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Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 00:02 GMT 01:02 UK


Pinochet ruling in a week

General Pinochet will learn his destiny on 8 October

Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet will learn next week whether he must continue to fight allegations that he orchestrated the torture of political opponents.

At the conclusion of the fourth and final day of the long-awaited extradition hearing at London's Bow Street Magistrates Court, the deputy chief stipendiary magistrate reserved his ruling until 8 October.

The pinochet File
Ronald Bartle said he would deliver the judgement at Bow Street magistrates' court. General Pinochet is expected to attend, providing his ailing health does not prevent him and there are no other security risks.

The magistrate's task is to decide whether all the extradition documentation is in good order and if General Pinochet should be committed to await Home Secretary Jack Straw's decision on whether to order his extradition.

Alternatively he could discharge the 83-year-old general.

'Acts of barbarism'

A Spanish investigating judge, Baltasar Garzon, has accused the former Chilean ruler of a string of human rights crimes against opponents during his 1973-90 rule.

[ image: General Pinochet's health is ailing]
General Pinochet's health is ailing
In a final plea, General Pinochet's lead lawyer, Clive Nicholls, said the general did not want anyone to think he approved of the litany of allegations of torture, detentions and disappearances listed during the hearing.

"Some dreadful things have been described during the course of this hearing, acts of barbarism which no person can ever approve of," he said.

Mr Nicholls, QC, argued that much of the conduct described in the charges against the general was comparable to interrogation techniques used by the British Army in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s.

"The conduct is exactly the same as the European Court of Human Rights found in the case regarding the treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland to be incapable, as a matter of law, of amounting to torture," he added.

'Open and shut case'

But British lawyers representing Spain maintained on Wednesday that all the allegations constituted torture.

"Saying that a person was only electrocuted a few times ... is absurd," said Alun Jones.

"It is ludicrous to argue that General Pinochet is not accused of torture."

[ image: Court must decide whether the offences are extraditable]
Court must decide whether the offences are extraditable
After the hearing, Reed Brody, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said "This is an open and shut case.

"Pinochet's lawyers have tried diversions and smoke screens but they could not obscure the very substantial allegations linking Pinochet to a policy of torture."

The charges include one count of conspiracy to torture as well as 34 of torture against named individuals.

Blair criticised

Thursday's hearing was attended by former Tory Chancellor Lord Lamont, who has been an outspoken critic of the general's detention in England.

He has accused the prime minister of fatally compromising the extradition case against the former Chilean dictator.

In a letter to Mr Blair, Lord Lamont said that the prime minister's description of General Pinochet as "unspeakable" to the Labour conference on Tuesday had undermined the home secretary's position as the final arbiter on the case.

Lord Lamont says that the prime minister's comments confirm that the government has not acted as an honest broker during Spain's attempts to extradite the former general to stand trial.

A spokesman for the prime minister said that the home secretary would be acting in a semi-judicial capacity in this case, and as such was completely independent from political considerations.

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