Argentina: The Mystery Surrounding the death of Alberto Nisman’s
Argentina: The Mystery Surrounding the death of Alberto Nisman’s
Was Nisman’s Case Against Iran Junk?
1994 a bomb exploded at the Jewish community centre of Amia, killing 85
people. Immediately the finger was
pointed at Iran, not least by Israel.
Whatever the truth of this accusation, we should bear in mind that when Argentinia’s
neo-Nazi Junta (1976-83) tortured and murdered up to 3,000 Jewish people, Israel
said not a word. It was busy conducting
a lucrative arms trade with the Generals.
Foreign Minister today, Hector Timerman, is the son of Jacobo Timerman, the Jewish
& left-Zionist editor of La Opinion, a liberal newspaper. He was imprisoned and savagely tortured by
the Junta. Because of his international
reputation the Junta was forced to release him and he went to Israel as a hero –
at least before he wrote ‘The Longest War’ a devastating criticism of Israel’s 1982
war in Lebanon. Timerman returned home and died in Argentina.
Nisman, the Argentinian special prosecutor in the bombing of the Jewish community
centre either committed suicide or was murdered on 18th January in
his flat. The Opposition has claimed
that the Argentinian President, Cristina Kirchner played a part in Nisman’s
alleged murder. It is widely believed
that Nisman was killed because he had got near the truth of Iranian involvement
in the bombing.
It was widely believed special prosecutor Alberto Nisman
died because he was about to expose a criminal pact between Argentine President
Cristina Kirchner and the Iranian government to cover up the latter’s
responsibility in the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’s Jewish community center.
It now appears when the U.S. and Israeli governments rejected an agreement
between Argentina and Iran that might have lead to solving the case, Nisman set
about sabotaging it.
It is widely believed, particularly outside Argentina,
that special prosecutor Alberto Nisman died because he was about to expose a
criminal pact between President Cristina Kirchner and the Iranian government to
cover up the latter’s responsibility in the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’s
Jewish community center. According to this riveting version of events, powerful
forces — most likely the government he was accusing, perhaps Iran — murdered
Nisman to keep him silent.
If you are one of the many people watching that movie, I
have to warn you: Judge Daniel Rafecas’s flat-out dismissal of Nisman’s
accusation, released February 26, is going to be quite a spoiler.
Aftermath of bombing
I don’t know of anyone in Argentina who considered
Nisman a hero before he was found dead in his apartment on January 18. He was
part of a species born and bred in my country, a specimen of the politicized
federal justice system — typically, someone who stretches the law, lives beyond
his means and always stands close to power. Nisman was also known among his
colleagues for his close ties to Argentina’s intelligence services. The
services have long been involved in political espionage, financing of political
campaigns, bribing of judges and lawmakers, and every dirty operation you can
In 1997, when he first became involved in the case —
known in Argentina by the JCC’s acronym, AMIA — Nisman was a young and
ambitious prosecutor making a career in the newly inaugurated system of open
His task was to make presentable the fabrication concocted by Judge Juan José
Galeano. With forged evidence, Galeano and other authorities had accused a ring
of corrupt police officers of being the “local connection” in the bombing.
The open trial began in 2001 and ended in disaster in
2004. The forgery was so apparent that it didn’t survive scrutiny. The
policemen were exonerated. The judge, the prosecutors, the head of the
intelligence service, a high-ranking police officer, former president Carlos
Menem and the leader of the main political Jewish organization were eventually
indicted for the cover-up (and are going to trial in a few months). Nisman
somehow survived, and President Néstor Kirchner (Cristina Kirchner’s now late
husband, who took office in 2007) appointed him as special prosecutor for the
AMIA case. He had to rebuild it from scratch. In 2006, based mostly on foreign
intelligence reports, Nisman accused the Iranians of sponsoring the attack,
allegedly carried out by Hezbollah militants.
In the following years, the Kirchners firmly supported
these allegations, accusing Iran in international forums. But in 2013, Cristina
Kirchner and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, a prominent Argentine Jew
and the son of Jacobo Timerman, a publisher revered by some as a human rights
figure in the 1970s, signed a surprising memorandum of understanding with Iran.
The memorandum was intended to create an international
commission of jurists to analyze the evidence provided by both countries on the
AMIA case and to issue a nonbinding recommendation. Interpol had released
international arrest warrants against five Iranian suspects, who remained in
Iran. The main point for Argentina was that Iran would allow these suspects to
be interrogated by Nisman and the new judge of the case, Rodolfo Canicoba
Corral. This was considered a solution to the impasse the case had faced,
because Argentine law requires that a suspect be interrogated before he can be
indicted. Once the suspect is interrogated, even if he claims innocence, the
judge has the power to indict and to send the case to trial. The 20th
anniversary of the bombing was approaching on July 18, 2014, and the government
wanted to show progress by that date.
