A Murky Business

Argentine Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman

Argentine Special Prosecutor Alberto Nisman

It all started on the morning of July 18, 1994. A Renault utility truck packed with explosives blew sky high in front of Buenos Aires’s Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) killing 85 Jews and injuring 300 more. This set off an investigation that involved three Argentinian presidents (Carlos Menem, Néstor Kirchner, and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner), Hezbollah (who claimed to have set off the bomb), Iran (who sponsors Hezbollah), and several other countries besides (including Venezuela and the United States). During most of the last 21 years, Alberto Nisman was involved in the investigation as a prosecutor and was intent on skewering Iran.

Until 2013, the Argentine government was behind him. Then it changed sides and decided to not pursue the case. That left the outraged Nisman determined to go after the government. He promised to have a big show and tell on Monday, January 18, of this year before the Congress. Sometime that night, however, he was killed with a rickety old 22 caliber pistol lent to Nisman by his computer technician, Diego Lagomarsino.

At first, it was suspected that it was death by suicide, though there were no gunpowder on his hands. Eventually, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner decided it was murder. The question was: Who killed him? Was it the nefarious Secretaría de Inteligencia de Estado (SIDE), which has been suspected of numerous crimes under the Videla dictatorship? Was it Iran and Hezbollah, which had tired of Nisman’s relentless charges over two decades? Was it Diego Lagomarsino, whose gun it was? At this point, it’s difficult to exonerate anyone.

Nisman himself was a bit strange. According to an article entitled “Death of a Prosecutor” by Dexter Filkins in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker:

In the years that Nisman presided over the AMIA investigation, he became a famous man. Separated from his wife, he was a fixture at Buenos Aires’ night clubs and sometimes appeared in gossip magazines with various girlfriends. He relished his image as a lone prosecutor going after terrorists in the Middle East. With a large staff and a big budget, he cultivated relationships with American intelligence analysts, conservative think-tank experts, and the staff of Senator Marco Rubio, who kept track of his work. He rented a luxury apartment in the chic neighborhood of Puerto Madero and indulged a passion for windsurfing.

Since January, Nisman’s death has been page one news in a country whose judicial system reminds one of Kafka’s The Trial. Even in today’s issue of the Buenos Aires Herald, there’s a story about ex-President Carlos Menem offering more information about the AMIA bombing.