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Seeking Justice in Chile: A Personal History

by Steven Volk

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Two vital questions still remain to be answered as we approach the thirtieth anniversary of Horman's death. First, what was the U.S. role in his arrest and death? Second, why did the U.S. collude with the Chilean military regime in preventing the return of Horman's body? In terms of the first question, we have a partial answer from a 1976 State Department memo admitting "there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest U.S. 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, U.S. intelligence was aware that GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and U.S. officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of GOC paranoia."

As for the second question, only one plausible explanation exists. Neither the U.S. nor Chile wanted the body of a U.S. citizen exhibiting unmistakable marks of torture shipped back to the States in October 1973. The U.S., for its part, would not have looked good lavishing millions of taxpayer dollars--$735 million between 1974-1977--on an ally that tortured and murdered U.S. citizens. Indeed, that same 1976 State Department memo appe ars to confirm this directly, pointing out that "of 10 Americans who required the Embassy's attention, only these two (Horman and Teruggi) appear to have been tortured and then shot."

The case of Frank Teruggi is no less anguishing. Frank and his roommate, David Hathaway, another member of FIN, were picked up after being denounced by their neighbors as "foreign extremists" the evening of September 20. They were taken to the National Stadium, which had been converted to a massive prison. Teruggi was called out for interrogation on September 21; a body thought to be his was brought to the morgue the next day. Although I requested permission from U.S. Consul Purdy to visit the Morgue to identify Teruggi's body, this was quite vociferously denied until October 2. At that point Purdy changed his mind. I was allowed in and identified Teruggi's body in a room that, along with adjoining rooms, must have held 150-200 bodies. We now know that a body identified to the U.S. Consulate as Horman’s was in the morgue on the same day, but even though the Consulate knew I was friends with both men, I was hustled out after identifying Teruggi's body.

Unlike the Horman case, Teruggi's body was quickly sent back to the U.S. But serious questions persist. When I saw Teruggi's body, he had two or three bullet wounds in his chest and a large, open gash on his throat. To me, the nature of the wounds suggested he had been executed. Yet when the official autopsy arrived, it reported 17 bullet wounds, more consistent with the Chilean military’s story that Teruggi, outside after curfew, was machine-gunned by a passing patrol. We also know that the FBI had documents in its files suggesting that Teruggi was helping U.S. military deserters in Germany, a bizarre charge. But if U.S. officials passed this information to the Chilean military, they would have been signing his death warrant.

In the era of gunboat diplomacy, the U.S. regularly invaded Latin American countries ostensibly to protect U.S. citizens and U.S. economic interests. Lyndon Johnson sent the Marines into the Dominican Republic in 1965, after arguing that U.S. lives were in danger. Ronald Reagan sent the Marines into Grenada in 1983, allegedly to protect the lives of U.S. medical students studying on the island. The first President Bush sent combat troops to Panama in 1990, again, to protect U.S. citizens who, it was suggested, were threatened by the Panamanian National Guard. And yet in the case of Chile, the U.S. not only didn’t protect its citizens, and most certainly violated its basic moral obligation to help the families of the dead men, but quite possibly had a hand in their murders.

Seated in Judge Guzmán’s chambers next to former Consul Purdy, I now had the opportunity to question the man who had demonstrated an intense hostility to those U.S. citizens living in Chile in 1973, and who supported the constitutional government of Salvador Allende. Although this "cross-examination" cannot be made public while the case advances, I can say that Purdy’s comments would have been laughable if this matter were not so serious. When asked to explain why the U.S. Embassy in Chile did not insist that Horman’s body be sent back immediately, Purdy said that Washington had very little influence in Chile at that time. When asked how this argument squared with the fact that the Nixon Administration provided Chile with more aid in 1974 than in any previous year, Purdy seemed surprised, admitting that he "didn’t know that." What the former consul, who still lives in Chile, did seem to know, with exquisite precision, were the political inclinations of U.S. citizens arrested in the coup's wake. Such selective memory clearly indicated that we could not have counted on U.S. diplomatic support given our placement on the "wrong" side of U.S. policy objectives in Chile. ...<more>

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