Published on Sunday, February 13, 2000 in the New York Times
U.S. Victims of Chile's Coup:
The Uncensored File
by Diana Jean Schemo
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 C.I.A. involvement.
American 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 the arrest of General Pinochet 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 American intelligence.
"U.S. 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, U.S. intelligence was aware the government of Chile saw Horman in a rather serious light and U.S. officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of government of Chile paranoia."
With most of the blacked-out portions now restored, the documents declassified by the State Department illustrate how exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act -- a law that was meant to reduce secrecy -- can be misused.
Two principal exceptions that 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 nonprofit National Security Archives, which promotes the declassification of government documents. "Preventing embarrassment is not an exemption clause."
Even after extensive Senate intelligence committee hearings in the 1970's, the American role in the overthrow of Mr. Allende remains a matter of dispute and conjecture. Mr. Kornbluh said that other government agencies responsible for carrying out United States policy in Chile, including the C.I.A. and the Pentagon, have so far failed to release key records on the era.
Regarding Mr. Horman's death, Mark Mansfield, a spokesman for the C.I.A., recently released a 22-year-old letter denying any role by the agency and said it 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 work for the government. The former officials, most of them retired and scattered around the country, largely disavow any responsibility for what happened.
Mr. Horman's widow, Joyce, is hoping that enough has changed to finally learn what really 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 Mrs. Horman, who has never remarried. "Nobody's held accountable."
Her husband and Mr. Teruggi were friends who belonged to a group of young left-of-center Americans attracted by Mr. Allende's socialist experiment in the early 1970's. In Santiago, they worked for a newsletter that reprinted articles and clippings from American newspapers critical of United States policy.
When General Pinochet seized power on Sept. 11, 1973, Mr. Horman was at Viña del Mar, a coastal resort, with Terry Simon, a family friend from New York who was vacationing in Chile.
Ms. Simon said she and Mr. Horman saw American warships offshore and spoke to American naval officers stationed in nearby Valparaiso, who appeared elated at the coup's success. The two interpreted what they saw as proof of American connivance in the military takeover.
Eager to return to Santiago, they rode back with Capt. Ray E. Davis, chief of the United States Military Group at the American Embassy, who had been making his weekly visit to the naval station.
Two days later, as General Pinochet's forces moved to arrest thousands of people around the country, men in military uniforms abducted Mr. Horman, ransacking his apartment. His wife, Joyce, was out at the time. She never saw him again. Ms. Simon searched with Joyce for Mr. Horman and eventually flew home to New York.
Around the same time, security forces arrested Mr. Teruggi and his roommate, David Hathaway, at their apartment. They were held at the national stadium with thousands of other political prisoners. Mr. Teruggi never returned from his second interrogation.
Mr. Hathaway was released alone and later flew home to the United States.
A friend identified Mr. Teruggi's body in the government morgue. His throat had been slashed, and he had been shot twice in the head.
The search for Mr. Horman was more tortuous. His father, Edmund, flew in from New York to help. He and Mr. Horman's wife followed whatever leads they could, keeping in close touch with the embassy, which supplied escorts and pressed Mrs. Horman for a list of her husband's friends. Doubting the diplomats' motives, she says, she never supplied it.
Captain Davis, now 74 and retired, said in a recent interview that he had nothing to do with the deaths and he appeared offended by the resurgence of questions about the killings.
He talked of his close ties to the Chilean military during his time there and said he had welcomed General Pinochet at his home, but was in no position to demand that Chilean Army commanders answer for the killings, and had not been ordered to do so. "We weren't down there to cause trouble," he said. "We sold them weapons."
He called Mr. Teruggi and Mr. Horman "part of the problem" in Chile. "They were down there handing out pamphlets against the government," he said.
The two men, actually, had been supporting the Allende government, not the one Captain Davis hoped to see in power. He corrected himself: "against the people who were trying to do something about it."
The Hormans have long contended that despite the embassy's avowal that it was doing all it could to find Charles, its officials would merely confirm information the family had obtained for itself. Taken together, the newly released documents support their suspicions.
It was not until 1976 that the State Department took a critical look at the killings. The move was prompted by a disaffected Chilean intelligence officer, Rafael González, who told reporters that he had witnessed Mr. Horman being held prisoner by Chile's chief of intelligence.
Mr. González quoted the intelligence chief as saying Mr. Horman "had to disappear" because he "knew too much," and said a man he presumed was American was in the room.
