by Avi Davis
The discovery of the body of Argentinian federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman in Buenos Aries on Monday morning brought into confluence two of Argentina’s recurring nightmares: the terrorist bombing of 1994 which destroyed the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aries and the lawlessness of the 1970s and early 1980s when a military junta governed the country and made its opponents disappear.
Nisman had spent the better part of a decade investigating the destruction of the AMIA building (Argentine Mutual Israelite Association) on July 18, 1994 . The bombing killed 85 and injured hundreds – most of them Jews. It was the deadliest urban bombing in Argentinian history and the worst antisemitic atrocity in any country since the end of the Second World War.
In the time between the bombing and the present day, those behind the attack have not been brought to justice, although it is widely accepted that Hezbollah, financed by Iran, had been integrally involved in its execution. What is not as well known is the extent of the involvement of the Argentinian police, military and even political leaders in perhaps the bombing but certainly its cover up. Nisman, a dogged investigator, was due to make substantial revelations, with reams of evidence implicating the government of Isabel Kirchner, her foreign minister Hector Timmerman and several other leading political figures in a cover up of Iran’s direct involvement in the 1994 atrocity.
The 22 year long investigation into the bombing has become a veritable hornet’s nest of corruption, incompetence, timidity and latent antisemitism. It has swept up into its net such luminaries as former President Carlos Menem (1989-99), who is being brought to trial, accused of helping to hide the tracks of the local accomplices of the attackers; a federal judge named Juan José Galeano, who had at one time administered the case but on a charge of “irregularities” due to mishandling of the investigation, was impeached and removed from his post; and former investigator Claudio Lifsschitz – abducted and tortured by men who told him not to investigate Argentina’s Secret Intelligence Services for their involvement in the plot and cover up.
On the Wednesday before he died, Nisman had filed a criminal complaint against President Isabel Kirscher, Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman and other political leaders. He was scheduled to appear before Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday to deliver his evidence, which he had declared, “substantial and irrefutable.”
Nisman’s body was found in the bathroom of his condominium with a hand gun by his side. A single bullet, fired at point blank range to his temple, was the cause of his death. This apparent suicide, however, did not leave a suicide note nor was there was any sign of forced entry.
Who would not be deeply suspicious of the fact that a man in his early 50s, on the brink of probably the most important moment in his legal career, would choose to kill himself? Those who knew Nisman have described him as a man not given to fits of depression or anxiety and extremely confident of the tightness of his case against the government.
He must have also known that his life might be forfeit and that Argentina’s ruling elite would not long allow such a brazen challenge to its integrity.
It is the same ruling elite that in January, 2013 signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran to establish a “truth commission” to investigate the AMIA Bombing. It was designed to “analyze all the documentation presented to date by the judicial authorities of Argentina and Iran…and to give its vision and issue a report with recommendations about how the case should proceed within the legal and regulatory framework of both parties.” The Truth Commission was later quashed by Argentina’s Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
This astonishing governmental gambit aroused David Harris from the American Jewish Committee to comment: “the idea of establishing a ‘truth’ commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht.”
There can be few in Argentina who truly believe that Nisman’s death was a suicide. Thousands of people thronged the streets of Buenos Aries on Tuesday to demonstrate against the government and to proclaim the obvious – Nisman had been murdered.
The death of the prosecutor must stir to life painful memories for Argentinians of the days of the Dirty War – a period of state terrorism, commissioned by the ruling junta from 1976 to 1983 during which right-wing death squads hunted down and killed left wing guerrillas, political dissidents and anyone believed to be associated with socialism. The campaign against los desaparecidos (the disappeared) occurred domestically in Argentina via kidnappings, mass shootings and the casting of citizens from planes to their deaths. Additionally, 12,000 prisoners, many of whom had been convicted extra-judicially, were detained in a network of 340 secret concentration camps located throughout Argentina.
This unhappy history is only a backdrop to a country that has perennially defaulted on its foreign debt, has the streets of its cities riven with crime and for decades has become a haven for former Nazis, exiled dictators, drug smugglers and international crime syndicates.
In other words Argentina is the model of the failed nation state, an example of a polity so riven with corruption and lawlessness that the events of July 18, 1994 seem in hindsight to have been completely predictable.
The search for truth in Argentina for the cause of one of the most tragic days in its history, has not stopped the Israelis from targeting those it already knows to have been behind atrocity. In an interview with the Buenos Aires-based Jewish News Agency in January ,2013, Itzhak Aviran, who was the Israeli ambassador to Argentina from 1993 to 2000, said most of the people behind the AMIA attack were eliminated by Israeli security agents operating abroad.
Unfortunately though, those Argentinians complicit in the bombings and responsible for its cover up remain at large and may in fact still control the reins of power.
One day justice will come to these Argentinian leaders. But in the meantime lets hope that Argentina’s rendezvous with truth will proceed and the memory of Alberto Nisman will be vindicated by his determined successors who will refuse to be intimidated by the return of a Government mandated campaign of disappearances.