A former member of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s brutal regime taught at the Pentagon’s top university for 13 years, despite repeated complaints from his colleagues about his past as a torturer and murderer of political dissidents in the South American nation.
Jaime Garcia Covarrubias is charged in Santiago with leading the executions of seven people in 1973 following a U.S.-backed coup, allegations which the U.S. State and Defense Departments were aware of when they renewed his visa and allowed him to keep teaching at the National Defense University’s William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, according to a McClatchy investigation.
“His hiring undermines our moral authority on both human rights and in the war on terror,” Chris Simmons, a former Defense Intelligence Agency and Army intelligence officer who specializes in Latin America, told McClatchy. “If he is in fact guilty of what he is accused of, he is a terrorist. Then who are we to tell other countries how they should be fighting terrorism?”
At Firedoglake, investigative journalist Kevin Gosztola writes:
Attention to Covarrubias’ employment at the National Defense University (NDU) comes just after State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki maintained during a press briefing the US has a “long-standing policy” to not support coups. She suggested the U.S. “does not support political transitions by nonconstitutional means.” They must be “peaceful and legal.”
Garcia Covarrubias has been in Chile since January 2014, after an investigative judge ordered him to return to his home country for the duration of the inquiry into his role in the 1973 killings and the extent of his involvement in the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) spy agency.
The center’s officials who hired and renewed Garcia Covarrubias’ contracts say he was a highly qualified professor and minimize the allegations against him.
“We made inquiries with people in the region, in Chile and so forth, and were never given anything negative about Jaime,” said Margaret Daly Hayes, the center’s first director. “He was vetted by the U.S. government, by the (U.S.) Embassy. They obviously didn’t have anything either or he wouldn’t have been hired.”
One of Garcia Covarrubias’s alleged former victims described undergoing gruesome ordeals at his hands, including sexual torture and electric shocks to eyelids and other sensitive parts of the body. He was reportedly known to have a “penchant for horsewhips and perversity.”
Garcia Covarrubias downplayed his involvement in the Pinochet regime to international press after the Chilean military disclosed a list of over 1,000 former members of the secret police, which included his name. However, as McClatchy explains:
The DINA link matters.
…The killings and other assassinations outside Chile were attributed to DINA. The Nixon administration’s support of a regime that relied on rampant torture helped galvanize the human rights movement in the United States.
Even as the allegations against Garcia Covarrubias came to light and other professors at the center raised concerns over his hiring, U.S. officials rallied behind him. Martin Edwin Andersen, the school’s then-communications director, was reprimanded and eventually pushed out by senior staff after questioning his continued employment there.
“It’s shameful that at a time the U.S. prestige as a democracy is under attack, that the National Defense University could be playing footsie with a former state terrorism agent,” Andersen said.