Chile's Ex-Spy Chief Details 580 Political Killings

By Héctor Tobar and Eva Vergara
Special to The Times

May 14, 2005

SANTIAGO, Chile — Former Chilean intelligence chief Manuel Contreras issued a list Friday detailing the fate of hundreds of people who disappeared during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, saying the former military ruler was responsible for their killings.

Contreras, on trial for human rights violations, issued a 32-page document with details on the captures, slayings and grave sites of 580 people who disappeared during Pinochet's 17-year rule.

Human rights groups said some of the information was false, and that it was an attempt by Contreras to divert attention from his complicity in the crimes of the Pinochet dictatorship. Many of the document's details had been revealed in earlier inquires.

But Contreras confirmed what many Chileans had long suspected: that the bodies of hundreds of leftist activists, union leaders and officials of the deposed government of Salvador Allende were surreptitiously tossed into the Pacific Ocean.

Human rights activists said Contreras' admissions were crucial because they placed responsibility for the killings at the highest level of the Chilean government.

"This is confirmation that the ideologue behind this was Pinochet," said Gabriela Zuniga, a spokeswoman for the Group of Families of the Detained and Disappeared.

Pinochet had no response, but in recent interviews the former dictator had said that the "excesses" of his rule were the result of overeager soldiers and officers, and that he never ordered any of the executions committed after the September 1973 military coup.

"But Manuel Contreras thinks differently; he says he acted under the direct orders of Pinochet," Zuniga said. "He directly implicates Pinochet."

In an impassioned and often unapologetic letter introducing the document, Contreras wrote that Pinochet's unwillingness to accept responsibility for the killings was causing "innocent" subordinates to be prosecuted instead.

"I discovered that … presumed violations of human rights of terrorists and other violent activists were being systemically seen as the responsibility of [units] under my direction, which seemed to me an intolerable injustice," Contreras wrote.

Blame was falling on Chile's intelligence agency, Contreras argued, because of "the permanent and ominous silence of my direct superior, the President of the Republic and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces" — Pinochet.

Contreras said Pinochet had ordered one of the most notorious crimes of the dictatorship, the 1976 assassination in Washington of Orlando Letelier, who had been Allende's foreign minister.

"The president of Chile personally arranged and directed the actions" of the intelligence agent who carried out the killing, Contreras wrote.

The assassination, a car bombing, also took the life of Ronni Moffitt, an American co-worker of Letelier.

Contreras said Pinochet also ordered the killing of Carlos Prats. The Chilean general and Pinochet enemy was slain in Buenos Aires in 1974.

Contreras said he began compiling data in 1991 after reading the report of the Rettig Commission, an investigative panel that established that 2,940 people had disappeared or been killed during Pinochet's 1973-90 rule.

A spreadsheet provided by Contreras detailed where those who had disappeared had been held and by which agency, and where the bodies were dumped.

The phrase "thrown into the ocean" was repeated again and again.

Contreras, who has served more time in prison than any other official from the Pinochet era, gave the document to the judicial authorities investigating his alleged role in the Prats killing and other cases.

He is serving a 12-year sentence for the 1975 killing of activist Miguel Angel Sandoval. He served seven years for his role in Letelier's killing.

Francisco Vidal, a spokesman for President Ricardo Lagos, said he hoped the information would "open paths of truth and justice," but declined to comment on the document's details.


Times staff writer Tobar reported from Buenos Aires and special correspondent Vergara from Santiago.

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