Oct 10, 1989

Election will force Chile to face its bloody past: Decision to follow on whether to prosecute rights violations of last 16 years | by Jerry Meldon | The Boston Globe Sunday Focus, October 10, 1989


            Chileans will be voting this Thursday in a historic free nationwide election, the first since Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte led a September 1973 military coup d’etat that replaced democracy with reign of terror. For Pinochet and his fellow generals, more will be at stake than presidential and legislative offices.

            After the election, a decision will have to be made whether to grant amnesty or prosecute the well-documented violations of basic human rights the Pinochet regime committed in the last 16 years in the name of protecting “Western Christian civilization from subversion.


            Human-rights abuses


            Pinochet and his colleagues fear a tribunal similar to that in neighboring Argentina, which sent members of juntas that ruled between 1976 and 1983 behind bars for ordering the torture and disappearance of thousands of alleged subversives.

            For the same reason, the election will be closely monitored in Washington. Reexamination of the last two decades will remind the world that following Chile’s 1970 presidential election, President Richard M. Nixon instructed the CIA to use any means necessary to prevent the accession to power of the socialist Salvador Allende Gossens. Allende survived three years of CIA destabilization maneuvers, only to be assassinated during the Pinochet-led coup.

            Conservative estimates place at 1,000 the number of Chileans executed for political reasons in the coup’s aftermath. Tens of thousands were held in concentration camps, and many of them were tortured. Nearly 1,000 disappeared after detention. Their corpses are still turning up in mass graves.

            That was just the beginning. The state of siege continued from September 1973 until April 1978, when the junta granted amnesty for crimes committed over that period, except for those already prosecuted in civil courts. The violence has continued another decade. According to a report issued last month by Americas Watch, the human-rights monitoring group, the Catholic church’s Vicara de la Solidaridad claims some 40,000 files on victims of the regime.

            Thousands more files would no doubt eventually have to be added if not for the fact that on Oct. 5, 1988, Pinochet was the lone candidate for president in a plebiscite that figured to rubber-stamp eight more years of his reign. When the votes were tallied, the ‘nos’ totaled a remarkable 55 percent. A crippled economy and 15 years of brutality had finally taken their toll. Plans were soon made for the transfer of power.


            Violence continues


            Nonetheless, the violence and abuses have continued. Just last month, masked, armed men broke into the Santiago home of Enrique Silva Cimma, campaign manager for Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin, the presidential candidate of the moderate coalition, Concertacion, and the odds-on favorite to win Thursday’s election. The thugs beat Silva Cimma’s wife and granddaughter and stole nothing but family documents.

            Pinochet also has placed legal roadblocks in the path of his successors. For any party to secure two legislative seats from a single district, it must receive at least two-thirds of the vote. A party with only one-third of the vote, such as the minority coalition favored by Pinochet, is guaranteed one of two available seats.

            Pinochet also intends to remain the army’s commander-in-chief. And in September, he demanded retention of the 1973-78 amnesty. In October, he declared: “The day they touch any of my men will be the end of the state law.”

            Confrontation appears inevitable. The platform of the Concertacion coalition states: “The democratic government will seek the derogatory or annulment of the Degree Law on amnesty.” Even the conservative Union Democrata Independiente supports investigations and, where appropriate, prosecutions.

            The longevity of the post-election government will hinge on how its words translate into action. In neighboring Argentina, threats from a disgruntled military have already evoked a pardon of nearly all convicted officers and amnesty for those not yet tried. In Uruguay, where on a per capita basis more political prisoners than anywhere else in Latin America were incarcerated and tortured under the military dictatorship of 1973-1985, fears of the same kind defeated a movement to prosecute the perpetrators in a plebiscite held there last spring.


            US hands are far from clean


            Those decisions were unfortunate, according to Harvey Cox, professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School, who has written extensively on Latin America. “Even if people go unpunished,” Cox said recently, “such trials are enormously important for everyone’s mental health and the health of society as a whole.”

            For the new Chilean government to investigate – and prosecute – the crimes of the Pinochet regime, the solid backing of the US government would appear necessary. However, the Bush administration is an unlikely supporter. For as Cox notes, if an investigation is undertaken, “the strings will lead to the US and agencies of the US government.”

