As Americans reflect on months at the negotiating table with Ali Khamenei, the new film Los Abandonados (“The Abandoned”) demands a deeper look at another Iran deal: the one Argentina made to absolve the perpetrators of the largest terrorist attack in their history.
Part historical account and part spy novel, Los Abandonados tells the story of the death of Alberto Nisman, an Argentine prosecutor who was found dead of a gunshot to the head the day before he was to testify to Congress. He was to accuse President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of making a secret deal with the Iranian government to protect Hezbollah-linked terrorists. The terrorists in question are the orchestrators of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), the worst terror attack in Argentina’s history and the worst attack on the Western Hemisphere prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Nisman was found dead on January 18, and his death remains unsolved. Nearly half a million Argentines took to the streets of Buenos Aires in February and March demanding justice, many believing that Nisman was right, and Iran was operating within their borders. Some held signs reading “Islamic Fundamentalists Killed Nisman.”
The Nisman shooting made only marginal headlines in the United States, but the beauty of Los Abandonados is that director Matthew Taylor does not expect you to know who Alberto Nisman is, much less have a vivid memory of the AMIA bombing. If you are surprised– and alarmed– to hear that Hezbollah is actively operating in Latin America, then this is the film for you.
Taylor makes the wise decision of letting those closest to the story tell it in their native Spanish. Journalists, members of Congress, representatives of AMIA, and Nisman himself drive the narrative. Like Zero Dark Thirty, the first scene throws the reader head-first into the immediate chaos of the morning of July 18, 1994; unlike that film, it gives you the sights as well as sounds. Buenos Aires looks like Homs, Syria, with civilians working to pull whatever artifacts– and people– they can out of the rubble.
Those describing the scene make clear that words will not do to document the fear and panic. 85 people died, a small number only when compared to subsequent terrorist acts by radical Islamists. One man describing the scene, perhaps fearing that a 2015 audience may be desensitized to Islamist attack perpetrated on Israeli or Jewish targets, makes the argument that such terrorism does not only affect Jews. “The bombs don’t discriminate,” he says, explaining that a number of people who happened to be walking down the street that day also died, having had no relationship to the AMIA itself.
A complex web then begins to appear, as alliances are formed designed to protect the criminals responsible for this bloodbath. A journalist who was at the scene recalls picking up evidence and bringing it to the police in garbage bags, because police officers appeared to refuse to pick up pivotal pieces of evidence. Then-President Carlos Menem shuts the investigation down, citing irregularities. By the time Nisman arrives on the scene, it is 2003 and Nestor Kirchner, late husband of the current president, is in power.
The film manages to closely acquaint the reader with a boatload of shady characters responsible for Nisman’s inability to convert his evidence into justice for the AMIA victims, from Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to Iranian mullah Mohsen Rabbani to Fernández de Kirchner herself. Nisman made the case on Argentine television the week before he died; here, in showcasing that appearance and allowing the viewer to experience both the clarity in Nisman’s arguments and his brilliance as a prosecutor, the film reaches its highest point.
The results of the investigation into Nisman’s death are ongoing. The world might never know who pulled the trigger on the gun that killed him. Prosecutor Vivana Fein, who is investigating the case, continues to insist the evidence does not prove a homicide. What Los Abandonados does is take this fascinating, hugely complex tale of international intrigue and present it as a warning to those who see in Iran a government worth trusting and negotiating with.
Iran brokered a deal with Argentina to trade oil at competitive prices for the protection of the AMIA bombers. The Islamic Republic defended terrorists tied to a group that Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan recently insisted Iran would keep funding following the nuclear deal with America and other Western powers, particularly now that the deal will generate millions in new revenue. The message of Los Abandonados is clear: the AMIA bombing will happen again so long as Western nations insist upon cutting backroom deals with Iran. In 1994, it happened in Argentina, but with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and, yes, the United States cozying up Iran, there is no telling where it might happen next.
Dire as the consequences of underhanded dealings with Iran may be for the Argentine people, the film is not all bad news for those watching the Obama administration similarly take Iran at face value, opening up trade that will, Iran vows, benefit Hezbollah. The Nisman case has caused the uproar it has among the Argentine people largely because that nation enjoys the presence of a robust, challenging mainstream media.
Without bold reports published in newspapers like El Clarín and La Nación, the Kirchner government may yet have gotten away with a haphazard open-and-shut case. But journalists like those featured in the video– who watched Fernández de Kirchner’s Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers tear a copy of El Clarín to pieces on television for publishing a report ultimately proven true– were relentless in their pursuit of the truth. In their appearances in this film, they demonstrate that they continue to be equally relentless, as the one-year anniversary of Nisman’s death inches nearer with little to no resolution regarding his death. The film tacitly raises the question in the mind of an American viewer: what would we know about the Obama administration’s handling of Iran if the New York Times’ or Washington Post‘s reporters were even half as tenacious as Clarín‘s?
Los Abandonados premieres in Washington, D.C. on September 30 and will be available throughout the United States on October 1. Watch the English-language trailer below: