US Victims of Chile's Coup
US Victims of Chile's Coup
Twenty-six years ago, as the forces of Gen. Augusto Pinochet overthrew the socialist government of Salvador Allende, two American supporters of President Allende were killed in Chile under circumstances that stirred suspicions of CIA involvement.
US officials categorically denied any role in the young men's deaths, which were dramatized in the 1982 movie "Missing". Compelled by the Freedom of Information Act, the government in 1980 released the results of classified internal investigations, heavily censored in black ink, that appeared to clear the American and Chilean governments of any responsibility.
But now, those thick black lines have been stripped away. Spurred by Pinochet's arrest in 1998, President Clinton has ordered the declassification of "all documents that shed light on human rights abuses, terrorism and other acts of political violence during and prior to the Pinochet era in Chile".
Some of those documents make clear for the first time that the State Department concluded from almost the beginning that the Pinochet government had killed the men, Charles Horman, 31, and Frank Teruggi, 24. The investigators speculated, moreover, that the Chileans would not have done so without a green light from US intelligence.
"US intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death", said one newly declassified memo. "At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the government of Chile. At worst, US intelligence was aware the government of Chile saw Horman in a rather serious light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of government of Chile paranoia".
With most of the blacked-out portions restored, the documents declassified by the State Department illustrate how exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act - a law meant to reduce secrecy - can be misused.
Two principal exceptions the department used allow the government to withhold information on the grounds of national security and executive privilege. "They're not protecting national security information at all", said Peter Kornbluh of the non-profit National Security Archive, which promotes the declassification of government documents. "Preventing embarrassment is not an exemption clause".
Even after extensive Senate intelligence committee hearings in the 1970s, the US role in the overthrow of Allende remains a matter of dispute and conjecture. Kornbluh said other government agencies responsible for carrying out US policy in Chile, including the CIA and the Pentagon, so far had failed to release key records on the era.
Regarding Horman's death, Mark Mansfield, a CIA representative, recently released a 22-year-old letter denying any role by the agency and said the agency would show the public files on the case this spring.
The State Department refused to address questions about the two deaths, saying few of the people involved in the case still worked for the government.
Horman's widow, Joyce Horman, hopes that enough has changed to finally learn what happened to her husband. She is asking for Washington's help in her quest for an honest explanation of his murder from the new socialist government in Chile. "I want to know who gave the order", said Horman, who has never remarried. "Nobody's held accountable".
When Pinochet seized power Sept. 11, 1973, Horman was at Vina del Mar, a coastal resort, with Terry Simon, a family friend from New York who was vacationing in Chile. They returned immediately to Santiago. Two days later, as Pinochet's forces moved to arrest thousands of people around the country, men in military uniforms abducted Horman, ransacking his apartment. His wife, Joyce, was out at the time. She never saw him again. Around the same time, security forces arrested Teruggi and his roommate, David Hathaway, at their apartment. They were held at the national stadium with thousands of other political prisoners. Teruggi never returned.
The search for Horman was more tortuous. His father, Edmund, flew in from New York to help. He and Horman's wife followed whatever leads they could, keeping in close touch with the embassy, which supplied escorts and pressed Joyce Horman for a list of her husband's friends. Doubting the diplomats' motives, she says, she never supplied it.
In its hearings, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that the CIA had in fact compiled arrest lists but said it had no evidence they were passed to the Chileans. Those lists are among the documents the CIA has not released.
Copyright 2000 New York Times