Former Member of Pinochet’s Secret Police, Accused of Torture & Murder, Taught for Pentagon for 12 Years
A member of Chilean dictator’s Augusto Pinochet’s secret police, who is implicated in executions and torture that occurred weeks after a United States-backed coup in 1973, taught at a Pentagon university for thirteen years. But, in spite of allegations, State Department and Pentagon officials allowed him to hold a visa and teach in the US, according to a report from McClatchy Newspapers.
The criminal court in Santiago has charged Jaime Garcia Covarrubias for being the “mastermind” behind the executions of seven people. He is also accused of sexual torture and said by his accusers to have a “penchant for horsewhips and perversity.” An investigative judge ordered him to remain in Chile in January 2014.
Herman Carrasco, who is now a real estate agent, was interviewed by McClatchy reporters and described how he had been tortured by Covarrubias between October and November 1973. The torture occurred “twice a day.”
“We were submerged in feces,” Carrasco recalled. “They stuck rifle barrels in our anuses.”
Covarrubias wielded horsewhips during the torture sessions and even employed electric shocks to the “eyelids, genitals and other sensitive areas of the body.” He also “forced us into sexual acts, which shows that besides ferocious cruelty there was a level of psychopathic behavior,” Carrasco added.
The former Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional member, who eventually became DINA’s Counter-Intelligence head, taught security courses at the Center for Hemisphere Defense Studies (CHDS) at NDU from 2001 to 2013.
Margaret Daly Hayes, a former director of the Center, defended the hiring of Covarrubias. “We made inquiries with people in the region, in Chile and so forth. He was vetted by the US government, by the [US] Embassy. They obviously didn’t have anything either or he wouldn’t have been hired.”
Yet, colleagues expressed dismay at his employment and were rebuffed. A former communications director, Martin Edwin Andersen, attempted to talk to top officials at the university. Andersen was “scolded” in emails and faced retaliation for raising objections. He filed a complaint with the Pentagon’s inspector general.
“It’s shameful that at a time the US prestige as a democracy is under attack, that the National Defense University could be playing footsie with a former state terrorism agent,” Andersen said to McClatchy.
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 US “does not support political transitions by nonconstitutional means.” They must be “peaceful and legal.”
It also comes as President Barack Obama and his administration has targeted sanctions against officials in Venezuela, who the administration believes have “eroded” human rights guarantees by engaging in political persecution and acts of repression against protestors. It sanctions these officials while an unknown number of other human rights violators continue to teach at Pentagon universities or reside in the US.
In addition to Covarrubias, former Colombian army brigade commander Carlos Alberto Ospina Ovalle, who taught at the NDU center from 2006 to 2014, is receiving attention.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, concerns about Ovalle go back to 1997.
His Fourth Brigade allegedly “allowed a pro-government militia to sack the village of El Aro in northern Colombia, brutally killing several people, including some children, and leaving others missing. One shopkeeper was tied to a tree, had his eyes gouged out, and his tongue removed, according to witness reports at the time cited by human rights investigators. Dozens of homes were destroyed, and more than a thousand cattle were stolen.”
Over the objections of human rights groups, Ovalle still teaches at NDU at one of the university’s other centers.
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)—more commonly known as the School of the Americas—is a notorious US Army training school where soldiers and other military personnel from Latin American countries have received counterinsurgency, intelligence and counter-narcotics training. (A list of some of the “notorious graduates” of the school can be found here.)
As noted by McClatchy, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had the opportunity to expel Covarrubias because he is a torturer. ICE declined, and former US ambassador to Chile, Paul Simons, was apparently furious when his visa was in question in 2008.
What this reflects is the long-standing policy of the US government to look the other way and permit human rights violators from Latin American countries, including torturers, to teach at military universities, receive training in the country and reside in America for long periods.