Two Chilean military officers have been charged with torturing a former president’s father who died in their custody.
General Alberto Bachelet, 51, died in prison in 1974 after General Augusto Pinochet’s military convicted him of being a traitor. His daughter Michelle later was imprisoned herself, but went on to become Chile’s first woman president in 2006.
Judge Mario Carroza said last month that a forensic study determined Gen Bachelet probably died of heart problems caused by torture after he was arrested for opposing the 1973 military coup that overthrew socialist president Salvador Allende.
Yesterday the judge charged retired colonels Ramon Caceres Jorquera and Edgar Benjamin Cevallos Jones with torture that led to Gen Bachelet’s death. That same year, Pinochet’s regime arrested his wife Angela Jeria, and daughter Michelle. They were tortured in a secret prison for two weeks before leaving Chile.
“It was a special moment in the history of Chile and these people felt they were in a war,” Ms Jeria told reporters at the hall of a Santiago court after the judge’s decision was announced. “Now this country can wait for justice to be served.”
Her husband remained loyal to Mr Allende to the end, refusing to endorse the September 11 1973 bloody coup even after Mr Allende committed suicide while making his last stand in the bombed-out presidential palace. Gen Bachelet was arrested the same day, convicted that December and survived in prison until March 12 1974.
Court documents say he was initially tortured at the Air Force War Academy by officers who often blindfolded him, tied his feet and ordered him to remain quiet and stay still for hours at gunpoint without allowing him to use the bathroom or offering him a drop of water. The stress led to a coronary artery disease.
He was taken to hospital and then held under house arrest until December 1972, when he was jailed and later taken back to the War Academy for more interrogation. The day before his death in 1974, Gen Bachelet left a note to his wife in his shirt pocket where he wrote that he had been brutally “softened” by his interrogators for hours.
Cevallos headed the group that interrogated Gen Bachelet and Caceres was a member, according to court documents. Cevallos’ family has asked that he be kept under arrest at an air force hospital because the 82-year-old suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are well-founded presumptions to hold them responsible as co-authors of the crime of torture leading to death,” Judge Carroza said in court papers. “Both were in charge of the custody of the detained at the academy, participated in the interrogations using cruel, inhuman and degrading methods.”
The judge has also investigated events surrounding the death of Mr Allende and hundreds of his allies who were murdered or disappeared during Pinochet’s dictatorship, which official estimates say killed 3,095 people.
“We’re satisfied with this thorough investigation by the judge. It has established not only the identity of the interrogators and torturers but their methods … that finally led to the death of General Bachelet,” Isidro Solis, a lawyer for the Bachelet family, said.
“Aside from the rare instances when Bachelet spoke about torture, the judge’s probe questions dozens of people who clarify what happened inside the academy and if there’s something that is clear from this is that Cevallos headed this and Cevallos and Caceres directly took part in hundreds of cases. This has led the judge to conclude that they were responsible.”
Gen Bachelet had told his family of being tortured by the same young air force members he had trained.
“They broke me from the inside,” he wrote in a letter from prison. “At one point they had morally torn me apart. I never thought to hate anyone, I always thought that the human being is the most marvellous of this creation and should be respected as such, but I found myself confronted with air force comrades whom I’ve known for 20 years, my own students, who treated me like a delinquent or a dog.”
In 1972, as other high-ranking military officers were conspiring in the coup, Mr Allende put Gen Bachelet in charge of Chile’s commerce agency, where he was responsible for overseeing food sales nationwide.
Many products were in short supply partly because Mr Allende’s right-wing opponents held goods back to create a sense of chaos.
Gen Bachelet’s daughter returned from exile in 1979 and was elected Chile’s first female president in 2006. She has run the United Nations women’s agency since 2010, when she left the presidency, but is widely is expected to run in next year’s presidential race.