Pinochet's lawyers deny electrocution is torture

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The Independent Online
VICTIMS OF Augusto Pinochet's regime killed by electrocution were not "tortured" because they did not suffer long enough before death, the former Chilean dictator's lawyers told an extradition hearing yesterday.

Describing the fatal electrocution of prisoners, Clive Nicholls, QC, for the general said: "Instantaneous death does not amount to torture. Victims cannot have suffered severe pain and suffering. One does not seek to condone it, but the prosecution must establish that what is alleged does amount to torture."

General Pinochet, 83, currently under house arrest in Surrey, is facing extradition to Spain on 35 charges of torture, conspiracy to torture and grievous bodily harm allegedly committed after he overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.

Mr Nicholls told Ronald Bartle, the deputy chief stipendiary metropolitan magistrate, about the actions of British servicemen in Northern Ireland, who had subjected prisoners to disorientation and sensory deprivation. The detainees were kept hooded, subjected to loud noise, and deprived of sleep and adequate food and water. And yet, Mr Nicholls said, the European Court of Human Rights had found that their treatment was not torture.

Alun Jones, QC, for the Crown Prosecution Service, representing the Spanish government, said that it was "offensive" to suggest that those who had been electrocuted to death had not suffered and could not be deemed to have been tortured. Referring to one of the cases highlighted by the defence, Mr Jones said: "First, he had electrical burns to his entire body. Secondly, his body had contusions and trauma, the result of the most severe beating. His hands had been tied with electrical flex. Just the mental anguish alone which he must have suffered is capable of amounting to torture."

Moving onto other examples of abuse, which Pinochet's lawyers had stated were "simple cases of police brutality" present in many countries "including the UK", Mr Jones said: "People being kept in confined spaces, having to crawl centimetre by centimetre, this is not something which undisciplined officers get up to on a Saturday night in Stoke Newington."

Pinochet's defence introduced the ruling of one of the Law Lords, Lord Hope, that "systematic and widespread torture" must be present to prove a case for extradition, and a single case would not suffice. Mr Jones, in response, cited Lords Browne-Wilkinson, Saville, Millett, Phillips and Hutton that one case of torture is enough. He added: "I think that is five-one to us."

Mr Jones accused General Pinochet's lawyers of breaking a tradition of British justice by failing to offer evidence to back up these "most serious allegations". They should be justified or withdrawn and "not left hanging in the air".

The case continues.