"Detention" of Pinochet

David Bruce dave_bruce at SPAMryelands.co.uk
Sat Dec 18 12:29:51 MST 1999

Louis has outlined how, from the Spanish end, the Pinochet case is
different from the now-routine NATO-calls for war-crime tribunals. Here's a
few snippets on the UK angle.

On social issues, Jack Straw is probably the most right-wing Home Secretary
(Brit-speak for Minister of the Interior) of any Labour administration ever
and is on a par with his fanatic Tory predecessor, Michael Howard. He has
an almost pathological obsession with "law-and-order".

Howard is regarded even by his own party as a crazed right-winger also
unhealthily interested in imprisonment. I know life-long Tory party members
who can scarcely speak his name. He is well to the right of the earlier
David Waddington who was appointed Home Secretary in the late 1980s/early
90s (?) with a brief substantially to *cut* the UK prison population -
which he did. Waddington was so right-wing that no-one could accuse him of
being "soft" on crime.

Howard reversed that trend and the UK prison population soared, with the
now-mandatory bias in favour of ethnic minorities. Straw has kept up the
good work, as well as galloping on with prison privatization in spite of
soaring suicide rates, etc etc. On many social issues, the Major and Blair
administrations were/are *far* more reactionary than the Thatcher regime.
This is the ground to the Pinochet affair in the UK.

There is no prospect of Pinochet actually being extradited to Spain. He is
living as comfortably as his health will allow in what even the press here
calls "mansion arrest" and receiving a standard of medical care denied to
nearly all British or Chilean citizens. Everyone expects the extradition
process to outlast the man himself. He is expected to die here.

Pinochet's case has been publicly taken up by Thatcher, who found his
political style attractive. She touts him as a "great friend" of Britain
because he was willing to aid British imperialism in its quarrel with
Argentina. She had few friends at the time, as even the US was trying to
calm her down. There have been highly publicized visits to the "sick old
man" ailing in his lonely exile, victim of a Spanish inquisition aided by
pinkoes, etc etc. What a way to treat your friends . . .

The political establishment has tried to bury the affair and allow Pinochet
quietly to return home. Straw (concerned not to make any concession that
might be seen as having the faintest touch of pink) passed responsibility
for the extradition request over to the Law Lords, the rough equivalent of
the US Supreme court. This was legally in order but was widely regarded as
passing the buck.

The Lords found no grounds for rejecting the request. As I recall, their
recommendation that Straw accept it was by majority verdict. Pinochet's
solicitors challenged the *merit* of the Law Lords' decision because one of
the judges (Hoffman) had not declared a potential conflict of interest in
that he is an officer of Amnesty International.

The decision was sent back for re-consideration, which is *completely*
without precedent and rightly created a furore. SA-born Justice Hoffman is
well known for championing human rights issues and it was a technicality if
ever there was one - although Hoffman was certainly naive. However, the
reconvened court made essentially the same decision, no doubt jealous of
their independence. I am a bit confused as to where we are now but if
anyone is interested, I'll brush up.

Far from being a run-of-the-mill "Try 'em, convict 'em, shoot 'em" NATO
witch-hunt, the Pinochet case has caused the UK establishment considerable

Political observers are naturally enjoying the show - Pinochet is stuck in
his luxury pad where, horror of horrors, paparazzi pop up in the garden
from time to time. Straw can reject Chile's protests - and Chile is an
important "trade partner" - and uphold Spain's right to run its own legal
system. If he does, he will presumably ruffle US feathers. Alternatively,
he must side with Thatcher and the rest of the loonie right and send
Pinochet home. Even though Spain is a junior partner in the EC, it is still
important and there are implications for Gibraltar if he upsets them too
much. Also, the UK is already mistrusted in Europe for its sycophantic
pro-US attitude, seen as undermining the EEC. (Hence Robertson's NATO post.)

In South America, the affair may well be seen as high-handed interference
in Chile's internal affairs and, obviously, one must respect that. However,
almost the only public campaigning here in favour of Pinochet's release has
been from far-right Chileans and unspeakable right-wingers in the UK. The
widespread popular support for the extradition move does reflect a genuine
desire to see the bastard brought to book. As far as ordinary people are
concerned, it is an act of solidarity with his victims. It should not be
confused with NATO's kangaroo courts, even if it is judged to be
politically muddled.

Besides, there is a wish to see the odious Jack Straw make an ass of
himself, especially after his championing of the ultra-racist Asylum Bill,
which seeks to restrict the right of political asylum to those who do not
need it.

David Bruce, Ryelands Digital
dave_bruce at ryelands.co.uk
Tel: +44 1357 440459  Fax: +44 1357 440464

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