Juan Gabriel Labaké seems an unlikely figure to have cracked not one but two infamous bombing cases in Argentina. But the lawyer, who represents a Syrian-Argentine accused in one of the crimes, has done just that. And not only that, but he also denounced the late prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, for abuse of powers and bungling the AMIA case. He was interviewed by Ana Delicado about that and related topics. Here’s what he had to say…and I think you’ll agree that it is tremendously revealing, and makes a lot of sense:
Juan Gabriel Labaké, a lawyer on the case of the attack on the AMIA Jewish centre, accused prosecutor Alberto Nisman of treason nearly four weeks before the latter was found lifeless in his apartment.
The death of Alberto Nisman has generated new interest in the investigation of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) bombing in 1994, which caused 85 deaths. The inconsistency of the denunciation which Nisman himself presented against Argentine president Cristina Fernández a few days before his death places in doubt all the investigation which he brought to bear in accusing Iran of the attack.
The so-called Iranian lead was imposed from the moment of the attack, with the almost automatic abandonment of other possibilities. The participation in the investigation of the intelligence services of the United States and Israel was a key element. The presumed use of a car bomb in the attack was the other factor which directed the evolution of the case. The man accused of buying that car was Alberto Kanoore Edul, an Argentine of Syrian origin, who has been implicated since the beginning of the case.
His lawyer, Juan Gabriel Labaké, denounced prosecutor Nisman for treason before the Attorney General’s office 27 days before Nisman’s mysterious death. Público spoke with the attorney, who, from within the case and with documents in hand, has arrived at conclusions other than those the late prosecutor pursued.
Q. Why did you denounce Nisman for treason?
A. The key is in a top-secret report which the CIA gave to Miguel Ángel Toma, who was then head of intelligence, in 2002. This was in a safe belonging to the court. Nisman made me sign an agreement in which he made me promise to keep confidential the content I read.
Q. Why is that key?
A. It’s a 150-page report assembled by the CIA and the Mossad, as the document itself says. When former president Eduardo Duhalde took power in 2002, he asked for the State Department’s help in refinancing Argentina’s debt to the IMF, and they insinuated to him that the problem would be solved by the CIA, because with ex-president Fernando de la Rúa (1999-2001), through imprudence, the identity and photograph of the chief of the CIA station in Buenos Aires had been published. The CIA was very resentful. Duhalde asked his chief of intelligence, Miguel Ángel Toma, to work this out with the then director of the CIA, George Tenet. The newspaper, La Nación, reported all this. Toma travelled to the United States, good relations resumed, but Argentina decided to investigate the matter of AMIA on the basis of this confidential report.
Q. How did it become involved in the case?
A. This report came with the indication from Tenet that the case should be managed exclusively by intelligence agent Jaime Stiusso, because he was his confidant. Duhalde put Stiusso in as chief of counterintelligence, who had in his hands the division of spies who tapped telephones, the most important dirty intelligence weapon. Stiusso translated the report, pretty badly of course, and in January 2003 Toma handed it to judge Juan José Galeano the first magistrate in the AMIA case. He could do almost nothing because he was removed from office in 2004 [for falsifying evidence]. The next judge, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, realized what a time bomb he had on his hands, and got distracted, so that at the end of 2004, the Jewish institutions in Argentina, AMIA and the Delegation of Israeli-Argentine Associations (DAIA) asked that Nisman be promoted to attorney general and that all the powers of an instructing judge be transferred to him, which is allowed when the case if very complex and has enormous political repercussions.
Q. So that’s how Nisman entered the case.
A. Nisman came to have 43 employees, of whom 32 are lawyers, and an almost unlimited budget. With all that in hand, Nisman fell into Stiusso’s web.
Q. What did you do?
A. Once I was able to read the confidential report in November, I compared it with Nisman’s petition in 2007 that served as a basis to solicit the extradition of eight Iranian functionaries and diplomats.There are paragraphs which are carbon copies. This led me to present the denunciation against Nisman. Officially, that report was part of the AMIA case, only that it’s not in the case files, but under lock and key.
