Connect to share and comment

My day in court

A man who I wrote was a notorious human rights abuser is taking me to court on Wednesday. The world has turned upside down, people tell me. This army officer has sued me for slander because I published an article accusing him of being "the Prince."

His name is Edwin Dimter, a former army lieutenant. I identified him a few years ago as the infamous “Prince,” the officer who terrorized thousands of political prisoners held in the Chile Stadium after a military coup ousted President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973.

The prisoners started calling him “Prince” because he looked like one — tall, blond and good looking — and because, as they recall, he told them that he didn’t need a microphone for the 5,000 detainees in the stadium to hear him because he had the “voice of a Prince.”

It was a time when military officers were nameless and rankless and could exercise indiscriminate power and abuse over their captive prisoners. So the name the prisoners gave him stuck, as did his face. No one there ever forgot him. All that was missing was his real name.

I found it out through military informants. In 2006, Dimter was called in to testify about the murder of folk singer Victor Jara, who was executed in the stadium and whose body was found days later on the street, riddled with more than 40 bullets.

When his former colleagues in the army learned of this, they began discussing how “unfair” it was that some military officers were being sentenced and jailed for human rights crimes and others had come away scot-free, like Dimter, the “Prince.”

Years earlier, I had been asking around about this famous “Prince” for another investigation I was doing at the time, so when word of his identity got around to the right military circles, I got a phone call from a friendly retired officer. And then another one.

I did some research and found out that Dimter had participated in a first coup attempt against Allende in June 1973, and was arrested and held in a military base until the day of the coup that succeeded in toppling Allende.

That day, Dimter was released and returned to his unit. He was then sent on a mission to the Chile Stadium, which was already filling up with political prisoners. The “Prince,” as I allege he was known then, was notoriously aggressive, according to a vast collection of testimonies from former prisoners about his brutality in the stadium. Some say he was responsible for Jara’s murder, but that has not been proven in court nor have there been any direct witnesses to testify to this.

Dimter had been discharged from the army in 1976 and at the time of my investigation held a high-ranking job at the Superintendent of AFPs (pension fund system). He had also applied and obtained government-issued social security benefits as an “exonerado politico,” claiming he had lost his job (in the army) for political reasons after the coup. This legal status is supposed to apply to military opponents who actually did lose their jobs for political motives.

I obtained photos of Dimter at the time of the coup and another more recent one, and checked with a great deal of former prisoners, asking them if they recognized him. They did. I also ruled out other potential “Princes” because of their age, physical attributes or because they were elsewhere at the time.

I published my article on May 26, 2006, in several media outlets, the first one in Stockholm and in the days that followed, in Chile.

Meanwhile, a human rights group had conducted its own investigation and mounted a demonstration (funa) in his office building downtown, taking him by surprise while 14 floors down, hundreds marched on the streets with banners accusing Dimter of being Victor Jara’s murderer.

After the article and the funa, Dimter was fired from his job and the social security benefits he obtained as an “exonerado politico” were taken away. Then he sued me and the director and editor of "El Siglo," one of the papers that had published my article.

The case was closed and reopened twice, and now, three years later, the trial date has finally been set.

So I’m taking a group of former stadium prisoners to testify this week. They will tell the court what the “Prince” was doing in September 1973 in the Chile Stadium, now renamed Victor Jara Stadium.