Pinochet and Opponents Await British Government''s Decision

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - The case of General Augusto Pinochet headed towards a climax Wednesday, as Chile sent a plane to fly the former dictator home in case Britain frees him, while human rights groups considered urgent legal steps to prevent him from leaving the country.

Amnesty International lawyers may go to the High Court immediately after Home Secretary Jack Straw announces his final decision on freeing Pinochet. Straw has been considering submissions made by parties interested in seeing Pinochet tried on torture charges.

Pinochet's opponents will be racing against time, for the former dictator is likely to be rushed to a Royal Airforce base in Oxfordshire if and when he is freed. A Chilean air force plane, sent Tuesday, is waiting for him there.

"He is waiting to be freed, we're just waiting on the Home Secretary," Patrick Robertson, public relations advisor to Pinochet, told early Wednesday.

Asked whether the tension was taking its toll on the 84-year-old general, Robertson would only say: "There's no information at this moment about his personal condition."

The Boeing 707 left Chile Tuesday afternoon, around the same time the deadline for submissions to Straw passed. Seven days earlier, Straw announced he was "minded" to free Pinochet from 15 months of house arrest, on the grounds medical tests had found him too ill to be extradited to Spain for trial.

The decision brought protests from lawyers in Spain who initiated the warrant for his arrest in late 1998, along with human rights organizations in Britain, who noted Straw was basing his decision on medical evidence not made public.

Amnesty International and other groups on Tuesday lodged formal submissions with the Home Office, demanding that new medical tests be done.

"When Jack Straw decides, we should have the opportunity to go to court," an Amnesty spokesperson told

She referred to a key point in the submission delivered Tuesday, which asked Straw to give full reasons for his decision, and then allow a period of about seven day to enable the decision to be challenged in court, while Pinochet "remains subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts."

In a statement, Amnesty secretary-general Pierre San\'e9 said the issue was about fairness and transparency.

"Augusto Pinochet is innocent until proven guilty and has the right to raise his medical condition. The victims of his administration and those representing them have the right to see the medical evidence and challenge it if they so wish.

All that we are asking for is that Jack Straw takes his final decision after a fair process."

Apart from the human rights groups' representations, others have been received from the Spanish lawyers, as well as from several alleged victims of torture under Pinochet's 1973-1990 rule.

Although the Home Office will not comment on the submissions received by the 1700 GMT deadline, it's believed France and Belgium, which also have outstanding extradition requests for Pinochet, may also have made official representations.

Straw warned his decision would not be taken immediately, as he would have to give full consideration to the submissions.

Even if Pinochet returns to Chile, where he holds the position of senator-for-life, he faces some 50 possible lawsuits there. He has denied the charges of torturing political opponents.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow