PINOCHET CAN’T BE PROSECUTED FOR WHAT HE DID AS HEAD OF STATE
On this day in 1998, Britain’s High Court cleared the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, responsible for the disappearance, torture and murder of thousands, on the bizarre grounds that he was head of state when he committed the crimes. Labour MP Tony Benn noted in his diaries. “So, if Hitler, Mussolini or Franco or Saddam or Milosevic came to London, they would be free to come and stay – amazing, but that is the British court system for you.”
He had arrived in the United Kingdom a few days earlier for medical treatment and Britain had been forced to react to an arrest warrant issued by the Spanish government. A month after the court decision, on 25 November, Britain’s highest court, the Law Lords, overturned the High Court ruling and upheld the extradition request, but fourteen months later, on 12 January 2000, Britain’s Home Secretary Jack Straw intervened, insisting that Pinochet wasn’t fit enough to stand trial and allowing the torturer and mass killer to return to Chile on humanitarian grounds.
- Ruth Winstone (2003), “Tony Benn: Free at Last ! Diaries 1991-2001,” Arrow Books, London, p507