Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Former Secret Police Chief Gets Life Sentence

Chilean Justice Gives Verdict after 34 years
Former Secret Police Chief Gets Life Sentence

Until August 1973, the Commander in Chief of the Chilean Armed Forces was General Carlos Prats. Due to the tense internal situation Prats resigned and President Salvador Allende appointed the highest-ranking officer, General Augusto Pinochet to replace Prats. This proved a fatal mistake since Pinochet led the military action that ended with Allende being killed at the La Moneda Palace on September 11, 1973. A few days later Pinochet sent General Carlos Prats into forced exile in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Also at the same time Pinochet created a secret police called National Directorate of Intelligence (DINA in the Spanish acronym) and appointed Coronel Manuel Contreras at its head. Contreras was only accountable to Pinochet, so it seems very unlikely that the Chilean dictator did not know that DINA agents were keeping track of General Prat´s activities in Buenos Aires. According to the daughters of Prats, a former colleague warned the Chilean general that that he should leave Buenos Aires immediately since Pinochet was planning to kill him. On September 30, 1974, a car bomb set off by remote control killed Prats and his wife as they arrived at their apartment. The Chilean press of the time stated that left wing guerrillas were responsible for Prats death and due to the military coup that occurred in Argentina a few months later the investigation was interrupted. Even so the three daughters of General Prats began a long legal action in the Chilean justice system to punish those responsible for the death of their parents. Thirty-four years later, on June 30, Judge Isidro Solis finally ended the investigation and sentenced Manuel Contreras to two counts of life imprisonment. This sentence must be added to his 26 other convictions that total 289 years in jail. Contreras is already in a special prison for military officers on the outskirts of Santiago after being found guilty of hundreds of counts of murder, torture and kidnapping. Also convicted were a group of his subordinates such as Brigadier Pedro Espinoza (sentenced to 20 years in prison), General Raul Iturriaga (15 years), Jorge Iturriaga (brother of Raul, 5 years) and Emilio Zara (10 years). Also sentenced to 20 years in prison was Mariana Callejas, a female civilian agent that according to Judge Solis set off the explosive device that was prepared by a U.S-Chilean citizen called Michael Vernon Townley. On the same day the verdict was given, during a South American Presidential summit being held in Argentina, President Michelle Bachelet informed the other Heads of State about the Contreras conviction, that was welcomed with hand clapping by Hugo Chavez , President of Venezuela.
At the time of the assassination, Mariana Callejas was married to Townley, that in 1980 defected to the United States and went into the Witness Protection Program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I). The evidence given by Townley was crucial to solving not only the murder of Carlos Prats and his wife but also the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier, (a leader of the anti-Pinochet movement) and a U.S citizen, Ronni Moffit. Both were killed in a similar car explosion that occurred at the Sheridan Circle in Washington D.C. According to Townley, after killing the Prats couple, the DINA sent him and Callejas into the United States under fake identities. Their mission was to prepare the murder of Letelier by following the former Chilean politician and learn his daily routine at Washington D.C. According to some versions, after weeks of undercover surveillance, one night Townley entered the garage in Letelier´s home and stuck the explosive device under the car. The next morning Townley and Callejas followed Letelier, Ronni Moffit and her husband in another car as they went to a meeting. It is not yet clear who activated the remote control device that killed Letelier and Moffit, but in the 90s, F.B.I bomb experts traveled to Chile and gave a practical demonstration to Chilean authorities. Using an identical car and bomb device, the F.B.I agents proved that Michael Townley was responsible for the killings since the car suffered almost the same damages as the model in 1976. On the same day the verdict was given, President Michelle Bachelet during a South American Presidential summit informed the other Heads of State about Contreras conviction, that was welcomed by hand clapping by Hugo Chavez , President of Venezuela.

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