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Wednesday, 13 December, 2000, 11:10 GMT
Pinochet: Should he still face trial?
Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet is making a new legal bid to reverse an order placing him under house arrest.
The order was given last week, when a judge formally charged the general with kidnapping during his 1973-1990 rule.
The general's legal team will argue that the decision to go ahead with charges without waiting for the outcome of medical tests is unfair. They believe tests could show he is unfit for trial.
General Pinochet, now 85, has already spent 503 days in custody in Britain after being arrested at the request of a Spanish judge. He was allowed to return home when it was ruled he was too old and sick to undergo trial in Spain.
Should an old man now be left alone to live out his last years in peace? Or should he face justice regardless of his age?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Paul Scott, USA
Send him to TEXAS!!!
Several people have made the point that if Pinochet was to be prosecuted, the message that would be sent to dictators the world over would be "hang onto power at all costs, or we'll come and get you". If Chile fails to prosecute him, the message that would be sent to dictators the world over would be "feel free to torture and murder - if you give up power at some stage in the future, all your crimes will be forgiven".
Prosecute General Pinochet only if you want to send a message to other dictators that they should cling to power at all costs.
Chris Kennedy, UK
Did Pinochet ever order a medical inspection of any of his victims before he had them tortured? I doubt it. Did Pinochet ever consider the age of his victims? I doubt it. I hope the Chilean people make the rest of Augusto Pinochet's life a living hell in the same manner as he has made thousands of innocent people's lives a living hell. I wish him a long and miserable old age, and a visit from the ghosts of those who suffered as a result of his orders.
If any of you had been in Chile on 10 Sept 1973 and then went back 15 years later, you would notice the difference and see how Allende would have ruined the country. He is not a martyr and was not elected by the majority. Yes Pinochet was not the best person and did many bad things to Chile but I would have taken his dictatorship any day over Allende's "democracy".
Greg, British in the Netherlands
I often chuckle at Margaret Thatcher's response when asked by a journalist why she felt compelled to support a man accused of being a murderous dictator, she rounded on the man with that patronising glare, and said, "Is that the best question you can ask? You poor thing".
This discussion is now coming up because Pinochet is old and aged. If the law says that all citizens of Chile who are more than 60 years old are exempted from any criminal prosecution, I mean they are above law, then of course he must not be touched. The question is why we are giving sympathy to a criminal just because he is too old? This discussion is even opened up just because of this false sympathy based on age factor. In that case how in Combodia Pol-Pot was treated? Justice should reach irrespective of age, religion and race.
Adam Critchley, Mexico
As a matter of principle (which may or may not apply to Pinochet), some political bullies are too wicked to stand a medical examination.
Indeed he should and so should hundreds of other political leaders who have tyrannised, tortured, pillaged and destroyed the lives of their own people. Without this, the Pinochet affair has no validity and no sense at all.
Gavin Pearson, USA
All should pay for their sins in this world, so that would-be criminals against humanity realise what their fate is going to be.
So a person can avoid trial for a crime provided he's old or frail? I smell a geriatric crime spree coming!
Clearly there should be medical exemptions under certain circumstances - for instance, in cases where a defendant is mentally incapacitated and unable to answer in his or her own defence, which would make a fair trial impossible.
A lot of the people on this page are baying not for a trial, but for a show trial - a ritual to rubber-stamp a pre-ordained guilty verdict. Such standards of justice are as low as those of any military dictatorship.
Leslie Powell, UK
Why waste taxpayer's money on a trial? Give him to the relatives of those he tortured and murdered.
Pinochet should be judged, no matter what his age. But investigations should go further. His was the hand of death, but who was pulling the strings? The real puppet-master is to be found in Washington. The US government financed Allende's overthrow. It should also be in the dock with Pinochet.
Why bring up all the past? This has stopped me going to Chile with my three kids for a holiday.
Let the man live the last years of his life without trials and troubles, he is too old now.
I think the people who are of the opinion that Pinochet is too old for trial or who think the passage of time somehow mitigates his crimes, should ask the victims of his crimes what they think.
I find this to be a very strange concept.
A person being "too old" to go on trial for
their crimes. Would we hesitate to put a
former Nazi concentration camp officer on
trial regardless of their age or health? Why
then does Pinochet get more generous
treatment? Then again, why did the British
"granny" Soviet spy get special treatment
because of her age? If a person can be tried
in absentia, why do we give the elderly or those
of frail health a pass? Sounds like a great
dodge to me, being too "old" or medically too
"frail" to go on trial.
Derek, ex-pat, Brazil
This man should be tried for alleged crimes no matter what his age. Why not ask the relatives of the 'missing' whether he should be tried?
Pinochet nominated himself Senator for life but his real title is criminal for life (no expiration date included).
David K, England
The real trial should be of the CIA head at the time of the coup against Salvador Allende (a democratically elected President). The US directly organised Pinochet's rise, now they should be shouldering the blame. Putting Pinochet on trial (while I am in favour of it) is just shooting the messenger boy.
