Is Pinochet Worth the Trouble?

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If stability is more important than justice, Chile's General Augusto Pinochet is home free. The former dictator left a London hospital Tuesday for an undisclosed destination, as Britain's government pondered his fate. Chile's foreign minister and the U.S. State Department are pressing that Pinochet be sent home on the grounds that his detention is destabilizing his homeland. "Pinochet's arrest has ended the political cease-fire in Chile," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "Right-wing groups are becoming more aggressive and threatening to disrupt the country's fragile political equilibrium."

Despite a belief that Pinochet should be returned, Washington has kept a low profile on the issue. "The fact that the CIA was involved in the coup that brought Pinochet to power could make a trial uncomfortable for Washington," says Dowell. "That creates some skepticism in Europe over our motives." But the case highlights the question at the heart of moves to strengthen international human rights law: "Do we accept Pinochet's indemnity to keep the peace in Chile," says Dowell, "or do we refuse to tolerate the actions of which he's accused despite the social turmoil that may cause." Tyrants everywhere -- and their victims -- await an answer.