A cable from the US embassy in Buenos Aires, released by WikiLeaks, reveals pressure from the US government to halt a serious criminal investigation in Argentina.
The US pressured an Argentine prosecutor to halt investigations into former Argentine president Carlos Menem and a number of other officials suspected of being involved in a cover-up over the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, Argentine daily Pagina/12 reported on February 27.
Pagina 12 has obtained more than 2000 US cables relating to Argentina in a deal with whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
The bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) killed 85 people and injured hundreds. Just hours after the bombing the US and Israeli governments blamed Iran and the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah.
Iran and Hezbollah have always denied responsibility.
No one has been convicted over the incident and the investigations have been marked by accusations of corruption, incompetence and a cover-up.
Nine days after the bombing, used car dealer Carlos Telleldin was arrested on suspicion of supplying a white Renault Trafic van allegedly used in the attack. Together with 20 members of the Buenos Aires Provincial Police, he was accused of being the “local connection” to Iran and Hezbollah.
The federal judge in charge of the case Juan Jose Galeano also issued arrest warrants for 12 Iranians, including Iran’s ambassador to Argentina Hade Soleimanpour.
The car-bomb theory was challenged in a May 15, 1997 report by Argentina’s National Academy of Engineers commissioned by the Supreme Court. The report found that the epicentre of the explosion came from inside the building.
In an extensive report published in The Nation on February 4, 2008, investigative journalist Gareth Porter found that of some 200 eyewitnesses only one claimed to have seen a white Renault Trafic — the wife of a Buenos Aires police officer.
Another witness, street cleaner Juan Carlos Alvarez, told Periodico Tribuna on July 21, 2003 that he was standing in front of the main entrance of AMIA just near where the car bomb was meant to have exploded — but did not see any white Renault Trafic.
In 2003, Soleimanpour was arrested in Britain at the request of Argentine authorities.
However, he was released after the presiding judge said Argentine authorities had failed to provide “any clear evidence demonstrating his involvement”, the BBC said on September 12, 2003.
In 2004, Telleldin and the police officers were acquitted after a secretly filmed video was released showing federal judge Juan Jose Galeano offering Telleldin a US$400,000 bribe in return for providing witness testimony implicating the police officers.
Nonetheless, the 2004 ruling left open the question of the “car bomb” theory.
The court found that federal judge Luisa Riva Aramayo also offered to pay Telleldin for testimony implicating a number of police officers allied to Menem’s political rival, Eduardo Duhalde.
In 2005, then-president Nestor Kirchner labelled the inquiry a “national disgrace” and ordered the intelligence files on the case to be opened.
On October 25, 2006, Argentine prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos formally accused the Iranian government of ordering the bombing and Hezbollah of carrying it out.
The October 26, 2006 La Nacion said the prosecutors alleged that Iran ordered the 1994 bombing in retaliation for Argentina’s decision to suspend a nuclear technology transfer contract to Tehran.
However, a contract to ship uranium from Argentina to Iran had never been terminated and the two countries were negotiating the restoration of full cooperation on all technology transfer agreements when the bombing occurred, Porter said.
In a November 2006 report for the Asia Times Online, Porter said “The indictment [by Nisman and Burgos] shows the US put strong pressure on the Menem government to terminate all nuclear cooperation with Iran.”
Apart from testimony from an alleged former Iranian intelligence officer, Porter said “no real evidence has ever been found to implicate Iran in the bombing”.
In 2005, Israeli diplomatic sources and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed the bombing was a suicide attack by a Hezbollah militant.
However, Porter said in April 2005 that two brothers of the alleged Hezbollah bomber told US prosecutors he had died two months after the bombing and his death was reported on Lebanese radio at the time.
The bombing was cited by the Bush administration as “evidence” that the Iranian regime was a sponsor of global terrorism.
A US cable dated May 22, 2008 showed the US embassy’s legal office specifically advised Nisman to focus investigations on the alleged Iranian perpetrators of the bombing — rather than those accused of a cover-up.
Earlier that day, Nisman had ordered the arrest of Menem, his brother Munir Menem, Galeano, former high ranking Argentine intelligence officials and the head of the police force’s counter-terrorism unit.
The cable said: “Details of the criminal charges against Menem and the other suspects came as a surprise to Post, which up until now had an excellent and fluid relationship with Nisman.”
Nisman’s inquiry had centred on the possible involvement in the bombing of Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul, whose father was a close friend of Carlos and Munir Menem, Pagina/12 said.
Nisman alleged that investigations ordered by Galeano 11 days after the attack revealed that Kanoore had connections with Telleldin.
Galeano later admitted that when he arrested Kanoore for questioning, he received a call from Munir Menen, ordering him to stop the investigations. The transcripts of Kanoore’s interrogations later disappeared.
Former investigator into the bombing Claudio Lifschitz, who had denounced Galeano’s mishandling of the case, said hooded men forced him into their car, wrote “AMIA” on his back with a blowtorch and told him “not to mess” with the internal security service, Argentinean daily Clarin reported on March 7, 2009.
In October 2009, Menem was formerly charged with concealing evidence and abuse of authority.
Munir Menem, Galeano and others were also charged with obstructing the investigation into the 1994 bombing.
Argentina’s Jewish community is deeply divided over the investigations. The Jewish Federations of North America said in 2004 that there was “deep distrust between AMIA officials and the Jewish umbrella group, DAIA [Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations], following reports that DAIA’s former president, businessman Ruben Beraja, was linked to former Argentine president Carlos Menem”.
The report said: “Beraja reportedly did not want to pressure Menem to investigate the 1994 bombing because Beraja was afraid of endangering his extensive business ties with the Menem government.”
A US cable dated May 27, 2008 and published by Spanish daily El Pais cited DAIA representative Alfredo Neuburguer as a source for the US embassy.
The cable said Neuburguer claimed the charges against Menem were a diversion by the Kirchner government from other political and economic problems.
Sergio Burstein, a representative of Relatives and Friends of Victims of the Attack on AMIA, told the Jewish News Agency on March 11 that he was not surprised that Neuburguer had wanted to defend Menem.
“I'm not surprised that this person is named in the cable,” Burstein said. “I believe we must denounce it.”
Adriana Reisfeld, president of Memoria Activa, an organisation that groups relatives and friends of the bombing victims, spoke to the Iton Gadal News on March 10 and accused the DAIA of “not only trying to pressure to defend the former president Menem but also former president of the DAIA (Ruben Beraja), both involved in the cover-up of the terrorist attack”.
Diana Malamud a spokesperson for Memoria Activa, told Pagina 12 on February 28 that the revelations in the cables “do not surprise me, above all because one of the main reasons was always blaming Iran”.
“The only ones that continue to be hurt are the victims.”
The WikLeaks revelations also included cables criticising the Argentine government and showing a close relationship between the US and right-wing opposition figures.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip Crowley refused to comment on the cables, MercoPress reported on March 9.
“We understand that virtually every country in the world has a WikiLeaks cable related to their domestic politics,” Crowley said. “We’re just not going to comment on them anymore.”