FORTY YEARS AGO IN SANTIAGO, Chile, my dear, smart, Harvard-educated, independent thinking, loving, trying-to-figure-it-all-out-and-do-the-right-thing journalist/documentary filmmaker husband was stolen from my life, from the lives of his loving parents, and all of his friends. Charles has been described as “an American sacrifice”—one of the many victims of the U.S.-backed coup in Chile on September 11, 1973. The presence, voice, thoughts, and future life of Charles Horman and thousands of others were nonfactors in the calculations of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to bring down the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende.
We loved Charles so very much but even more importantly, we knew he would contribute to the good of the world’s future, just as countless Chileans tortured and killed by Augusto Pinochet’s murderous squads would have enriched the world had they lived.
In one of the last conversations I had with my beloved husband, we decided that we wanted to go back to New York together and start a family. Nixon, Kissinger, and Pinochet deprived us of that, too, just as they snuffed out the hopes and dreams of their Chilean victims.
Forty years is a long time to wait for even a modicum of justice, but I’ve endured the decades thanks to some wonderfully courageous people.
Thank you, Ed Horman, for flying into the middle of a military coup d’état in Chile to search for your only son, and thank you for teaching me to press for answers.
Thank you, Elizabeth Horman, for letting Ed go to Chile, knowing the risks.
Thank you, Terry Simon, who had been with Charles in Viña del Mar on the day of the coup, for braving two weeks looking for Charles with me, and for pursuing the only people who might be able to find and save Charles: the American officials whom you had met in Viña. And thank you for standing by the search for truth for so many years.
Thank you, Steve Volk, for going to the morgue in Santiago to look for Charles and our friend and fellow American citizen Frank Teruggi, so I didn’t have to, and for telling the story over the years in ways that students understand.
Thank you, Thomas Hauser, for writing The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice, which included the words of American military personnel who had met Charles in Chile.
Thank you, producers Eddie and Millie Lewis, for speaking to us about doing a movie based on Hauser’s book.
Thank you, Costa-Gavras, for making that powerful movie Missing, which opened the minds of so many Americans to their government’s wrongdoing and wrong thinking.
Thank you, Jack Lemmon, for so brilliantly playing Edmund Horman.
Thank you, Sissy Spacek, for capturing the hearts of Americans for Charles’s story.
After we returned from Chile, Ed pushed Terry and me to write a diary of what had happened. This was extremely difficult for me. Ed insisted. He led the family to testify before Congress. I also found that difficult, because from my own personal darkness, I perceived a government not representing my family or me. I was speechless in my sorrow, so all I could do, really, was simply be there.
In 1977, Ed started working with the Center for Constitutional Rights to file a lawsuit against the State Department for information regarding Charles’s wrongful death. That was also difficult for me, especially at first, because it seemed so unlikely that Kissinger and his team would tell any of the truth. I remained deeply depressed over the loss of my husband, but the legal team was so supportive that it enabled me to be present, though I felt I contributed very little.
Three years later, when Missing was in the works, I had low expectations again. I doubted Hollywood’s ability to handle the material in a dignified way, but Ed had such confidence that it would be all right. I did ask the scriptwriter to change my first name (in the movie it is “Beth”) so if my skepticism proved correct, I could duck my association with the film. When we all went to Mexico to watch the last week of filming, we experienced the utter excitement of Costa-Gavras and the whole cast and crew about the movie. A glimmer of hope entered my heart. In the spring of 1982, I went with Ed and Elizabeth and Terry to the Cannes Film Festival, where Missing premiered. I saw the impact the movie had on its audiences. It was more effective in conveying our story than I could have ever imagined.
People began to ask if the unbelievable scenes in the movie were true. I accompanied Ed on speaking tours to universities to discuss the accuracy of the movie. He was a wonderful speaker, and after a few outings with him, I ventured to speak to a few audiences on my own. That, too, was difficult for me; I have to confess that I was frightened of public speaking. But my father-in-law demonstrated to me that it was important to do, so I tried.
