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Bush's Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up

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    Bush s Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up by GARETH PORTER http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20080204&s=porter Although nukes and Iraq have been the main
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1 6:49 AM
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      Bush's Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up
      by GARETH PORTER
      http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20080204&s=porter


      Although nukes and Iraq have been the main focus of the Bush
      Administration's pressure campaign against Iran, US officials also
      seek to tar Iran as the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. And Team
      Bush's latest tactic is to play

      up a thirteen-year-old accusation that Iran was responsible for the
      notorious Buenos Aires bombing that destroyed the city's Jewish
      Community Center, known as AMIA, killing eighty-six and injuring 300,
      in 1994. Unnamed senior Administration officials told
      <http://www.ncr-iran.org/content/view/4638/125/> the Wall Street
      Journal January 15 that the bombing in Argentina "serves as a model
      for how Tehran has used its overseas embassies and relationship with
      foreign militant groups, in particular Hezbollah, to strike at its
      enemies."

      This propaganda campaign depends heavily on a decision last November
      by the General Assembly of Interpol, which voted to put five former
      Iranian officials and a Hezbollah leader on the international police
      organization's "red list" for allegedly having planned the July 1994
      bombing. But the Wall Street Journal reports that it was pressure from
      the Bush Administration, along with Israeli and Argentine diplomats,
      that secured the Interpol vote. In fact, the Bush Administration's
      manipulation of the Argentine bombing case is perfectly in line with
      its long practice of using distorting and manufactured evidence to
      build a case against its geopolitical enemies.

      After spending several months interviewing officials at the US Embassy
      in Buenos Aires familiar with the Argentine investigation, the head of
      the FBI team that assisted it and the most knowledgeable independent
      Argentine investigator of the case, I found that no real evidence has
      ever been found to implicate Iran in the bombing. Based on these
      interviews and the documentary record of the investigation, it is
      impossible to avoid the conclusion that the case against Iran over the
      AMIA bombing has been driven from the beginning by US enmity toward
      Iran, not by a desire to find the real perpetrators.

      A 'Wall of Assumptions'

      US policy toward the bombing was skewed from the beginning by a
      Clinton Administration strategy of isolating Iran, adopted in 1993 as
      part of an understanding with Israel on peace negotiations with the
      Palestinians. On the very day of the crime, before anything could have
      been known about who was responsible, Secretary of State Warren
      Christopher blamed "those who want to stop the peace process in the
      Middle East"--an obvious reference to Iran.

      William Brencick, then chief of the political section at the US
      Embassy in Buenos Aires and the primary Embassy contact for the
      investigation, recalled in an interview with me last June that a "wall
      of assumptions" guided the US approach to the case. The primary
      assumptions, Brencick said, were that the explosion was a suicide
      bombing and that use of a suicide bomb was prima facie evidence of
      involvement by Hezbollah--and therefore Iran.

      But the suicide-bomber thesis quickly encountered serious problems. In
      the wake of the explosion, the Menem government asked the United
      States to send a team to assist in the investigation, and two days
      after the bombing, experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
      Firearms arrived in Buenos Aires along with three FBI agents.
      According to an interview the head of the team, ATF explosives expert
      Charles Hunter, gave to a team of independent investigators headed by
      US journalist Joe Goldman and Argentine investigative journalist Jorge
      Lanata, as soon as the team arrived the federal police put forward a
      thesis that a white Renault Trafic van had carried the bomb that
      destroyed the AMIA.

      Hunter quickly identified major discrepancies between the car-bomb
      thesis and the blast pattern recorded in photos. He wrote a report two
      weeks later noting that in the wake of the bombing, merchandise in a
      store immediately to the right of the AMIA was tightly packed against
      its front windows and merchandise in another shop had been blown out
      onto the street--suggesting that the blast came from inside rather
      than outside. Hunter also said he did not understand how the building
      across the street could still be standing if the bomb had exploded in
      front of the AMIA, as suggested by the car-bomb thesis.

