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National-Security Assassination of Americans in 1973

Pinochetby Jacob G. Hornberger

A Chilean judge has indicted a retired U.S. Naval officer, Capt. Ray E. Davis, in the murder of two American citizens in Chile during the U.S.-supported Pinochet coup in 1973. The indictment indicates that the U.S. military and the CIA may have been responsible for the national-security assassination of two Americans several decades before the start of the war on terrorism.

The two Americans were journalists — 31-year-old Charles Horman and 24-year-old Frank Teruggi. During the Pinochet coup in 1973, both men were taken captive and executed in cold blood.

For decades, the CIA, playing the innocent, denied any involvement in the murders.

Then, in 1999 a declassified State Department document revealed that the CIA had, in fact, played some unidentified role in at least Horman’s murder.

What role? We don’t know. Ever since the revelation of that State Department document, the CIA has remained mum on the case, obviously taking the position that secrecy and cover-up is the best policy.

By the same token, despite the fact that the State Department document clearly furnished sufficient cause to impanel a federal grand jury to investigate the CIA’s role in the murders, the Justice Department under both Republican and Democratic regimes has steadfastly failed and refused to do so.

At the same time, Congress has failed and refused to open an investigation into the murders, in the process subpoenaing CIA officials to testify what exactly the CIA’s role was in the murders, the identity of the CIA officials who participated in the murders, and whether President Richard Nixon or other high U.S. officials ordered the hit to be made on the two Americans.

Horman’s murder was the subject of the movie “Missing,” starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek.

The Chilean indictment of a retired U.S. military officer brings a new dimension to the case — the confluence of the two branches of the U.S. national security state — the military and the CIA — to allegedly bring about the murder of two American journalists, on grounds of national security.

What did Horman and Teruggi supposedly do to justify being taken out? The allegation is that during the coup, Horman acquired evidence documenting the U.S. government’s complicity in the coup. Therefore, the argument goes, by acquiring such information Horman became an immediate threat to the national security of the United States.

Moreover, the fact that Horman and Teruggi were leftists, liberals, or socialists who were supporting the socialist regime of Salvador Allende might have also constituted evidence of their being a grave threat to the national security of the United States during the Cold War.

The Chilean indictment of Davis alleges that he gave Horman a ride from the U.S. military installation in Valparaiso, where Horman allegedly acquired the information showing U.S. complicity in the coup, to Horman’s apartment in Santiago.

After that, Horman was picked up by Pinochet’s national-security goons, taken away, and executed.

While no one except the CIA, and possibly the U.S. military, knows exactly what the CIA role was in the murder, the allegation is that the CIA and the military signaled Pinochet that they wanted Horman (and possibly Teruggi) executed but without any evidence pointing to U.S. complicity in the murders.

One ironic twist to this saga involves the murder of a Chilean citizen by the Pinochet regime, on grounds of national security. During his brutal dictatorship, Pinochet sent a national-security hit team to Washington, D.C., where it murdered Orlando Letelier, who had served in the Allende government, on the streets of Washington, D.C. Even though the person who orchestrated the murder, a man named Michael Townley, ultimately got a sweetheart plea deal, no doubt because he had been an agent of the CIA, at least the Justice Department treated the hit as a murder rather than a legitimate assassination by the Pinochet regime to protect Chile’s national security.

On the other hand, however, the U.S. government has never treated the executions of Charles Horman and Michael Teruggi in the same way. Apparently, the notion has been that once the U.S. national security state decides that someone is a threat to national security, including an American, it has the legal authority to eliminate such a threat through assassination.

Equally important, the presumption seems to be that the final judge of what constitutes a sufficient threat to national security to justify an assassination of an American or anyone else lies with the national-security state itself, either through the CIA making the determination itself or by following orders of the president.

All of this, of course, is sheer nonsense. There is clear evidence indicating that two Americans have been murdered by agents of the U.S. national security state. This is not a case where the victims are alleged to have played an “operational role” in attacking the United States or even releasing classified information embarrassing to the U.S. government. The very worst thing Horman and Teruggi allegedly did was acquire information from military sources indicating U.S. government complicity in a regime-change operation in a foreign country and of being liberals, leftists, or socialists.

Since when do such things justify the national-security assassination of American citizens by either the U.S. military or the CIA?

There is no statue of limitations on murder. The U.S. government, including the Justice Department and the Congress, owe it to the American people, including the families of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, to open official investigations into the murders of these two young men and to bring to justice every U.S. official who participated in such murders.

If Chileans aren’t scared to confront the truth, why should Americans be?

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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