A few years later, Ed no longer could accept invitations to speak, but I could and did. I always found that the questions from students who saw the movie, even though they weren’t around or at least not aware in 1973, indicated an understanding of what had happened. For its audiences, this film facilitated a new awareness of the immoral actions and gross deceptions of the Nixon-Kissinger Administration and provoked extensive debate over the values that the United States stood for as a nation.
Ed did not live to see General Pinochet arrested in London on October 16, 1998. But it is because of his loving support and guidance that I did. Pinochet’s detention gave rise to a cry of joy across the world. Elizabeth and I were ecstatic! Jack Lemmon called to congratulate us, as did Costa-Gavras. Pinochet’s arrest, in response to a request by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón to hold him on charges in London for extradition to Madrid for crimes against humanity, was the first indication that the dictator would actually be held accountable. His arrest represented a major vindication for all of his victims.
Thank you, Orlando Letelier, for working so hard, along with Saul Landau and the Institute for Policy Studies, to tell the truth about the violent crimes of the dictatorship until your assassination, by order of Pinochet, on the streets of Washington brought your powerful voice to an end.
Thank you, Peter Weiss, Nancy Stearns, Rhonda Copelon, John Corwin, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, for your pro bono suit on behalf of the Horman family against Henry Kissinger.
Thank you, Joan Garcés, for starting the process in Spain to sue Pinochet’s Chile for harm against Spaniards, a process that laid the groundwork for universal jurisdiction.
Thank you, Judge Garzón, for issuing the arrest warrant that Britain’s foreign secretary Jack Straw honored, which kept Pinochet under house arrest in London for eighteen months.
Thank you, Jeremy Corbyn, member of parliament, for urging me to come to London to protest the first decision of the Law Lords, which gave blanket sovereign immunity to Pinochet, and for prevailing on me to testify in the House of Commons. It hadn’t occurred to me to do so, but on reflection I thought it a very good idea. In London, a leader of the Chile solidarity movement, Diane Dixon, was organizing many forms of protest; one of the most moving was an opportunity to testify to Pinochet’s crimes in the House of Commons. People who had never publicly told their stories of arrest, torture, and witness to crimes did so for the first time. It was a profound process, which demonstrated to everyone just how important each testimony was. We were all connected by our horrific experiences, and we were all empowered by testifying together against Pinochet’s brutal regime.
In March 2000, the Law Lords reversed themselves and ruled that sovereign immunity did not cover heinous crimes against humanity and that Pinochet could be extradited to Spain. If Pinochet’s lawyers and other enablers—the late Margaret Thatcher among them—hadn’t lobbied for his release on the grounds of old age and mental infirmity, he would have actually been put on trial in Madrid.
Instead, Pinochet returned to Chile. He believed he had escaped justice. But in the country where he had been a bloody dictator, he now found a special investigative judge ready to bring human rights crimes charges against him.
Thank you, Judge Juan Guzman Tapia, who was initially not provided a phone, file cabinets, or heat for his basement “office.”
As Judge Guzman began receiving multiple cases against Pinochet and his top officers, I traveled to Chile in December of 2000 to file a case with the help of our Chilean attorneys Fabiola Letelier and Sergio Corvalan for the wrongful death of my husband. It felt like the right thing to do.
I remember the compassionate manner in which Judge Guzman took our testimony in English and Spanish. His effort to pursue the Horman case proved resilient in the face of obstructions by the military. He even recreated crimes in the National Stadium and recorded them on video, to substantiate testimonies of people who survived being taken there after the coup. The film The Judge and the General eloquently tells the story of Judge Guzman’s conversion to a full understanding of Pinochet’s human rights crimes.
As Judge Guzman dedicated himself to prosecuting General Pinochet, a number of his cases were transferred to Judge Jorge Zepeda—including ours. After indicting Pinochet for more human rights crimes in December 2004, and ordering the former dictator placed under house arrest, Judge Guzman retired.
