Forty years ago, during Chile's bloody coup of 11 September 1973, my husband, Charles Horman, stepped into a car driven by “Captain” Ray Davis, the head of the US military group in Chile, for a ride from the coastal resort town of Viña del Mar to the capital of Santiago. That one journey forever changed our family, and placed me on a quest for justice that persists to this day.
Charlie was a journalist, and we both were enthusiastic supporters of the democratically-elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. When General Augusto Pinochet launched his coup against Allende from the same coastal town Charles was visiting, my husband was surprised to see not only many Chilean tanks and helicopters moving out, but US warships cruising just off the coast, and US military personnel on the ground. He overheard some of those personnel enthusiastically and eagerly taking credit for the success of the coup, implying US military involvement. Charlie dutifully took his notes.
Before he, and our visiting friend from New York, Terry, began their journey with Davis, Charles knew he had come upon dangerous information. The drive past heavy military roadblocks into the heart of Santiago where Pinochet’s forces were on a search-and-destroy mission for Allende supporters, provided the perfect opportunity for Davis to evaluate Charles and his loyalties. This reality did not escape my husband, and he began to fear Captain Davis.
Charles returned to our home in Santiago, and as he recounted his journey and discoveries to me, we resolved to leave the country. On 17 September, we separately embarked on our errands for the day, and kissed each other goodbye. I did not realize at the time that I would never see my husband alive again.
Later that day, Charles was abducted from our home by more than a dozen Chilean soldiers. He was brought to the national stadium, where some of the most brutal of the regime’s crimes were carried out against presumed Allende “sympathizers”. When I returned to find our home in disarray, and Charles missing, I feared the worst.
In the days and weeks that followed, Charles’ father, Ed Horman, and I sought the help of American officials. Rather than aiding our search, however, they inquired about our social circles, and asked if we had been “annoying” the Chileans. Gradually, it dawned on us that our worst fears were well-founded. If it had been made public, the information that Charles had acquired would have risked derailing the recognition of Chile’s junta by the US government. In that context, Charles was transformed from an American citizen who was entitled to protection, to a vulnerable and disposable threat to powerful forces.
A month would pass before it was revealed, through help from the Ford Foundation, that Charles had been executed – his bullet-ridden body buried in a wall in the national stadium. Yet, it was not until after Pinochet’s 1998 arrest in London, that an era of renewed pressure for accountability regarding the regime’s crimes would drive the Clinton administration to declassify many previously-redacted texts about that terrible time. According to one document:
US intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman’s death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the GOC [government of Chile]. At worst, US intelligence was aware the GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of GOC paranoia.
Throughout these 40 years, our family has never relented in our search for truth and accountability around Charles’ death. We filed a case against Henry Kissinger in 1976. In 1981, it was dismissed “without prejudice” – free to re-open when more evidence became available. I personally testified in the House of Commons during Pinochet’s arrest in London. Our December 2000 case in Chile against Pinochet forces is still under investigation.
A year ago, Chile’s supreme court approved investigative Judge Zepeda's request for extradition of Ray Davis to Chile concerning the deaths of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, another American journalist who was killed during the coup. The US has not yet been served with the extradition request; if and when that happens, it would set an important precedent for a US military officer to be charged by another country for the death of American citizens.
In the 40 intervening years, some wrongs have been revealed and some cases have been tried in Chile, which is, again, a democracy. Pinochet’s arrest certainly served as a lightning rod to broaden the global mechanisms to hold human rights violators accountable. But there is still a long way to go: the United States military continues to lie to the public, and take every opportunity available to cover up their abuses of power. We all have an interest in uncovering the truth about whether Captain Ray Davis played a role in the death of my husband.
In that sense, Charles’ story is just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, and makes the cases against those responsible just as pressing. Charles’ mother, Elizabeth, often used the refrain, “we will leave no stone unturned.” That, too, is my mission, and should be the goal of all those dedicated to a just world in which no individual is too big, or too powerful, to answer for their crimes.