I write these lines from my home, where I have been confined by the courts for more than a week. I’m a political prisoner. An Argentine judge accused me of treason, and covering up for Iranian officials accused of masterminding the 1994 terrorist attack against the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association, or AMIA, Buenos Aires’ principal Jewish center, in which 85 people died and 300 were wounded. Twenty-three years after the attack, nobody has been convicted and few facts have been established other than that it occurred.
The investigation into the attack was so flawed and corrupt that in 2004 the entire trial was annulled and the judge who led it was put under investigation. Judge Claudio Bonadio — who now accuses me of treason — led the investigation into that cover-up, but was removed from it in 2005, charged with partiality and colluding to protect those who thwarted the initial investigation.
The prosecutor Alberto Nisman took charge of the AMIA investigation and pointed to a group of Iranian officials as the masterminds of the attack. The courts ordered that the suspects be apprehended and brought before a judge, as Argentinian law does not permit trials in absentia. Iran countered that its own laws forbid the extradition of its citizens. Thus, the case remained paralyzed for another decade.
Advancing the case was a key goal of the former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s administration, in which I served as foreign minister from 2010 to 2015. The solution was an agreement between both countries: an Argentine judge would question the suspects in Iran and begin judicial proceedings to bring truth and justice to the victims. It also established a nonbinding truth commission composed of international jurists to observe the case. For Mr. Bonadio, the agreement undermines the criminal investigation in the AMIA case and is the pretext for my indictment.
Treason is an accusation without relevant modern precedent in our country. For an Argentine citizen to commit treason, the country must be in a state of war. Argentina and Iran are not, and never have been, at war. To this day, they maintain diplomatic relations. Nonetheless, Mr. Bonadio justifies this accusation by contending that the terrorist attack represents an act of war. He argues that the country has been at war for 23 years, without any formal acknowledgment, and in contradiction of all jurisprudence.
Iran rejects the accusations against its citizens. Nonetheless, it agreed to cooperate in the case after a multiyear diplomatic campaign led by the successive Kirchner governments. Thus began the official negotiations — announced by Ms. Fernández de Kirchner in the United Nations — and the political attacks by those who said Iran was an unacceptable negotiating partner. Certain groups in Argentina seemed to prefer paralysis, perhaps out of fear that there is insufficient evidence to condemn the Iranian suspects.
The case against the Kirchner administration reiterates the accusations made by Mr. Nisman a few days before his death that were dismissed by Argentinian courts that same year: that the agreement, ratified by Argentina’s congress, secretly aimed to cover up the alleged role of the Iranians. The accusations are cobbled together, in part, from false media reports alleging a secret meeting in Aleppo, Syria, between me and Ali Akbar Salehi, who at that time was Iran’s foreign minister. I did indeed travel to Aleppo, where I met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria — a meeting that, far from secret, was documented in diplomatic cables and reported in the Argentinian press — but I did not meet with Mr. Salehi while I was there, and no credible evidence has been presented to support this falsehood. The rest of the allegations in the case were built on this lie, which I categorically deny.
A central part of Mr. Nisman’s accusations involve the Interpol red notices, a form of arrest warrant that aims to assist national police forces to locate those wanted internationally in criminal cases. Mr. Nisman, and now Mr. Bonadio, accused me of aiming to remove these red notices. Yet, to this day, they remain unchanged. I was anxious that this be the case, as they served to ensure Iranian compliance. The then-secretary general of Interpol, Ronald Noble, denied that Argentina requested any change in the red notices immediately after Mr. Nisman made his accusation, and Mr. Noble has maintained that position emphatically. Instead of accepting his statements, Mr. Bonadio now accuses Mr. Noble of colluding over the claimed cover-up.
I do not know why the agreement has become the focus of such vindictive anger. I cannot say why Mr. Bonadio seems determined to pursue a case with such flimsy evidence, and why he has announced decisions with suspiciously political timing. But I do know that he is accused of attempting to shield former political allies investigated in the original AMIA investigation.
Mr. Bonadio was a longtime Partido Justicialista (Peronist) activist. When Carlos Corach was appointed minister of the interior by President Carlos Menem — the position included managing relations with all the governors, Parliament, security forces and the judicial branch — he placed Mr. Bonadio in the secretariat of legal affairs.
In 1994 (shortly before the AMIA attack), Mr. Corach promoted him to federal judgeship. He got the position without passing through a competition with other candidates, as is the procedure in Argentina. In 2005, the judicial authorities separated him from the first trial investigating the cover-up the AMIA case, for having kept the case paralyzed for five years. One of the accused was Mr. Corach.
President Néstor Kirchner’s government accused Mr. Bonadio of poor performance and sought to have him removed from the bench. In 2010, Mr. Nisman accused Mr. Bonadio of threatening him to ensure AMIA investigation did not involve the judge’s allies. More broadly, he is the sitting judge with the most complaints in the country — he has collected at least 50 reports of misconduct over the years.
Since Mauricio Macri assumed the presidency at the end of 2015, Mr. Bonadio has managed to head most of the cases against Ms. Fernández de Kirchner and has imprisoned several of her former officials in pretrial detention.
The Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, a well-known Argentinian rights organization, has criticized the use of this measure, saying it represents the “use of the penal system to persecute political opponents.”
Mr. Bonadio has rejected a request to release me from detention, which apparently could continue for a long time. And a few days ago, he determined that I must ask for permission to see doctors, a decision criticized by Human Rights Watch.
Sadly, it is not the first time my family ihas been a victim of political persecution. Forty years ago, my father, the journalist Jacobo Timerman, was also a political prisoner. He spent over a year under house arrest, after being kidnapped and tortured in clandestine centers run by the military during my country’s last dictatorship from 1976 to 1983.
Defense of human rights has been vitally important in my personal and professional life. I considered my diplomacy in this case to be part of that ideal. Instead, I find myself enmeshed in a Kafkaesque process that aggravates my cancer and robs me of the time I have left.
For now, the AMIA case languishes, as it has for decades. And we who in good faith sought justice are the targets of the anger of the Jewish community and many families of the victims.
I have asked to be judged as quickly as possible. Preventing me from getting timely medical attention is like condemning me to death. Argentina’s Constitution does not permit the death penalty. But with a judge like this, that is little guarantee.
Héctor Timerman was the foreign affairs minister of Argentina from 2010 to 2015 during the presidency of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.