Justice in Argentina would be a victory for the war on terrorism

By By Matteo Jensen

By Matteo Jensen

Iran is about to get away with murder — again. Saber-rattling and sanctions have been ineffective in slowing the regime’s momentum. But in the coming weeks the international community will have the opportunity to hold Iran to the fire for its role in two gruesome acts of terror.

St. Patrick’s Day 1992 is a day that has been etched in my memory. Buenos Aires seemed so remote from the chaos and violence so vividly portrayed on television: the first Gulf War, Brazilian gangs, the brutal beating of Rodney King and the terror unleashed by the Palestinian Intifada. That afternoon, however, the violence was brought chillingly close to home.

The serenity of the Retiro neighborhood was shattered when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with explosives into the Israeli embassy. Sitting in my classroom a few blocks away, I vividly recall how the earth trembled. Soon, a pillar of thick, black smoke rose into the air, while a wall of flames danced at its base. A courageous rescue effort was mounted, but the bomb had completed its task: 29 people had been killed and hundreds more injured.

The city quickly moved to rebuild. But how quickly that healing process was derailed! Only two years after the embassy bombing, a more devastating terrorist attack struck the heart of Buenos Aires. This time, the target was the historic Barrio Once, birthplace of the tango, resting place of Rivadavia and center of Argentina’s Jewish community. That cool, wet winter day, July 18, the formidable AMIA building was reduced to rubble by an even larger truck bomb. The devastation and loss of life was also much greater: 85 were dead when the smoke and rain finally cleared.

The physical and psychological damage caused by these attacks was overwhelming. Despite this, the capital’s newspapers proudly proclaimed solidarity with the victims. That sentiment was widely held — we were all Judios. We had all been robbed of our sense of security.

Our confidence in our government was badly shaken and with good reason. Argentina’s corrupt police force and fragile judicial system stalled and even impeded investigations into the incidents. Ultimately, no one has been held accountable for these massacres. Although the public has continuously demanded justice, the issue has faded into the background — passed from administration to administration.

President Nestor Kirchner resurrected the cause. He has boldly and resolutely brought reform to the judicial system and purged the police force of corruption. This effort has reinvigorated the case and since 2005 the courts have moved swiftly to identify those who perpetrated the attacks and bring justice to the victims of the 1992 and 1994 bombings.

This effort is now in jeopardy. In March 2007, Argentina petitioned Interpol to arrest nine suspects — eight Iranians and one Hezbollah leader — for their role in the bombings. The international police agency has accepted responsibility for six, while declining to arrest “moderates” such as the former President of Iran, Ayatollah Rafsanjani. Iran immediately challenged the validity of these warrants.

The fate of these investigations now rests with Interpol’s General Assembly. That body will decide through a simple majority vote whether or not the warrants are executed. Iran is using a two-pronged approach to ensure that the warrants are not enforced.

First, it has begun to employ its oversized, oil-driven influence. By forging alliances with petro-states such as Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador, which should be natural allies of Argentina, Iran has been a political coup de grace. High oil prices have allowed Iran to make many generous loans to small and easily influenced nations over the last year. And Iranian dominance over the Strait of Hormuz must also be taken into account.

However, Iran’s other tactic has been more subtle and much more crafty. Iran is about to become a nuclear power, changing the balance of power in the region and the world. There is little the United States can do to prevent this from happening. After 30 years in power, the ayatollahs certainly realize that Dick Cheney is as impotent as the Wizard of Oz. When the curtain is pulled away, both are revealed as sad old men with no power to enforce their threats.

What then is the prescription? The next meeting of Interpol’s General Assembly is Nov. 5-8.

It is imperative that the United States and its allies use dialogue and diplomacy to gather support for the Argentine effort. How nations vote on this issue will reveal their commitment to combating terrorism wherever it strikes.

The victims of 1992 and 1994 deserve justice — even if it is served rather late.

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