Q. On what was Nisman’s petition based?
A. The petition, like the CIA’s secret report, was based on information given to them by Iranian ex-secret services agents, who had belonged to the Organization of the Mujahideen (MKO). When Ayatollah Khomeini made his revolution in 1979, the MKO joined the revolution from the orthodox Marxist standpoint. When they proposed to continue with violent actions, Khomeini removed them from power and they sought protection from the CIA, which furnished them a secret base in Iraq, near the Iranian border, where the CIA maintained, trained and financed 3,000 guerrillas for three or four years at least. They were the ones who launched the worst attacks in Iran. That group was classified as terrorist by the European Union, the UN, and the United States, which withdrew that classification not long ago. The CIA used them in their confidential report and Stiusso named them as proof of the culpability of Iran in the AMIA attack.
Q. What were they alleging?
A. That two years before the attack, the Security Council met in Tehran and decided there to prepare the attack. Since these Iranians had been part of the SAVAK, the Iranian secret service, they used them to inculpate the country. But at that moment they had already been expelled from the SAVAK, and one had even fled the country because he had been sentenced for passing bad cheques. Nisman committed the indecency of using these testimonies in his petition, and for that reason, the Iranian attorney general complained: “Why are you using this to accuse us?”
Q. Why did you direct your denunciation specifically against Nisman?
A. Because if he continued as prosecutor, my client, Edul, would never be off the hook. For ten years I’ve demonstrated his innocence to Nisman through all means, but he wouldn’t dismiss him. Nisman was the point man for the CIA, AMIA and DAIA for sustaining the accusation against Iran for political reasons. They wouldn’t let him make any type of investigation that was not strictly indicated by the CIA report. When I became convinced of that, I presented the first denunciation to the Attorney General against Nisman for bad performance [of his duties]. They rebuffed me because they said there had been no illegality or irregularity in his conduct. But at that moment I didn’t have the proof in the CIA report. I had to gain access to it. And with the proof in hand, I made a second denunciation. Article 215 of the Criminal Code considers a crime to be treason when someone follows the instructions of a foreign organism to the detriment of power in national decisions.
Q. Why did the intelligence services of Argentina allow such interference?
A. The problem is that when Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989) took office, upon Argentina’s return to democracy, the intelligence service was chock-a-block with military men. He left 1200 agents abroad, who were those who later made his life impossible with attacks and press operations. This forced the restructuring of the French security service, and the Israeli Mossad. This is official, not a rumor. And they left their own moles, and those of the CIA as well.
Q. What was the position of the governments of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández with respect to the Iranian connection?
A. Until 2011, the Kirchners co-operated with the policies of the Mossad and the CIA, and for that they named Héctor Timerman as minister of Exterior Relations, since he had lived for years in New York and belonged to the Labor Party of Shimon Peres and Itzhak Rabin in Israel. He could connect them with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a group which included the most powerful and influential Jews in the United States. He could also serve as a link to AIPAC, the association they had so that the US could aid Israel. The newspaper Forward, of the Jewish community in New York, printed [articles about] how thanks to a trip by the Kirchners in 2006 to the AJC meeting, both met with the directive [in hand] and agreed to orient the AMIA investigation strictly toward the accusation against Iran.
Q. What happened next?
A. President Fernández began to suspect Stiusso in January 2011, when she ordered Timerman to make contact with his Syrian counterpart so that Syria could act as intermediary with the ambassador of Iran. A breach began to open between Stiusso and Cristina when she signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran in 2013. That’s when he began to prepare psychological operations against the government [of Argentina]. Stiusso, who is no fool, set up a network in which the judges depended on him, not the Executive Power. While things were still amicable between him and the Kirchners, there were no problems. All the accusations against the president arose when the Secretariat of Intelligence (SI) began to launch them.
Q. What motivated the government to sign the memorandum with Iran?
A. I don’t want to give a categorical response. Could be a hidden message to the United States, which at that moment was beginning a subtle rapprochement to Iran under current president Hassan Rouhani. Secondly, the topic of the accusation against Iran had crumbled. After sending his petition to Iran calling for the extradition of eight Iranian functionaries, Nisman said that Iran had not responded, which is a flagrant lie. Iran responded in 2008, destroying 37 pages of the prosecutor’s argument, and demanding proof. They never got it.
Q. You also denounced Nisman for abuse of authority and false accusation.
A. Nisman made a second accusation two years ago, accusing ten Latin American countries of harboring Iranian terrorist sleeper cells. As well, on top of all that, there are instances of discrimination against Muslims which are more than proven.
