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Ex-General Admits Role in ‘Dirty War’

Times Staff Writer

Shortly before authorities whisked him from a jail here Saturday, retired Argentine Gen. Carlos Suarez Mason admitted ordering the arrest of celebrated Argentine newspaper publisher Jacobo Timerman, according to an attorney who interviewed him.

In a deposition, Suarez Mason discussed his role in the 1970s Argentine military government for the first time since his arrest last year, admitting writing orders that set forth the campaign to quell internal dissent.

U.S. marshals, nearing the end of a 15-month extradition battle, escorted the general from a jail here Saturday on his way to his homeland where he faces trial on 39 murder charges.

Suarez Mason, 64, exhausted all appeals in his fight against extradition last week. Realizing that he would soon be forced to leave, he allowed himself late Friday and early Saturday to be interviewed for the deposition by Joanne Hoeper, who is part of a team of attorneys seeking damages in federal court on behalf of victims of the Argentine junta.

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“He was continually trying to justify himself,” Hoeper said, noting that an estimated 5,000 people died under his command. “I was struck by how mundane and bureaucratic the whole thing was.”

The deposition has not yet been transcribed. The general’s admissions were read to a reporter by Hoeper from notes she took during more the five hours of questioning.

Suarez Mason’s involvement in Timerman’s arrest had long been suspected, but his admission in the deposition appears to be the first time that the former general publicly confirmed it. Timerman’s detention in 1977 and torture became the focus of international pressure by human rights groups on the Argentine junta.

Expelled to Israel

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The military confiscated Timerman’s newspaper, La Opinion, which campaigned against the junta’s anti-Semitic policies. The newspaper publisher spent 29 months in jail and under house arrest before being expelled to Israel, where he became a citizen.

Timerman gained international acclaim with his book, “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number,” which recounted his arrest, interrogations and torture. Last year, Timerman returned to Buenos Aires to continue his writing career. He has received $5 million from the Argentine government as compensation for the loss of his newspaper.

Suarez Mason said he ordered Timerman’s arrest after an underling presented him with accusations that Timerman was “friends with a man who owned a bank that funded guerrillas.” He did not mention the name of the banker, who has been previously identified as David Graiver. Nor was it clear that the bank was involved with leftists.

“He knew Timerman was being interrogated. He said he listened to a tape-recording of an interrogation.

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“It was clear that he is a very good administrator,” said Hoeper, who works at the San Francisco law firm of Morrison & Foerster. “He was running Zone 1, the capital city of Argentina, where the majority of activity was going on against the subversives, and he did it very well.”

Arrested Last Year

Suarez Mason, the highest ranking official from the military regime who has yet to be tried, fled Argentina after a civilian government took over in 1983. He was arrested last year at Argentina’s request in suburban Foster City and had been living in the United States for much of the time he spent as a fugitive.

Suarez Mason, who faces life in prison if he is convicted in Argentina, was in charge of military forces in the Buenos Aires area from 1976 until 1979. He remained a leading member of the regime that ruled Argentina for almost eight years and carried on the so-called “dirty war” against suspected leftist subversives.

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