            The Reagan administration distanced itself from Pinochet and supported restoration of democracy. Nonetheless, the State Department ended a ban on financing from the Export-Import Bank, and Washington was lone in opposing continued UN monitoring of Chilean human-rights abuses. In September, the Bush administration sent Chile 15 helicopters, seemingly violating a ban on the sale of military equipment.

            If the Bush administration discourages the Chilean government from investigating, some of Bush’s predecessors in the White House will be grateful.


            Nixon and Allende


            The role of the Nixon administration in destabilizing the Allende government – eventually ousted by Pinochet – was established long ago by a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee headed by the late Sen. Frank Church. However, because the CIA was the committee’s primary source of information, much of the truth remained hidden, according to biographies of then national security adviser Henry Kissinger, written by journalist Seymour Hersh and by former National Security Council staffer Roger Morris.

            The CIA’s own intelligence reports concluded that Allende, though a socialist who nationalized American-owned companies, represented no real threat to US national security. In fact, nationalization was initiated by Allende’s Christian Democrat predecessor, Eduardo Frei. Nonetheless, as Hersch revealed, the Nixon administration’s response to Allende’s 1970 election victory included an (unsuccessful) plan to have him assassinated.

            According to Hersch and Morris, the great contempt for Allende was on the part of Nixon and adviser Kissinger was primarily ideological in origin. At a White House planning session prior to Allende’s victory, Kissinger declared: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

            According to Hersch, Kissinger’s “fear was not only that Allende would be voted into office, but that – after his six-year term – the political process would work and he would be voted out of office in the next election.” Proof that communists could participate in a fair political process was considered dangerous.

            Kissinger, Hersch states, took charge of the anti-Allende plotting. By the coup of 1973, the CIA had spent $8 million, which became five times that amount on the black market. Though neither the White House nor CIA have been implicated in either the takeover or Allende’s assassination, Pinochet’s mob was well aware of what Washington wanted.


            Kissinger’s decisive role


            Washington’s attitude was clear. Facing defeat in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger sought victories elsewhere and viewed authoritarian Latins as comrades in arms – much as the Reagan and Bush administrations have viewed El Salvador’s army.

            But as Edmond L. Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, declared following the recent killings of church workers in El Salvador: “There comes a time when accountability must be demanded of our government’s actions.”

            If anyone should be called to account, it is Kissinger, whose decisive role in the Chilean disaster is clear. Moreover, according to State Department documents obtained by journalist Martin Andersen and excerpted two years ago in the Nation, as secretary of state in the Ford administration, Kissinger also gave the Argentines a green light for their “Dirty War.”

            According to a State Department memo, in June 1976 – at a meeting in Pinochet’s Chile – Kissinger asked the Argentine foreign minister, Adm. Cesar Guzzetti, “How long will it take you [the Argentines] to clean up the problem?” The “secretary wanted Argentina to finish its terrorist problem before year end – before Congress reconvened in January 1977.” Mass execution of prisoners and suspects, Andersen notes, became widespread only after the Kissinger-Guzzetti meeting.

            If America is to avoid repeating such costly mistakes, a thorough accounting for past policies is in order. After all, if the Soviets can face reality in Eastern Europe, then surely we whose institutions are so much stronger can face ours in Latin America. Washington has an obligation to enthusiastically support Chile’s new government when it comes to grips with the recent past.




Sep 17, 1989

The Gander mystery: Question of sabotage lingers in 1985 crash killing US soldiers | by Jerry Meldon | The Boston Sunday Globe, September 17, 1989


Nearly four years after 248 American soldiers died in a fiery plane crash in Gander, Newfoundland, the cause of the disaster remains shrouded in mystery and controversy. Was wing icing the cause of the crash, as the much-disputed official story goes? Or was the chartered DC-8 sabotaged, before it took off in Cairo, by an Iran-backed terrorist organization that claimed credit for the tragedy two days later?

            And if it was sabotaged, was it an act of retaliation because the White House, in the course of its infamous arms-for-hostage dealings, had sold Iran a planeload of missiles it could not use?

