Today marks the 26th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre with closure as distant as ever – an impunity only underlined by the fact that the judge investigating this atrocity for the last 17 years has chosen this very same week to confirm the end of his judicial career under a cloud.
The bloodiest attack against the Jewish Diaspora anywhere in the world since the Shoah, the AMIA massacre still marks this city’s biggest loss of life in a single day apart from the Cromañon rock club blaze at the end of 2004, claiming 194 lives as against the 85 blasted by the terrorist car-bomb – although we have yet to see what the coronavirus pandemic has up its sleeve in the rest of winter, with July 6 already coming within 10 of the AMIA death toll. That pandemic has made the Albert Camus novel La peste something of a fad and it is precisely in that 1947 masterpiece that Camus observes more evil to be caused in this world by stupidity than by evil itself – the incredibly gross neglect leading to the Cromañon inferno would seem to prove his point. But if the AMIA bloodbath failed to exceed the Cromañon toll, it was not for want of trying on the part of the terrorists – for sheer malign evil that car-bomb rammed into the heart of a building working for the good of a community cannot be matched.
Back then in 1994 the atrocity hit this city the day after the World Cup final, the supreme festival of a sport which is much more important than life and death according to a former coach of this year’s Premier League champions. Unsurprisingly this football-mad nation forgot all else as public opinion responded in shock and horror to the bomb mayhem – a reaction which the Argentine government and judiciary then and since has failed to reflect with any serious investigation. “We are all Jews,” was the universal slogan, referring to the fact that what in any other context might be called innocent bystanders (impossible here without absurd implications against the Jewish victims) were also killed – a worthy sentiment but also robbing the Jewish people of their special victim status, when they were so clearly the target of this terrorist atrocity.
Since then impunity has been the name of the game. The local connection seemed to have been quickly identified but a (deliberate?) mistrial by ex-judge Juan José Galeano, bribing the car dealer supplying the bomb vehicle into admitting his guilt, turned convictions into acquittals – a sabotage for which Galeano was eventually sentenced only last year. The investigation languished for a decade after the attack (when experts argue that the early days of a terror investigation are critical with the trail to the culprits drying up quickly) but the 2004 appointment of Alberto Nisman as special AMIA prosecutor by then-president Néstor Kirchner, followed by stern presidential condemnations of Iran at every annual United Nations General Assembly for several years, seemed to point to a new government commitment to a justice passively served by federal judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral until this week.
But this was followed by a bewildering U-turn in 2013 when the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration concluded its Memorandum of Understanding with Iran to set up a joint “truth commission” to find the culprits, an obscene absurdity premised on the Tehran government investigating itself. Nisman then turned his main energies to denouncing this pact and the plot only sickened with his mysterious death early in 2015. Instead of deploring this tragedy, Kirchnerite militants immediately started blackening his name in every way possible, some even asserting that the main victim was Fernández de Kirchner (very much alive today as vice-president) rather than the dead man. The elusive clarification of this death (with various holes in both homicide and suicide theories) has since distracted attention from the terrorist crime itself as much as drawn it.
But instead of just deploring continued impunity (which extends beyond AMIA with the high-profile and slow-motion trials of corruption and espionage among others underway) perhaps in this pandemic year we can look ahead to a judicial system harnessing 21st century technology where the physical presence of Iranian suspects is no longer required – virtual can be virtuous. Until then all we can do today is honour the dead when the siren sounds at 9.53am (the precise moment of the AMIA attack).