IMAGE: PINOCHET
Matias Recart  /  AFP - Getty Images file
Augusto Pinochet, seen here in 2000, has been charged with the torture and disappearances of people in Chile's custody who opposed his 1973-1990 rule.
updated 10/30/2006 5:55:03 PM ET 2006-10-30T22:55:03

Former dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest and indicted for the first time on torture charges over abuses at a secret detention center where President Michelle Bachelet and her mother were once held, the judge handling the case reported Monday.

Two court officials notified Pinochet at his suburban Santiago mansion of the decision by Judge Alejandro Solis, who on Friday had charged Pinochet with one homicide, 35 kidnappings and 24 cases of torture at Villa Grimaldi, one of the most infamous detention centers in the early years of his 1973-1990 dictatorship.

Pinochet has been indicted four times before — three on human rights charges, one for tax evasion — and three times was held under house arrest, but this is the first time he faces torture charges.

Pinochet's chief defense lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, had said he will appeal Solis' ruling "all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. We will use all the legal means at our disposal."

Rodriguez insisted the 90-year-old former military ruler is unfit to stand trial because of poor health. Pinochet has been diagnosed a mild dementia, has sustained several minor strokes, suffers from diabetes and arthritis and needs a pacemaker.

Those conditions have led courts to drop charges against Pinochet in previous attempts to try him, but this time, after questioning Pinochet for more than an hour, Judge Solis said he is convinced the general "is not mentally alienated" and can stand trial.

Pinochet currently is under indictment on another human rights case and on tax evasion charges related to his multimillion-dollar secret bank accounts abroad.

According to an official report, some 4,500 people were held and tortured at Villa Grimaldi from 1973 to 1978 and more than 200 were never heard from again after entering. The cases in which Pinochet was charged stem from criminal suits filed by relatives of the victims.

Villa Grimaldi, in the south-eastern Santiago suburb of Penalolen, has been turned into a memorial park honoring those who suffered there.

Bachelet was a 22-year-old medical student and member of the Socialist Party when she was arrested along with her mother in 1975 and held at the Villa for several days. She has said she was mistreated there, including being kept blindfolded, but has not given details.

Her mother, Angela Jeria, said she was kept for days in a box blindfolded and without food.

On Oct. 14, Bachelet and her mother paid an emotional return visit to Villa Grimaldi, which has been turned into a memorial park honoring those who suffered there.

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