Daniel S. Mariaschin

Buenos Aires: The other Iranian crime

20 years after the devastating attack on a Jewish center, there have been no arrests, no charges, no justice

The deadline for reaching an accord between the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, China, France and Russia, plus Germany) and Iran on the country’s secretive nuclear program — July 20 — is fast approaching. Reports in recent days have indicated the usual foot-dragging and prevarication on Iran’s part, which we have come to know over the years, reinforcing skepticism that a genuine deal to move Tehran from its objective of developing nuclear weapons can actually take place.

But there is another July date focusing on Iran, important in its own way, which may escape international attention in the midst of the meltdown of Iraq: July 18 marks the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish social service center in Buenos Aires. On that day in 1994, a massive terror bombing in the heart of the Argentine capitol killed 85 and wounded another 300. It stands as the most devastating terrorist act ever in Latin America.

In the aftermath of the bombing, the international community was led down a primrose path of arrests and a trial. It came to naught when it was clear that all of this was based on a faulty investigation and trumped-up charges. The masterminds and perpetrators of the crime — now universally believed to be Iranian agents and their higher-ups in Tehran — nor any local accomplices, have to date been brought to justice.

In 2005 then-President Néstor Kirchner’s government issued a decree formally accepting a share in the blame for the abject failure of the investigation, calling it a “national disgrace” and a widespread cover-up of the facts. That was followed by the appointment of a highly competent prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who set out, in some detail, how top Iranian leaders had ordered Hezbollah to carry out the attack.

Nisman, working quickly, formally charged Hezbollah and its Iranian masters with the bombing, and called for the arrest of then-Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani and seven others, including Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards. Nisman’s case was compelling, and in 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese national. With these Interpol “Red Notices” issued, some assumed the case was on its way to being resolved.

Even a casual observer of Iranian behavior would have come to the quick conclusion that Tehran never had any intention of arresting, extraditing or otherwise cooperating on the AMIA case. Matters stalled for five additional years, until Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, in a U.N. General Assembly speech in 2012, inexplicably announced that meetings with Iran would take place on the sidelines of the United Nations to resolve the matter, as if Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had undergone veracity transplants.

And then, the ultimate Iranian ruse: Early last year came the announcement that the governments of Iran and Argentina had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a “truth commission” to investigate the bombing. Defending the agreement, Argentine authorities explained that while trials in absentia cannot be held in the country, prosecutors could travel to Tehran to depose witnesses.

Sounds good if you’re going to Canada or the Netherlands to gather evidence. But did anyone remotely familiar with how Iran conducts business really think that, for example, it would serve up Vahidi to be questioned by a visiting Argentinian judicial official?

By a narrow vote, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies approved the MOU. Shortly thereafter, the indefatigable and undaunted Nisman, now working under the weight of the ill-conceived MOU, published a 502-page indictment, accusing Iran of establishing terrorist networks throughout Latin America, dating back to the 1980s.

Earlier this year, the Argentine Federal Criminal Appeals Court struck down the MOU, stating that it conflicts with, and undermines an on-going investigation approved years ago by the government’s executive and legislative branches, an order both the Kirchners endorsed. The court ruled the agreement with Iran unconstitutional. The government recently appealed the ruling. Some Argentinian legislators and legal experts make the case that trials in absentia are indeed constitutional. But those suggestions will now be on hold while the appeal process soaks up valuable time, further stalling the drive to bring much-needed closure to this horrific act.

A year-and-a-half later, the MOU has produced zero results. No surprise in that. A country that seeks nuclear weapons, threatens its neighbors, sends rockets to terrorist organizations, supports the ruling regime in Damascus and is a serial abuser of human rights, would not likely own up to the murder and mayhem in caused on that July day in Buenos Aires in 1994. And because of that, 20-years and counting, there continues to be no justice for the victims and their families.

About the Author
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the CEO of B’nai B’rith International