      The lack of eyewitness evidence supporting the thesis was just
      as striking. Of some 200 witnesses on the scene, only one claimed to
      have seen a white Renault Trafic. Several testified they were looking
      at the spot where the Trafic should have been when the explosion
      occurred and saw nothing. Nicolasa Romero, the wife of a Buenos Aires
      policeman, was that lone witness. She said she saw a white Renault
      Trafic approach the corner where she was standing with her sister and
      her 4-year-old son. But Romero's sister testified that the vehicle
      that passed them was not a white Trafic but rather a black-and-yellow
      taxi. Other witnesses reported seeing a black-and-yellow taxi seconds
      before the explosion.

      Argentine prosecutors argued that pieces of a white Trafic imbedded in
      the flesh of many of the victims of the explosion proved their case
      for a suicide bomb. But that evidence was discredited by Gabriel
      Levinas, a researcher for AMIA's own legal team. Levinas is a member
      of a leading Jewish family in Buenos Aires who had published a human
      rights magazine during the dictatorship (his uncle's car was used to
      kidnap war criminal Adolf Eichmann and spirit him off to Israel for
      trial in 1982.)

      He discovered that the manufacturer of the white Trafic had been sent
      fragments of the vehicle recovered by the police for analysis and had
      found that none of the pieces had ever been put under high
      temperature. That meant that these car fragments could not have come
      from the particular white Trafic that police had identified as the
      suicide bomb car--since that vehicle was known to have once caught
      fire before having been recycled and repaired.

      Yet despite the lack of eyewitness testimony and the weakness of the
      forensic evidence, the State Department publicly embraced the
      suicide-bomb story in 1994 and 1995.

      The Problem of Motive

      Independent investigators have also long puzzled over why Iran
      would have carried out an action against Argentine Jews while its
      Hezbollah allies were embroiled in armed struggle with the Israeli
      military in Lebanon. In their 2006 indictment of several Iranian
      nationals in the bombing, Argentine prosecutors argued that Iran
      planned the AMIA attack because Carlos Menem's administration had
      abruptly canceled two contracts for the transfer of nuclear technology
      to Iran.

      But the indictment actually provides excerpts from key documents that
      undermine that conclusion. According to a February 10, 1992, cable
      from Argentina's ambassador in Iran, the director of the American
      Department of Iran's foreign ministry had "emphasized the need to
      reach a solution to the problem [of nuclear technology transfer] that
      would avoid damage to other contracts." Iran thus clearly signaled its
      hope of finding a negotiated solution that could reactivate the
      suspended contracts and maintain other deals with Argentina as well.

      On March 17, 1992, a bomb blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy in
      Buenos Aires--an incident for which the Argentine prosecutors also
      held Iran responsible. The indictment, however, quotes a top official
      of INVAP, an Argentine nuclear firm that dominated the National
      Commission on Atomic Energy, as saying that during 1992 there were
      "contacts" between INVAP and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
      "in the expectation that the decision of the national government would
      be revised, allowing the tasks in the contracts to be resumed." The
      same official confirmed that negotiations surrounding the two canceled
      projects continued from 1993 to 1995--before and after the AMIA
      explosion. Those revelations suggest that the Iranian attitude toward
      Argentina at the time of the bombing was exactly the opposite of the
      one claimed in the indictment.

      The Hezbollah motive for involvement in the AMIA bombing, according to
      the indictment, was revenge against the Israeli bombing of a Hezbollah
      training camp in the Bekaa Valley in early 1994 and the Israeli
      kidnapping of Shiite leader Mustapha Dirani in May. That theory fails
      to explain, however, why Hezbollah would choose to retaliate against
      Jews in Argentina. It was already at war with the Israeli forces in
      Lebanon, where the group was employing suicide bomb attacks in an
      effort to pressure Israel to end its occupation. Hezbollah had a
      second easy retaliatory option available, which was to launch Katyusha
      rockets across the border into Israeli territory.