Reading your remarks, I think you are all missing the point, British jobs depend on exports to Chile to the tune of £1.5B pa. Who else are we going send our arms, riot control equipment "interrogation aids" to?
If it wasn't for Pinochet, Chile today would be just like Castro's Cuba. He should be regarded as a hero, not vilified.
When a reporter asked Augusto Pinochet for his comment regarding the fact that many coffins found in the mass graves contained two or more bodies within them, he replied, "How economical". This is not a comment from someone who should be immune from the rule of law regardless of age or condition. The families of the murdered and the tortured deserve the justice that Pinochet did not provide their loved ones.
Michael Gahan, Ireland
He is responsible for murder and torture and some of the sickest crimes in history and you think he should be let off?
Make his last years a living hell, like he made the entire lives of other people a living hell.
Of course he should. So what if he's an old man, he never considered age to be a barrier if someone was to be tortured. I notice his Tory apologists in this country have been rather quiet since his arrest, after the revolting spectacle of Maggie presenting Pinochet as a hard-done-by political prisoner I'm surprised she hasn't waded in.
We think that we should not give any consideration to an old man, who in his youth gave no consideration to pregnant women, children and innocent men who only wanted the best for their families. Even though we were both born in the United States, at a very early age we were exposed to such atrocities. Victor (age 15) and me (age 18) have disagreed with the United States helping Pinochet just because he overthrew a "Marxist candidate". The US only did that to earn more money through what they know how to do best: the military. People opposing our thoughts would say that he brought Chile out of recession and stabilised the economy, but at what cost?
He should be locked up and have his guilt drive him crazy, if he has any.
Oscar Parkyn, New Zealand
If anything he should be made to stand trial to illustrate that no person is immune from rosecution,
not even if they have had tea with Margaret Thatcher (good reason enough!)
Regardless of age, a criminal is a criminal. And he should be stood for trial for the horrendous crimes carried out against innocent people for a long period of time. General Pinochet is no different from any other criminal. It will be a grave injustice towards the families of his victims.
His legal team is using his age and sickness as an excuse that is utterly lame. Does anybody remember how he easily got up from his wheelchair once out at the tarmac after a flight from the UK. He walked steadily without any aid! Now they are doing the same thing with the Chilean court. If this criminal is allowed to go free, Chile is doing a great injustice to humankind.
Of course, he should! After all, he stole the lives of thousands of people who were in their twenties at the time. The fact that he managed to grow old on their dead bodies should certainly be no excuse. But then, he should be treated, in custody and during trial, with all the respect due to sick and elderly people, because this is the way a civilised society behaves.
Age is not commonly pleaded as a bar to criminal charges in western states. Indeed, it wasn't allowed as a plea of defence or as a mitigating circumstance when the leaders of the former GDR were tried and sentenced - in the case of Erich Mielke, for a death that occurred in 1931.
Why therefore would Pinochet be immune from being charged?
Mikko Toivonen, Finland
Should the Japanese be pursued in the case of their war crimes? What about the other numerous villains around the world who laugh at international justice? Pinochet is an easy target who the politically-correct brigade has decided to focus on.
Of course he should stand trial!! He never gave any consideration to age or health for those who did no more than disagree with him and who he therefore tortured and murdered!
Send Pinochet to the Netherlands where, no doubt, they would be happy to put him to sleep.
There is no 'expiry' or 'sell-by' date on crimes of this severity. Irrespective of the man's age, or maybe controversially, his state of health, he should be held accountable if guilty. He may be 83, but many of the victims of his regime were never given the choice to reach anywhere near that age. Why should people tiptoe around Pinochet and his rights simply on the basis that he's old? Do we live in a world where people's accountability decays with age?
What a question!! It suggests to me that if you're over a certain age you have some kind of immunity against being held accountable for your crimes.
Yes, if we can still hunt Nazis and other war criminals down fifty-five years after WWII we can try Pinochet.
N. Ferguson, London, UK
And what about those in America responsible for supporting Pinochet's military overthrow of the elected Allende government?
Whether an old man should be allowed to live out his days in peace depends largely on the severity of the crime.
Given that the crimes are murder, kidnapping and torture he must face trial.
If he is too ill to attend court then try him in abstentia with his legal representatives present. I'm sure Pinochet didn't give too figs whether someone was too ill to be tortured.
Steve Hodgson, UK
Absolutely! He should face trial and answer for the appalling crimes committed under his regime. I hope that some of the relatives of the 'disappeared' will finally have the chance to find out something about their loved ones. It is also important for us as a race to scrutinise the mechanisms of power which allow atrocities such as bestial rape of prisoners to happen. We need to know if deliberate terror tactics were used or whether law and order simply broke down amongst the military.
During Pinochet's dictatorship thousands of Chileans were murdered. He, as the head of government, is to be held responsible. There are still people suffering from the consequences of being tortured, there are some whose loved ones will never return. Murder is a crime that shouldn't be allowed to just slip away because Pinochet is old.
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