In a story by John Dinges, Newsweek is reporting that the U.S. State Department has released long-secret documents “showing convincing evidence from as early as 1978 that [Chilean dictator Augusto) Pinochet gave the order to commit an act of terrorism in Washington, D.C., and murder Orlando Letelier and an American woman.” The article points out that “five U.S. presidents — from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush — had a potentially lethal weapon to use against him but never unleashed it.”
In other words, the U.S. government kept the evidence it was holding secret for more than 35 years. Who says U.S. officials can’t keep secrets, especially when it comes to assassination?
And, yes, in case you’re wondering, the CIA did play a role in this cover-up. According to the article, “A CIA Report dated April 28, 1978, and sent to Washington showed that the agency already had proof of Pinochet’s involvement in the killing. ‘[Chile’s Directorate of National Intelligence, General Manuel] Contreras told a confidant he authorized the assassination of Letelier on orders of Pinochet,’ the report said, according to a newly declassified document.”
Recall the reason that the U.S. government, operating through the U.S. national-security establishment, decided to orchestrate the military coup that placed Pinochet into power. Salvador Allende, who had been duly elected president of Chile, was a self-avowed communist. President Richard Nixon, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, the Pentagon, and the CIA decided that another communist ruler of a Latin American country (in addition to Castro’s Fidel Castro) posed a grave threat to the “national security” of the United States.
In the eyes of U.S. national-security officials, the fact that Allende had been democratically elected made him even more dangerous because other Latin American regimes might start following suit.
Allende’s fate was sealed when he began establishing friendly relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union. In the eyes of U.S. national-security state officials, what could be worse than that?
So, U.S. officials spent the first three years of Allende’s administration orchestrating the coup, cajoling, encouraging, training, and indoctrinating Chilean military officials at the School of the Americas. The CIA even conspired to violently kidnap the overall head of the Chilean armed forces, Gen. Rene Schneider, who insisted on supporting and defending the Chilean Constitution rather than participate in a coup. Schneider was murdered in the kidnapping attempt.
After Pinochet took power, he and his goons proceeded to round up, torture, or rape some 30,000 people, 3,000 of whom were murdered or disappeared in the process.
Their crime? They were communists, just like Letelier and Moffitt. Like Allende, they believed that it was the legitimate function of government to take care of people with welfare, to equalize wealth by taking from the rich and giving to the poor, and to nationalize private property.
No trial. No due process. Just round ups, torture, rape, and executions. After all, Pinochet believed, this was a global war on communism, a war to the death.
It was also what U.S. officials believed. Remember: this was the Cold War, the war that the U.S. national security state was waging against its old World War II partner and ally (and Hitler’s enemy), the Soviet Union. This was during the era of the anti-communist crusade that was being waged by U.S. officials. It was also during the time that U.S. forces were getting badly beaten by the North Vietnamese communists in the Vietnam War.
The fact was that U.S. officials loved what Pinochet was doing to those Chilean communists. Their Cold War mindsets and those of Pinochet and his goons were the same. That’s why they installed him into power — not only to oust Allende from power but also to cleanse Chile of communists and communism! That’s one of the “benefits” of a military dictatorship — it can do whatever it wants to establish “order and stability” within society, with impunity. U.S. military officials and CIA officials were ecstatic that the man’s forces were killing communists all over Chile without taking hardly any casualties, unlike the situation in Vietnam.
There was at least one big problem, however: All these victims were just regular, ordinary, peaceful, disarmed people who happened to believe in many of the same things that President Franklin Roosevelt and President Lyndon Johnson believed in — things like Social Security, Medicare, progressive income taxation, nationalization of gold, Amtrak, a central bank, minimum-wage laws, occupational licensure laws, and other aspects of the welfare state.
As Pinochet took power and began instituting his reign of terror, U.S. officials began flooding his regime with millions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, thereby fortifying his dictatorship and enabling him to continue his reign of terror.
Even worse, the CIA joined the top-secret assassination operation organized by Pinochet and Contreras known as Operation Condor. We still don’t know all the things that the CIA did as its role in the partnership because the CIA steadfastly insists on keeping that secret from the American people on grounds of “national security.” But we do know that the CIA was providing technological and communications equipment and expertise to Operation Condor.
According to Wikipedia, an estimated 60,000 people were murdered by Operation Condor. Their crime? Again, they were believers in communism. In the eyes of the Operation Condor partners, their political and economic mindsets made them legitimate targets for assassination.
Letelier and Moffitt weren’t any different in principle from any of the other victims of Pinochet and Operation Condor. Letelier, having served in Allende’s administration, was an ardent supporter of Allende and his policies. He was lobbying Congress to cut off funds to Pinochet. His young assistant Moffitt believed in his cause. That’s why she was helping him on the day the car bomb went off in their car, killing them both and injuring Moffitt’s husband.
The only reason that Letelier’s killers were even brought to trial was that the assassination occurred in Washington, D.C. If it had occurred while Letelier and Moffitt were travelling in Latin America, U.S. officials wouldn’t have cared, any more than they cared about the tens of thousands of Pinochet’s victims in Chile and the rest of Latin America. But while U.S. officials supported the killing of communists overseas, they considered it improper to do so here in the United States.
In other words, during the Cold War it was considered okay for the U.S. national-security state to spy on American communists, keep files on them, infiltrate their organizations, and ruin their reputations. It was also considered okay for the CIA and Operation Condor to kill communists in foreign countries, such as Fidel Castro in Cuba, or the 60,000 victims of Operation Condor in Latin America. But it was just considered improper for Pinochet and his anti-communist goons to assassinate communists here in the United States. Crossing that line converted the assassination into an act of “terrorism.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the Letelier-Moffitt assassinations was that immediately after the car bombing took place, the CIA suggested that it might have been carried out by communists. The reason that’s interesting is because the U.S. military and the CIA were teaching Latin American military and intelligence officials that whenever they engaged in covert state-sponsored assassinations, it was important to deflect attention away from the national-security state by blaming the crime on a communist.
While U.S. officials went after the low-level people who committed the bombing, they never went after Pinochet, preferring, as we now know, to keep the evidence against Pinochet secret from the American people, the Chilean people, and the people of the world.
Why would they do that?
Because they loved the man they installed into power in Chile through a violent military coup and they loved what he was doing to cleanse Chile and the rest of Latin America of communists and communism. And let’s face it: Going after Pinochet would have meant that he could retaliate by disclosing all he knew about the U.S. government’s still-secret role in Operation Condor.