In the wake of the 1973 coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power in Chile, Charles Horman, a young American journalist, was abducted from his home in Santiago, tortured and executed. His widow Joyce and his father Edmund spent agonizing weeks in Chile looking for him before finally learning of his death. There is reason to believe that Charles Horman’s knowledge of U.S. involvement in the coup was related to his execution. These events became the subject of the Costa-Gavras movie MISSING.
In 1976, represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Horman family sued Henry Kissinger and other Nixon Administration officials for the wrongful death of Charles and the family’s pain and suffering caused by the concealment of his death. After years of vigorous attempts to obtain classified State Department and CIA documents, the case was dismissed in 1980 “without prejudice,” recognizing that information was being withheld and thereby enabling the Horman family to reopen the case should additional facts become available.
The arrest of Pinochet in London in 1998, which reinvigorated the global movement to bring human rights violators to justice, rekindled Joyce Horman’s hope of uncovering the truth about her husband’s murder. She joined the Spanish lawsuit that charged Pinochet with crimes against humanity and requested his extradition from the United Kingdom for trial in Spain. That suit led to the landmark decision of the House of Lords granting the Spanish judge’s request (later rendered moot by the British Home Secretary on the grounds of Pinochet’s health, which returned Pinochet to Chile).
At the same time, Horman’s attorneys obtained documents released by the U.S. government as a result of the Chile declassification order issued by President Bill Clinton in February 1999. Several of the documents had originally been released in the late 1970’s pursuant to the Horman’s 1976 lawsuit but were heavily blacked out. The version released in 1999 revealed what had been censored for 20 years: the State Department’s own conclusion that the CIA may have had “an unfortunate part” in Horman’s death.
In the summer of 2000, Chile’s Supreme Court stripped Pinochet of his senatorial immunity, resulting in the filing of more than 300 human rights cases against him. At roughly the same time, the third release of declassified documents in the United States provided little additional information, and the Horman family decided to file their own case in Chile with Judge Juan Guzman against Pinochet and his subordinates. Kissinger and other members of the Nixon Administration State Department were named as witnesses in the case, resulting in the Chilean Supreme Court approving the transmission of official questions to the Bush Administration for answers. It is noteworthy that during the summer of 2001, when the Chilean government allocated more judges to handle human rights cases, Judge Guzman, the highest-ranking judge, retained only six cases, the Horman case among them.
To continue this pursuit of justice in Chile, Joyce Horman has established the Charles Horman Truth Project to support ongoing investigations of the human rights violations that were carried out in Pinochet’s detention centers and efforts to bring him and his subordinates to justice. Research, supported in part by the Ford Foundation, is looking to determine who took part in the repressive structure at Chile’s National Stadium just after the 1973 coup. This work has resulted in new testimony regarding the human rights crimes of that era. On May 15th, 2002 in New York, the Project will commemorate the film MISSING and honor those who made it with the Charles Horman Truth Project 2002 Human Rights Awards.