Editorial: Prosecute AMIA

Last week was the 24th anniversary of the bombing of the building housing the AMIA, the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina located in Buenos Aires, which serves as the headquarters of the Federation of Jewish Argentine Communities.

 At 9:53 a.m. the day after Tisha Be’av in 1994, 21-year-old Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a Hezbollah operative, drove his Renault Trafic van loaded with some 275 kilograms (606 lb.) of explosives into the building of the AMIA (short for Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina), killing 85 people, the highest number killed in any single attack against Jews since the Holocaust.

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 The AMIA bombing occurred two years after the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires on March 17, 1992, which killed 29. The same type of explosive was used for both blasts.

 To date, authorities have been unable to locate those responsible for either of the two bombings, and the charged suspects who are still alive remain as fugitives.

 How is that possible?

 Easy. First there is the first federal judge who handled the case. After videotape showed him offering a witness $400,000 to testify, he was removed from the case and impeached two years later.

 That judge did order the roundup of locals believed involved in the bombing, but they were all found to be not guilty for insufficient evidence.

 One witness, an alleged former Iranian intelligence officer, testified that Iran had planned the bombing thinking the AMIA building was a base for the Shin Bet, and that Tehran had afterward given a $10 million bribe to block any investigation. Former president Carlos Menem denied the claims, but admitted he had a secret Swiss bank account.

 In 2006, an Argentine appellate court declared that the lower court’s handling of the case had been a lie to cover up its irresponsible behavior.

 That same year, Argentine government prosecutor Alberto Nisman formally charged Iran with planning and directing the attack, and of Hezbollah with carrying it out. Several senior Iranian officials, including Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ahmad Vahidi, as well as Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyah, were indicted.

 In 2013, Argentina signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Iran during the presidency of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The memorandum ostensibly would have established a “truth commission” to analyze evidence and have the two countries jointly investigate the AMIA bombing. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house.

 In 2014, a lower court determined that the MoU was unconstitutional, and that it prevented an independent judicial investigation. That ruling was appealed, but before the three-judge panel could rule a year later, one of the judges was suddenly removed. Why would the Judicial Council suddenly remove him? Perhaps because he had expressed his intention to uphold the lower court’s ruling that found the MoU unconstitutional – a position the government opposed.

 In January 2015, Nisman accused Kirchner and ex-foreign minister Héctor Timerman of playing a crucial role in covering up Tehran’s role in the AMIA bombing. Four days later, Nisman was found dead in his home with a bullet-wound to the temple – the day before he was to present his case to the Congress. It was first ruled a suicide, but analysts later concluded that Nisman was “murdered in cold blood,” and that the crime scene had been tampered with to make it look like he had committed suicide. Last month an Argentine court ruled officially that Nisman was killed as a “direct consequence” of his investigation into Kirchner’s role in covering up the AMIA bombing.

 So what we have so far is a corrupt federal judge, a corrupt former president, a corrupt court, a murdered state prosecutor, another corrupt president, and a massive political and criminal cover-up throughout the Argentine political and judicial system.

 Four separate trials have grown out of the AMIA bombing: One ongoing against Menem and others; two about to proceed against Kirschner and others, both for the MoU cover-up, and for the assassination of Nisman; and a possible trial of the AMIA suspects themselves.

The AMIA investigation has been nothing short of a disaster from day one, but the new government seems determined to conduct an honest investigation. While political corruption in Argentina is not new, we are hopeful that these inquiries will bring forth the truth about the whole affair.

After 24 years, it is about time.