Mr. González also described a "cozy relationship" between American and Chilean intelligence services to destabilize the Allende government, and said that American operatives had even given their Chilean counterparts lists of suspected leftists to be rounded up in the first days of a military takeover.
(In its hearings, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that the C.I.A. had in fact compiled arrest lists but said it had no evidence that they were passed to the Chileans. Those lists are among the documents the C.I.A. has not released.)
Facing pressure from Congress, the State Department ordered two internal reviews in 1976. The first, completed in August, was carried out by Rudy V. Fimbres, regional director for Bolivia and Chile in the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. The second was conducted by Frederick Smith, a State Department lawyer, in November and December.
The investigators were permitted to examine only documents either publicly released or already available in the State Department. Their reviews appeared to confirm doubts and inconsistencies that American newspapers had already reported but that State Department officials had repeatedly discredited.
The documents showed that an embassy official had received a tip that Mr. Horman had already been killed before his father arrived in Chile. That tip was not followed up.
Instead, embassy officials told Edmund Horman that leftists may have kidnapped his son, contradicting their own cables home, which quoted neighbors who said they had witnessed Chilean security forces taking Mr. Horman away.
The internal reviews also questioned the time of Mr. Horman's death, saying there was no reason to accept the Chilean government's assertion that he died just before the American Embassy learned of his disappearance.
The Pinochet government had ignored numerous requests from the United States for an autopsy report on Mr. Horman, the documents show.
One review asked why Captain Davis, who had driven Mr. Horman and Ms. Simon to Santiago, had taken their registration card from the hotel where they were staying.
Captain Davis at first denied that he had taken the card, but changed his mind when read a passage from a letter he wrote to one of the investigators, now among the declassified documents, mentioning the registration card.
"I don't see why it's important," he said.
The Horman family believes the card was given to the Chilean military, and tipped them off to the new address of the Hormans, who had moved just a few days before.
"Based on what we have," the first inquiry concluded, "we are persuaded that the government of Chile sought Horman and felt threatened enough to order his immediate execution. The government of Chile might have believed this American could be killed without negative fall-out from the U.S. government."
The memo said that there was "circumstantial evidence" that the C.I.A. "may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death," as well as Mr. Teruggi's. It also said the State Department had the "responsibility" to refute baseless allegations and "to proceed against U.S. officials if this is warranted."
The second investigation, completed a month before Gerald Ford's presidency ended, drew a similar conclusion. It blamed the Chilean government for both deaths and said it was "difficult to believe" that the Pinochet government would have carried out the killings without some signal, perhaps even an inadvertent one, that the deaths would not cause "substantial adverse consequences" in Washington.
The memo -- to Harry W. Shlaudeman, the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs -- recommended interviewing Mr. González, the disaffected Chilean intelligence officer, again and going back to the C.I.A. for a full accounting.
"If an explanation exists," a memo in the investigation said, "it does not appear in the files and must be sought elsewhere."
But both inquiries appear to have ended there. Mr. Shlaudeman himself recommended interrogating Mr. González further, even submitting a detailed list of questions for the purpose that the C.I.A. was allowed to review. But he dismissed the call for investigating the actions of the C.I.A.
Interviewed recently, Mr. Shlaudeman said that he remembered little about the issue. "A lot of things have happened since then," he said.
Until jarred loose by General Pinochet's arrest in London in October 1998, these reports remained largely hidden from the public.
In 1978, State Department officials debated how much of the documents to show the Horman family, which was then suing the United States government for "wrongful death," a case that was dismissed "without prejudice," meaning that it could be reopened.
One official, Frank McNeil, then deputy assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, urged the department to err on the side of greater disclosure.
"Classification should not be used to prevent embarrassment of government agencies or officials, which would be the principal reason for withholding when one gets down to the bone," he said.
Nonetheless, the documents released to the Hormans omitted large swaths of material on the grounds of national security and executive privilege.
Experts note that executive privilege protects the president's deliberations with his advisers, in this instance Henry A. Kissinger, who served Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford as secretary of state.
Dr. Kissinger said he had never seen the documents or the recommendations and had been out of the country much of the time. "It's very easy, 30 years after the event, to be so heroic and to create the impression that one had nothing else to do except follow one particular case," he said.
"If it were brought to my attention I would have done something."
Mr. Fimbres himself, who is now retired, said recently that he was not surprised at the State Department's apparent failure to pursue the investigation further.
"Something like this easily goes into the black hole," he explained. "And everybody watches it go down."
Copyright 2000 The New York Times Company