Human Rights Watch Defends Former Argentine Government Against Charge of Collusion With Iran in AMIA Bombing Cover-Up
The influential NGO Human Rights Watch rose to the defense of the previous Argentine government on Wednesday — two weeks after a federal judge indicted former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and several of her senior colleagues for allegedly colluding with Iran in the cover-up of Tehran’s responsibility for the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.
In a statement, HRW claimed that there was “no evidence that would seem to substantiate those charges.”
“Relatives of victims of the AMIA terrorist attack deserve justice for this heinous crime,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW. “But, instead of promoting accountability, this far-fetched indictment further tarnishes the credibility of the Argentine judiciary over the AMIA attack investigations.”
HRW’s statement was quickly followed by the publication in The New York Times of an opinion piece by one of the indicted officials, former Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who favorably cited the organization in asserting his innocence of the collusion charges leveled by federal judge Claudio Bonadio.
Neither the HRW statement nor Timerman’s piece disclosed the human rights organization’s institutional connection with the ex-foreign minister. Timerman was a founder and former leader of the NGO Americas Watch — later absorbed into Human Rights Watch.
Describing himself in his Times piece as a “political prisoner,” Timerman adamantly denied that he had committed treason in negotiating a 2013 pact with Iran that would have established a joint “truth commission” to investigate the AMIA bombing — in which 85 people died and hundreds more were injured after a truck packed with explosives smashed into the organization’s headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires.
The pact with Iran was subsequently voided in 2015.
Accusing President Mauricio Macri’s government of “political persecution,” Timerman, who is currently under house arrest, went as far as invoking the experience of his father — the well-known Jewish journalist Jacobo Timerman — who was a prisoner of the brutal military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976-83.
Timerman also accused Judge Bonadio of effectively condemning him “to death” by denying him “timely” medical attention for his cancer — although the terms of his house arrest specifically permit him to visit his doctors for treatment.
“Defense of human rights has been vitally important in my personal and professional life,” Timerman wrote. “I considered my diplomacy in (the AMIA) case to be part of that ideal.”
The main point of contention in both HRW and Timerman’s defenses against the collusion charge concerns the case built against Kirchner’s government by Alberto Nisman, the late federal prosecutor who took over the AMIA investigation in 2005.
Nisman was found murdered in his apartment on January 18, 2015 — the night before he was due to present a complaint before Argentina’s Congress detailing the Kirchner governments’ collusion with Iran. (Timerman did not note in his piece that the government in which he served insisted that Nisman had committed suicide: that conclusion that was finally dispensed with following a major police investigation earlier this year, amid ongoing speculation that Kirchner or someone close to her may have ordered Nisman’s death.)
Both HRW and Timerman have strongly denied that Argentina requested the lifting of the “Red Notices” issued by Interpol in 2007 for five Iranians and one Hezbollah leader wanted in connection with the bombing. On Wednesday, the global law enforcement agency’s former secretary-general, Ronald Noble, said it was also his understanding that the 2013 pact with Iran did not negate the “validity” of the six “Red Notices.”
The Kirchner government “always expressed its belief that the warrants should remain in effect,” Noble wrote in an email to a federal appeals court that was shared with the Reuters news agency. He added that he would be willing to testify in Kirchner’s defense, should the former president face treason charges.
Iran’s understanding of the 2013 pact, however, is diametrically opposed to these interpretations. In a November 4, 2017 letter to his Argentine counterpart, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that both governments had “requested Interpol to end the obligations of that institution with respect to the AMIA case.“
“The Foreign Minister of Argentina in his meeting on May 30, 2013 with the then Secretary General of Interpol ensured compliance with the requirements contained in the memorandum by the government of Argentina,” Zarif noted with satisfaction.
Iran also does not appear to share Timerman’s view that the joint “truth commission” established by the pact into the AMIA bombing would not have undermined the parallel criminal investigation.
“Iran regarded the pact with the Kirchner government as the beginning of the end for any criminal charges and requests for extradition directed at its citizens,” Eamonn MacDonagh — who has written widely on the AMIA case — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “There would have been no overseas jurisdiction for an Argentine judge, no power to detain suspects, and Nisman himself would have been expected to go to Tehran in order to ask his questions.”