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Extradition Hearings Beginning In Britain for Augusto Pinochet

By Marjorie Miller
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- LONDON

After nearly a year of legal battles and house arrest for Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator’s extradition hearing began here on Monday with an attorney for Spain charging that the case presented “some of the most serious allegations of crime ever to come before English criminal courts.”

The 83-year-old Pinochet was not present in the courtroom to hear the reading of 35 cases of alleged torture and conspiracy to torture involving electric shocks leading to death, as well as beatings, burnings and suffocation.

Pinochet’s supporters say he is in fragile health at the rented mansion where he has lived under police guard since shortly after his arrest at a private London hospital Oct. 16. He must appear for the decision, which is expected next month.

The former dictator is being held on a warrant from Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has accused him of overseeing a wave of terror and human rights abuses during his 1973-1990 rule in Chile.

Last March, however, Britain’s high court said that Pinochet could only face extradition on torture charges after 1988, when Britain adopted an international anti-torture convention. Only one of the original cases that the Spanish judge had presented against Pinochet fell into that category, but he subsequently added the others.

The Chilean government has said that 3,197 people were killed and another 1,000 disappeared in the political violence that marked Pinochet’s reign.

Pinochet has denied all of the charges against him, saying he could not have known everything that was going on, or controlled everything in the country at the time. His lawyers also have said that only Chilean courts have jurisdiction to try him.

In court on Monday, Scotland Yard inspector Andrew Hewitt described how Pinochet had insisted on his innocence when presented with a full arrest warrant earlier this year.

“I don’t agree with this. I had absolutely nothing to do with any of these charges,” he quoted Pinochet as saying. “I am being humiliated. I am a general -- 64 years service -- I’m a gentleman who knows about honor.”