Friday, January 23, 2015

Condolences for dead prosecutor who accused Argentine president should be sent to the White House

There is a tremendous press campaign against the government of Argentina over the violent death of a prosecutor who was filing charges against the country's president.

But an important fact  missing from the press coverage is that the Wikileaks cables from four years ago show that Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in the investigation of the 1994 terrorist bombing of AMIA, the Argentine-Israel Mutual Association, in fact reported to and took instructions from the U.S. embassy. And the way the U.S. press is covering this should tell any seasoned reporter that the United States is still very much involved in what is happening.

Ten days ago, in the middle of Argentina's month-long January judicial recess, prosecutor Nisman tweeted that he was breaking off a vacation in Europe, and dashing back to Buenos Aires, and the very next morning after landing submitted a 289-page writ calling for an investigation of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister for masterminding a conspiracy to cover up the alleged participation of several Iranian officials in the AMIA bombing.

Nisman went on cable channels and radio shows making all sorts of charges and claiming he could not make his written complaint public because it contained the names and other details of two members of the Argentine intelligence service who played central roles in the alleged back-channel negotiations with Iran.

But the essence of the case is that an Iran-Argentina agreement providing a mechanism for Iranians accused in the bombing to be questioned under oath was part of a deal under which Argentina would withdraw the international arrest warrants against the Iranians, and in exchange Iran would accept Argentine wheat in payment for oil.

Then on Sunday night, hours before he was to testify before Congress, Nisman was found dead, a .22 caliber pistol and shell casing by his side. The police and coroner's initial conclusion of suicide was met with universal skepticism, including in an Internet post by the president on Monday.

Quickly it became clear that the idea that two members of Argentine Intelligence were go-betweens in back channel negotiations was not true because neither one was now or had ever been in the intelligence service. In fact one of them was the target of an influence-peddling criminal inquiry for falsely claiming to be an intelligence operative.

Thus, with the supposed security issues cleared away, on Tuesday night, 48 hours after Nisman had been found dead, the Supreme Court published Nisman's writ on its web site. The English-language Buenos Aires Herald, which is generally quite cool to the current administration, proclaimed on its Wednesday front page: "Nothing New: Nisman's Report fails to fan the flames of conspiracy."

Eugenio Zaffaroni, one of the most renowned experts on criminal law in Latin America, author of three dozen books, hundreds of articles and recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees, who just retired from the Argentine Supreme Court, said that, even taking as true everything Nisman had claimed, the prosecutor failed to allege a crime punishable by law.

Nisman's central claim is that the government tried (but failed) to get Interpol to drop its "Red Notices" (similar to an arrest warrant) for the indicted Iranians. Zaffaroni says even if true this is simply not a crime, and added that he believed that Nisman was one more victim of the AMIA case, and had been fed false information to mislead him.

(A couple of years ago, Nisman had explained to a journalist reporting on the Wikileaks cables that the a top intelligence officer --who had been dismissed days before Nisman made public his accusations against the president--, had been a central source in his investigations and was the conduit of information from the CIA and the Israeli Mossad.)

Also, even if requesting the withdrawal of the Red Notices had been a crime, it never happened. After Nisman went public with his claim, the head of the Interpol for fifteen years until last November, Ronald Noble, responded with an email to the Argentine foreign minister. Noble insisted that precisely the opposite had been the case. The Argentine government argued that the Red Notices be kept in effect despite the agreement between Argentina and Iran for a mechanism to take statements from the accused Iranians in their country. The Argentine foreign minister told Interpol that the Argentine judge in the case, under whose authority Nisman himself had prepared the original Red Notice requests, would be the one to ask for the notices to be lifted, should that become appropriate.

It would seem Nisman never checked with the head of Interpol about the supposed effort to dismiss the Notices ... which is strange, given that Nisman had had extensive dealings with Interpol on those very notices.

From the Wikileaks cables [my comments in brackets]:
1. (C/NF) [Confidential/No Foreign] LEGATT [Legal Attaché] and the Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs (OIA) have reviewed the GOA's [Goverment of Argentina's] revised application for Interpol arrest warrants ("Red Notices"), which AMIA Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman gave to LEGATT on January 17. LEGATT advises that the 9-page application is much improved over the original 2-page application submitted on November 15, 2006. On January 19, USDOJ/OIA advised that three of the nine needed improvement, including the warrants for former Iranian Ambassador to Argentina Hadi Soleimanpour, former Iranian diplomat Ahmad Reza Aghari or Mohsen Randjbaran, and Hezbollah leader Imad Fayez Moughnieh. OIA also indicated that most of the explanations for the nine indicted suspects contained statements that were presumptuous conclusions of guilt. OIA recommends that these statements should be modified to indicate that they are attributed to witnesses, records, surveillances, or other types of evidence uncovered in the investigation.
2. (C/NF) LEGATT relayed OIA's observations and recommendations to Nisman, who was appreciative of Embassy and Washington's support. Nisman stated that he would edit the application to incorporate OIA's comments by expanding on some of the information that would further clarify the evidence the GOA has to support the allegations. Nisman, two of his deputies, and Ambassador Gonzales depart for France on January 19 at 11pm. Alejandro DiNizo, Chief of Argentina's Interpol office departs on January 20 at 2pm. WAYNE [Emphasis added]
Increasingly, suspicion is focusing on the spy, Antonio Stiusso. But I think Stiusso, if involved, was still only one piece of a larger operation.

Experienced U.S.-based journalists who follow Latin America know that even huge news events in our closest neighbors rarely get the attention they deserve. Such is the case of the Ayotzinapa massacre in Mexico, the police ambush of busloads of students from that teacher's college last September 26 in Iguala, a small city 130 miles north from Acapulco. Six people died in the attack; 25 were wounded and 43 kidnapped by police and not seen since.

This mass forced disappearance was the straw that broke the Camel's back. There has been wave after wave of protests, and a collapse in confidence not just in the current administration, but the country's politicians and political institutions in general. It is, as we in the news biz say, a great story: but it has been largely ignored in the U.S. English language press.

But the Argentina story isn't being ignored. And I can explain that very easily. Generally what the U.S. media covers is very much influenced by cues from the State Department and U.S. embassies abroad. No, the journalists don't take "orders," not usually, but they travel in the same circles as government officials, depend on them and are influenced by them. The same is true of their editors back home, especially the top ones.

In the Argentine case, there is a glaring blooper you will find in most of the U.S. coverage that is very easy to verify. It is the claim that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner initially said Nisman's death was a suicide, and then reversed herself. Except it isn't true: she initially questioned whether it was really a suicide, that despite the investigators initiaslly saying suicide is what it looked like. Anyone who can read Spanish can readily verify it for themselves

How does a mistake like that not just get started, but get repeated in post after article after TV report? It comes from someone at the U.S. embassy, who may have picked it up from a local pro-American politician. And it isn't even necessarily a conscious fabrication, they just see what they want to see because a lot of these state department guys don't even speak the host country language very well, making it easier for them to misinterpret what they read. Ditto for the reporters.

I saw this time and again up close in the years I spent covering the civil wars in Central America in the 1980s and then from afar in two decades at CNN. But American diplomats don't just randomly focus on some story to highlight to reporters. Their job is to promote U.S. interests and foreign policy objectives.

Which tells me the United States government has been very much involved in these events. Just exactly how or why we can't be sure, but --from the tone and emphasis in the stories-- we can be certain it wasn't on the side of the Argentine president.