July 18 will mark the 22nd anniversary of the horrific terrorist attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people died and over 300 were injured. But the relatives of the victims are still waiting for justice.
For many years, the investigation was plagued by irregularities and delays until 2005, when then-President Néstor Kirchner admitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights the responsibility of the Argentine State — among other things — for its deliberate failure to investigate. Kirchner also decided to create a special unit for the investigation of the attack (known as UFI-AMIA) and named young prosecutor Alberto Nisman to run it.
Nisman found, after conducting a lengthy and serious investigation, that the Iranian government had been directly involved in the planning of the attack and that the execution of it had been the responsibility of Hezbollah operatives. He even secured Interpol red alerts for five Iranians and a Lebanese national in 2007.
The case could not advance beyond that, unfortunately, due to Iran’s refusal to hand over the suspects, and the fact that in Argentina it is not possible to conduct trials “in absentia.”
In an incomprehensible turn, the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner decided to sign, in 2013, a “Memorandum of Understanding” with Iran, which provided, among other things, for the creation of a “Commission of Truth” to jointly investigate the attack. This was something clearly absurd given Iran’s historic refusal to cooperate with Argentina and the fact that some of the accused were either still in government or had strong connections with the Iranian regime. It was something as absurd as to create a Nazi Commission to investigate the Holocaust.
Nisman’s hard work was clearly in danger so, after collecting the evidence, he decided — in January 2015 — to accuse Fernández de Kirchner, her Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, and other members and close allies of the government, of having negotiated the pact with Iran in order to give impunity to the accused, in exchange for trade agreements that included an exchange of grain for oil.
Nisman had to make a presentation before Congress to expand on his explosive allegations, but was found “mysteriously” dead in his apartment the day before.
The investigation into the causes of his death was plagued by embarrassing irregularities and today — more than a year after his death — the justice system could not determine if Nisman was murdered or committed “suicide,” as was initially suggested by the government.
Nisman’s complaint against the government was rejected in limine (and therefore buried) by a judge, with highly questionable legal arguments.
And the AMIA case itself was put again in a state of limbo. New prosecutors were appointed to replace Nisman by the attorney general of the nation. According to the Argentine Constitution, the attorney general should be an impartial guardian of legality. But the person that sits in that position today is someone who used it from day one to do political activism in favor of Kirchner.
On Dec. 10, 2015, President Mauricio Macri took office and said he would do everything possible to get to the truth.
But the political will of the new government is probably not enough to dismantle the corruption that appears entrenched in the judiciary, the security forces and the intelligence agencies. There are some positive developments that seem to indicate that the judges are more willing to investigate, now that there is a new government in place. But it is still early to know if Argentineans will be able to get to the truth.
It should be noted that recently, the president has supported the proposal made by several civil society organizations that the Council of Magistrates (an impartial body whose supervisory role is enshrined in the Constitution) conduct an audit of the work of the federal courts. If the Council finds that some judges purposely delayed corruption cases, it could impeach them. This would send an important message not only for the judiciary but also for the Argentine society as a whole.
I certainly hope that Argentineans can get to know precisely what happened to Nisman. And I also hope that his complaint against the former government is now properly investigated.
With respect to the AMIA case itself, unless the current attorney general leaves her position, there is no way to guarantee that Nisman’s valuable investigation is not distorted. Some lawmakers are trying to impeach her but do not have the necessary support in Congress, at least not for now.
The government, on the other hand, has established a state agency to help clarify both the AMIA bombing and the death of Nisman. Although this entity can provide valuable data to the investigation, it is not judicial in nature. It is playing an important role though in promoting a debate on the possibility of allowing trials in absentia in Argentina.
In sum, at least for the time being, the possibility of getting justice for the victims of the AMIA bombing and for Nisman (who has unfortunately become the 86th victim of this ferocious terrorist attack) seems pretty far away.
This post was originally published in English and in Spanish on the B’nai B’rith website.