By Ben Cohen
This July, Argentina’s Jewish community will mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were murdered and hundreds more were seriously wounded. It is promising to be a wretched and depressing commemoration, frankly, because there is no reason to expect anything else.
On July 18, 1994, a Renault utility truck packed with explosives smashed into the AMIA building in the busy downtown area of the Argentine capital, leaving a scene of carnage in its wake. The bombing came two years after a nearly identical attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 people. A generation later, none of the AMIA suspects, the subjects of Interpol “Red Notices” since 2007, have been captured.
Indeed, the AMIA investigation was exposed as a bigger source of political intrigue and duplicity than even the bombing itself. The first AMIA investigation, set up under former Argentine President Carlos Menem, collapsed after it was exposed as a den of corruption.
The second investigation, set up under former President Nestor Kirchner in 2004, became the domain of fearless federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. Nisman’s diligent work resulted in Interpol releasing those warrants for the senior Iranian and Hezbollah operatives responsible. But Nisman was discovered murdered in his apartment hours before he was due to unveil a complaint against then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (the spouse of the now-deceased Nestor) that detailed her government’s collusion in exonerating the Iranian mullahs.
Cristina Kirchner, ousted from office by current President Mauricio Macri in 2015, is widely suspected of involvement in Nisman’s death. Now that Kirchner has been elected to Argentina’s Senate, she can claim immunity from prosecution.
Of the six suspects, the five Iranian officials among them remain at large, while the one Lebanese — Hezbollah’s second-in-command, Imad Mughniyeh — was killed by a car bomb in Damascus in 2008. Meanwhile, the other senior Iranian officials implicated in the AMIA bombing have never been subjected to even a tap on the shoulder. One of them, former Iranian President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, died two years ago. Another, the former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, still enjoys extensive influence as a senior adviser to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Last month, in the first significant AMIA-related event of this 25th anniversary year, a court in Buenos Aires acquitted Menem of engaging in a cover-up during the first AMIA investigation.
Prosecutors had been pushing for Menem to serve at least four years.
Accused of endorsing bribes to officials that pushed the AMIA investigation’s attention away from the Iranians and onto domestic “suspects,” Menem was also named by a former senior Iranian intelligence operative as a “paid asset” of the Iranian regime during his term in office. But none of this was seriously examined in court.
Some of the conspirators beneath Menem did receive prison sentences for their roles in corrupting the first investigation. But the exoneration of Menem brought a furious response from Memoria Activa, an Argentine-based advocacy group. “His government knew that the attack was going to happen; not only did they not prevent it, they ordered the manipulation of the investigation so that the truth would not come out.”
When Jewish leaders and foreign dignitaries fly into Buenos Aires in July, they should call the AMIA debacle what it is: a travesty of justice and an insult to victims of terrorism everywhere.
There is much to mourn — most of all those who died in the bombing, along with Alberto Nisman. There is nothing — nothing at all — to be proud of.
Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.