      That is exactly what Hezbollah did to retaliate for the Israeli
      killing of some 100 Lebanese civilians in the town of Qana in 1996.
      That episode inspired greater anger toward Israel among Hezbollah
      militants than any other event in the 1990s, according to Boston
      University Hezbollah specialist Augustus Richard Norton. If Hezbollah
      responded to this Israeli provocation with Katyusha rockets on Israeli
      territory, it hardly makes sense that it would have responded to a
      lesser Israeli offense by designing an ambitious international attack
      on Argentine Jews with no connection to the Israeli occupation.

      The Frame-up

      The keystone of the Argentine case was Carlos Alberto Telleldin, a
      used-car salesman with a record of shady dealings with both
      criminals and the police--and a Shiite last name. On July 10, 1994,
      Telleldin sold the white Trafic the police claimed was the suicide car
      to a man he described as having a Central American accent. Nine days
      after the bombing Telleldin was arrested on suspicion of being an
      accomplice to the crime.

      The police claimed they were led to Telleldin by the serial number on
      the van's engine block, which was found in the rubble. But it
      would have been a remarkable lapse for the organizers of what was
      otherwise a very professional bombing to have left intact such a
      visible identification mark, one that any car thief knows how to
      erase. That should have been a clue that the attack was likely not
      orchestrated by Hezbollah, whose bomb experts were well-known by US
      intelligence analysts to have been clever enough, in blowing up the
      American Embassy in Beirut in 1983, to avoid leaving behind any
      forensic evidence that would lead back to them. It should also have
      raised questions about whether that evidence was planted by the police
      themselves.

      It is now clear that the Menem government's real purpose in arresting
      Telleldin was to get him to finger those they wanted to blame for the
      bombing. In January 1995, Telleldin was visited by retired army Capt.
      Hector Pedro Vergez, a part-time agent for SIDE, the Argentine
      intelligence agency, who offered him $1 million and his freedom if he
      would identify one of five Lebanese nationals detained in Paraguay in
      September 2004--men the CIA said might be Hezbollah militants--as the
      person to whom he had sold the van. After Telleldin refused to go
      along with the scheme, an Argentine judge found that there was no
      evidence on which to detain the alleged militants.

      The Buenos Aires court, which threw out the case against Telleldin in
      2004, determined that a federal judge, Luisa Riva Aramayo, met with
      Telleldin in 1995 to discuss another possibility--paying him to
      testify that he had sold the van to several high-ranking figures in
      the Buenos Aires provincial police who were allies of Menem's
      political rival, Eduardo Duhalde. In July 1996, Judge Juan Jose
      Galeano, who was overseeing the investigation, offered Telleldin
      $400,000 to implicate those police officers as accomplices in the
      bombing. (A videotape made secretly by SIDE agents and aired on
      television in April 1997 showed Galeano negotiating the bribe.) A
      month after making the offer to Telleldin, Galeano charged three
      senior Buenos Aires police officials with having involvement in the
      bombing, based on Telleldin's testimony.

      "The Whole Iran Thing Seemed Kind of Flimsy"

      In an interview last May James Cheek, Clinton's Ambassador to
      Argentina at the time of the bombing, told me, "To my knowledge, there
      was never any real evidence [of Iranian responsibility]. They never
      came up with anything." The hottest lead in the case, he recalled, was
      an Iranian defector named Manoucher Moatamer, who "supposedly had all
      this information." But Moatamer turned out to be only a dissatisfied
      low-ranking official without the knowledge of government
      decision-making that he had claimed. "We finally decided that he
      wasn't credible," Cheek recalled. Ron Goddard, then deputy chief of
      the US Mission in Buenos Aires, confirmed Cheek's account. He recalled
      that investigators found nothing linking Iran to the bombing. "The
      whole Iran thing seemed kind of flimsy," Goddard said.

