SANTIAGO, Chile – Former dictator Augusto Pinochet told a judge Wednesday that he does not remember what his security forces did at a secret detention center where thousands were tortured and hundreds were killed. He claimed he is not responsible for their actions.
Judge Alejandro Solis questioned Pinochet in connection with 59 cases of torture and kidnapping at the Villa Grimaldi detention center, where Pinochet's forces once jailed and abused President Michelle Bachelet and her mother among other victims.
The judge is weighing whether to indict the 90-year-old former strongman, who has been stripped of his immunity as a former president.
"Many times he answered that he does not remember the facts he was being asked about," said Solis after questioning Pinochet at his mansion in suburban Santiago. "He said he was not responsible in what happened and he did not even remember the names of the people."
All previous attempts to try Pinochet have failed after the courts dropped charges based on his poor health. He has been diagnosed with mild dementia, diabetes and arthritis, and he has a pacemaker.
The latest tests by court-appointed doctors show him fit to stand trial — a finding challenged Wednesday by defense lawyer Pablo Rodriguez.
"Gen. Pinochet's health prevents him from standing trial and properly defending himself," he said.
Wednesday's questioning, however, leaves Solis free to indict the former dictator.
"It's an important fact in this case that he has answered the questions," Solis said. "The general cooperated."
Official reports say Villa Grimaldi was used as a secret detention, torture and execution center in the early years of Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship.
Bachelet paid an emotional visit Saturday to the torture center, now a memorial to its victims. She said her government will move to repeal an amnesty law that has prevented prosecution of dictatorship-era human rights violations.
Bachelet was a 22-year-old medical student and member of the Socialist Party when she was held at Villa Grimaldi with her mother, Angela Jeria.
The president has said they were abused there, including being kept blindfolded for days, but has given no other details. Her mother has called the place "one of the worst houses of torture" and said: "I was kept for a week in a box, blindfolded, tied up, without food."
About 4,500 people who were held at the detention center between 1973 and 1978. Most were tortured, many were killed and more than 200 were never heard from again. According to a report by a commission appointed by the first post-Pinochet civilian government, 3,197 people were killed for political reasons under the dictatorship.