Lawyers Appeal Pinochet Indictment

Lawyers for Gen. Augusto Pinochet (search) appealed a judge's decision to place the former Chilean dictator under house arrest, winning him at least another day of freedom.

Judge Juan Guzman (search) ordered Pinochet, 89, confined to his home after indicting him Monday in the kidnapping of nine dissidents and the death of one of them during his 17-year military regime.

It is the third attempt to try him for alleged abuses during his rule in the South American country.

The ruling reversed earlier Chilean court decisions to exempt Pinochet from trial on health grounds.

"Gen. Pinochet has been declared mentally competent to face a criminal trial in Chile," Guzman said.

He said he reached that decision after questioning the former president and examining reports from court-appointed doctors. Guzman said he also was influenced an interview Pinochet gave to a Spanish-language TV station in Miami last year.

Pinochet told the station he sees himself as "a good angel," and blamed abuses on subordinates in his regime. Guzman said Pinochet appeared mentally alert.

"It was not difficult," Guzman said of his decision.

Guzman has a reputation as a crusader in prominent human rights cases. He has tried to bring Pinochet to trial before but was blocked by the Supreme Court, which said the general had a mild case of dementia that made him unfit to stand trial.

The general's defense team quickly filed an injunction with the Santiago Court of Appeals, effectively freezing the house arrest until the court rules on it, probably in the next day or two.

Pinochet's chief attorney, Pablo Rodriguez, called the indictment and detention a violation of Pinochet's rights.

"This is a person that is being tried without having any possibility whatsoever of defending himself," Rodriguez claimed. "Everybody in Chile knows that Gen. Pinochet has been constantly persecuted by Judge Guzman."

The defense, still contending Pinochet has dementia, say his condition has gotten worse.

Pinochet also suffers from diabetes, arthritis and has a heart pacemaker.

A small group of alleged victims of Pinochet's regime and their relatives celebrated Guzman's announcement in the crowded court hallways.

"This is great news for all those Chileans who do not accept impunity in the violations of human rights," said Viviana Diaz, an activist for relatives of dissidents who disappeared under Pinochet.

Pinochet, who remained at his guarded suburban Santiago mansion, had no immediate reaction.

Prosecution lawyers said the decision sets a precedent. "We now expect other indictments will follow in other cases," attorney Eduardo Contreras said.

The indictment is part of the investigation into the so-called "Operation Condor," a joint plan by the dictatorships of several South American nations in the 1970s and '80s to suppress dissent.

The charges against Pinochet that were dropped in 2001 stemmed from a case known as the Caravan of Death, a military patrol that toured several cities after the 1973 coup. Seventy-five political prisoners were killed.

In a separate case, the Santiago Court of Appeals this month voted 14 to 9 to strip Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for a 1974 car bombing in Argentina that killed Chilean general Carlos Prats and his wife — a ruling that opened the possibility of a new trial.

Prats, Pinochet's predecessor as army chief, had opposed the 1973 coup that put Pinochet in power.

Chilean legal authorities also are investigating the source of up to $8 million kept by Pinochet in secret bank accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington, as disclosed by a U.S. Senate investigative committee.