March 7, 2013
George Orwell would have savored this moment. Iran, which overwhelming evidence shows was behind the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, will help seek the “truth” by investigating itself — and Argentina, which originally made the case for Iran’s guilt, is happy to go along.
It would appear inconceivable that a government would deliberately make it almost impossible to solve a case of mass murder of its citizens that occurred on its soil. Yet that is what Argentina’s National Congress, controlled by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s party, has done.
On Feb. 28, the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, approved by 131-113 the memorandum of understanding reached by the government with Iran to create a “truth commission” that would “jointly investigate” the bombing. The Argentine Senate had approved it earlier. The AMIA atrocity — the deadliest terror attack in the Western Hemisphere before 9/11 — left 85 people dead and another 300 injured, and it came two years after a similar attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29.
After years of false leads, obfuscation and delays due to corruption and simple incompetence, a breakthrough in the case came in 2007. Argentine special prosecutor Alberto Nisman issued a report blaming Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based terrorist group sponsored and financed by top Iranian officials. Argentina issued international arrest warrants for six Iranians named in the Nisman report, including current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi, and Interpol placed five of them on its “red” list.
Iran has consistently refused to cooperate, and the suspects, none of whom has been interrogated, are still at large. Iran not only denies culpability but has the audacity to charge that Israel, eager to scapegoat Iran, was itself responsible for the attacks on its own embassy and AMIA. While the memorandum of understanding provides for five foreign legal experts to come to Tehran and interview the suspects there, the Iranian government has made no such guarantee, and in fact officials have denied that such interviews will take place.
Ironically, both President Kirchner and her late husband, Nestor, who served as president before her, repeatedly vowed to track down those responsible. They called on Iran to send the suspects to Argentina for trial, and even offered to hold the trial in a third country.
What lies behind Argentina’s new policy to undercut the search for justice and participate in a commission with Iran? Eduardo Amadeo, an opposition leader and former ambassador to the U.S., suggests a simple answer: “We’re going to sell out the victims for a barrel of oil.”
Iran and Argentina are major trading partners; Argentina is especially dependent on Iranian oil. This makes the leaders of both countries eager to get the embarrassing bombing case behind them. Announcing the agreement with Tehran via Twitter, President Kirchner insisted that “never will we allow the AMIA tragedy to be used as a chess piece in a game of faraway geopolitical interests,” by which she presumably meant the international effort to use economic pressure to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capacity. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his part, said that “accurate and impartial” investigations will enable “the expansion of ties between Iran and Argentina.” Beside trade, he also hopes to expand his country’s influence in Latin America.
Guillermo Borger, president of AMIA, calls the agreement with Iran “ambiguous, incomplete and confusing,” and says that “approving this accord means becoming a partner of Iran and forgetting our 85 deaths.” Argentina could turn out to be a big loser as well, forfeiting its reputation for democracy and rule of law.
Rachel Miller is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Palm Beach County region.