Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: Argentina needs outside probe into Nisman’s death

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has only one way of overcoming the political crisis over the mysterious death of the prosecutor who had accused her of trying to cover up Iran’s role in the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires — seek international help.

At the time of this writing, she has not done it. The Argentine president has not reached out to any international experts to help to give a measure of credibility to Argentina’s increasingly muddled investigation into the death of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in the 1994 AMIA bombing that left 85 dead and 300 wounded two decades ago. It was the worst terrorist attack in the Americas before 9/11 .

Nisman was found dead in his bathroom with a .22 caliber pistol the day before he was about to testify before a congressional commission. He was about to provide legislators with new evidence of his charges that Fernández and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman had conspired with Iran to whitewash Iran’s responsibility in the AMIA bombing.

Judging from several interviews he gave shortly before his death, and from an e-mail he sent me the day of his death — in which he said he was “obviously interested” in doing an interview after his congressional testimony — Nisman was self-confident, and eager to provide new evidence to congress. He had even left a shopping list of groceries that his maid was supposed to buy at the supermarket the day after his death.

Most Argentines scoffed when, hours after his death, the president declared in her Facebook page that it had been a “suicide.” Days later, Fernández made a U-turn, and wrote that she was now “convinced” that it hadn’t been a suicide.

The net result of the president’s flip-flop, and of the release late last week of some of Nisman’s wiretaps that clearly show that close allies of the president had indeed engineered a deal with Iran to whitewash the 1994 attack, has been a worse-than-ever public disbelief in Argentina’s government and institutions.

“Today, unfortunately, the Argentine government has zero credibility,” says Santiago Canton, director of the of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in Washington D.C. “The only way it can solve this case with a decision that is credible to Argentine society is with the help of a group of international experts.”

Many countries routinely seek foreign technical help to solve criminal cases, such as France did after the recent Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack, or Mexico did to help solve the case of the 43 students who were most likely murdered in Iguala last September.

Lebanon created an international criminal tribunal to help solve the probe into the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and 21 others. The U.N.-supervised Special Tribunal for Lebanon was made up of eleven international jurists and based in The Hague, Netherlands. It concluded that the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group was responsible for the bombing.

Similarly, a U.N.-supervised international committee helped solve the political scandal that rocked Guatemala in 2009 when Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Harvard and Oxford-educated attorney, was killed shortly after leaving behind a tape in which he accused President Alvaro Colom and his wife of ordering his murder.

There were massive demonstrations, and calls for the president’s resignation, despite Guatemalan investigators’ claims that — as weird as it sounded — Rosenberg had commissioned his own death to bring down the government. Guatemala entrusted the U.N. Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to lead an investigation into the case with FBI help, and the commission concluded that the bizarre murder had indeed been commissioned by Rosenberg himself.

In addition, several countries invite investigative teams of the Organization of American States’ Human Rights Commission, such as Mexico is doing now with the case of the 43 disappeared students.

My opinion: The best favor Fernández could do to herself would be to appoint a credible international commission of experts — other than those of UNASUR, CELAC or other sympathetic diplomatic groups that would have as little credibility as her own government — to observe Argentina’s investigation into the AMIA case.

As it is now, nothing coming out of Argentina’s government, or Argentina’s justice system, would be credible to most Argentines. If the president wants to survive this political crisis and restore a measure of faith in Argentina’s institutions, she should appoint a respected special prosecutor, seek international technical experts, appoint an international observation or oversight commission, or all of the above.