When growing up in Argentina, the investigation of the AMIA bombing never seemed to veer too far from the political agenda of the day. While the attack almost felt as if it belonged to a bygone era, reports of new witnesses, indictments and leads, all relating to the worst act of terrorism in the country’s history, continued to appear in the newspapers on a frequent basis. Then came a bombshell, when in late 2006 a federal judge issued an arrest warrant for former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and various other leading Iranian government officials, Interpol following suit soon afterwards. One sensed as if the necessary political will and momentum were finally there to deliver a semblance of justice, however extensive and numerous the investigation’s failings from the very beginning.
Fast-forward to January 2015, when Alberto Nisman, federal prosecutor and chief investigator of the AMIA case, indicts the President, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other major political figures for concealing the alleged involvement of senior Iranian officials in the attack, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Tehran to jointly investigate the bombing. The news rocks Argentina and generates headlines worldwide. Days later, and on the morning he is due to testify in Congress and outline his initial findings, Nisman is found dead, for reasons yet to be fully explained.
It is important to note that an individual has passed away, and one must treat this fact with the necessary respect. But in posterity and amidst circumstances as tragic as these, it is often tempting to believe that such individual’s efforts, in particular those of his that particularly stood out, have been vindicated. Unfortunately, Argentine politics, let alone Nisman’s own trajectory, are far from as simple or straightforward as one would hope them to be, often leading to understandably cautious judgments on the revelations and developments of late.
In a judiciary as highly politicised as Argentina’s, where prosecutors carry great autonomy and sway, Nisman was not immune to cultivating shifting political alliances. At one point he curried greater favour with the government, especially when appointed as chief investigator for the AMIA case; in recent years, however, their relations had considerably cooled. The prosecutor is also known to have been in regular contact with foreign governments regarding the investigation’s progress, Wikileaks revealing a particularly close working relationship with the local US embassy. Plausible as some form of an agreement between Argentina and Iran may seem, given the state of diplomatic ties between the two countries in recent times, Nisman’s insistence on an Iranian line of inquiry was severely criticised; numerous analysts and chroniclers of the AMIA case have continually questioned why the earlier ‘Syrian lead,’ centring on the involvement of Syrian and possibly Hizbollah operatives at the time of the Menem presidency’s cosy relations with Damascus, remained discarded, dropped by the investigation over a decade earlier. It may not be a coincidence that Nisman’s revelations followed in the immediate wake of the government’s shake-up of the intelligence services at the end of the last year, rooting out much of the old guard; elements of the intelligence services were heavily involved in the AMIA investigation, and Nisman was known to be on good terms with the top brass, who may have needed an axe to grind.
Discussions will continue to rage for days, no doubt largely revolving around the circumstances of Nisman’s very death. The evidence he compiled will be processed by the courts. The political fallout is still difficult to determine, particularly in a society as highly polarised as is currently Argentina’s; the popular suggestion that the government was behind Nisman’s death is testimony of this.
But for those victims of the bombing on July 18, 1994, there will be no closure, and the truth as to the events on that day appears ever more elusive after a week of disclosures as tortuously contradictory as these. No matter the twists and turns in the coming days, weeks and months, Argentina’s institutions are now two decades late in rectifying a failure of its citizens as abject and egregious as this one.