1. On July 18th 1994 a truck bomb destroyed the headquarters of the AMIA Jewish community organization in Buenos Aires; 85 people were killed and hundreds injured.
2. Carlos Menem's government saw to it that the initial investigation was carried out with the intention of protecting the authors of the attack rather than apprehending them. Why? No one really knows but theories abound; the more popular ones refer to massive bribes and the notion that Syria, where Menem's family originally came from, had some involvement in the attack and he wished to protect it. Judicial investigations of the cover-up have been going on since 2000 but no one has been brought to trial yet.
3. A group of corrupt police officers and a dealer in stolen cars were eventually tried on charges of having played a secondary role in the attack. In 2004 they were all acquitted. A subsequent Supreme Court decision revoked the acquittals of Telledin - the stolen car dealer who sold the van to the terrorists that they would subsequently load with explosives and blow up in the entrance to the AMIA building - and some of the corrupt police, and ordered that they be tried again. This still has not happened. The same ruling held that the initial investigation into the attack had produced a considerable amount of valid evidence and the AMIA building had indeed been destroyed by a massive bomb packed into a van, which was driven through its front gates. This scotched such colourful rumours as that the explosion had been caused by an arms dump maintained by the Jews in the building, or that it had in some way been connected with a dispute between drug traffickers.
4. Argentina has been ruled by Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for more than seven years now. During this period the investigation into the attack was reinvigorated; there has been a marked improvement in the quality of the lip service paid by the authorities to the need to find those responsible for the attack. In 2006 State Prosecutor Alberto Nisman claimed that the attack had been approved at the highest level in Tehran and issued warrants for the arrest of a number of senior figures in the Iranian regime in connection with it. The validity of those arrest warrants was subsequently confirmed by Interpol. One of the men being sought by the Argentine legal authorities is Ahmad Vahidi, Iran's Defence Minister.
Iranian regime enthusiasts are fond of pointing out that Nisman's accusations are heavily reliant on testimony from exiled opponents of Iran's present government. Some would say that this added to their credibility rather than subtracted from it, but that's not really the point. It is not usual for democratic states to have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt in order to simply achieve the extradition of a suspect. No one is suggesting that the fugitives be sent straight to jail on arriving in Argentina. The idea is rather that they would be tried in a court of law and have every chance to test the evidence against them.
5. Like her husband before her, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has repeatedly used her annual speech at the United Nations to request that Iran hand over the wanted men. The framework for the performance of this ritual is now well established. In the days leading up to the speech there's speculation in the press about exactly what form of words will be used to appeal for the extradition of the fugitives. Will it be harder or softer than last year? What do the official representatives of the Jewish community in Argentina want? Then the big day comes. The president speaks. The press analyzes what was said in terms of the above-mentioned criteria. The official spokespersons for the Jewish community declare themselves entirely pleased. The world moves on. Nothing happens.
This year an interesting variant was added to the traditional script for this event. President Fernández de Kirchner offered the Iranian government the possibility of trying the AMIA massacre suspects in a third country if it believes they could not get a fair hearing in Argentina. This modest innovation in the ritual served three purposes: it protected her from accusations of doing nothing to bring real pressure to bear on Tehran to give up the AMIA fugitives; it delighted, once more, the official representatives of the Argentine Jewish community; and it kept her in the good books of the United States.
6. Héctor Timerman, Argentina's foreign minister, gave a two-page interview to Pagina/12 on taking office in June, in which he said the following with regard to Argentina's attempts to have the fugitive Iranians extradited to answer charges of having been responsible for the AMIA massacre:
The case of Iran is simple. An Argentina court has asked for the extradition because it says it has evidence connecting them to the attack on the AMIA and wants to question them. It's up to Iran to extradite them to Argentina, where they will receive due process. We have always placed our reliance on the path of justice and respect for human rights. But Iran should be aware that Argentina isn't going to give up on its request to bring these people to justice. We suffered two attacks, first against the Embassy of Israel and then against the AMIA. Since 2003 the government has supported the demands of the courts. We are not taking other measures. We are not going to pursue other measures.
As I have translated the above text from Spanish into diplomatese, let me now translate it into English.
Hey there, everybody in Tehran - I mean both the government and terrorist suspects - you can all pour yourselves another cup of tea and relax. Neither I nor the government will do anything to make your lives uncomfortable. We're not going to further downgrade diplomatic relations nor do anything that would damage trade. And don't think for a minute that we're going to ask our allies Presidents Chávez of Venezuela and President Lula of Brazil, both of whom are friends of yours too, to use their good offices to encourage you to hand over the suspects. Call for and support tougher sanctions against Iran and bring up your sheltering of terrorist suspects in every forum that is available to us? Ha! Ha! Do you think we are completely stupid?
Yes, yes, we have to keep supporting the call for some of you guys to be extradited but that's just a show to please the gallery and, especially, the leadership of the local Jewish community. We don't want any trouble from them, do we? And note that I said that the court 'said' that it had evidence against the suspects; I didn't say that I thought such evidence existed. See how far I'm willing to go to give you guys peace of mind? I'm not even willing to give credit to the decisions of a federal court of my country.
7. Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria, visited Buenos Aires in July. He was welcomed by the government. It treated him with respect and deference. There was no mention of dead Jews or Syria's close relationship with Iran. Living Jews being repugnant to the visiting tyrant, Héctor Timerman was careful to make himself scarce during the visit.
8. The government of Argentina recently granted political asylum to Galvarino Apablaza, a Chilean citizen suspected of murdering a member of his country's Senate and the kidnapping of a businessman. These crimes were committed after the return of democracy to Chile. The decision flew in the face of a Supreme Court ruling that he ought to be extradited. The reasons given for not handing over the suspect included the fact that he has married and has children in Argentina and that Chile's anti-terrorism laws are harsh.
The refusal to extradite Apablaza shows contempt for Chile and its democratic government. It also makes it even harder for Argentina to insist on Iran doing something that it has refused to do itself.
9. Argentina's failure to convict anyone for the AMIA massacre is a national disgrace. So is its pursuit of almost completely normal relations with Iran, in spite of Iran's ongoing protection of men suspected of murdering dozens of Argentine citizens. The AMIA and the DAIA, the official representative bodies of Jewish Argentines, are accomplices to this shameful policy. They place a higher priority on winning favour with the government and generally not rocking the boat than they do on actively pursuing justice for the victims of the AMIA massacre.
10. Any democratic government that was serious about seeking justice for its slain citizens would by now have: i) broken diplomatic relations with Iran, ii) criminalized tangible support for Hezbollah and the current Iranian regime, iii) ceased to provide tangible support for Iran in the form of continuing trade relations, (iv) started actively campaigning in every forum open to it for Iran to be pressed to extradite the suspects, which means never failing to bring the matter up at the numerous international organizations of which Argentina is a member and in which it enjoys well-earned (on some issues) prestige on matters relating to human rights and (v) used its influence with its neighbours - some of whom have very good relations with Iran - to demand the extradition of the suspects.
Argentine policy is not directed towards achieving extradition of the suspects and, therefore, it has not included nor will it include in the future any of these measures. It is directed at achieving three aims: (i) not to upset Iran unduly, (ii) to keep the official representatives of Argentina's Jews onside, and (iii) to curry favour with the United States. (Eamonn McDonagh)