Former Chilean general convicted in 1974 political car-bombing blames CIA for the attack

By Federico Quilodran, AP
Friday, July 30, 2010

Chile general convicted in 1974 murders blames CIA

SANTIAGO, Chile — The former chief of Chile’s feared secret police who was convicted in the 1974 assassination of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s biggest enemy in exile says the CIA committed the crime.

Chile’s supreme court three weeks ago upheld Gen. Manuel Contreras’ conviction in plotting the murder of Gen. Carlos Prats, who preceded Pinochet as head of Chile’s army. Prats was a close ally of President Salvador Allende, the man Pinochet deposed in a 1973 coup.

Contreras, 81, called Prats his friend and told a hand-picked group of reporters Thursday that Chile’s national intelligence agency, which he headed, had nothing to with the killing.

He is serving combined sentences of more than 100 years for murders and kidnappings that took place during the Pinochet years.

“The Prats homicide was the work of the CIA,” Contreras said.

The CIA and Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archives’ Chile Documentation Project in Washington, both said Contreras is wrong.

“Contreras has always used this bogus explanation that it was the CIA, while the evidence is overwhelming that he, himself, presumably in collusion with Pinochet, was the intellectual author of this crime,” said Kornbluh, author of “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.”

Contreras said the CIA ordered the bombing because they worried Prats was mounting a government in exile. Prats’ wife, Sofia Cuthbert, was killed with him in the car bomb in Buenos Aires, where the two sought refuge after Pinochet seized power.

Richard Helms, then-chief of the CIA, told him that Argentine President Juan Peron had offered to lend Prats half of the Argentine army to help him invade and take over Chile, Contreras said.

“This and related events from nearly 40 years ago have been thoroughly reviewed, dissected, and investigated. It’s simply wrong to suggest that the CIA killed Carlos Prats,” CIA spokesman George Little said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Kornbluh also dismissed Contreras’s claim that Peron offered to help Prats invade Chile, saying there was no documentation to support the statement.

“Manuel Contreras has not said a credible word vis-a-vis his history of international criminality and terrorism ever,” Kornbluh said. “He was the intellectual author of some of the most heinous crimes inside Chile and abroad, and, as the pathological killer that he his, he refuses to own up to any of the crimes for which he has been convicted.”

Contreras said he was proud of his work with the national intelligence agency, which has been characterized by the Chilean supreme court as an illicit terrorist association.

He has been in prison since 1995, when he was sentenced for the 1976 car bombing that killed Chile’s former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his assistant, Ronni Moffit, in Washington D.C.

Despite upholding Contrera’s conviction in the Prats case, the Supreme Court reduced his sentence on July 8 from two consecutive life prison terms to 17 years. Michael Townley, the agent who placed the bomb that killed Prats and his wife, lives as a protected witness in the U.S.

Associated Press Writer Bridget Huber in Buenos Aires contributed to this report.

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