BUENOS AIRES — While the international angle of the investigation into the 1994 bombing of the Jewish communal center here received an unexpected boost with the arrest in Britain of Iran’s former ambassador to Argentina, the trial of Argentineans accused of abetting the attack may be heading toward failure, observers said.
A court is expected to render a verdict in the next couple of months in the case of a dozen policemen and an automobile thief who have been on trial for the last two years for allegedly providing the van filled with 600 pounds of explosives that detonated after crashing into the Jewish Mutual Association of Argentina, or AMIA, building on July 18, 1994, killing 85 people and wounding more than 300.
Representatives of the AMIA and the DAIA, Argentina’s Jewish umbrella organization, are warning that the judges may set the accused free because they seem more intent on examining the numerous irregularities of the investigation carried out over the last nine years by Judge Juan José Galeano than they are in questioning the accused.
“We are very worried because it seems that the judges are more interested in investigating the investigation than in anything else,” said Alfredo Neuburger, a spokesman for the DAIA. “If those people are set free, this will be very grave and a failure for Argentinean justice.”
Marta Nercellas and Miguel Bronfman, lawyers for the DAIA and AMIA respectively, said the three judges had been very soft on the Buenos Aires police officers in the dock.
“I am afraid they took the position that the trial will collapse because of the investigators,” Nercellas said. “If this happens, it would be very tough for the Jewish community and the truth. And I believe this will impact the international aspect of the investigation. What moral authority will we have to pursue it if the local investigation falls apart?”
Several observers indeed envisioned a domino effect with the trial collapsing, Galeano quitting and the investigation left in limbo nearly 10 years after the bombing.
Two people close to the trial said there is reliable information that the judges are purposely planning to render their verdict in January, a time when Argentineans are on vacation and the political fallout from an acquittal would therefore be muted.
But some observers believe that an acquittal would be a logical end to a botched and politically biased investigation.
One such critic is Claudio Lifschitz, a lawyer who spent two years working with Galeano and later wrote a book that offered a scathing indictment of the investigation, arguing that the Argentine government had purposely diverted the investigation because an honest examination would have implicated Argentina’s intelligence service. Lifschitz has accused Galeano of destroying evidence and ignoring facts in order to please his political patrons.
Galeano’s actions are currently being investigated by another judge.
Lifschitz argues that the police officers should be acquitted.
“If such a verdict takes place, then we could finally have a real investigation,” Lifschitz told the Forward two days before he was to testify at the officers’ trial. “I know those policemen are innocent because I was at the heart of the investigation when this trail was followed. We quickly realized it was wrong, but the judge decided to pursue it anyway.”
Lifschitz contends that Argentina’s intelligence service, known as SIDE, had infiltrated a cell of Iranians and Arabs, providing logistical support for the attack, but that they lost track of its members just before the bombing. As a result, the intelligence service directed the investigation toward the Buenos Aires police with the full support of the government.
His views have been echoed by the lawyers for the accused, as well as by a group of relatives of the victims, called Memoria Activa, which has long accused the government of former president Carlos Menem of misdirecting the investigation.
While DAIA and government officials, as well as Galeano, have dismissed Lifschitz as a liar with possible links to the Buenos Aires police, other observers say many of his assertions are being vindicated and that some of the leads he has pointed to are now being pursued.
Still, the main Jewish groups say the evidence against the policemen is overwhelming and that a negative outcome would be a huge blow.
“We agree that all the wrong things done by Galeano should be investigated,” DAIA’s Neuburger said. “But this should not come at the price of freeing those guys.”