Latin American Report
Chile's Intelligence Agency: A Barbaric Torture Machine Under Pinochet, Not Unlike the Gestapo
WASHINGTON, July 4 (AFP) - Chile's secret police used medieval torture methods on political opponents and answered solely to former dictator Augusto Pinochet, according to recently declassified US documents.
"Their techniques are straight out of the Spanish Inquisition and often leave the person interrogated with visible bodily damage," according to one of the 5,800 documents on the Pinochet regime.
Moreover, the papers show that the National Intelligence Bureau (DINA), under the leadership of Colonel Jose Manuel Contreras, operated with an autonomy close to that of Nazi Germany's feared Gestapo secret police.
"Since establishing the DINA as the national intelligence arm of the government, Colonel Contreras has reported exclusively to and received orders from President Pinochet," read one 1975 Pentagon document.
Human rights advocates and relatives of the estimated 3,000-10,000 victims killed by Pinochet's military death squads had long called on Washington to release the classified materials to help bring the former dictator to justice.
The US State Department last week declassified and released more than 25,000 pages from US government documents relating to events in Chile from 1973 to 1978.
The 83-year-old Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, is under house arrest in London, where he faces extradition to Spain in September on charges of genocide, terrorism and torture.
Contreras was arrested four years ago in Chile in connection with the 1976 state-ordered assassination in the United States of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier.
"Regarding DINA's organization, policies and operations, Colonel Contreras' authority is near absolute, subject only to an unlikely presidential veto," the Pentagon had warned a year earlier.
According to the Pentagon, by 1975 DINA had over 2,000 regular employees, most of them military, and some 2,100 civilian collaborators called the civilian intelligence brigade. But DINA's barbaric techniques were so extreme that cracks began to appear in Chile's army as some officials, concerned about the secret police's growing and uncontrollable power, began to worry how it would impact the country's image abroad.
By May 1975, a Pentagon dispatch noted, "this situation has prompted several army officers to try and convince the president that DINA should be subject to the direction and control of a National Security Council type of authority rather than just the presidency."
"To date, the president has not received these suggestions with enthusiasm."
"The apprehensions of many senior Chilean military authorities regarding the possibility of DINA becoming a modern day Gestapo may very well be coming to fruition," the Pentagon added.
Some 5,000 documents came from the State Department, 490 from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 200 from the National Archives, 100 from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and 60 from the Defense Department. But Peter Kornbluh, director of the Chile Documentation project at the National Security Archives, an independent research group, highlighted the limited number of documents released by the CIA.
"The CIA has the most to offer, but also the most to hide," he said, noting a lack of documentation relating to DINA, and Operation Condor, a state-sponsored terrorism network directed by Pinochet.
State Department spokesman James Foley has conceded that some documents remained classified as they pertained to "an ongoing Justice Department investigation" into the murder of Letelier and his American aide Ronni Moffit, both killed in Washington by Chilean secret police in 1976. Materials covering 1973 to 1978, believed to be one of Chile's most repressive periods, will be declassified later this year along with documents dated 1968 to 1973, he added.