On November 11, a pleading hearing in the AMIA case took place at the 174th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), held in Quito, Ecuador. The participants in the hearing included Diana Wassner de Malamud and Adriana Reisfeld, from the Memoria Activa association of family members of AMIA victims, as well as their lawyer, Rodrigo Borda, and CELS – which represents the association before the IACHR.
This hearing is the last step before the Commission issues an admissibility and merits report and declares the Argentine state to be responsible for failing to prevent the attack, for diverting the investigation and covering up the facts, and for denying justice and truth. After that, the AMIA case will be taken up by the Inter-American Court.
The hearing began with the testimony of Diana Wassner. Her husband, Andrés Malamud, was killed in the attack on the AMIA Jewish community center that occurred on July 18, 1994. Twenty five years later, “there is no one in prison over the AMIA case, and no one has been tried for the murder of 85 people. And it was the Argentine state that decided we would not know the truth,” she told commissioners Luis Ernesto Vargas, Antonia Urrejola Noguera and Margarette May Macaulay and assistant secretary Marisol Blanchard. In response to questions regarding the cover-up of the AMIA attack, she explained how “some of the people in charge of investigating the attack and seeking justice, instead of doing that, they paid a defendant to lie, to invent false perpetrators and close the case.”
Wassner added that “we had a friendly settlement with the Argentine state that it did not fulfill. That is why so many years later we want the truth and we want this case to go to the Court.”
Adriana Reisfeld was the next person to speak. Her sister Noemí died in the attack and was found beneath the rubble six days later. Adriana raised her two nieces along with her own three children. The lives of family members changed forever after that July 18th. In Adriana’s case, she dedicated herself to the quest for truth and justice. She told the Commission how “all the governments have let down family members, but (Mauricio) Macri’s government raised the bar.” She spoke of Justice Minister Germán Garavano’s partiality toward two former prosecutors accused in the cover-up of the AMIA attack: Eamon Mullen and José Barbaccia. “Garavano, since he was friends with Mullen y Barbaccia, told us they were not involved at all, that they were young at the time, and he did everything to save them. The former prosecutors were convicted in the cover-up of the attack, even though Justice Ministry officials made no formal accusations against them. It’s a disgrace.” Adriana also recounted how difficult it has been to sustain relatives’ demands over the course of so many years of impunity: “We always had to give explanations about why we were seeking justice, when it is our right.”
The Argentine state recognized its responsibility once again, but it also presented a defense of Minister Garavano and listed a series of empty gestures made in the last 25 years. It did not offer to employ new strategies or measures that would indicate a real willingness to work with victims and respond to their demands.
In their pleadings, CELS and Memoria Activa affirmed once again that the AMIA case involves lies, the use of state secrets to cover up business deals and crimes, a lack of empathy with victims, and political manipulation to protect allies, hide capitulations to foreign interests, and to obtain electoral gains. As the court that annulled the investigation in 2004 said: the executive branch, the court in charge and the prosecutor’s office put together a false accusation to simulate a response and “to satisfy the shady interests of unscrupulous politicians in power.” Even after all these years, the state has not provided any answers regarding the attack, and 20 years passed before it tried some of those responsible for diverting the investigation and covering up the truth.
An attack on the Israeli Embassy in 1992 was not taken seriously by the Argentine state. The investigation was subjected to political concerns, and the intelligence services monopolized the information and the investigation. The state did not adopt any measure aimed at preventing future attacks, nor did it review the security failings at play or create any entity prepared to act in response to similar occurrences. Two years later, the AMIA site was blown up. More than 150 people were wounded and 85 people died.
The following four points explain how the state failed to comply with its duties to prevent and investigate:
First: The investigation of the attack was subjected to the political interests of the government at the time, which diverted the case to hide its involvement in illegal business deals and to protect people close to the president’s family.
Second: The case was subjected to the geopolitical interests of foreign intelligence agencies that continue to promote an official version of the attack that places blame on Iran and Hezbollah but does not encourage a true investigation that would shed light on the scheme behind the attack, in terms of its international and local connections.
Third: The political configuration to keep secret what had happened in the attack involved unscrupulous judges, prosecutors and judicial officials who were willing to invent perpetrators and hold up false evidence. When the cover-up maneuver came to light, things got even shadier since much of the political and judicial system opted to sustain the lie and support fellow officials. That logic explains why the convictions over the cover-up[ took a full 20 years to achieve.
Fourth: The extremely deficient way in which intelligence bodies, the security forces and the Argentine judicial system functioned was decisive. The manipulation and diversion of the judicial case was possible because high-level officials at these agencies were complicit with interests opposed to the quest for truth, but also because of how judicial work is carried out and the logic of secrecy that prevailed in this case.
The matter of state secrets and the practice of using intelligence agents as judicial assistants require special attention, beyond the AMIA case. The cover-up maneuver did not begin to come to light until this secrecy was lifted and part of the information was declassified. However, even today this secrecy persists, and full access to the documents pertaining to this case is not allowed.
For that reason, we requested that the Commission recognize that the case constitutes a grave human rights violation. We asked that it declare the state responsible for violating the right to life and personal integrity for failing to prevent the attack; violating the right to personal integrity of the petitioners and their family members for the suffering experienced over all these years; violating the right to enjoy judicial guarantees and proper judicial protection; and violating the right to the truth.
The hearing before the Inter-American Commission concluded with this well-known phrase by commissioner and head of the IACHR’s Memory, Truth and Justice Unit Antonia Urrejola Noguera: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”