A judge in Santiago has drawn up a list of questions for the US statesman and Nobel laureate, Henry Kissinger, about the 1973 killing of the American journalist Charles Horman, whose execution by forces loyal to General Augusto Pinochet was dramatized in the Hollywood film, Missing.
The questions, drawn up by the investigating magistrate Juan Guzman and lawyers for the victims of the Pinochet regime, were submitted to Chile's supreme court, which must now decide whether to forward them to the US.
The list is under seal but it is thought to cover the extent of Mr Kissinger's knowledge of the Horman case. Horman's family have repeatedly claimed that the Nixon government, in which Mr Kissinger was national security advisor and secretary of state, knew more about what happened when the journalist was murdered in Chile than it has ever admitted.
Mr Kissinger, awarded the Nobel peace prize for his role in bringing the Vietnam war to an end, is now under increased scrutiny for his leading role in a number of controversial US actions abroad, including the bombing of Cambodia and Washington's support for authoritarian rightwing governments such as Gen Pinochet's.
Charles Horman's widow, Joyce, said yesterday that Mr Kissinger was "ultimately the one who has to answer the questions for the disappearance of my husband".
She added: "He was really calling the shots, as far as I'm concerned, in questions of state and the CIA, with regard to the protection and knowledge of what happened to Americans there."
Encouraged by the success of international human rights cases against Gen Pinochet and Balkan war crimes suspects, human rights activists have recently drawn up allegations against Mr Kissinger.
While visiting Paris in May, Mr Kissinger was subpoenaed by a French judge to answer questions about the death of French citizens under the Pinochet regime. Mr Kissinger refused to appear in court to answer the questions, saying he had a prior engagement.
This year, a Washington-based British journalist, Christopher Hitchens, published The Trial of Henry Kissinger, in which he accused the veteran proponent of realpolitik of conspiring to sabotage 1968 Vietnam peace talks and pursuing an illegal war in Cambodia, among other charges. Mr Kissinger called the book "contemptible".
Meanwhile, an Argentinian judge is seeking his testimony on Operation Condor, a CIA-backed scheme in the 70s in which rightwing Latin American regimes shared information in order to track down leftwing dissidents.
In the late 70s, Mrs Horman launched a civil action against Mr Kissinger and other US officials, charging them with negligence, collusion and a cover-up of her husband's death. However, she withdrew the case on the grounds that the US government was withholding the documentation necessary to pursue it.
A large quantity of CIA and Pentagon documents about the 1973 coup in Chile and its aftermath were released last year, but human rights activists say vital information is still being withheld.
A recently declassified US state department memo dated August 1976 expressed concern that US intelligence had played a role in Horman's death, passing information and possibly "doing nothing to discourage the logical outcome of [Chilean government] paranoia".
Sergio Corvalan, a lawyer involved in the case, said: "[Kissinger] has never answered to justice and he had an important role in the coup in Chile and an influence in the Chilean military government."
Gen Pinochet is currently facing charges in Chile of covering up the actions of a military death squad, but his lawyers are claiming he is suffering from dementia and is unfit to stand trial. A judge is expected to rule on the issue in the next few days.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001