Pinochet lawyers: Torture `no worse than in UK'

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MANY OF the torture and abuse charges faced by Augusto Pinochet were no worse than those carried out by the British Army in Northern Ireland, and others were "simple cases of police brutality" to be found in many countries, "including Britain", the former Chilean dictator's lawyers told an extradition hearing yesterday.

He was not "personally involved" in the abuse he had been charged with, "none of these had taken place in the sitting room of the presidential palace", he did not know the victims personally, and had not been responsible for orders to carry out the torture, and did not have the foresight that this would happen due to the policies he had instituted, the court was told.

The defence of General Pinochet, facing extradition to Spain on 35 charges of torture, conspiracy to torture and grievous and bodily harm, began in an atmosphere of confrontation and acrimony, with his lawyers accused of "shabby and underhand" tactics by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Alun Jones QC, for the CPS, acting for the Spanish government, said the general's lawyers were trying to conduct an "ambush" defence by trying to introduce material at the last minute to prove there was a political motive behind the prosecution. This followed late delivery to the CPS of papers from the general's lawyers in which Spanish legal authorities testified in his defence. Clive Nicholls QC, counsel for General Pinochet, apologised.

Mr Jones denied defence claims that the general had his "arms tied behind his back" in conducting his defence, and invited him to appear at the proceedings at London's Bow Street magistrates' court today to give evidence and be cross-examined on it.

Mr Jones said: "Pinochet's evidence is admissible ... It's not us who had tied Pinochet's hands behind his back. He [Mr Nicholls] can ... call General Pinochet tomorrow." Mr Nicholls later declined the offer on his client's behalf.

At the opening of the proceedings Ronald Bartle, Deputy Chief Stipendiary Metropolitan Magistrate, was told General Pinochet faced some of the most serious allegations of crime to come before an English criminal court.

They detailed prisoners dying under torture, being electrocuted, being forced to take hallucinogenic drugs and women being kept naked, abused and threatened with the rape of their children. One prisoner committed suicide by jumping out of the window of his interrogation room after "severe pain and suffering".

Julian Knowles, also appearing for General Pinochet, said the only charge on the original extradition requests which Mr Bartle should be concerned with, the death of 17-year-old Marcos Quezada Yanez in June 1989, did not involve General Pinochet's secret police but the local police force. Mr Knowles added that many cases involved police brutality,"the kind of complaint still made against police in Chile 10 years after democracy and also, from time to time, against police officers in Spain and to some extent in the UK."

Outside the court, a Chilean rights activist said civilian police were brought under control of the military police after General Pinochet's coup and were used to carry out actions against political dissenters.