Q. What did Argentina have to gain from derailing the investigation?
A. Argentina has been tied to US policy since the downfall of Juan Domingo Perón. It has never been able to have a new, independent foreign policy. We have an unfortunate cultural dependency on the United States. They don’t have to pressure us with anything. The people commonly accept it. From the crisis of 2001 forward, they allow it with the argujment that we are very weak, which is true. But we could also follow a strategy to liberate ourselves bit by bit from that patronage.
Q. But the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran has caused Cristina many problems.
A. I chatted with her in October and brought up the subject of AMIA. She seemed to me ideologically convinced that there had to be a turnaround. Maybe they did it too slowly, because they too have dirty hands, having been in bed with both the US and Israel, but it seems to me that in here, there is a quota of ideological decision of realignment on that front.
Q. What was the reason for the attack on AMIA?
A. Our suspicion is that it was done because of internal struggles in Israel to put an end to the the peace treaties between former prime minister Itzhak Rabin and the then president of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, but they used it at first to inculpate the line of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Edul, my client. I intervened in the case to defend him, because they accused him of buying the van which allegedly exploded in the AMIA centre, and of arming it with explosives.
Q. A massacre to stop Rabin?
A. Argentina had two assaults: the explosion in the Israeli embassy, in March of 1992, and the AMIA explosion, in July 1994. One year after the Madrid accords between Arafat and Rabin in 1991, the embassy exploded. Two years after that, AMIA blew up, and a year and a half after that, they killed Rabin. In between, there were 11 more attacks, all in a line of terrorism against Rabin. Two months after the AMIA attack, Rabin signed a peace accord with Jordan, which was preparatory to the final accord, “Peace for the Territory”: the Palestinians would receive the lands stolen in the 1967 war, and guarantee in exchange, peace with the State of Israel.
Q. Who wanted to stop that?
A. The right-wing ultra-religious Israeli sectors, who at that time were members of the Gush Emunim movement. An activist from that group was co-opted by a sector of the Israeli secret service, Shin Bet, dedicated to interior security, to kill Rabin. The detail is that on each anniversary of the death of Rabin, the party of current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes to pay homage to Rabin’s assassin.
Q. What happened in the attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires?
A. It has the same structure as the attack on AMIA, in terms of logistical organization and the cover-up. The attack on the embassy did not take place with a car bomb, but with explosives placed inside the building. But when the police began to study the internal explosion, the chief of security of the embassy appeared at the police headquarters, and pressured them to pursue as sole line of investigation the car bombing. This was discovered by the penal secretary of the Supreme Court, Alfredo Bisordi, who was at the police station at an inopportune moment, on the day after the attack, and who met with the security chief.
Q. The Court intervened in the investigation of that attack.
A. When there was a discussion as to whether there had been a car bomb or not, the Court asked the National Academy of Engineering for a study via computer digitalization. They determined that the explosion came from within the embassy, but when that same embassy protested, the Court convoked an audience with the experts of the Federal Police and the Gendarmerie, who maintained that the attack was with a car bomb, and those of the Academy. The experts from that institution destroyed the arguments of the police, and the court declared publicly a new line of investigation of the internal explosion, without abandoning that of the car bomb. The then ambassador, Itzhak Avirán, took the microphone on a TV channel and said that if they did that, they would consider it a clear act of antisemitism, and promote a political case against the Court. The Court conceded, and in 1998 declared that they could not determine who had produced the attack, but that there were suspicions that it was an Islamic jihad group. A year later, in secret, that declaration by the Court became a ruling, and the case was archived. The embassy, however, never asked them to produce any proof.
Q. What happened with AMIA?
A. The same happened with AMIA. There was no car bomb, nor any crater in the sidewalk. The journalists Jorge Lanata and Joe Goldman wrote the book Smokescreens, in which they gathered the testimonies of 11 witnesses who never saw any minivan exploding outside the building. With the explosion, the furniture in the apartment next to the AMIA slid toward the window opening onto the street, and not the other way. If there had been a car bomb, the front of the building would have suffered more damage than it did. The manner in which part of the building fell is also eloquent for arriving at this conclusion.
Q. Who investigated that?
A. The ex-president, Carlos Menem, in an unprecedented attitude and for the only time in the history of the land, drew an imaginary line around the AMIA Centre, and by way of presidential decree, ceded that perimeter so that the Israeli army, the Mossad, the FBI and the CIA could investigate. In those conditions, an Israeli soldier found a motor with an intact vehicle identification number in the rubble.
