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OP-ED | 18-01-2020 14:53

The 86th victim

The baffling death of special AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman, exactly five years ago today, qualifies as a magnicide precisely because it is so much more than that – a milestone in Argentine history but also yet another link in a chain of impunity.

Resolving once and for all whether that death was murder or suicide might just break that chain and thus remains a hugely important question but also dangerous – if the excellent documentary restoring the name of Nisman to the forefront of the news cannot answer that question in six hours of thorough research, what chance is there? And while that question remains unanswered, all that endless flurry of speculation merely distracts attention from the also unresolved terrorist atrocity to whose investigation Nisman devoted the last two decades of his life, thus making his sacrifice in vain.

When a car-bomb blasted the AMIA Jewish community centre on July 18, 1994, the death toll was initially given as 86. It was later reduced to 85 because a man took advantage of the confusion to attempt a new life in Paraguay and was eventually located. As from Nisman’s death five years ago the AMIA death toll has now been restored to its original figure of 86. This is the prism through which we need to view Nisman – as the 86th victim whose death cannot be explained while the previous 85 deaths remain shrouded in impunity.

Yet today’s fifth anniversary belongs to Nisman. The questions surrounding his death should not be eluded even if not the beginning or end of anything. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this controversy is that the bulk of commentary shows more interest in making a political point than finding out the truth – both supporters of the current and previous presidencies use deductive logic in first assuming that it was suicide or murder respectively and then go searching for the supporting evidence. We were reminded once again of that fact by comments from lawmaker Elisa Carrió and the former head of the Anti-Corruption Office, Laura Alonso.

It is imperative to break this mould if Nisman’s death is ever to be resolved and perhaps lower house Speaker Sergio Massa’s Thursday statements “instinctively” disbelieving in suicide and opting for murder or induced suicide might just be a start here. A cynic might see this as a strategic adjustment ahead of the presidential visit to Israel, in order to counterbalance the Security Ministry rubbishing the investigation of Nisman’s death as a murder, but let us leave cynicism aside for a moment and encourage such attitudes as separating this burning question from political polarisation.

Just as Nisman’s tragic end can also be an irritating distraction from the central AMIA investigation, so the figure of current Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is the prime cause of a false binary logic in explaining Nisman’s death. Many, perhaps most people who see murder theories as yet another stick with which to beat Fernández de Kirchner would rapidly lose interest should the guilt be found to lie elsewhere. And since Nisman’s death occurred on her watch in the last year of her presidency and since she was to be the main target of Nisman’s accusations of complicity with Iran in Congress the next day, many of her admirers shun any suggestion of foul play as the only way of keeping their idol out of trouble.

Yet the latter need to understand that if Nisman’s death was proved to be murder, this would by no means automatically lead to incrimination of the most obvious suspect. Rogue intelligence agents would actually be more plausible culprits but the field is not limited to this country. In 2011 the Iranian opposition leader Ahmad Rezai was found dead in Dubai with a bullet through his head and every appearance of suicide just like Nisman but Iranian intelligence is widely suspected. And given that Barack Obama’s Washington was working hard towards a nuclear deal with Iran at the time of Nisman’s death with the prosecutor’s AMIA accusations very much a pebble in the shoe, it is surprising that no anti-imperialist zealot has come forward to blame the CIA.

But enough of speculation. Even more important than Nisman is AMIA and even more important than AMIA is the pervasive impunity which screams for reform of a dysfunctional judicial system and sinister intelligence services from top to bottom.

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