Pinochet faces new torture claims

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet conspired with fellow military leaders to torture and murder women and children before he came to power, according to extradition request documents from the Spanish government.

The Crown Prosecution Service will introduce this evidence to support its argument that General Pinochet does not have immunity from prosecution as a former head of state, in the hearing before the law lords that starts today.

The Spanish government, which is seeking General Pinochet's extradition, alleges that before the coup against the government of Salvador Allende in September 1973 General Pinochet and fellow conspirators agreed on the elimination of opponents, once they were in power.

They also agreed to the use of "hideous" tortures including sexual assaults as a punitive policy. Preparations included setting aside properties for use as torture centres, and the requisition and distribution of torture equipment.

In the rehearing of the former Chilean dictator's case before the Lords, the Crown Prosecution Service will also emphasise how many of the tortures and murders were carried out in the time between the coup in September 1973, when General Pinochet became head of the military junta, and December 1974, when he made himself "President of the Republic".

The CPS will also argue that the former dictator broke his own country's laws in overthrowing the legally elected government of Salvador Allende.

General Pinochet's lawyers are expected to object to the CPS being allowed to present this argument which, they claim, was not put before the original High Court hearing, which found the general to be immune from prosecution. They are also expected to maintain that whether Chilean laws were broken is not a matter for the Lords to decide.

The general's lawyers are also expected to argue against the admission of evidence from the Spanish extradition request, and evidence gathered since the last Lords hearing into the case one month ago, which quashed a ruling by an earlier Lords panel that General Pinochet should face charges.

Intense lobbying has begun from both sides. The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who carried out the investigation into General Pinochet's alleged crimes, was surrounded by heavy security on his arrival in Britain to counter death threats from supporters of the former dictator.

In London yesterday afternoon more than 500 protesters, some of them torture victims of the Pinochet regime, marched through the streets to demand that he should be extradited.

The general's supporters also launched a publicity drive with photographs of him appearing in two right-wing Sunday newspapers, and claims from members of his family that he is resigned to dying here. It will, he allegedly said, be a "sacrifice for the Fatherland".

The office of Baroness Thatcher, who had tea with the former dictator before his arrest in October last year, is launching a pamphlet, called The Real General Pinochet, as part of the PR offensive. It will be sent to 5,000 opinion formers.

The pamphlet has been written by Robin Harris, Lady Thatcher's assistant, and financed by, among others, Taki Theodoracopulos, the gossip columnist, Patti Palmer-Tomkinson, a friend of the Prince of Wales, and Robin Birley, the stepson of the late Sir James Goldsmith. In a continuation of the Thatcher connection the campaign is being co-ordinated by her one-time PR guru Lord Bell.