Three Years Later, Nisman’s Death Confirmed as Homicide. Now what?

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Written by Gardner Lange

Three years after Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment, the Federal Judiciary of Argentina has finally categorized his death as a homicide. Those who orchestrated Nisman’s assassination sought to send his life’s work with him to the grave. Despite the passage of time, Nisman’s assassination and his complaint regarding the cover-up of the 1994 AMIA bombing must both be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law and the lessons and merits of his work not be forgotten.

As the head prosecutor of the AMIA Federal Investigative Unit (UFI-AMIA), Nisman was the lead investigator of the 1994 car-bomb attack on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. In 2007, Nisman succeeded in levying Interpol red notices, akin to international arrest warrants, against high-ranking Iranian officials whom he identified as the masterminds of the attack.

On January 14, 2015, Nisman filed his now-famous complaint against then-President of Argentina Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and several of her associates, alleging that they colluded with the Government of Iran to remove the red notices. According to Nisman’s research, this attempt to clear Iran of responsibility for the AMIA attack hinged on a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which stated that the two countries had determined to resolve the matter bilaterally. Four days after filing the complaint, and one day before he was to present his findings in detail before the Argentine Congress, Nisman’s lifeless body was found with a gunshot wound to the head.

The three years that have passed have seen many efforts to silence Nisman further by painting his death as a suicide and through attempts to permanently close the investigation of Nisman’s complaint. However, the claims for which Nisman gave his life have also been substantiated by outside evidence and new revelations.

A November 2009 indictment in U.S. District Court cited a source close to Hezbollah whose comments confirmed the value and accuracy of Nisman’s investigative work regarding the AMIA attack. Dib Hani Harb, a Lebanese national, was charged with conspiring to aid the terrorist group Hezbollah, with which he maintained various familial and communal ties. Nisman’s research of the AMIA bombing pointed the finger of culpability at Iranian officials, whom he accused of carrying out the attack through a small proxy Hezbollah force in Argentina. The aforementioned indictment detailed that in 2009, “HARB stated that Hizballah receives a great deal of money from Iran and told the (undercover FBI agent) that Hizballah maintains small cells throughout the world. HARB cited Hizballah’s attack on a Jewish facility in Argentina as an example of the work of one of these cells.” Harb’s comments clearly refer to the AMIA attack, corroborating Nisman’s accusations and serving as a reminder of the lasting merits of his work.

Nisman’s assertions about the secret negotiations surrounding the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and Iran were also recently supported by an exchange between the Argentine Foreign Ministry, Interpol, and Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister. The exchange began when the Argentine Foreign Ministry contacted Interpol requesting the removal of a so-called “caveat” that had been mysteriously added to the red notices. The caveat states that Iran and Argentina had agreed to resolve the dispute over the AMIA attack bilaterally, effectively weakening the red notices by suggesting that no third-party need involve itself to apprehend or extradite the five Iranian suspects.

On November 4, 2017, after having been informed by Interpol of Argentina’s request to remove the caveat, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sent a letter to Jorge Faurie in which he stated: “The then-Foreign Ministers of Iran and Argentina, in compliance with article seven of (the memorandum), sent a joint letter to the General Secretary of Interpol, and, referring to the agreement reached by the two countries to collaborate on a bilateral level, asked Interpol to terminate its obligations with respect to the AMIA case.” (Translated from reporting by Clarin.)

The joint letter referred to by Zarif, which has been published on Twitter by Argentine lawmaker Waldo Wolff, appears to be signed by former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and former Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman. This new revelation flys in the face of the legal defense of Timerman and Kirchner, both of whom deny that the MoU was meant to remove the red notices or exculpate Iran in any way.

After bouncing in and out of the federal court system over the last three years, the separate investigations of Nisman’s complaint and death now rest squarely in the jurisdictions of Federal Judges Claudio Bonadio and Julian Ercolini, respectively.

In the investigation of the Nisman complaint, Bonadio recently indicted Kirchner, Timerman, and numerous others, charging them with cover-up of the collusion with Iran. However, unlike the majority of the accused, Kirchner remains immune from detention because of her status as a Senator. Recent statements from former members of the Argentine Congress have indicated the presence of a secret agreement between the political party Cambiemos and the Federal Judiciary of Argentina to protect Kirchner’s immunity. If these claims prove true, this agreement would be but another example of the corruption and ineptitude of the criminal justice system in Argentina when it comes to seeking justice for the AMIA attack. It would be prudent for the leaders of the Argentine Congress and President Mauricio Macri to address these rumors and dispel any such agreement.

In the investigation of Nisman’s death, Ercolini recently issued indictments of his own. Diego Lagomarsino, Nisman’s long-time friend and IT assistant, was labeled a “necessary participant,” in Nisman’s homicide, meaning that the privileged access and information he possessed were essential to those who actually carried out the assassination. Four Federal Police officers who made up part of Nisman’s security detail were also indicted, two with charges of aggravated cover-up, and two with malpractice charges. This positive step must be followed by continued efforts to determine the identities of those who ordered, orchestrated, and carried out the assassination. The government of Argentina and other influential parties must do all that is necessary to see that the investigation remains independent and that those responsible are held to account.

Nisman dedicated his life to seeking justice for the victims of horrible violence, only to tragically fall victim to bloodshed himself. Dedication to the investigations of his complaint and his homicide should be his posthumous reward. 

About the author: Gardner Lange is a senior at the University of Utah, pursuing undergraduate degrees in International Studies & Spanish, with a minor in Political Science. His professional focus is foreign policy research, specifically in Latin America and Counterterrorism issues. Gardner aspires to attend law school and pursue a career in academia.

Photo credit: Creative Commons/CC BY-SA