            Because of these unanswered questions, the Dec. 12, 1985, crash continues to have political fallout in both Canada and the United States. In Canada, Liberal Party critics have charged the Conservative Mulroney government with a coverup, saying it has accepted the wing-icing theory at the behest of Washington. And in the United States, the families of the victims, frustrated with the lack of answers, have turned to Congress, where Rep Robin Tallon (D-S.C.) is trying to drum up support for an official inquiry.

            Tallon criticized what he called “the almost callous indifference shown by federal agencies that should have been involved in this investigation and should be responding to the families of 248 of our service personnel.”

            The official investigation into the cause of the crash was handled by the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, which split 5-4. The majority, in a report finally issued last December, found the probable cause was ice on the wings. The minority rejected the ice theory and complained that alternative scenarios – including sabotage – were superficially examined. The flight recorders, which had previously been disabled, provided no clues.

            A US Army team scoured the crash site and reportedly requested it be bulldozed (it was not). The FBI conducted its own inquiry, which remains largely classified. The results of these investigations remain a mystery.


            Flight originated in Cairo


            If the true cause of the crash is ever to be found, the search must begin in Cairo, where, on the night of Dec. 11, 1985, the 248 members of the 101st Airborne Division began the first leg of their long flight home for Christmas after 6 months of peacekeeping duty in the Sinai desert.

            According to an FBI interview with Capt. Arthur Schoppaul, who piloted the Arrow Air DC-8 from Cairo to Cologne, West Germany, security in Cairo was lax. Egyptian guards disappeared from their posts for an hour at a time, and a fight broke out among the baggage handlers. A power loss left the DC-8 in darkness for 30 minutes while its cargo doors remained open.

            Security in Cologne was hardly any better. When Capt. Schoppaul left the plane, he found a cargo door open, its light on and no guards posted outside the aircraft. Schoppaul was relieved in Cologne by Capt. John Griffin, who took off for Gander 90 minutes after the plane landed.

            The DC-8 arrived in Gander shortly after 5:30 a.m. local time, Dec. 12, following an uneventful flight across the Atlantic. Seventy minutes later, it headed down the runway on the final leg of its journey to Fort Campbell, Ky. It rose from the tarmac, but climbed only 60 feet off the ground before stalling as it crossed the Trans-Canada Highway. The plane struck treetops 25 seconds after takeoff.

            Much of the DC-8 was consumed in a fireball. The carnage was so gruesome that, according to a report issued in June by the Canadian health minister, rescue workers have since suffered from “post-traumatic stress disorder,” an array of psychosomatic symptoms more commonly associated with combat.

            The Canadian Aviation Safety Board held public hearings in April 1986. A draft report of the findings, along with the conclusion that wing icing was the likely cause, was presented to the 10-member board in early 1987.

            The icing theory so split the board that one member resigned in protest later that year, reducing its number to nine. The chairman resigned and was replaced. It was only at the end of last year that a 100-page final report, which supports the staff’s wing-icing theory, was issued by a five-member majority. A minority report was also issued and signed by the four dissenting members.


            Little evidence of icing


            The majority view places probable blame on the deceased Capt. Griffin, who did not order the wings de-iced. A sandpaperlike ice layer can increase a plane’s drag so that it is unable to take off. The CASB majority concluded that “the failure of the aircraft to accelerate following liftoff” and “its failure to achieve a sustained climb … exemplify the known effects of ice-contaminated wings.”

            However, the question remains whether there was any significant icing.

            The majority noted that there had been a small patch of ice on a corner of the copilot’s windshield, “which confirms that ice accumulated on the accident aircraft during its approach” to Gander, but “the precise amount, type, and location of any ice adhering to the surfaces during the takeoff could not be determined.”

            During part of the time the DC-8 was on the ground, slight freezing drizzle was observed. However, Gander ground crew members responsible for de-icing the DC-8 reported there was no evidence of any ice. Of four other planes that took off or landed around the same time of day, two were not de-iced. The captain of a Boeing 737 that landed shortly before the fatal takeoff reported no ice following an inspection.

            This spring, the conclusion that icing was responsible for the crash was dismissed because of insufficient evidence after a review by Transport Canada, the equivalent to the Federal Aviation Administration. Then in July, William Estley, a retired Canadian Supreme Court justice, completed a “judicial review” and found the CASB unjustified in its use of the term “probable cause” in reference to ice.

