Note: See additional photos from the event in IPS’ Picasa gallery.
On such an occasion one says thanks to the Ambassador and his wonderful staff. But where to start? I guess I just need to look around the room, at my friend and colleague Marc Raskin. On the day of the assassination of Orlando and Ronni, he and IPS co-founder Dick Barnet made a courageous decision: not to submit to terrorism. Instead of cowering, they appointed Isabel Morel, Orlando’s widow, to take his place in the struggle against Pinochet’s fascism. Isabel proved herself a formidable opponent, a tireless organizer and speaker, a great woman. Her four sons follow in that tradition. Wonderful young men. I thank them for turning out so well.
Marc and Dick also had the courage to keep the other Chileans on the IPS payroll, despite pressure from within the Institute to let them go. Juan Gabriel Valdes, Waldo Fortin and Lilian Montecino stayed with the IPS for many months after the assassinations. Ann Barnet provided Dick with strength and moral certitude. She remains a friend and a source of inspiration. I thank her as well. I thank Bob Borosage who as IPS director also supported the investigation and publicity we did around the case. He didn’t complain although he often had good reason to. Peter Weiss chaired the board and also never vacillated in his commitment. Indeed, Cora and the whole Weiss family merit a super special place in my heart for their ability to hold together love, firmness and ethics. I know I also gave all of them cause to worry. Looking back, I can’t say I’m sorry. And I don’t think they’d want me to.
I look at my other colleagues current and past from IPS, my fellow Trustees, those who have helped maintain the Institute over the decades and keep alive its history through the celebration of our departed friends and colleagues and I feel not only the warm glow of fraternity, but of gratitude as well. And that feeling extends to the larger community of people who come each year to Sheridan Circle and collectively remember the act of terrorism that shook this city, this nation and much of the world. It’s more than memory. It’s a ritual in good citizenship, one that transcends the normal processes of democracy and extends to the world of deep conviction. Eliana Loveluck and Peter Kornbluh gave of their imaginations and souls. Phil Brenner and Betsy Veith and Scott Armstrong and Barbara Guss always came through and of my contemporary colleagues Sarah and John stand out as the carriers of the historical thread. I’m thankful to have you as friends and colleagues.
I also thank Carter Cornick who as the FBI Special Agent in charge of the investigation showed up at Sheridan Circle amidst the blood and glass and wreckage and stuck with the case until he had collected enough evidence to convict the scoundrels. I admit I was suspicious after the FBI had sent in 70 plus informers into IPS in the years prior to the murders. But Carter told me on the first day: “I’m a criminal investigator and I’m going to solve this case.” And, unlike some of my colleagues who thought I was naïve, I believed him. And thank God I was right. Thanks Carter also for teaching me the limits of ideology. He said “Killers kill. That’s what they do,” when I tried to spin some highly theoretical scenarios to him. Absent is his partner in crime-solving, Bob Scherrer whose insights played a key role in breaking open the case. May he rest in peace! Sometimes I think it’s the only case the Bureau really solved. (It’s a joke Carter). Seriously, when honest officials do their job despite pressure not to do it – I think of Judge Juan Guzman in Chile – it makes them special. Often in government, it’s more comfortable – except for your conscience — not to do the right thing. We have lots of examples of that.
Also meriting thanks is former Assistant US Attorney Larry Barcella who with Gene Propper vigorously prosecuted the culprits – and wrote in the Washington Post a letter that pushed some honest people in the Administration not to drop the ball of justice. He too merits my thanks.
Mark Schneider never let up. Relentlessly, he used his positions inside government to keep the pressure on the criminals, to persuade Senators of the need to cut aid to the criminal government. Thank you, Mark for your un-swaying commitment.
Sam Buffone and Mike Tigar did brilliant legal work, but went beyond the law in their efforts to secure some justice for their clients. Sam, you deserve special thanks for keeping the civil case and thus the State Department interest in it alive during some very dour times.
John Dinges collaborated with me on telling the story in print in Assassination on Embassy Row. Writing a book pushes you to make sense out of facts, to question untested assumptions, to force the brain to go to places it didn’t to go. The cooperative effort with John taught me on several levels, and the more I learned about the case, and the nasty people who perpetrated the deed, the more committed I felt to pursuing them so as to achieve what ultimately all the pursuers of Pinochet’s crimes have achieved – a small measure of justice.
I want to thank President Bachelet who I remember fondly from the days her mom volunteered at IPS and she would drop by after school and lick envelopes with her mother – for the campaign to restore human rights and democracy in Chile. That’s a wonderful fact for her biography, part of her clean path and noble path to the presidency.
Absent is the man who did most to bring about the slow and steady decline of criminal en jefe as he called him. Juan Garces did what none of the rest of us could do. He got Pinochet arrested and held for more than a year in England. His legal brilliance and his refusal to accept “reality,” as the rest of us defined it, allowed him to push the legal system to its logical straining point. This indefatigable battler for justice and human rights deserves more than thanks. He is a model.
My wife Rebecca stood by me in my craziest most frenetic and paranoid hours. She even occasionally humored me, as I made jokes about the wicked anti-Castro Cubans who swore to kill me. I didn’t entirely discount their threats. She deserves a special and very long term thank you for the countless words and deeds that went into the decades-long process that ensued from the act of terror on September 21, 1976.
In this room so many good people helped in so many ways, with a hug, a nod, a check, by showing up to an event, by offering help, knowledge, and insight. I thank you all. I feel deeply grateful for this honor.
Pinochet is dead, the Al Capone of the Southern Cone. He killed, tortured and oppressed his people for 17 years. But we should not forget who made Pinochet’s long reign possible. At a secret meeting in the White House a few men, Nixon, Kissinger and their CIA servant Richard Helms decided to alter the destiny of the Chilean people.
Yes, unfinished business remains. But think for a moment on the changes. In the bad, old days we gathered across the street in Sheridan Circle and shook our fists at this very building where we now stand proudly. Since the transition to civilian government, Chilean Ambassadors have begun to join us in memory of Orlando and Ronni. Ambassador Fernandez has strengthened the ties.
When President Bachelet made her first trip to Washington and chose to lay a wreath at Sheridan Circle – before she met with President Bush – we were deeply moved. My presence here is one more sign of how dramatically things have changed in Chile.
So, I thank the government of Chile for this award and for moving steadily away from the military fascism of the Pinochet years and towards a government that shows respect for human rights.. Some of its officials remember all too well what torture feels like and all remember the death of friends and family members at the hands of Pinochet’s thugs.
I think that all who worked for the restoration of human rights will remember the origin of the evil that began in Washington and took so many lives and found its way back to Washington to kill two more – our friends and colleagues – in Sheridan Circle.