      James Bernazzani, then the head of the FBI's Hezbollah office, was
      directed in October 1997 to assemble a team of specialists to go to
      Buenos Aires and put the AMIA case to rest. Bernazzani, now head of
      the agency's New Orleans office, recalled in a November 2006 interview
      how he arrived to find that the Argentine investigation of the AMIA
      bombing had found no real evidence of Iranian or Hezbollah
      involvement. The only clues suggesting an Iranian link to the bombing
      at that time, according to Bernazzani, were a surveillance tape of
      Iranian cultural attache Mohsen Rabbani shopping for a white Trafic
      van and an analysis of telephone calls made in the weeks before the
      bombing.

      Shortly after the bombing, the biggest Buenos Aires daily newspaper,
      Clarin, published a story, leaked to it by Judge Galeano, that
      Argentine intelligence had taped Rabbani shopping for a white Trafic
      "months" before the bombing. A summary of the warrants for the arrest
      of Rabbani and six other Iranians in 2006 continued to refer to
      "indisputable documents" proving that Rabbani had visited car dealers
      to look for a van like the one allegedly used in the bombing. In fact,
      the intelligence report on the surveillance of Rabbani submitted to
      Galeano ten days after the bombing shows that the day Rabbani looked
      at a car dealer's white Trafic was May 1, 1993--fifteen months before
      the bombing and long before Argentine prosecutors have claimed Iran
      decided to target AMIA.

      In the absence of any concrete evidence, SIDE turned to "link
      analysis" of telephone records to make a circumstantial case for
      Iranian guilt. The SIDE analysts argued that a series of telephone
      calls made between July 1 and July 18, 1994, to a mobile phone in the
      Brazilian border city of Foz de Iguazu must have been made by the
      "operational group" for the bombing--and that a call allegedly made on
      a cellphone belonging to Rabbani could be connected to this same
      group. The FBI's Bernazzani told me he was appalled by SIDE's use of
      link analysis to establish responsibility. "It can be very dangerous,"
      he told me. "Using that analysis, you could link my telephone to bin
      Laden's." Bernazzani said the conclusions reached by the Argentine
      investigators were merely "speculation" and said that neither he nor
      officials in Washington had taken it seriously as evidence pointing to
      Iran.

      Then, in 2000, one more defector surfaced with a new tale of Iranian
      responsibility. Abdolghassem Mesbahi, who claimed he was once the
      third-ranking man in Iran's intelligence services, told Galeano the
      decision to bomb the AMIA had been made at a meeting of senior Iranian
      officials, including President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, on August 14,
      1993. But Mesbahi was soon discredited. Bernazzani told me American
      intelligence officials believed that by 2000, Mesbahi had long since
      lost his access to Iranian intelligence, that he was "poor, even
      broke" and ready to "provide testimony to any country on any case
      involving Iran."

      A Questionable Informant

      Bernazzani admitted to me that until 2003, the case against Iran was
      merely "circumstantial." But he claimed a breakthrough came that year,
      with the identification of the alleged suicide bomber as Ibrahim
      Hussein Berro, a Lebanese Hezbollah militant, who, according to a
      Lebanese radio broadcast, was killed in a military operation against
      Israeli forces in southern Lebanon in September 1984, two months after
      the AMIA bombing. "We are satisfied that we have identified the bomber
      based on the totality of the data streams," Bernazzani told me, citing
      "a combination of physical and witness evidence." But the Berro
      identification, too, was marked by evidence of fabrication and
      manipulation.

      The official story is that Berro's name was passed on to SIDE and the
      CIA by a Lebanese informant in June 2001. The informant claimed he had
      befriended a former Hezbollah chauffeur and assistant to top Hezbollah
      leaders named Abu Mohamad Yassin, who told him that a Hezbollah
      militant named "Brru" was the suicide bomber. That story is suspicious
      on several counts, the most obvious being that intelligence agencies
      almost never reveal the name, or even the former position, of an
      actual informant.