            The same month, Harold F. Marthinsen, director of the Accident Investigation Department of the US Air Line Pilots Association, wrote a critical letter to the Canadian safety board’s director. Marthinsen charged that data used in a computer simulation, which had persuaded CASB staff that the flight path reflected wing icing, were “simply manufactured” from an arbitrary reading of accelerometer data.

            If icing was not the cause, then what was? In a recent phone conversation, retired Canadian Air Force Brig. Gen. Roger LaCroix, who is the CASB member who resigned in protest, posed the prospect of an engine-related problem. He expressed the view that “there was a catastrophic failure of a system, such as number four thrust reversal. I suspect that this was brought about either by fire or an explosion.”

            The CASB minority, which LaCroix would have joined, complained that investigators paid little attention to such possibilities and concentrated on building its case for icing.

            Remarkably, autopsy reports revealing elevated blood cyanide levels in some of the crash victims became known to the CASB only after the Canadian press uncovered them. Inhalation of cyanide indicates onboard fire. Its presence in the blood of even decapitated victims suggests a fire prior to the crash. Minority member Les Filotas, an aeronautical engineer, noted in a phone interview that the draft report he saw in 1987 neglected to mention such medical evidence.

            In fact, witnesses, including an airport car-rental agent and two truck drivers whose vehicles were nearly struck by the DC-8, reported seeing the plane on fire prior to impact. And the truck drivers claimed there was no engine noise.

            Indications of fire or sabotage should have been especially alarming in light of phone calls from purported members of the Islamic Jihad claiming responsibility for the disaster. After all, the Tehran-supported group had already been connected to numerous terrorist acts, including suicide bombings of US embassies in Lebanon and Kuwait, and of the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, as well as the hijacking of a TWA 747 and the kidnapping and murder of American hostages.

            Nonetheless, the Islamic Jihad’s claim of responsibility was rejected outright by Washington and the CASB staff.

            Intriguingly, a possible explanation for such reluctance to acknowledge the possibility of terrorism is that the DC-8 went down during a particularly sensitive period in the arms-for-hostage dealings with Iran.

            That fall, the National Security Council arranged the first shipment of Hawk missiles from Israel to Iran. On Nov. 24, 1985, eighteen missiles arrived in Tehran. However, the recipients discovered that the misssiles [sic], contrary to what they had been promised, could shoot down neither Soviet reconnaissance planes no Iraqi bombers. The Iranians were livid.

            When George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger argued against more shipments, Oliver North argued forcefully in favor. In a stark Dec. 4, 1985, message to national security adviser Adm. John Poindexter, North warned about the fate of the hostages: “None of us have any illusion about the cast of characters we are dealing with on the other side … If we do not at least make one more try at this point, we stand a good chance of condemning some or all to death and a renewed wave of Islamic Jihad terrorism.”

            Five days later, North added:

            “US reversal now in midstream could ignite Iranian fire – hostages would be our minimum losses.”

            Three days later, disaster struck in Gander.


            Link appears a tenuous one


            While it is tempting to connect the crash to the breakdown in negotiations with Iran, the likelihood of such a link is small, at least according to Gary Sick, the NSC’s Iran specialist from 1976 to 1981 and the author of “All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran.”

            Sick noted in a recent conversation that when Pan Am Flight 103 went down last December over Lockerbie, Scotland, five months had elapsed since the presumed provocation – the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by a missile fired from the USS Vincennes. He finds it improbable that a similar bombing, in this case of a military charter, could have been arranged in considerably less time.

            Thus, despite the ample opportunity to sabotage the DC-8 in Cairo or Cologne, terrorism remains a long-shot explanation, and the search for a more plausible one goes on.

            The CASB’s Les Filotas says he would like to see his board officially disown the icing theory. However, he will encounter resistance from the members of the original majority.

            Meanwhile, the case remains agonizingly open for the victims’ families. Asked recently when she foresaw putting the death of her son behind her, Zona Phillips, cofounder of Families for the Truth about Gander, replied, “This is one plane crash that is just not going to go away. We’ve got to have some questions answered before we can put this matter to rest.”