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USATODAY.com - Pinochet stripped of immunity in torture, kidnapping cases

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Classifieds   Posted 1/20/2006 3:32 PM
Pinochet stripped of immunity in torture, kidnapping casesSANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was stripped of immunity from prosecution Friday in 59 cases of torture and kidnapping at a secret detention center where hundreds of dissidents were held — including President-elect Michelle Bachelet and her mother.

The president of the Santiago Court of Appeals, Juan Escobar, said the justices voted 13-5 to lift Pinochet's immunity, but the ruling must be upheld by the Supreme Court before the 90-year-old former strongman can be tried.

AP Pinochet

Pinochet's defense team said it will appeal.

Bachelet and her mother, Angela Jeria, were arrested 15 months after the 1973 coup led by Pinochet and taken to Villa Grimaldi, where both were tortured. Their cases are not among the 36 kidnappings and 23 incidents of torture that led to the removal of the legal immunity Pinochet enjoys as former president.

Villa Grimaldi was one of the most notorious detention centers used by Pinochet's feared security services. The site, in a southern suburb of the capital, Santiago, has been turned into a memorial to victims of repression under Pinochet, who ruled in 1973-1990.

Pinochet has been stripped of immunity and may face trial in three other cases — two on human rights charges, one for tax evasion and corruption — and is free on bail.

The previous cases included killing and kidnapping, but this was the first time torture was mentioned.

Previous attempts to bring Pinochet to trial have been blocked by the Supreme Court for health reasons. He has been diagnosed as suffering from mild dementia, diabetes and arthritis, and he has a pacemaker. But court-appointed doctors who examined him three months ago determined he was fit to stand trial.

Friday's ruling came at the request of Judge Alejandro Solis, who said he decided to seek Pinochet's trial after a report by an independent commission on torture and illegal imprisonment at Villa Grimaldi.

Solis also questioned some former agents of the secret police, and one of them, Ricardo Lawrence, told him that Pinochet was aware of what happened at Villa Grimaldi and even visited it once. That claim had been mentioned before but never confirmed.

In his request to the court to lift Pinochet's immunity, Solis wrote that the agents involved in the abuses were following "clear and specific orders from the director of the service, who was on its turn following orders from his superior, the President of the Republic and commander in chief of the army, Augusto Pinochet Ugarte."

Bachelet, elected Jan. 15 as Chile's first female president, usually avoids being specific about her time at Villa Grimaldi but has said that she and her mother were kept blindfolded for long periods and were physically mistreated.

She has gained widespread praise for showing no rancor for what happened to her. The head of Chile's Catholic Church, Monsignor Alejandro Goic, called her "a symbol of reconciliation among Chileans."

Bachelet's mother has called Villa Grimaldi "one of the worst houses of torture in Santiago" under Pinochet, a description also used by Solis.

"I was kept for a week in a box, blindfolded, tied up, without food," she once told the Santiago daily Las Ultimas Noticias.

Bachelet's father, air force Gen. Alberto Bachelet, was jailed for opposing the coup. He died in prison of a heart attack, which the president-elect suggested was a result of torture.


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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