Pinochet's Paperwork Problem

  • Share
  • Read Later
Even dictatorship involves some paperwork, and Chile's General Augusto Pinochet may pay heavily for his apparent administrative delinquency. Pinochet wants his arrest overturned on the grounds that British law indemnifies former heads of state for crimes committed in office. But although he overthrew Chile's elected government in September 1973, he waited until June 1974 to formally inaugurate himself as head of state -- and much of the murder and torture he is accused of occurred during that interim. The court Wednesday asked the Foreign Office to supply the date on which Pinochet was recognized as head of state, indicating this may weigh heavily on their judgment.

Whatever the outcome of the case, Britain is certainly gaining politically from the drawn-out repeat of Pinochet's appeal. "This case loses its explosive impact as it drags on," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "By the time it's resolved, many people will have forgotten that it's happening." But prospective coup-mongers everywhere will remember that when storming the palace, it may be a good idea to have an attorney in tow.