Pinochet's mind is healthy, say Chilean doctors

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The Independent US

General Augusto Pinochet may be mentally much healthier than British medical examiners concluded in February, according to a report by three distinguished Chilean psychiatrists published this week. They said the diagnosis, which led to his early release from house arrest, was hasty, and marked by a "lack of scientific rigour".

Publication of the report appears to strengthen the case for stripping General Pinochet of his parliamentary immunity so he can stand trial for human rights abuses in Chile. Juan Bustos, one of the lawyers trying to get the former dictator's immunity lifted said: "Today [Pinochet] is not crazy or demented, nor do I think he is incapable of directing his defence. I do not believe that.This gentleman has the memory of an elephant. Prodigious"

Mr Bustos mocked the former dictator's defence team for their portrayal of their client's mental incapacity in the Court of Appeals last month, an assertion based primarily on the British medical examination. A decision on whether to revoke General Pinochet's parliamentary immunity will be announced on 8 June.

All three psychiatrists are on the board of Fasic, a church-linked organisation which assesses and rehabilitates torture victims and their families. They did not personally examine the 84-year-old former despot, but criticised the methodology of the British doctors after going over the official evaluation which defence lawyers presented as evidence in a Santiago court.

The Chilean doctors said: "As we understand it, this neurological exam did not show any significant damage, only small alterations possibly linked with his advanced age: stiff joints, diabetes, a prior operation on the spine, signs of gout attacks." The British examinations, they concluded, "were not sufficient to demonstrate a state of dementia or mental derangement which would incapacitate him to go before a tribunal".

Dr Paz Rojas, a leading neuropsychiatrist said that the decision of the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to excuse the frail general from extradition on compassionate grounds was based on "a flawed medical diagnosis". Her colleagues, Martin Cordero and Andrea Bahamondes, concurred.

They said: "The examination ... was realised in less than eight hours, during which the patient was subjected to a series of clinical and laboratory tests. It was done by an insufficient medical team which did not include a neurological or psychiatric doctor, in such a manner that a true evaluation of the existence of a mental pathology was left in suspense". They also noted that only four of the 11 drugs prescribed for General Pinochet were mentioned in the British report, and that their side-effects were overlooked.

General Pinochet was released after 503 days of house arrest when British doctors concluded he was unfit to face a torture trial in Spain.