US Seeks "Full Accounting" of 3 Deaths in Chile

17 November 2005
Article
 

US Seeks "Full Accounting" of 3 Deaths in Chile
Vernon Loeb
Washington Post, 19 June 2000

The State Department is asking the Chilean government to reinvestigate the deaths of three US citizens during the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, hoping that Chile's new government will vigorously pursue these and other human rights abuses.

The request for a 'full accounting' of what happened to Charles Horman, Frank Teruggi and Boris Weisfeiler is the latest Clinton administration initiative triggered by Pinochet's arrest in Britain two years ago. The United States also is releasing some classified documents about the Pinochet regime and has reopened a grand jury investigation aimed at indicting Pinochet for the assassination of a Chilean dissident, Orlando Letelier, in Washington in 1976.

Horman, a left-wing journalist, was arrested immediately after the US-backed 1973 coup that overthrew Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, and brought Pinochet to power. His disappearance, apparently at the hands of Chilean military intelligence, inspired the 1982 Jack Lemmon-Sissy Spacek movie 'Missing'.

Teruggi, also a journalist, was arrested nine days after the coup; he was subsequently tortured and murdered, his throat slashed and his body riddled with 17 gunshot wounds. Weisfeiler, a Russian emigre and mathematics professor, disappeared in 1985 while hiking near a German enclave that once reportedly served as a Chilean detention center.

A diplomatic note presented to the Chilean Foreign Ministry by US Ambassador John O'Leary in April says, "The United States government shares with the Horman, Teruggi and Weisfeiler families the desire for a full accounting". The formal communication, not previously made public, requests "a vigorous and thorough investigation aimed at uncovering the facts, and in accordance with Chilean law, prosecuting those responsible".

Joyce Horman, the journalist's widow, said Friday that she believes this is the first time the State Department really has pushed to find her husband's killers. "Honestly, after 27 years, we deserve a full accounting", she said.

But Chilean officials responded late last month that the government of President Ricardo Lagos, a Pinochet-era dissident and the country's first socialist president since Allende, is limited in what it can do.

Chilean officials said their courts are solely responsible for opening criminal investigations. They also said the Chilean National Truth and Reconciliation Commission had reported on all three cases, concluding that Horman and Teruggi were executed by "agents of the state".

On a positive note, the officials reported that a Chilean judge in January ordered a criminal investigation into Weisfeiler's disappearance and presumed death, in response to a motion filed by his sister, Olga Weisfeiler of Newton, Mass.

But the officials said an amnesty law passed by Pinochet's government protecting Chilean military personnel from criminal charges for murders carried out from 1973 to 1978 would make opening new investigations of the Horman and Teruggi cases highly problematic.

"For now, in the Weisfeiler case, what happens is up to the courts, and the government has made it very clear from" [President Lagos] "on down that it will scrupulously respect the decisions of the courts, whatever the decisions may be", said Chilean Ambassador Andres Bianchi.

As for the Horman and Teruggi cases, Bianchi said, the truth and reconciliation commission has spoken. "From the point of view of providing evidence, the Chilean government has already done what it could", he said.

With talks between the two governments continuing, US officials hope the declassification and release of hundreds of State Department, Pentagon, CIA and FBI documents related to the Horman, Teruggi and Weisfeiler cases, scheduled for June 30 at the National Archives, will spur greater cooperation from the Chileans.

The Clinton administration agreed to review and release selected documents from those agencies after Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998. The arrest resulted from a request by a Spanish magistrate for Britain to extradite Pinochet to Spain to face charges of human rights violations during his 17-year rule.

Pinochet contested the extradition request and ultimately was freed by Britain on grounds of ill health. He made an emotional return in March to Chile, where he faces charges of murder and torture committed during his rule from 1973 to 1990.

Numerous documents related to Horman and Teruggi already have been made public in the administration's declassification effort, including a State Department memo released in October that cited circumstantial evidence that the CIA "may have played an unfortunate part" in Horman's murder, an assertion CIA officials deny.

Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at the National Security Archive, an independent organization that has sought the release of classified documents related to Chile, said the State Department's new request is "the first time the US government has been willing to assertively press for the identification and prosecution for the murderers of American citizens in Chile".

Kornbluh said he believes the Lagos government could find ways to pursue the Horman, Teruggi and Weisfeiler cases. "In bilateral relations, there are ways the Chilean military could be encouraged to address these crimes", Kornbluh said. "An accounting without accountability is not sufficient, and in these cases there hasn't been anything close to a full accounting".

For now, however, a new accounting seems most likely in the case of Weisfeiler, a Moscow-born US citizen who disappeared long after the amnesty lapsed in 1978.

Olga Weisfeiler said she was contacted two years ago by a Chilean journalist who told her that the US Embassy in Santiago had received an anonymous letter about her brother's disappearance.

Following that tip, Weisfeiler said she confirmed receipt of the letter with US officials and found a private investigator in Chile to pursue her brother's case. On the basis of new evidence turned up in the process, she said, a Chilean judge reopened a criminal investigation in January.

"I sincerely hope that this time around our government's commitment is serious and that you will help me find out the fate of my brother, Boris", Weisfeiler wrote the State Department in March.

At the time of his disappearance, Chilean officials concluded that Weisfeiler drowned in the turbulent confluence of the Nuble and Los Sauces rivers in rugged southern Chile, about 10 miles from Colonia Dignidad, a secretive, guarded enclave founded in the early 1960s by German immigrants. In the mid-1970s, Amnesty International and the United Nations charged that Colonia Dignidad was a torture center for political prisoners, an accusation the founders denied.

US officials never believed the official version of Weisfeiler's fate, noting that he was an experienced outdoorsman. Their suspicions were fueled by the fact that Weisfeiler's body was never found.

Alternative theories, advanced by friends and family, raised the possibility that he wandered into Colonia Dignidad and was taken prisoner, or that he was mistaken by military authorities as a left-wing subversive and killed, possibly owing to his birth in the Soviet Union.

"The official version was that he drowned in the river", his sister said. "I believed from the beginning that he is still alive, or he has been killed. I don't know by whom. But not that he was drowned - absolutely not".

Copyright 2000 Washington Post Company