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Missing--But Not Forgotten | The Nation

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Missing--But Not Forgotten

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Three decades later, Joyce Horman still hasn't discovered the truth about what happened to her husband in Chile. But she has her theories.

About the Author

Nick Greenslade
Nick Greenslade is an intern at The Nation and a freelance writer based in New York.

In 1972, in a letter to his parents in New York, Charles Horman described an investigation he had conducted into the murder of the head of the Chilean army, Rene Schneider. Horman concluded, "An interesting thing is the enormous number of people who knew about it ahead of time, including [former President Eduardo] Frei, his Ministers, the CIA, the American Ambassador, and several senators. I got interested and started reading court records and police statements and talking to people. The whole thing is like a novel; like Z."

This paragraph is laden with portent and grim irony. Within a year, Horman would meet the same fate as Schneider, killed at the hands of the CIA-backed Chilean military. Within a decade, the director of the film Z, Costa-Gavras, would turn his attentions to Horman's death and present to the world another compelling tale of murderous statecraft.

Horman was an occasional Nation contributor, penning three articles for the magazine in the late 1960s. Radicalized by the events of that period, he trekked down, along with his wife, Joyce, through Central and South America to observe Salvador Allende's "socialist experiment" in Chile. Together they participated in the women's liberation movement and the poor people's campaign. It was thus as an inquisitive, idealistic young man who had, in the words of Marc Cooper, "stumbled into the front row of history," that he met his death in the military coup of 1973.

With her parents-in-law now both dead, leadership of the "Charlie Horman Truth" campaign rests solely with Joyce Horman. In the week before I went to see her at the end of April, the case was back in the headlines. Over in London for one of his fabled lecture tours, Henry Kissinger had again escaped the clutches of the law when the British Home Office refused the request of Baltasar Garzón, the tireless magistrate investigating the deaths of Spanish citizens killed during the coup, to detain and question the "good doctor." I put it to her that, despite the great advances made in the past three years, it was still only a distant hope that any Chilean, never mind American, official would ever be brought to book.

"For those who lost loved ones, I don't think it is as much about individuals, as bringing the crimes to light in a court of law. Even in Chile, however, there is still a great deal of tension about this, especially as the right continues to try to intimidate, to obliterate the unmasking of a lie among the next generation. That's what makes it important that we insure that the Chileans get all the resources and support they need to pursue this line of litigation."

To this end, she is hosting an evening at New York's Studio 54 around the date of what would have been Charlie's 60th birthday. "The event is about two things: the ongoing efforts of Pinochet's victims within the Chilean political and legal systems. The second is to highlight the contribution of the film Missing, whose twentieth anniversary it also marks. This was a breakthrough film. Any movie of today that deals with human rights has to acknowledge that it stands on the shoulders of Missing."

Unfortunately, one key individual will not be present. Jack Lemmon, who delivered perhaps his finest performance as Joyce's father-in-law, Ed, died last year. His support for the Horman family cause had not simply ended once the film was released: "When Pinochet was first arrested, Jack was the first one after Costa to ring up and say, "Terrific, terrific." He was intensely dedicated. I was so hurt when I found out about his death because I had been meaning to talk to him about so many things, yet had no idea that he was ill."

There's a great moment in the film when Lemmon arrives in Santiago and is driven along with his daughter-in-law, played by the no less brilliant Sissy Spacek, to the American embassy. As they are led into the ambassador's office, diplomatic staff cannot say and do enough to welcome Ed, the upright, wealthy Manhattan businessman. Joyce, meanwhile, the pesky radical whom they had spent the previous weeks denouncing as a nuisance, is left out in the cold. Nobody greets her, nobody offers her a seat. "That's exactly how it was. Once Frank Teruggi [another American slain by Pinochet's henchmen] was identified, I was so glad to have Ed there and grateful for the courage he showed once he realized that the Embassy staff were stonewalling and fobbing us off with half-truths and denials."

It was seventeen years before Joyce was able to return to the country, in 1990, for the inauguration of President Patricio Aylwin Azocar. In another of this saga's macabre moments, she found herself attending a public ceremony in the National Stadium, the very scene of the detention, torture and murder of Charlie and hundreds of others. Despite the presence of these demons, she has returned to Chile on three subsequent occasions to file a suit with Juan Guzmán, the judge leading the investigations.

In the book that was to form the basis for Missing, author Thomas Hauser sets up three lines of inquiry. Was Charles Horman executed? Was there a cover-up? Did the US government have foreknowledge of, or possibly even order, Charles Horman's execution? Only the credulous and willfully deceitful would now seek to refute the first two lines, though the State Department can bring itself to admit no more than that he was killed by "Pinochet forces." This, at least, represents an improvement on original claims that he might have been shot by left-wing snipers.

To affirm the second question is to ask the third. After all, while it would not have reflected greatly on their influence, the embassy in Santiago could simply have claimed that Horman was tragically caught up in the random carnage that was unleashed onto the streets of Santiago. Instead it chose to embark upon a campaign of misinformation, ludicrously suggesting that he could be in hiding when sources had already indicated that he had been taken into military custody. Despite the indefatigable efforts of the Hormans over the subsequent quarter of a century, little progress was made. That all changed in October 1998 with Pinochet's arrest.

"We couldn't do anything before. We couldn't get any information. Then I remember--it was right on the twenty-fifth anniversary--we got this tremendous news from London. I went over to give evidence to the House of Commons alongside Isabel Allende [niece of the late President] and Pablo Letelier [son of the exiled Chilean opposition leader assassinated in Washington in 1976] and a whole host of extremely brave Chileans. Of course, we were all very bombed out once the courts refused to extradite him, and he returned to Chile. But then the decision was taken to remove his senatorial immunity and Judge Guzmán, God bless him, transformed everything by stating that he would investigate 'The Disappeared' and follow it to the top."

This set off a chain of events still in motion: "Thanks to the mandate issued by President Clinton, we began to see the release of the relevant national security files from the CIA, but we're still being denied the full picture. They have a policy of 'Don't ask us, we won't tell.'" Among the many documents that she would like to see is a dossier that the senatorial Church Committee indicated had been put together by US security agencies. It is a report on American radicals living in Chile who were sympathetic to the Allende regime, and it is highly likely that Charlie's name is on it. Coupled with his inquiries about Schneider and the notes he had taken from American military personnel stationed in the naval port of Viña del Mar during the coup, it may have been enough to require his silence. Joyce is highly suspicious:

"Who gave the order? We know that the coup leaders wanted, if they hadn't already got it, recognition from Nixon and Kissinger. So why run the risk of killing an American citizen?"

This brought us to the subject of the former Secretary of State: "He was chairman of the Forty Committee, a position he continued to hold as Secretary of State. Nothing could have happened without this man knowing about it. He has to be questioned!" Quite. The Forty Committee oversaw all covert US operations undertaken overseas. And Kissinger was the first Secretary of State to assume its chairmanship. He cannot therefore plead ignorance in this matter.

In 1976 the government of Cyprus decreed a public holiday. The ostensible reason was the election of Jimmy Carter. Yet everybody knew that the real cause of celebration lay in the knowledge that Kissinger's blood-drenched hands would no longer be pulling the strings of American foreign policy. When I mentioned this to Joyce Horman she let out a bittersweet laugh. For her, however, there can be no celebration until she receives a full explanation of how, why and at whose hands her husband died.

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