Did the best chance for justice in the AMIA bombing case die with Alberto Nisman?
On July 18, 1994, terrorists bombed the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires killing 85 and wounding 300. Twenty-one years later, no one has been brought to justice.
In fact, years of efforts to solve the case could be characterized as farcical. The original judge on the case was even removed and charges were brought against him. Things finally changed 11 years after the attack. That is when then-Argentine President Nestor Kirchner created a Special Investigative Unit and named Alberto Nisman as its prosecutor.
For years, Nisman heroically followed evidence in the terror attack wherever it led. And it led to some dangerous places.
Nisman’s investigation uncovered deep involvement in the attack by top levels of the Tehran government, often through its terror proxy—Hezbollah. Based on Nisman’s dogged research, Interpol issued arrest warrants for the attack, but no arrests have ever been made.
Nisman had been bravely gathering evidence in the case for a decade. Until his body was found Jan. 19, on the eve of a scheduled appearance before the Argentine Congress to expand on the complaint he made against the president and other members and allies of the government.
His mysterious death came soon after he filed a complaint against Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman alleging they offered Iran impunity in the 1994 terror attack, just before teaming up with Iran to create the “Commission of Truth,” designed, incredulously, to find those responsible for the attack.
It was easy to be skeptical of the “Commission of Truth” from the start. The stated goal was to form a partnership between Iran and Argentina what would “independently” investigate the bombing.What essentially occured was the Commission of Truth put the chief suspects in the case in charge of finding the attackers and interviewing them in Tehran.
An Argentine federal court recognized the absurdity of this relationship, calling it unconstitutional, and struck down the deal that basically would have shielded Iran from culpability in the attack. The Argentine government appealed this ruling though, and a Cassation Court will soon decide the matter.
Twenty-one years does not diminish the need for justice, or sooth the pain for the families of the victims, and the community as a whole.
Last month, I met with Jewish community leaders in Buenos Aires, along with representatives of families who lost loved ones in the attack. They are not giving up on justice. And neither are we.
Active in more than 20 countries in the Western Hemisphere, B’nai B’rith established our first Latin American branch in Argentina 85 years ago. Argentina is the home of the largest Jewish community in Latin America, the third largest in the Americas (after the United States and Canada), and the sixth largest in the world, with approximately 250,000 Jews.
Justice is not just an ephemeral idea to strive for. It’s a concrete embodiment of living in a civilized society. Having the perpetrators face charges for their vicious attack demonstrates to would be attackers that the world is watching, and there is a price for your barbarity.
In some ways, the AMIA bombing demonstrates how justice denied has lingering and deadly repercussions. The AMIA bombing was actually the second terrorist attack on the Argentine Jewish community. In April of 1992, 32 people were killed when the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires was bombed. Two years later, the AMIA bombing would become the worst terrorist attack ever committed against a Latin American country, and the worst anti-Semitic event since World War II.
Alberto Nisman’s death means the AMIA case has lost its most dogged, fearless and thorough champion. But it doesn’t mean the pursuit of justice should stop.
It can’t. Because never forgetting, holding terrorists responsible for their actions, showing the civilized global community that chaos and lawlessness will not be rewarded, is a fundamental right and responsibility we share.