      The September 2003 court testimony of Patricio Pfinnen, the SIDE
      official in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation until he was
      fired in January 2002, casts serious doubt on the informant's
      credibility. Pfinnen testified that when he and his colleagues went
      back to the informant with more questions, "something went wrong with
      the information, or they were lying to us." Pfinnen said his team
      ultimately discarded the Berro theory because the sources in Lebanon
      had "failed and were not certain." He concluded, "I have my doubts
      about [Berro] being the person who was immolated."

      After Pfinnen was fired in a power struggle within the intelligence
      agency, SIDE named Berro as the suicide bomber in a secret report. In
      March 2003, just after that report was completed, Ha'aretz reported
      that the Mossad had not only identified the bomber as Berro but
      possessed a transcript of Berro's farewell telephone call to Lebanon
      before the bombing, during which he told his parents that he was going
      to "join" his brother, who had been killed in a suicide bombing in
      Lebanon. When the 2006 indictment was released, however, it became
      clear that no evidence of such a call existed.

      In September 2004, a Buenos Aires court acquitted Telleldin and the
      police officials who had been jailed years earlier, and in August
      2005 Judge Galeano was impeached and removed from office. But
      Galeano's successors, prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez
      Burgos, pressed on, hoping to convince the world that they could
      identify Berro as the bomber. They visited Detroit, Michigan, where
      they interviewed two brothers of Berro and obtained photos of Berro
      from them. They then turned to the only witness who claimed she had
      seen the white Trafic at the scene of the crime--Nicolasa Romero.

      In November 2005, Nisman and Burgos announced that Romero had
      identified Berro from the Detroit photos as the same person she had
      seen just before the bombing. Romero, on the other hand, said she
      "could not be completely certain" that Berro was the man at the scene.
      In court testimony, in fact, she had said she had not recognized Berro
      from the first set of set of four photographs she had been shown or
      even from a second set. She finally saw some "similarity in the face"
      in one of the Berro photographs, but only after she was shown a police
      sketch based on her description after the bombing.

      Bernazzani told me that the FBI team in Buenos Aires had discovered
      DNA evidence that was assumed to have come from the suicide bomber in
      an evidence locker, and Nisman took a DNA sample from one of Berro's
      brothers during his visit in September 2005. "I would assume, though I
      don't know, that once we got the brother's DNA, they compared them,"
      he said. But Nisman claimed to a reporter in 2006 that samples had
      been contaminated. Significantly, the Argentine indictment of the
      Iranians makes no mention of the DNA evidence.

      Despite a case against Iran that lacked credible forensic or
      eyewitness evidence and relied heavily on dubious intelligence and a
      discredited defector's testimony, Nisman and Burgos drafted their
      indictment against six former Iranian officials in 2006. However, the
      government of NĂ©stor Kirchner displayed doubts about going forward
      with a legal case. According to the Forward newspaper, when American
      Jewish groups pressed Kirchner's wife, Christina, about the
      indictments at a UN General Assembly in New York in September 2006,
      she indicated that there was no firm date for any further judicial
      action against Iran. Yet the indictment was released the following month.

      Both the main lawyer representing the AMIA, Miguel Bronfman, and Judge
      Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, who later issued the arrest warrants for the
      Iranians, told the BBC last May that pressure from Washington was
      instrumental in the sudden decision to issue the indictments the
      following month. Corral indicated that he had no doubt that the
      Argentine authorities had been urged to "join in international
      attempts to isolate the regime in Tehran."

      A senior White House official just called the AMIA case a "very clear
      definition of what Iranian state sponsorship of terrorism means." In
      fact, the US insistence on pinning that crime on Iran in order to
      isolate the Tehran regime, even though it had no evidence to support
      that accusation, is a perfect definition of cynical creation of an
      accusation in the service of power interests.


      Research for this article was supported by the Investigative Fund of
      The Nation Institute.

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