- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

SANTIAGO, Chile — Former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was indicted and placed under house arrest yesterday in the kidnapping of nine dissidents and the killing of one of them during his 1973-90 military regime.

The indictment marked the third attempt to try Gen. Pinochet in Chile over abuses from his 17-year dictatorship, none successful.

Judge Juan Guzman said he decided to try the 89-year-old retired general — reversing a court decision to exempt Gen. Pinochet from trial on health grounds — after questioning him and examining reports from court-appointed doctors.

“Gen. Pinochet has been declared mentally competent to face a criminal trial in Chile,” Judge Guzman ruled.

The defense team announced an appeal, saying Gen. Pinochet suffers from worsening dementia, and legal proceedings could take months.

Judge Guzman has won a reputation as a crusader in prominent human rights cases, including a trial of Gen. Pinochet that was dropped by the Supreme Court three years ago on health grounds.

Gen. Pinochet also suffers from diabetes, arthritis and uses a pacemaker.

A small group of victims of abuses under Gen. Pinochet and their relatives celebrated Judge Guzman’s announcement in the crowded court hallways.

“This is great news for all those Chileans who do not accept impunity in the violations of human rights,” said Viviana Diaz, a member of an organization of dissidents who disappeared under Gen. Pinochet.

Gen. Pinochet, who remained at his guarded suburban Santiago mansion, had no comments.

Judge Guzman said he also was influenced by an interview Gen. Pinochet granted last year to a Spanish-language Miami television station.

Gen. Pinochet told the station that he sees himself as “a good angel” and blamed abuses on subordinates in his regime. Judge Guzman said Gen. Pinochet’s answers made him appear mentally alert.

“It was not difficult,” Judge Guzman said of his decision, which was disputed by Gen. Pinochet’s chief attorney, Pablo Rodriguez.

Mr. Rodriguez recalled that the Supreme Court in 2001 dismissed the previous indictment of Gen. Pinochet by Judge Guzman after doctors diagnosed the former ruler with a mild case of dementia — a condition the lawyer said has worsened.

The prosecution said the decision sets a precedent. “We now expect other indictments will follow in other cases,” lawyer Eduardo Contreras said.

The indictment is part of an investigation into the so-called Operation Condor, a joint plan by the dictatorships of several South American nations in the 1970s and ‘80s to suppress dissidence.

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