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No pinochet prosecution

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Chile Halts Prosecution of Pinochet
Tue Jul 2, 8:42 AM ET
By FEDERICO QUILODRAN, Associated Press Writer

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - Ruling that he was mentally unfit to stand trial, Chile's highest court has halted prosecution of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet ( news - web sites) for dozens of political killings by the notorious "Caravan of Death" during his rule.

A lawyer for hundreds of relatives of those killed during Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship said they would continue pursuing other legal actions against the 86-year-old former general. However, Monday's Supreme Court decision was expected to set a precedent for future cases.

In the 4-1 ruling, the court upheld a March 2001 lower court decision deeming Pinochet mentally unfit to stand trial. Pinochet suffers from dementia, an irreversible neurological disorder.

Viviana Diaz, whose father, Victor Diaz, was among those killed during the Pinochet era, called the decision "unfortunate."

The ruling suspends a criminal case pursued by Judge Juan Guzman, who sought to try Pinochet in connection with mass executions carried out shortly after he seized power from then-President Salvador Allende in a 1973 coup.

His regime is accused of sending a so-called "Caravan of Death" military squad throughout Chile to execute political prisoners, the most notorious of alleged abuses during Pinochet's 13-year rule. Pinochet has denied responsibility for the deaths.

The alleged executions are among an estimated 3,200 killings of political opponents during Pinochet's dictatorship.

Monday's ruling marks the end of his trial for the "Caravan of Death" killings, but family members of victims may still pursue him for other killings.

Guzman will also continue to prosecute top Pinochet-era officials allegedly involved in the caravan murders, including Gen. Sergio Arellano, the alleged head of the military squad.

Lawyer Hugo Gutierrez, who represents some of the hundreds of victims' families pursuing legal action, called Pinochet's illness a sham.

"Pinochet still is what we've always said he is a criminal. A crazy criminal. And that's how he'll go down in history," he said. "But in real terms, this is deceptive because we all know that Pinochet is not crazy, and that he is capable of standing trial."

Guzman has sought to prosecute Pinochet since March 2000, when the former dictator returned to Chile after spending more than 16 months under house arrest in Britain.

He had been held in Britain after a Spanish judge requested his extradition to stand trial for human rights abuses during his rule, but was released by British authorities on health grounds.

Pinochet also suffers from diabetes and arthritis, has a pacemaker and has had at least three mild strokes since 1998. He spent part of last week hospitalized with a cold and dental problems, and those close to him say his health is delicate.

Some, however, say accounts of his weak health are exaggerated, and have questioned whether he truly suffers from diabetes.

"For a military hospital to declare him mentally unfit, suffering from dementia by itself without any independent review of that is a source of concern," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch.

Since the start of the Chilean legal proceedings, Pinochet has been living in seclusion in homes estates he owns in Santiago and on the coast.

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