Nisman ally, stated that he believed Nisman had been murdered.</p> <p>The investigation is now in the hands of federal judge Julián Ercolini and prosecutor Eduardo Taiano. The case turned upside down when an expert&#8217;s report from the Border Patrol — a government-dependent security force — stated that Nisman had been murdered. The analysis was challenged by the only defendant in the case, IT expert Diego Lagomarsino, who was videotaped by security cameras visiting Nisman a day before his death. Lagomarsino says he was visiting because Nisman asked him to lend him his gun, which was ultimately used for the fatal shot.</p> <p>Both Nisman’s death and the AMIA bombing have been constantly under suspicion of secret service meddling, a discouraging fact in the search of what truly happened.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.