Bid to expose Aust role in Chile coup

·2-min read

An Australian tribunal is holding a closed-door case on the declassification of secret documents on Australia's involvement in the 1973 Chile military coup, after the government said some issues could put the country's security at risk.

Former Australian military intelligence officer Clinton Fernandes, who demands the publication of the documents, is facing David Fricker, Australia's National Archives director general, at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The tribunal is, a non-judicial body with jurisdiction over government affairs.

On Thursday Fernandes' lawyer, Ian Latham, insisted in his brief public appearance that not all documents, which span the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, put Australian security at risk.

The rest of the process will take place behind closed doors, as Australia's Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said in a May 25 order that the testimonies of "confidential" matters in this case "harm security, defence and international relations," of her country.

In the hearings, to which the plaintiffs do not have access, a former agent of the Australian intelligence agency ASIO will appear under the false name of Peter Darby, and Jack Lowe, who also has an undercover identity and was part of the Australian Secret Intelligence Services.

Their testimonies will be added to those of Anthony Sheehan, International Security Undersecretary for the Australian Foreign Ministry. He said on the first day that there are "aspects (in the documents) that need to be protected."

At the end of the hearings on Friday, the tribunal judges are expected to issue a verdict on the petition by Fernandes, who told EFE that if he loses, it is very likely that he will not take the case to federal court due to lack of resources.

Despite the fact that the United States declassified secret documents two decades ago on how it covered up and supported the Augusto Pinochet regime (1973-1990), there are still many questions about Australia's role in the run-up to the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende.

Questions have been unanswered for decades due to the legal mechanisms that Australia has to protect its secrets.

For now, it is known that Australia sent intelligence agents to Chile in 1971 during the government of liberal Billy McMahon, at Washington's request, but his successor, Labor's Gough Whitlam (1972-73) ordered the withdrawal of these men from the country.

However, at least one secret agent stayed in Chile until after the coup, while some intelligence officers worked as undercover immigration agents and assisted the US Central Intelligence Agency before the coup.

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