When the agreement became public, Nisman broke ranks and
repudiated it. By then he had found in the state department of the United
States a more powerful ally. According to diplomatic cables made public by
WikiLeaks in 2010, Nisman had sought the approval of America’s embassy in
Buenos Aires before making any move in the case. When the Israeli and the
American governments rejected the memorandum between Argentina and Iran, Nisman
Why not wait until recess was over? Because, according to
numerous testimonies, he feared the government was going to remove him from his
post, as part of a larger judicial reform. (Several of those reforms were
introduced December 31, and that same day, Nisman changed his return ticket
The first judge who received Nisman’s accusation
rejected it as baseless. The Jewish leadership refused to stand by him in
parliament (they started supporting him post-mortem). The victim’s relatives’
associations rejected not only the accusation, but also Nisman himself: They
had been asking for his removal from the case all along.
Then, on January 18, Nisman was found dead, shot in the
head with a .22-caliber bullet inside the bathroom of his locked 13th-floor
apartment in the posh Puerto Madero area of Buenos Aires.
With the country in shock — half the public thinking it
was murder and 77% believing that the truth about his death would never be
known, according to a national poll — Nisman’s 289-page accusation was made
available online. His allegations of a cover-up, it turned out, were based on
two weak journalistic reports and hundreds of hours of wiretapped phone
conversations between peripheral political operators aligned with the
government, a criminal who tried to pass as a secret agent and the leader of
the Islamic community in Buenos Aires who is also an agent of Iranian interests
Several of the country’s most prominent jurists agreed
that there was no evidence to prove that a crime of any kind had been
committed. But with demonstrators in the streets paying homage to Nisman,
federal prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita picked up the case and
filed the accusation again.
On February 26, Rafecas demolished it.
His 63-page dismissal is devastating: Not only was there
“not even circumstantial evidence” of the alleged cover-up or obstruction of
justice in Nisman’s last document, the judge wrote, but the evidence gathered
by Nisman himself openly contradicted his accusations. In essence, the judge
offered three points. First, since the memorandum of understanding was never
actually implemented — the Iranian Parliament had not approved it, and an
Argentine court ruled it unconstitutional — the alleged crime never took place.
Second, Nisman had accused Timerman of trying to cancel
Interpol’s international arrest warrants against the Iranian suspects. Rafecas
proved with testimonies and documents from Interpol and the Argentine Foreign
Ministry that the opposite is true: Timerman was adamant that the warrants,
known as “red notices,” stayed in place before and after the agreement with
Iran. They still are in place. “There is not a single piece of evidence, a
single trace, that supports the prosecutor’s hypothesis…. that Héctor Timerman
had ever planned or prepared an attempt of a cover-up,” Rafecas wrote. “If
anything becomes apparent in the wiretapped conversations (among the Iranian
agents and their Argentine counterparts), it is that [(Timerman)] was the enemy
to be vanquished.”
Third, the wiretapped conversations, involving people
who are not public officers, could have been, at best, hints of a plan that was
also never put into action — that is, the alleged trade-off of impunity for
oil. Rafecas showed that there’s no trace of any real link to the Argentine
government, only a lot of boasting among small-time characters.
Nisman’s criminal hypothesis, the judge concluded,
“lacks all validity.”
And it gets worse. Rafecas revealed that Nisman wrote
contradictory submissions on the same month of his death: on one side, his
explosive accusation; on the other, two documents, both with his signature and
dated January 2015, in which he praised the government’s efforts to bring the
Iranian suspects to justice, acknowledging that the only aim of Kirchner was to
move forward with the investigation. The only thing he complained about was
that, in its negotiations with Iran, the Argentine government was accepting
some of Iran’s conditions instead of forcing the country to surrender the
suspects. Nowhere in these two documents, which his clerks handed to Rafecas
after Nisman’s death, did the prosecutor accuse the government of a cover-up.
Where does this all leave the bombing investigation?
Does this mean that the Iranians are guilty or not guilty of planning or
carrying out the attack? And why?
“We don’t know anything, anything, anything at all” about these questions,
summed up Diana Malamud, leader of Memoria Activa, one of three organizations
of AMIA’s victims’ relatives. In almost 21 years since the bombing, there have
been so many hypothesis and fabrications, she added, that “if someone tells me
today there was no bombing, I would consider it.”
[Graciela Mochkofsky is an Argentine journalist who is
the author of an acclaimed biography of Jacobo Timerman. She is currently a
Prins Foundation fellow at the Center for Jewish History, in New York.]