Q. The car bomb theory held up.
A. Zionists in Argentina pressured enough that it would be the only route of investigation. Judge Galeano, in 1996, doubted the existence of a car bomb, and asked the director of the Institute of Structure and Explosives, of the Faculty of Engineering at [the University of] Tucumán, Dr. Rodolfo Danesi, to perform a study by computer digitalization, which determined that the explosive, between 300 and 400 kilos of ammonal, was inside the AMIA centre, about a metre or a metre and a half from the entry door.
Q. Who do you believe is behind the attack?
A. By way of who covered up, and the way Israel comported itself, I believe it was the same sector of Shin Bet that produced the attack. Two hours after the attack, the Israeli State Department communicated to our embassy in Washington that those responsible were Iran and Hezbollah.
Q. What interest could they have had in attacking a Jewish community?
A. The United States has used the assault on AMIA to accuse Iran of being a terrorist state. Israel, in its insistence to the US that they attack Iran pre-emptively, used AMIA as their casus belli. As many as eleven times, an ambassador or high-level diplomat of Israel has stated that it was Iran. In three cases they said that they had proof. I asked Canicoba and Nisman to present those proofs. The two of them called diplomatically upon Israel, but there was never a response.
Q. Tell me at least a couple of sure things about the responsibility of Israel in the attack.
A. In law, a criminal investigation is based upon two suppositions: Who benefits, and who covers it up. Whoever benefits is the first suspect. The one who covers up knows who is behind it, and is also suspect. In both cases, Israel is in the thick of it.
Q. And what is your own interest in the case?
A. I have lost clients for defending a citizen of Syrian origins. I am a politician, and I have been denied all access to the press. No one wanted to publish my book, AMIA-Embassy, Truth or Fraud?, nor distribute it, nor sell it. I sent copies to 153 journalists from the major media, and never got a reply. My interest, aside from defending Edul — pro bono, because they’ve destroyed him economically with this accusation — is to try to free Argentina from this sticky matter. As long as we don’t solve this, as long as we don’t raise accusations as to why we have not wanted to investigate AMIA, they will tie us to the conflict in the Middle East. And this has served in Argentina to create the notion that Iran is being protected. And riding on top of that, they’re destabilizing a government. The problem is that, in fact, they are destabilizing a country.
As usual, the question that must be asked, the one that cracks the case, is simple: Cui bono? Who benefits? Asking that, one quickly concludes that Iran could not possibly benefit in any way from bombing the Israeli embassy in Argentina, or any other country. Nor could they have benefited from the AMIA bombing. In fact, those assaults were promptly seized on by Washington and Tel Aviv to paint Iran as a terror sponsor, to the point where an Iranian attorney general complained. Writing in an op-ed for the New York Times, Horacio Verbitsky points out a number of inconvenient truths that exonerate Iran in either case. Key among them is this one:
So, if Iran’s butt is not being covered over oil, as Nisman’s accusation would hold, then maybe there is no need to cover up anything to do with Iran at all. Argentina in fact has plenty of oil itself, and thus no need to import from Iran, much less a crude so sulfurous that Argentine refineries aren’t equipped to handle it. In fact, Argentina has enough oil that it doesn’t even need to frack, although US-based oil companies have stepped into do just that, to disastrous effect, as Pino Solanas found out while filming a fantastic recent documentary (alas, only in Spanish):
So…if not Iran and its plentiful oil resources (which the US and Israel both have ample cause to covet), then whose butt is being covered? In both the AMIA bombing and that of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, it appears that the culprit is none other than Israel itself. Just look at how Carlos Menem bent over for them, even letting them investigate the bombings themselves, rather than assigning the job to the Argentine federales, as would be regular procedure. Unprecedented — and reeking of cover-up. But then, as Verbitsky says, Menem’s own hands are far from clean:
Good ol’ Carlos Menem. Not only did he fuck Argentina over with his obedience to the IMF’s economic model, which caused the catastrophic crash of 2001, but he’s clearly the right-wing Shin Bet’s bitch, too. With “friends” like him, the Argentine Jewish community didn’t need any enemies. And with “friends” like the US and Israel, neither does the rest of Argentina. After all, those are the influences that corrupted the Argentine secret services, the same that Cristina Fernández is now trying to purge and overhaul. And the same that probably had a hand in the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, too.