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Argentina BombingAcquittal Stirs Furor

by Florencia Arbiser

September 9, 2004 | 8:00 pm

On July 18, 1994, Paola Czyzewski was at the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires when terrorists bombed it, killing the 21-year-old law student and 84 other people.

Ten years later, the Czyzewski family -- like most of the victims' relatives -- did not go to an Argentine federal courthouse last week to hear that the only people accused so far in the attack -- locals named as accessories -- had been acquitted.

"We had dinner at home," said Luis Czyzewski, the victim's father. "The atmosphere was tense. I received the news badly. We somehow expected a conviction."

The Argentine Jewish community scheduled a demonstration Wednesday in Buenos Aires against the acquittals. All of the local Jewish groups, some of which have been at odds over strategies to find those responsible for the attack, sponsored the rally.

Ten years after the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's history and the biggest anti-Semitic attack since World War II, no one has been brought to justice -- and there isn't any tangible proof about how the building was bombed.

The court record will be officially presented Oct. 29. However, in parts of it that were made available after the verdict was announced, the judges declared that a van was used to bomb the building but said the way the investigation was carried out made it impossible to find the defendants guilty.

The three federal court judges decided unanimously to let the defendants go free, but called for an investigation of the politicians, legislators, judges, prosecutors and lawyers allegedly involved in derailing the investigation.

Ruben Beraja, former leader of the Jewish community's DAIA political umbrella group, and DAIA's lawyer, Marta Nercellas, are among those to be investigated.

Also facing investigation are former Argentine Vice President Carlos Alvarez, ex-Internal Affairs Minister Carlos Corach, investigative judge Juan Jose Galeano -- who was in charge of the case for nine and a half years -- and prosecutors, intelligence service leaders and legislators who formed a special commission to investigate the AMIA bombing and a previous 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy.

Czyzewski said he was surprised that the court "seemed to have forgotten former President Carlos Menem," whom many have accused of derailing the investigation to protect the state security services or even Iran. Menem has denied the accusations.

Members of the Jewish community were devastated by the acquittal.

"This is the consecration of impunity," said Laura Ginsberg, a member of Apemia, a relatives group. "It's a judiciary regression. It's the evidence of impunity of state terrorism,"

AMIA President Abraham Kaul left the courtroom by a side door to avoid the media.

"The fact that a democratic country cannot find justice for such an attack is something of strong concern," Kaul said.

Jorge Kirszenbaum, DAIA's acting president, said, "We feel very bad. We will study how to appeal the sentence."

DAIA members appeared bitter after learning that the group's lawyer will be investigated.

Not all Jews saw the acquittal similarly.

"I feel angry, but I think the verdict is fair," said Adriana Reisfeld, a member of a Memoria Activa, a group that has demonstrated in front of the courthouse every week for the past decade. "The whole process was so compromised,"

In a court balcony, a dozen or so journalists shared files with relatives of four police officers who were among the defendants. Their happiness at the acquittal contrasted with the anguish showed by two Jewish grandmothers.

"I wouldn't be able to stand this if I hadn't taken sedative pills," Eugenia Szejer said.

After the verdict, former AMIA employee Enrique Lubinsky thanked AMIA's lawyer, Juan Jose Avila, for his efforts. It was seen as a condolence.

Sergio Widder, the Latin American representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the verdict "is for Jews the confirmation of Argentine society's failure to find justice. The way the investigation was done made it impossible to find the truth, and that's a shame for Argentina."

To Baruj Zaidenknop, executive director of ORT Argentina, "the feeling is of absolute frustration. What confidence can we have in this country, in Argentine institutions? What are the guidelines for Argentine Jews?"

Eliahu Toker, a Jewish writer and poet, said the verdict is not in itself anti-Semitic, but that "it affects Argentina, it shows the lack of justice, the muddy way things are done in this country."

President Nestor Kirchner's government had said before the verdict that it was ready to support investigations against former government and judiciary leaders to find the reasons for the investigation's failure. Government sources said Kirchner hoped such a step would save his international image.

La Nacion newspaper posted an online poll to find out if readers agreed with the sentence. Initially, 73 percent of respondents said they disagreed with the acquittal, and 88 percent believed justice would never be done.

On Sept. 2, Familiares de las Victims, another group of victims' relatives, decided it would attempt to take the case to an international court -- though it has not decided where.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also issued a statement calling on the Argentine government to fully investigate the attack and prosecute those responsible.

"We continue to be frustrated that the perpetrators of the heinous attack have not been brought to justice," the ADL said in a statement.

The American Jewish Committee, which hosted Kirchner at the group's annual dinner in May, said the decision should prompt the Argentine government to redouble its efforts to do justice.

"The world is watching and waiting for justice to be served at last," the organization said in a statement.

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