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GREECE: The Colonels on Trial

4 minute read

“It’s the best damn jail in Europe,” boasted erstwhile Greek Strongman George Papadopoulos in 1968, brushing off reports that under his rule, thousands of Greek political prisoners had been held in Athens’ Korydallos prison. Last week Papadopoulos himself, after seven months in Korydallos, became the principal defendant in a mass trial at the prison. Along with 19 other former members of the ousted military junta, the ex-dictator was charged with acts of high treason and insurrection that had subjected Greece to 7½ years of dictatorship, from 1967 to 1974. The maximum penalty for insurrection: death by firing squad.

Fearful of both right-wing plots to spring the defendants from prison and left-wing assassination attempts, the democratic government of Premier Constantine Caramanlis staged an impressive show of military strength at a trial that had been described as “Greece’s Nuremberg.” Outside Korydallos, 1,000 soldiers armed with submachine guns stood guard; road approaches to the prison were patrolled by tanks. Inside the prison, security police carefully checked the prisoners’ box, the benches, the air conditioners and the overhead lights for hidden weapons and explosives. Only after these precautions had been taken were the colonels trotted out into public view for the first time since they were arrested in January.

Defense Strategy. Papadopoulos gave the signal for the defense strategy. His once jet-black hair now streaked with gray, his round face disfigured by boils, the fallen dictator said that while he assumed “full responsibility” for the April 1967 revolution, he refused to defend himself. Following suit, former Deputy Premiers Stylianos Pattakos and Nikolas Makarezos declared they would not participate in the trial either. Brigadier General Dimitrios Ioannides, who took power from the colonels in 1973, announced with a smile that the trial was “unfortunately not interesting.”

Defense lawyers justified their clients’ abstentions by arguing that the Caramanlis government had prejudged their case by retroactively ruling the 1967 coup to be a criminal offense. Lawyers for 16 of the defendants then walked out of the courtroom, arguing that they could not conduct a defense “in this climate of terror and violence.” Exasperated, the president of the court, Yiannis Deyannis, who was appointed a high court judge under the junta, yelled, “Let all those who wish to leave—leave!”

It soon became clear that the case against the colonels on the charge of insurrection might be hard to prove. The key issue was whether or not the colonels had in fact seized power illegally in 1967. But their superior officer, Lieut. General Gregorios Spandidakis, the army chief of staff—now also on trial —had approved and even joined the coup. Moreover, Premier Caramanlis himself had tacitly accepted the junta’s legitimacy. It was the junta that summoned Caramanlis back to Greece to form a new government last year, and it was a President appointed by the colonels, Phaedon Gizikis, who swore in Caramanlis as Premier. Evidence that the colonels had set up a legal government was unexpectedly reinforced by testimony of a prosecution witness. Panayotis Kanellopoulos, the Premier from whom the colonels took power, stated at the trial that no less a figure than former King Constantine had legitimatized the junta’s rule.

Loyal Officials. Kanellopoulos, a highly respected leader of the National Radical Union, told how he had been arrested at machine-gun point by junta soldiers and taken to the monarch in 1967. He urged the King, who was also commander in chief of the armed forces, to order loyal officers to crush the colonels’ rebellion. The weak and inexperienced Constantine, then 27, refused, fearing bloodshed. Instead, he swore the colonels into office.

Kanellopoulos’ testimony undermined the charge of insurrection. But the accusations of high treason—for acting against the national interest—will probably be strengthened next week when Andreas Papandreou, head of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, will reportedly name CIA officials as the colonels’ coconspirators. The maximum penalty for high treason is life imprisonment, but the junta leaders are expected to get off with lighter sentences. Although extremists have called for retributive justice, most Greeks merely wish to see them judged under the law.

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