Augusto You Disgust Me

Ehrenreich and von Hoffman

Augusto You Disgust Me

Ehrenreich and von Hoffman

Augusto You Disgust Me
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Oct. 30 1998 5:37 PM

Ehrenreich and von Hoffman

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

"Mephitic micro-organisms," is it? And all that swarming stuff you wrote about on what is a Friday afternoon here in the East. Do you enjoy dallying with dying dictators? I know the old boy isn't croaking, but was I trying to make it alliterate?

Advertisement

This business of when you try 'em for crimes against humanity and when you don't is not easily understood by the simple-minded. The Spanish government, which has taken it upon itself to act as the prosecutor in loco mundi , has asked for custody of Pinochet in order to try him for the murder of two Spanish citizens. If every head of government around the world who has the blood of two people on his or her hands is in jeopardy of being brought to the prisoner's dock, the judges and the lawyers will not lack for work. So we may assume that these two victims are to stand for many others. But how many others? As I apprehend it, ex-generalissimo Pinochet is given the credit or the blame for bumping off somewhere between three and 20,000 people, depending on who is counting.

At what number does one cease being a serial killer and become a criminal against humanity? What would we think, for instance, if it were established that Pinochet had murdered 1,700 people? Would he be a local Chilean terror or would his deeds rise, as they say these days, to the level of crimes against humanity? What if he had killed 700? Do governments and/or dictators get a certain number of free murders before it starts counting against them?

When Pinochet was making people disappear, nobody had been tried for crimes against humanity since the Hitler-Tojo gang, which was a long time ago. Pinochet might argue that he had every reason to believe that unless you were mowing 'em down by the tens of thousands, yea, millions, it was your own damn business, and the only people entitled to come after you were the people you were knocking off, who in this case were the Chilean people. Pinochet might contend that if he had known it was against international law and a fella might actually be served with a traffic ticket for exceeding the kill limit, he wouldn't have broken the rules and, by the bye, what are the rules?

As best I know, Augusto didn't personally snuff all those people with his own Mauser. He told other people to do it and they did and all those people who did the trigger pulling can't convincingly plead that they were only following orders. Pinochet is only one guy and even in his prime there were only so many men he could personally take on, from which I conclude he must have had a bunch of merry helpers who were only too happy to dance around in the abattoir. So what about them? Is Augusto the only one to get on his knees in front of Lady Justice? What does that tell people?

And talking about helpers, there is the role that certain American officials such as Henry Kissinger may or may not have played in putting Pinochet on his throne and keeping him there. Kissinger and his associates say their hands are as clean as a surgeons--whoops! poorly chosen simile--and who am I to cast a shadow of doubt over the word of a Nobel Peace laureate? Nevertheless, shouldn't the question of Kissinger's guilt be decided by a law court?

Aw, forget it. We're in power right now--we, the good guys and we know we're right--so let's grab anybody we can get our righteous hands on and tell that judge to give 'em a good shaking.

So now, Ms. E, our stint over the coffee and crullers is over. Allow me to say I've never had a wittier and more entertaining breakfast partner.

Barbara Ehrenreich is contributing editor at theProgressiveand author of several books, including Blood Rites. Nicholas von Hoffman is a columnist at theNew York Observer. His books include We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us Against.