Reflections from the investigation of the AMIA bombing

By Alberto Nisman (for Safe Democracy)

Alberto Nisman explains how since the international warrant for the arrest of several ex- officials of the Iranian government for their connection in the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Argentina, two realizations can help in the fight against terrorism. The first is the fact that, despite the difficulties of condemning a complex crime that took place years ago, the main objective, to be pursued ceaselessly, is the fight against impunity. And the second is the recognition that in order to fight terrorism, an efficient strategy must be created to facilitate the prevention and punishment of terrorism without encroaching on the rights and liberties of citizens around the world.

Alberto Nisman is a lawyer and public prosecutor specialized in cases of international terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, contraband, arms and explosive stockpiles, and state fraud. He has led the Special Fiscal Unit since 2005, charged with the investigation of the bombing against the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Argentina. He is a teacher of penal law and the penal process at the University of Buenos Aires and the University of Belgrano.

THE FISCAL UNIT IN CHARGE OF THE INVESTIGATION of the anti-Semitic bombings in Argentina in 1994, together with Doctor Marcelo Martinez Burgos, has called for the national and international arrest of several ex-officials of the Iranian state. The Iranians are considered to be directly responsible for the July 18th, 1994 bombing that destroyed the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires.

The arrest warrants were issued two years after my Unit was charged with the investigation of the attacks. Since then, two realizations have emerged regarding the fight against terrorism.

The first is the fact that, despite the difficulties of condemning a complex crime that took place years ago, the main objective of the Unit was to pursue the fight against impunity.

And the second that an efficient strategy is needed in order to facilitate the prevention and punishment of terrorism on an equal magnitude to the terrorist acts themselves.

From a strictly legal standpoint, international terrorism, whether religious or not, is an extremely complicated phenomenon. To begin with, the definition of the crime of terrorism (definitions being an essential starting point for the creation of any serious and rational state policy) has yet to be agreed upon. The difficulty of reaching a consensus on this issue reveals the enormous complexity of the problem.

Yet, what is without a doubt, the most important challenge to dealing with modern terrorism, is the elaboration of a criminal policy that is not only efficient, but respects the international law of human rights.

In this sense, we must ask ourselves how the growing quantity of barriers, filters, and floodgates that the internal and international systems of guarantees have made into laws to legitimize the intervention of the state into the sphere of civil liberties, are compatible with the responsibilities and obligations of these same states to prevent, combat, sanction, and eradicate terrorism.

The conflict is based upon the overwhelming tension between efficiency and guarantees. In general, a police state with unlimited possibilities to insert itself into the private sphere of the individual has many less obstacles to fighting terror than and a state that respects the fundamental rights of man.

In my opinion, this question, posed in this manner, causes human civilization to regress some 300 years. The dilemma of efficiency and guarantees should have already been resolved by now. The nations of the world cannot use terror to combat terror. It’s as simple as that.

It is urgent for us, therefore, to transcend false, outdated options, and promote a more rational debate. The great commitment of our time is not to revert to a system of guarantees, but to articulate mechanisms that allow us to fight terrorism, without encroaching on the civil liberties that our ancestors worked so hard to achieve.

The state should begin by building on the basic framework in order to handle one of the most complex phenomena of our time, with intelligence, seriousness, and complete dedication to legality. This framework would include:

– The establishment of penal, procedural, and administrative legislation, which clearly defines and concretely outlines how to deal with it.

– The creation of organisms to collect and organize police, judicial, and intelligence information.

– The formation of a qualified group of personnel specialized to deal with the issue.

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