Thank you, Judge Zepeda. Thank you Sergio Corvalán and Fabiola Letelier, for representing our case against Pinochet’s regime for thirteen years and two investigating judges so far.
In November 2011, Judge Zepeda indicted a Chilean intelligence officer, Pedro Espinosa, as well as the former head of the U.S. Military Group, Captain Ray Davis, for complicity in the deaths of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi. In October of 2012, the supreme court of Chile approved Zepeda’s order for a formal extradition request to the United States for Davis. Nine months later, in July 2013, the Chilean government was still officially translating the request. When finished, Chile’s foreign ministry will forward the request to the Chilean Ambassador in Washington, D.C., to give to the State Department. The indictment and extradition request appear to tie a U.S. military official directly to the killing of two U.S. citizens in Chile.
I am filled with so much gratitude for the people who demanded the truth be told over the years.
A special thank you to Senator Frank Church, for his committee’s investigation of foreign assassinations and the discovery that rifles with no serial numbers had been sent through the U.S. diplomatic pouch to anti-Allende groups.
Thank you to Senator Patrick Moynihan, for taking an interest in our case.
Thank you to Senator Ted Kennedy, for being in the National Stadium in Santiago in 1990 to exorcise tortured ghosts and at the same time to celebrate the inauguration of Patricio Aylwin, the first elected president after the plebiscite that brought Pinochet’s dictatorship to a close.
Thank you, Senator Tom Harkin, for speaking up about Pinochet’s atrocities and standing up for human rights.
Thank you, Representative Maurice Hinchey, for your crucial amendment requiring the CIA to report to Congress on all of its activities leading up to Allende’s overthrow.
Thank you, Peter Kornbluh and the National Security Archive for working with the Clinton Administration to declassify and release documents about the Chilean coup and for finding the one such document that told us that the State Department thought that the U.S. officials were either complicit in or looked away from Chile’s threat to Charles’s life—and Frank Teruggi’s—ignoring their duty to protect the lives of American citizens.
Thank you, Ambassador John O’Leary, for arranging to take the entire collection of 24,000 records to Chile for use by Chilean lawyers, journalists, and legal libraries and for pushing the State Department to post them all on the Internet.
Thank you Joan Baez, Jackson Browne, Ariel Dorfman, Judy Dworin, Bob Dylan, Patricio Guzmán, Inti Illimani, Walter Locke, Holly Near, Phil Ochs, Ángel Parra, Quilapayun, Jorge Reyes, Deborah Shaffer, Sting, and many other musicians, writers, filmmakers, dancers, and artists who told the story of the destruction of Chile’s democracy and the horror of the aftermath to audiences small and large around the world.
Thank you, Patricia Verdugo, for daring to publish your investigation of Pinochet’s Caravan of Death, The Clawings of the Puma, while the dictator was still in power.
Thank you, Joan Jara, for your fight for justice for Victor, who inspired so many with his guitar and his courage.
Thank you, Pat Bennetts, for getting to the bottom of the torture and death of your brother, Father Michael Woodward, on the Chilean naval vessel Esmeralda.
Thank you, exiled Chileans, who struggled with your shock and sadness to tell the horror story of your and your family’s experiences for the world to know.
On September 9, the Charles Horman Truth Foundation is hosting a “Tribute to Justice” to mark forty years since the coup d’état in Chile. We will honor the legal authorities who have advanced the prosecution of human rights crimes. We will gather to reflect on the global struggle to get at the truth. This event is being held at the Christian Science church in New York City that was founded and attended by Charles’s parents, Ed and Elizabeth, both of whom are no longer here to share this meaningful anniversary. It is the church where Charles went to Sunday school as a youth. I know I will feel the presence of his spirit as we commemorate the pursuit of justice, peace, and dignity in Chile and the world—the very goals to which my Charlie dedicated, and sacrificed, his beautiful life.
Joyce Horman is the founder of the Charles Horman Truth Foundation at hormantruth.org