Calls for Justice Escalate As Tributes to Argentine Victims

Despite the good intentions of some officials and the offer of international cooperation in the investigation, those responsible for the terrorist attack on the Buenos Aires Jewish headquarters one year ago may never be brought to justice, according to a new report.

The report, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee and released this week, paints a bleak picture of the Argentine government’s investigation into the terrorist bombing that killed 86 people and left more than 300 others wounded. ..TX.-The report’s author, Argentine journalist Sergio Kiernan, cites lack of will, incompetence and anti-Semitism on the part of Argentine police as factors preventing the apprehension of the culprits.

“It is a real hard case to solve, but the investigators should have the capacity to at least find the local supporters of the bombers,” Kiernan said at a news conference here to mark the first anniversary of the attack.

The release of the report was one of several events worldwide to mark the one- year anniversary of the July 18, 1994, bombing.

The building destroyed by the bomb housed the DAIA, the umbrella political organization of Argentine Jewry; the AMIA, the community’s 100-year-old main social service agency for the poor and aged; a library of YIVO, the Jewish Research Institute, where the archives on Jewish life in Argentina were stored; and the Jewish Community Council, among other organizations.

In Argentina, remembrance events were held across the country throughout the week.

On Monday, Argentine President Carlos Menem, speaking on radio and television, promised to locate and persecute those “international terrorists” responsible for the blast.

At a memorial ceremony at the Jewish cemetery of Tablada the previous day, Ruben Beraja, the president of DAIA, demanded action.

“The perpetrators,” he said, “are not here nor in any cemetery or any prison.”

“When we asked for justice,” he added, “we asked for an intense, serious and constant activity to achieve truth. We are not pleading for a Jewish cause. It is a universal cause, because justice is a value intrinsic to all free countries.”

At the memorial ceremony, relatives and friends of the victims and leaders of the Jewish community unveiled a monument and a plaque.

The names of the 86 dead, engraved in bronze on the monument, were covered by roses.

On Tuesday, at 9:50 a.m. — the exact time when the bomb went off a year ago, demolishing the building at 633 Pasteur St. — another commemoration for the victims was held in Buenos Aires.

A crowd of mourners gathered at the devasted site where the Jewish communal headquarters once stood, and from a rose-strewn altar, the names of the dead were read aloud and a candle lit for each one.

Security was tight — as it has been at all Jewish sites here since the bombing took place.

The block was closed off the corners of the adjoining streets, and police and security officers checked the pockets and briefcases of those attending the ceremony.

The crowd was silent and meditative, a sharp contrast to the bustle of the neighboring streets and the buzz of helicopters overhead.

Many of the participants wore a badge on their lapel that read: “Because We Do Not Forget, We Demand Justice. Justice and Remembrance. July 18, 1994.”

Posters were placed around the altar, some of which bore pictures of the victims. Others displayed slogans.

“No to Silence. No to Forgetting,” read one poster.

A woman spoke of the pain, impotence and anguish of the victims’ families.

“We want a real engagement on the part of the government. Neither Jews not Argentines died here, human beings did,” she said.

One poster in English attracted particular attention. It read: “President Menem: Oklahoma City Bombing 1995; suspects captured. AMIA Bomb Attack 1994 – - No Suspects?”

The demand for justice dominated many of the ceremonies commemorating the victims, including one in New York, where the Anti-Defamation League sponsored a memorial service and tree-planting ceremony to pay tribute to the victims.

Jewish officials attending the ADL ceremony expressed outrage that Argentina sent a low-level diplomat, Juan Louis Garibaldi, deputy consul general of Argentina, to the event. He spoke only briefly, saying that he had nothing official to add about the investigation.

One year after the bomb was detonated, the Argentine government’s investigation has yielded only four arrests and no conclusive explanation of the bombing.

The Menem government has so far failed to get beyond accusing secondhand car dealer Carlos Alberto Telleldin of providing the van used as a car bomb, and arresting three others as alleged accomplices. Three of these arrests occurred only recently.

The AJCommittee report charges that investigators were slow in sealing off the area to prevent contamination of evidence, used poor record keeping methods and turned away potential witnesses because of computer difficulties.

The report also explores the possible anti-Semitism of those authorities involved with the investigation.

“It was not solved quickly because of anti-Semitism in the middle and lower ranks of the police and intelligence communities,” he said.

A majority of the officials involved in the investigation loyally served the dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1968 to 1983. That dictatorship was responsible for killing thousands of Argentine citizens and made no secret of its anti-Semitic views.

Although Kiernan stopped short of charging an official cover-up in the investigation, he said he believes that finding the bombers is not something the investigators are enthusiastic about.

The attack was the second in less than two years against a Jewish target in Argentina. In a similar style attack, 28 people were killed when the Israeli Embassy was bombed in 1992.

That case also resulted in no arrests, and, according to Kiernan, is currently “gathering dust in some drawer in the Supreme Court in Argentina.”

At the news conference in New York on Monday, David Harris, executive director of the AJCommittee, declared that “if the perpetrators of this heinous act think they can attack a Jewish target with impunity, they are wrong.”

“We stand in solidarity with our fellow Jews in Argentina,” he said.

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