By Dexter Filkins, 13 July 2015
In the last days of his life, Alberto Nisman could hardly wait to confront his enemies. On January 14th of this year, Nisman, a career prosecutor in Argentina, had made an electrifying accusation against the country’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He charged that she had orchestrated a secret plan to scuttle the investigation of the bloodiest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history: the 1994 suicide bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, the country’s largest Jewish organization, in which eighty-five people were killed and more than three hundred wounded. Nisman, a vain, meticulous fifty-one-year-old with a zest for Buenos Aires’ gaudy night life, had pursued the case for a decade, travelling frequently to the United States to get help from intelligence officials and from aides on Capitol Hill. In 2006, he indicted seven officials from the government of Iran, including its former President and Foreign Minister, whom he accused of planning and directing the attack, along with a senior leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Months later, Nisman secured international arrest warrants for five officials, effectively preventing them from leaving Iran. As the case made him a celebrity, he invested in blue contact lenses and Botox injections. “Whenever he saw a camera, that was it, he would drop everything,” Roman Lejtman, a journalist who covered the investigation, said.
Over the years, the case, known by the Jewish organization’s acronym, AMIA, had exposed the flaws of Argentina’s judicial system. The presiding judge was indicted for trying to hijack its outcome, as were some of the country’s highest-ranked politicians. Iran’s leaders scoffed at Argentina’s demands to extradite the accused, and even issued a warrant for Nisman’s arrest. Nisman persevered, pressing the Iranians at every opportunity. From the beginning, he had the unstinting support of Argentina’s Presidents—first of Néstor Kirchner, who chose Nisman to supervise the prosecution in 2004, then of Cristina, who succeeded her husband in 2007. Every autumn, she travelled to New York and denounced the Iranian regime before the United Nations. Whenever Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, entered the main hall to speak, Argentina’s diplomats, under Kirchner’s orders, walked out.