REMINDER: FFF’s blockbuster conference, “The National Security State and JFK,” is this Saturday, June 3, at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott Hotel. Speakers: Oliver Stone, Ron Paul, Stephen Kinzer, Jeffrey Sachs, Michael Glennon, Doug Horne, Peter Janney, Michael Swanson, Jefferson Morley, Jim DiEugenio, and Jacob Hornberger.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Cold War was the Justice Department’s decision to prosecute the men who assassinated former Chilean official Orlando Letelier and his young American assistant Ronni Moffitt on the streets of Washington, D.C., in 1976. After all, the assassinations of Letelier and Moffitt were no different from assassinations and other criminal offenses that the U.S. government was committing throughout the Cold War. Why prosecute one set of malefactors and not another set of malefactors?
Letelier, a Chilean citizen, had served in various high offices in the presidential regime of Salvador Allende, the Chilean physician who had been democratically elected president of Chile in 1970. Because Allende was a believer in socialism and communism and, also, reached out to the Soviet Union in a spirit of peace and friendship, the executive branch of the U.S. government targeted him for a regime-change operation, one that employed the national-security sector of the government, specifically the Pentagon and the CIA.
As part of the effort to prevent Allende from becoming president, CIA officials conspired to kidnap and remove Gen. Rene Schneider, the overall commander of Chile’s armed forces because he was opposed to the U.S.-desired military coup against the democratically elected president. While the CIA has long denied that its kidnapping conspiracy extended to assassinating Schneider, the denials ring hollow because what else could they have done once they kidnapped Schneider and removed him from the scene? In any event, Schneider was assassinated in the kidnapping attempt, which made the CIA complicit in the assassination under the felony-murder rule of criminal jurisprudence.
By the time of the Schneider assassination in 1970, the position of the U.S. national-security sector of the government was that it wielded the power to assassinate people who it deemed posed a threat to “national security,” notwithstanding the obvious fact that the Constitution did not enumerate assassination among the limited powers delegated to the federal government and notwithstanding the fact that the Bill of Rights expressly prohibited the federal government from depriving anyone, including foreigners, of life without due process of law.
The national-security establishment’s notion was that because the United States supposedly now faced an extremely dangerous threat to its existence from communists and communism, and especially the communist-controlled Soviet Union, which had been America’s World War II partner and ally, the CIA needed to wield the power to assassinate communists as threats to national security.
Why communists? Because, U.S. officials claimed, communists were engaged in a worldwide conspiracy to take over America and the world, with the supposed conspiracy supposedly based in Moscow. Since this was a war for America’s very survival, it was necessary, U.S. officials maintained, to be able to kill the enemy.
Thus, after Fidel Castro took power, declared Cuba’s independence from U.S. control, announced his allegiance to socialism and communism, adopted socialist programs, and befriended the Soviet Union, the CIA targeted him for assassination. Hardly any American questioned or challenged the national-security establishment’s power to assassinate people who were deemed threats to “national security.”
Castro wasn’t the first communist that the CIA targeted for assassination. Before Castro, there was Jacobo Arbenz, the socialist-communist who the voters of Guatemala elected to be their president in 1950. Once Arbenz began nationalizing land belonging to the big and influential U.S. corporation United Fruit and giving it to the poor, permitting communists to serve in his administration, and reaching out to the Soviet Union in peace and friendship, U.S. officials targeted him for a CIA regime-change operation, one that involved a top-secret CIA list of Guatemalan officials to be assassinated.
It’s worth noting that Guatemala, like Cuba, never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. It was simply that these two countries were headed by people who believed in communism or socialism that made them, U.S. officials maintained, legitimate targets for assassination, especially when they reached out to Moscow in a spirt of peace and friendship.
After the CIA-inspired coup in Chile in 1973, Allende was replaced by one of the most brutal military dictatorships in history. Headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean national-security establishment rounded up, kidnapped, incarcerated, tortured, raped, executed, assassinated, abused, or disappeared tens of thousands of innocent people, including two Americans, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, who, according to a secret State Department investigation, were killed with the complicity of U.S. intelligence officials. Meanwhile, U.S. foreign aid was flooding into the Pinochet regime’s coffers, aid that was designed to maintain Pinochet’s unelected dictatorial hold on power.
Now, I say “innocent” but in the eyes of Pinochet and the U.S. and Chilean national security establishments, none of the victims was innocent. That’s because they were all suspected of being socialists, communists, or supporters of the socialist-communist president, Salvador Allende. Since there was a Cold War on communism and against communists going on, it was considered perfectly acceptable for Pinochet’s forces to kill the enemy, especially since communists in Vietnam were killing U.S. forces there.
Pinochet, however, did not stop with killing, raping, jailing, torturing, or disappearing suspected communists in Chile. He took his anti-communist crusade to other countries as well, with the support and cooperation of the U.S. national-security establishment.
That’s what the infamous Operation Condor was all about. It was an international kidnapping, torture, and assassination enterprise consisting of several South American right-wing dictatorships that were working together in their cold war on communism and communists. It is estimated that Operation Condor ended up killing tens of thousands of suspected communists and socialists.
Most of the victims were in Latin America but Operation Condor assassinations also extended to Europe and even the United States. That’s what the Letelier and Moffitt assassinations were about. Letelier, the socialist-communist who had loyally served in the administration of the socialist-communist Allende, was deemed to be a threat to national security, and so Operation Condor designated him to be assassinated.
When the Operation Condor assassins triggered the car bomb that they had planted in Letelier’s car, they knew that Moffitt and her husband were also in the car. But the fact is that both Moffitts were leftists who, along with Letelier, were employed by a left-wing think tank in Washington, which, in the eyes of the national security establishment, made them socialists and communists. In fact, the FBI had the organization under surveillance as a potential threat to national security at the very time that the Letelier-Moffitt assassinations took place.
No one has ever come up with direct evidence that the CIA was directly involved in the Letelier-Moffitt assassination. However, over the years, as some of the top-secret records have been revealed, it has become clear that the CIA was a partner in Operation Condor, which would, as a matter of law, make it complicit in any assassinations or other criminal activity in which Operation Condor was involved. While we are still not permitted to know the full extent of the CIA’s participation in Operation Condor, we do know that it provided communications and technological equipment for the operation. We also know that the leader of Operation Condor, Chilean Manuel Contreras, who was Pinochet’s right-hand man, turned out to be also on the payroll of the CIA.
In principle, the assassinations of Letelier and Moffitt were no different from the CIA’s assassination efforts against Castro, Che Guevara, and other communist-socialists.
So, the $64,000 question is: Since Pinochet and Operation Condor were doing what the CIA was doing — assassinating communists — why did the Justice Department prosecute the people who assassinated Letelier and Moffit for murder?
Or to ask the question another way, give that Operation Condor agents were indicted and prosecuted for murdering Letelier and Moffitt, why weren’t CIA and other U.S. officials also indicted and prosecuted for conspiracy to murder Castro, Arbenz, Schneider, and even Letelier and Moffitt as well?