Hitchens Recalls the Crimes of Pinochet

In Slate, Hitchens on the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006):

Pinochet ended up like Spain’s Gen. Francisco Franco, with a series of deathbed farewells that were obscenely protracted and attended by numerous priests and offerings of extreme unction. By the end, Chileans had become wearily used to the way in which he fell dramatically ill whenever the workings of justice took a step nearer to his archives or his bank accounts. Like Franco, too, he long outlived his own regime and survived to see his country outgrow the tutelage to which he had subjected it. And, also like Franco, he earned a place in history as a treasonous and ambitious officer who was false to his oath to defend and uphold the constitution. His overthrow of civilian democracy, in the South American country in which it was most historically implanted, will always be remembered as one of the more shocking crimes of the 20th century.

His coup—mounted on Sept. 11, 1973, for those who like to study numinous dates—was a crime in itself but involved countless other crimes as well. Over the past decade, and especially since his arrest in England in 1998, these crimes began to catch up with him. Pinochet had arranged a lifetime immunity for himself via a lifelong Senate seat, as part of his phased withdrawal from power. But this deal was not binding on Spain, where a magistrate successfully sought a warrant for his arrest in connection with the “disappearance” of some Spanish citizens. That warrant from Judge Baltasar Garzón, served in London, was the beginning of the unraveling. By the time he returned to Chile, the general was faced with a newly aroused citizenry. I once went to testify in front of Judge Juan Gúzman, the magistrate who finally ordered him indicted and fingerprinted. He told me that he himself had been a supporter of the original coup and that he came from a conservative military family that had thought of Pinochet as a savior. It was only when he read through the massive and irrefutable judicial files, on murder and torture and kidnapping, that he realized that there was only one course open to him.