Last Friday, former Chilean spy chief Manuel Contreras passed away while serving 526 years of prison terms for crimes that he orchestrated against innocent people during the brutal Chilean military dictatorship of Army Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
According to an obituary in the New York Times,
After the announcement of his death, dozens of people gathered outside the hospital to celebrate, chanting and opening bottles of Champagne. Dozens of others did the same in Plaza Italia, near downtown Santiago. Some waved Chilean flags and held up pictures of people who had disappeared after General Pinochet’s coup in 1973 that overthrew President Salvador Allende. One woman held up a sign saying, “Happy trip to hell, assassin.”
Undoubtedly, the reaction at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, was precisely the opposite, with CIA officials no doubt quietly and sadly mourning the passing of the man who ordered or presided over the kidnapping, torture, rapes, disappearances, and executions of tens of thousands of innocent people not only in Chile but in various other parts of the world.
That’s because Contreras was the CIA’s man in Chile, both before and after the violent military coup in 1973 that brought military strongman Pinochet to power.
Keep in mind that it was the CIA that orchestrated the violent military coup that ousted the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, from power and installed Pinochet in his stead. That was not only because the CIA had been ordered to instigate the coup by President Nixon (the crook of Watergate fame) but also because the CIA itself firmly believed that such a coup was necessary to protect Chile (and, indirectly, the United States) from a communist takeover.
Never mind, of course, that Allende, a self-avowed communist, had been duly elected by the Chilean people in a legitimate election, one in which the CIA had secretly but actively participated in an attempt to defeat Allende at the polls. And never mind that the CIA’s instigation of the coup and the coup itself were illegal under the U.S. and Chilean constitutions. And never mind that new presidential elections would be held within a couple of years.
All that mattered was removing an elected communist from power and replacing him with an unelected military dictatorship, one that brought a reign of terror to Chile, South America, Europe, and the United States, with the secret participation of the CIA.
That machinery of terror was presided over by Manuel Contreras, with whom the CIA had a close working relationship and whom they even had on the CIA payroll.
Why did the CIA love Contreras so much? For the same reason they loved Pinochet. Both of these brutes were doing what was necessary to cleanse Chile and other parts of the world of communism and socialism. That’s what the Cold War was all about.
How did Pinochet and Contreras engage in their cleansing operation? By rounding up people and placing them in concentration camps and then having them tortured, raped, disappeared, or executed by national-security state goons.
Some 40,000-50,000 innocent people were rounded up and tortured. Some 3,000 were murdered.
Their only crime? Believing in communism or socialism or having supported the Allende administration. That was it. Under Pinochet and Contreras, that was justification enough to kidnap, torture, rape, disappear, or execute people.
Soon after Pinochet took power, he appointed Contreras to serve as the regime’s spy chief. Contreras immediately formed a top-secret agency called the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA, that was sort of a combination CIA, NSA, and Pentagon, which, in partnership with other totalitarian regimes in South America, proceeded to institute a reign of terror both within Chile and in other parts of the world.
One of the partners in DINA was the CIA. We still don’t know the full extent of the CIA’s partnership because the CIA has steadfastly refused to disclose all its records pertaining to Chile, Pinochet, and Contreras to the American people. But enough information has leaked out to establish that the CIA was providing sophisticated communications and technological support to DINA during its reign of terror.
Among DINA’s victims was Orlando Letelier, who had served in the Allende administration, along with his young American assistant Ronni Moffitt. They came after Letelier because he was lobbying Congress for a cut-off of U.S. foreign aid to the Pinochet regime. That made him a supporter of communism and terrorism.
So, DINA agents planted a car bomb that exploded while Letelier was on his way to work in Washington, D.C. Moffitt was considered “collateral damage.” Immediately after the bombing, the CIA pointed the finger at communists, as it did after the John Kennedy assassination.
But it wasn’t communists who assassinated Letelier and Moffitt. Instead, it was DINA agents.
Interestingly, a U.S. federal grand jury didn’t treat the killers of Letelier and Moffitt as “unlawful enemy combatants” in the wars on communism and terrorism. Instead, the grand jury indicted DINA agents as accused murderers.
The man who did the actual planning of the murders was an American citizen named Michael Townley, who had close ties to the CIA. Townley got convicted, but after serving only a few years for cold-blooded murder, he got released and, of all things, got admitted into the federal witness protection program, where he continues to be protected by the feds to this day.
How bad were things in Contreras’ prisons in Chile? About as bad as you can imagine. I wouldn’t even begin to describe the gruesome things they did to women. The Times’ obituary points out, “Imprisoned in a DINA torture center, some of those victims had their eyes gouged out, and others were burned with boiling oil or water, according to the investigation.”
Don’t forget that U.S. taxpayer money was flooding into Chile by this time, thereby supporting all this nefarious activity, much as it is flooding into the coffers of Egypt’s military dictators today to fund their nefarious activity.
Keep in mind some important things here: 1. The crimes for which Contreras was serving time were committed while he was a government official. 2. The crimes were committed in the name of the “war on communism” or the “war on terrorism.” 3. It was the U.S. government that planned and instigated the coup that installed Pinochet and Contreras into power and then actively supported them and partnered with them. 4. The CIA (and many other U.S. officials) loved what Contreras and Pinochet and their national-security goons were doing to all those communists and socialists.
In fact, let’s not forget the murders of U.S. citizens Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, in which U.S. national-security state officials in Chile participated. We still don’t know all the details of this episode either, again because CIA officials steadfastly refused to disclose them. But we do have a State Department investigative report, secret at the time, that concluded that U.S. military intelligence may have played an “unfortunate” role in the extra-judicial executions of those two young Americans and recommending an official investigation. Needless to say, since the matter involved the CIA, neither Congress nor the Justice Department ever followed through with that investigation. A few years ago, Chilean officials indicted a former U.S. military official in the deaths, but the man passed away before he could be brought to justice. (See “The U.S. Executions of Charles Horman and Frank Terrugi” by Jacob G. Hornberger.)
As Letelier’s son put it, “Manuel Contreras will go down in history as a criminal and will always be remembered as a criminal.”
But that’s not the way that the CIA viewed Contreras. During his reign of terror, the CIA viewed him as a great hero who was fighting the communists and the terrorists. In fact, much of the CIA’s post-9/11 “war on terrorism” is almost certainly modeled on that waged by Manuel Contreras during the 1970s.