The Dirty War

by Lance Fokine and Matthew Merrill

The Transitional Justice Network invited Damian Pachter to discuss the case of Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Pachter, a former reporter for the Buenos Aires Herald, was living in Buenos Aires and fled to Israel after breaking the news regarding the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

In 1976, the Argentine Military rose to power and installed a Military Junta, which lasted until 1983. During the Junta, the Argentine population was gripped with terror as a result of the government’s actions, which would come to be known as the Dirty War. The Junta began to unravel following the Military’s defeat to the U.K. in the Falklands War and the election of Raul Alfonsin. The election of Raul Alfonsin signaled the beginning of Argentina’s transition from Dictatorship to Democracy. Argentina has never fully emerged from its transitional phase. Many of the the governmental institutions have been affected by the Argentines government stalled transition, many of the nation’s problems center around a lack of adequate separation of powers; to this day the Argentine executive enjoy enormous power and is able to effectuate many policies through the use of executive decrees.

In the early 90’s, Argentina was struck by two acts of terrorism targeting the Jewish community within the nation. The first attack, a suicide bombing that was carried out against the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, occurred on March 17th, 1992, killing 29 civilians and injuring 242 more.  On July 18, 1994, a second suicide bomber drove a Renault Trafic van into the Jewish Community Center building located in a dense area of Buenos Aires. The result was thedeadliest attack in Argentina’s history, killing 85 and wounding hundreds more. The attacks threatened to destabilize the fragile Argentine democracy, still in its infancy, and derail the transition that had begun to take hold.

The decade following the ‘94 bombing saw a number of botched investigations that President Nestor Kirchner would eventually refer to as a “national disgrace.” It served to underscore the challenges that faced Argentina in transitioning away from the decades of terror at the hands of the government. The people of Argentina would end up waiting decades for answers.

In early September of 204, Natalio Alberto Nisman was appointed–by President Nestor Kirchner–as the Special Prosecutor in charge of the investigating the July 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center. Nisman pursued the role with vigor. He spent the next ten years of his life investigating the bombing. The culmination of his investigation was a nearly 300-page document which attributed blame for the attack on the Iranian Government and its affiliate Hezbollah. The document also implied that the Argentine government had impeded the investigative process.

According to Damian Pachter– a prominent Argentine journalist living in Israel under self imposed exile– Nisman paid the ultimate price for these revelations. 12 hours before he was due to present his report to the Argentine Congress, he was found dead in his apartment and the cause remains unknown to the day. Nisman was tasked with bringing an end to the investigation that became a national disgrace and has now become subject to controversial in
vestigation into his own death.

Four days before Nisman was found dead in his apartment, he wrote a letter that was highly critical of the role that President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner’s government had played. In his letter he makes allegations that President Kirchner’s government helped Iranian officials cover up the role that Tehran played in carrying out Argentina’s worst terrorist attack to date. On the night of January 18, 2015, Pachter broke the story that Nisman had been found dead in his apartment. The story was broken via Pachter’s Twitter account.

Shortly after breaking the story, Pachter was forced to flee from his home in Argentine to Tel Aviv Israel. Pachter fled from Buenos Aires after he broke the story because he began to fear for his own safety and well being. After Pachter broke the story he spoke with one of his sources who told him that he should get out of the city. Pachter heeded his source’s advice and met him outside of Buenos Aires, it was during this encounter that Pachter realized how unsafe he in fact was, Pachter was tailed from Buenos Aires to the rural location where he met his source by a member of the Argentine Intelligence apparatus. After this encounter Pachter purchased a round trip plane ticket to Montevideo from Buenos Aires– using his Argentine papers– from Montevideo Pachter traveled to Madrid and then to Tel Aviv, –using his Israeli documents– he did this to avoid being easily detected by Argentine officials. His use of his Israeli papers was apparently necessary because moments before Pachter boarded the plane to Montevideo, the media released his flight itinerary–to Monte video– and his photo.

The fact that Pachter had felt the need to flee from Argentina after breaking a news story speaks volumes to the current political climate on the ground in the South American nation. When freedom of the press is subdued to extremes it is never a good sign for democracy. In the case of Argentina, it is just further evidence of how far the country still most go in order for it to complete its transition from dictatorship to democracy.

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