By Peter Weiss, Vice President, Center for Constitutional Rights
Chile’s 9/11happened in 1973, with the violent overthrow of the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende by army chief Agusto Pinochet. Among the many victims of this violence were two young Americans, Charles Horman, a journalist and filmmaker, and Frank Teruggi, a student. Both were arrested without a warrant by Chilean soldiers under circumstances that suggest the junta feared they knew of CIA involvement in the military takeover. They were transferred to the National Stadium and executed without trial a few days after the September 11th coup. Neither was charged with any offense; both were identified as “subversives” on a list compiled by Chile’s military intelligence service with, it is believed, the assistance of the FBI. The Center for Constitutional Rights and I personally have been lawyers and advisers to the Horman family for 35 years. The Horman case gained worldwide notoriety through the Oscar-winning movie “Missing”.
On the day of the coup, Charles Horman and Terry Simon, a family friend, were at the coastal town of Viña del Mar, where a retired American navy person told them about the presence of American warships in the vicinity. Public transport being suspended as a result of the coup, they hitched a ride back to Santiago with another American, who turned out to be Captain Ray E. Davis, a naval officer serving as military attaché at the American Embassy.
After Charles was forcibly taken from the house where he lived with his wife Joyce, both she and his parents in New York lost contact with him. His father, desperate to find his son, went to Chile and, after a search of several weeks, located Charles’s body in a morgue. Convinced of American complicity in the coup, he asked the Center for Constitutional Rights to bring a case against Henry Kissinger, then the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, and other high-level government officials believed to have been involved in the Chilean coup. The U.S. government, invoking national security, refused to make any of the defendants and potential witnesses available for testimony, and the case was eventually dismissed without prejudice.
Despite numerous legal obstacles, the Center for Constitutional Rights helped uncover information concerning the activities of the Chilean junta and U.S. Embassy in the affair. In fact, the U.S. government’s complicity was exposed with the release of an August 25, 1976 memo written by State Department officials. The memo described the case as “bothersome” and involving “negligence on our part, or worse, complicity in Horman’s death.” The memo went on to say that the State Department should refute any allegation that would implicate the Department’s officials, while maintaining that the allegations were well founded.
After the death of Charles’s father, Charles’s widow continued the fight for truth about her husband’s murder. In 2000 she filed suit in Santiago against General Pinochet and other high-level Chilean officials. The case was referred to an investigating judge, who promised to leave no stone unturned in the search for the executioners and those standing behind them.
Three days ago, long after she had given up hope of seeing any results, Joyce Horman received word that the judge had handed down a 32-page indictment of Captain Davis and of a Chilean official, Pedro Octavio Espinosa. The judge is also pursuing the extradition of Captain Davis, who is charged with having provided information to his Chilean contacts which led to Charles’s death, as well as having failed to use those contacts to save Charles and Frank from their executioners.
It is not surprising that the indictment reveals the close cooperation between the U.S. government and right-wing Latin American dictatorships, particularly since this kind of U.S. intervention continues uninterrupted to this day, as in the recent coup in Honduras,
Horman’s case exposes the sad fact that the U.S. government’s duty to protect American citizens from mistreatment, not to mention murder, by foreign governments passes through a filter which separates those who deserve protection from those who do not, according to their known or assumed political beliefs. The government’s refusal to pursue accountability for U.S. citizen Furkan Doğan’s death at the hands of Israeli commandos aboard a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year is only one of the more recent examples.
According to Captain Davis’ wife, her husband is in a nursing home, suffering from a severe case of Alzheimer’s. It is more than likely, therefore, that the extradition request, if it is pursued, will not be granted. Nevertheless, the fact that a judge in a foreign country has requested the extradition of a former official from the United States in a human rights case has taken the principle of universal jurisdiction, in which the Center for Constitutional Rights has played a pioneering role, an important step further.