JTA / March 6, 2005
By Larry Luxner
WASHINGTON — It's about time, but the struggle is far from over.
That's how Memoria Activa founder Adriana Reisfeld summed up the Argentine government's long-awaited admission of guilt Friday during a hearing at the Organization of American States in Washington.
At the hearing, which was closed to the press, representatives of Argentine President Nestor Kirchner presented a nine-point proposal aimed at ending a 1998 lawsuit filed against the government in connection with a 1994 car-bombing that destroyed the Buenos Aires headquarters of AMIA, the country's largest Jewish institution.
The lawsuit was filed by Memoria Activa, an association of AMIA bombing victims and their families.
"We're satisfied, but we hope the Argentine state will keep its promises," said Reisfeld, whose sister, Noemi, was working inside the AMIA building when it was ripped apart by a powerful bomb. She was one of 85 people killed in the attack; another 200 were injured.
"For 10 years, we demanded justice, and the only thing we got were words," Reisfeld told JTA immediately following the hearing. "We had a judge who worked to block the investigation. After 10 years of injustice, we're not sure if what they're offering will really translate into concrete steps."
A report prepared by Claudio Grossman, official observer to the OAS' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, accuses Argentine officials during and since the administration of ex-president Carlos Menem of intentionally misleading investigators probing the attack, considered the bloodiest act of terrorism in Latin American history.
"It was a scathing report," said Dina Siegel Vann, director of the American Jewish Committee's Institute of Latino and Latin American Affairs. "It showed that the Argentine government was totally at fault for violating the human rights of the victims by not bringing those responsible to justice, and by not preventing an attack that could have been prevented."
Siegel added that "for the first time, Argentina has recognized that the state — not a specific government, but all three branches of government — were involved in the coverup."
Pablo Jacoby, an Argentine attorney representing Memoria Activa, accompanied Riesfeld and two other activists to Washington in order to press their case before the OAS.
"It is very important that the Argentine government recognize that it failed to take measure to avoid the attack, considering that the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was attacked only two years before," he told JTA. "This should have triggered a sufficient alarm for the Argentine state to have a contingency plan against future terrorist attacks."
Reisfeld said Memoria Activa, which has about 100 members, wants "justice and truth" — though some form of monetary compensation is also on the table.
"The government has offered to discuss indemnizations for all the AMIA victims and their families, though we haven't asked for any money," she said, adding that no specific dollar amounts have been mentioned to date.
"The most important thing is that they're committing themselves to revitalizing the investigation and finding those responsible, no matter what," she explained. "This is just the first step. We have asked the commission to supervise these negotiations. If they don't work, our next step is to go to the Inter-American Court of Justice in Costa Rica."
That's unlikely to happen, however, given the Kirchner government's apparent determination in getting to the truth.
Last week, Kirchner personally turned over top-secret files from Argentina's intelligence agency, SIDE, to two independent prosecutors leading the AMIA probe. This marked the first time in Argentine history that secret information has been declassified and shared with officials not associated with state intelligence services.
Yet the investigation itself is proceeding at a snail's pace, despite the recent establishment of a special unit that has 45 people working full-time on the case.
Top Justice Ministry official Alejandro Rúa told an Argentine newspaper last week that he believes the bombing was done with a Trafic van, and that "Iranians, Colombians, foreigners who lived in Argentina for several years were part of this plan. It appears that Samuel el-Reda, a Colombian convert to Islam — the husband of a secretary of the then-Iranian cultural attache, Moshen Rabbani, and a man from the Triple Frontier [the area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet] with a mobile telephone under the name of André Márquez coordinated the operation."
Yet Rúa conceded that Rabbani, el-Reda and Márquez are most likely in Lebanon or Iran, making their capture and eventual extradition to Argentina nearly impossible.
Said Jacoby: "When you have a suspect, you must have physical evidence and testimony to be able to issue a warrant for his arrest. If you don't, unfortunately the extradition request will fall apart. This is what happened with Hadi Suleimanpur [the Iranian ambassador to Argentina at the time]."
Diana Malamud, who lost her 35-year-old husband in the bombing, doubts the terrorists will ever be brought to justice.
"It's very difficult now, because 10 years have gone by, and the time lost is irreplaceable," she said, adding that what really hurts is an attitude of indifference on the part of Argentine media and society.
"The attack against AMIA was really an anti-Semitic attack, but what the government said was, 'this has nothing to do with us.' In the media, it was reported that 'Jews and innocent people died,' as though Jews were not innocent. The government and society in general always wanted to separate us. We have always struggled against this."