For the life of me, I don’t see any difference in principal between Operation Condor, the international assassination program being run out of Chile in the 1970s under Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and the international assassination program being run by President Obama, the Pentagon, and the CIA.
Indeed, it seems rather bizarre to me that Argentine and Chilean officials are currently being indicted and convicted for assassination they carried out under Operation Condor while President Obama and his national security establishment are receiving accolades and praises by the U.S. mainstream press for their assassinations.
It’s true that under Operation Condor, they were assassinating suspected communists while Obama’s team is assassinating suspected terrorists. But isn’t that a distinction without a difference? The fact is that both assassination operations have been based on assassinating people who have never been convicted in a court of law of the offense for which they are being killed.
President Obama’s team has bent over backwards to show how careful they have been in choosing people to be assassinated. They have a team of national-security bureaucrats who carefully study the evidence and then make a decision on whether a person is going to be added to their kill list.
But surely Operation Condor was based on some type of bureaucratic decision-making as well. For example, when Condor officials decided to assassinate Orlando Letelier, who had served as foreign minister in the Allende administration, or Gen. Carlos Prats, who had served as head of the Chilean Armed Forces under Allende, or Bernard Leighton, who had been vice president of Chile, or any of the other tens of thousands of assassination victims, surely they had the same type of bureaucratic team employed by President Obama to give the okay to the assassinations.
In fact, there is a good chance that the CIA and the Pentagon even modeled their war on terrorism assassination program on Operation Condor. That’s because the CIA was a secret partner in Operation Condor, the partner that supplied the technological and communications equipment that was used to coordinate assassination operations between the respective members of Operation Condor.
In fact, the man in overall charge of Condor, Manuel Contreras, was not only also in charge of DINA, the Chilean agency that was in charge of rounding up Chileans who were suspected of being communists and torturing, raping, or executing them, he was a “double-dipper” in that he was also a salaried agent of the CIA.
The common element between Operation Condor and Obama’s assassination program is this: There is no due process of law or trial by jury accorded to people before they are assassinated. Instead, under both operations a team of national-security state bureaucrats makes the life-or-death determination.
What is due process of law? It’s a principle that stretches back to Magna Carta. It holds that the king (or a president or a general) cannot kill a person without first giving him notice and opportunity to be heard.
That’s what the Fifth Amendment is all about. It prohibits the federal government from depriving any person (not just American citizens) of life without due process of law. That means a criminal indictment outlining the charges, an opportunity to dispute the charges in a court of law, and a right to have a jury of regular citizens decide whether the charges are true.
Due process of law was ignored by Pinochet, whose brutal dictatorial regime brought Operation Condor into existence. It’s also being ignored by President Obama in his worldwide war on terrorism. Both Pinochet and Obama have assassinated thousands of people, all without due process of law and trial by jury.
Among the most famous assassinations carried out by Condor was that of Orlando Letelier. He was a communist official in the administration of Salvador Allende, a communist who the Chilean people had democratically elected to be their president. After being brutally tortured by DINA officials, Letelier was released and came to the United States, where he began lobbying Congress to terminate U.S. foreign aid to the Pinochet regime — aid that was subsidizing Pinochet’s torture, rape, incarceration, and execution operation.
Since he was a committed communist who was threatening the national security of Chile, Condor officials marked Letelier for assassination. On September 21, 1976, a Condor operation headed by an American man named Michael Townley, who was working for DINA, exploded a car bomb under Letelier’s car, killing him and his 26-year-old assistant Ronni Moffit, who had just recently gotten married.
In the eyes of Operation Condor officials, there was nothing wrong with this. They were waging the war on communism, just as U.S. officials were at that time, and just as U.S. officials today are waging their war on terrorism. Letelier was a communist and a threat to national security. Sure, it was perhaps unfortunate that Moffitt got killed too but bystanders are often killed in Obama’s drone assassination program as well. Anyway, the reasoning goes, if a person doesn’t want to risk losing his life, he shouldn’t be hanging out with communists and terrorists.
Ironically, however, that’s not the way that some Justice Department officials saw the situation. They considered that the Letelier assassination was outright murder. In other words, they rejected the war on communism mindset that was guiding the people in Operation Condor. They decided to go after Townley and his assassination team and in the right way — by providing them with due process of law and trial by jury. The accused assassins were indicted, tried, and convicted, but they never had to spend much time in jail for what amounted to premeditated murder. In fact, in a favorable twist of fate for Townley, the feds ultimately put him into their Federal Witness Protection Program. Today, Michael Townley is still being protected by the feds.
The fact that President Obama’s assassination program mirrors the assassination program carried out by Gen. Pinochet’s Operation Condor should cause every American to pause and reflect on it and, more generally, what old Cold War-era national security establishment has done — and continues to do — to our country.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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