Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
Here's the RSS feed or subscribe to our FFF Email Update to receive Hornberger’s Blog daily.

What Were the Standards for Executing Charles Horman?

by

While Americans are seeking to determine the standards, if any, for President Obama’s assassination of American citizens, would it be too much to ask about the standards that were applied in the U.S. national-security state’s execution of American citizen Charles Horman? After all, in principle is a state-sponsored extra-judicial execution any different from a state-sponsored assassination? Why shouldn’t Americans have the right to know the standards by which they can be either assassinated or executed by their own government without a trial?

Horman was executed in Chile in 1973, six days after the coup that installed army General Augusto Pinochet into power. As people were later to discover, the economic crisis leading up the coup was engineered in large part by the CIA, operating under orders of President Nixon. Pinochet’s military goons arrested Horman in Santiago, took him to the national stadium, and murdered him. He was 31 years old. At around the same time, his friend Frank Teruggi, also an American, was arrested and executed.

For some 25 years, the U.S. government played the innocent, acting as if it had had nothing to do with the coup or the murders of the two men. The CIA specifically denied any role in Horman’s and Teruggi’s murders.

In 1980, the Horman family filed suit alleging that the U.S. national-security state had wrongfully killed their son and husband. The court, however, dismissed the suit on the grounds that the Hormans had not produced enough evidence showing that the U.S. government had participated in the killing. The court also refused to permit the Hormans the right to conduct discovery, including oral depositions, on the ground that that would constitute a threat to “national security.”

Around that time, the U.S. government released a State Department document that had certain sections blacked out.

Almost 20 years later, however, President Clinton ordered that the records relating to the Pinochet coup be declassified. Consequently, some of the blacked-out sections of that State Department document were released. You’ll never guess what they said. They said that

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 government of Chile. At worst, U.S. intelligence was aware the government of Chile saw Horman in a rather serious light and U.S. officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of government of Chile paranoia.”

Here’s a 2000 New York Times article about the matter.

Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives observed about the blacked-out sections of the document: “They’re not protecting national security at all. Preventing embarrassment is not an exemption clause.” Kornbluh is being kind. They were obviously doing much more than preventing embarrassment to the national-security state. They were obviously protecting the murderers from any criminal and civil liability. Assuming that the murderers were operating under orders, they were also protecting high U.S. officials and probably even Nixon himself from civil and criminal responsibility for the murders.

Why would U.S. officials have given the green light to Chilean officials to murder Horman and Teruggi? We can’t be certain given that the U.S. government has never revealed the standards that were applied in making the decision to have them taken out. But here are the most likely reasons for the executions.

First, Horman happened to be vacationing in the seacoast city of Vina del Mar when the coup began. That was the city in which the coup was orchestrated by the Chilean military. The evidence indicates that while Horman was there, he discovered evidence of U.S. military and intelligence complicity in the coup. Thus, the first reason for getting rid of him would have been that he became a threat to “national security.” If anyone found out that the U.S. military and CIA had participated in the coup, that would cause damage to them, which, in their minds, would adversely affect “national security.”

The second possible reason is that both Horman and Terruggi were liberals, or leftists, or progressives, whichever label one wants to use to describe someone whose economic views tend toward socialism, regulation, and interventionism. As such, they supported the administration of the man whom Pinochet had ousted from power — Salvador Allende, a communist and a socialist who had been democratically elected president of Chile in 1973. Pinochet’s position was that it was okay to assassinate, torture, and execute suspected communists, which, of course, is the same position that U.S. officials take today with respect to terrorists.

The third possible reason is that Horman, according to Wikipedia, “was investigating the murder of Rene Schneider, the Commander-in-Chief in the Chilean army whose support for Allende and the constitution was seen as an obstacle to the coup.” Wikipedia has two footnotes to support that statement: (1) an article in the June 12, 2002, issue of The Guardian entitled “Kissinger May Face Extradition to Chile” by Jonathan Franklin and Duncan Campbell, and (2) “Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002—Chile.”

As head of Chile’s military forces, Schneider would have to give the go-ahead to a coup. He refused to do so, however, believing that the responsibility of the military was to uphold Chile’s constitution and democratic system. Thus, in order for the coup to go forward, Schneider had to be removed. It later was discovered that the CIA conspired with Chilean coup planners to have Schneider kidnapped and removed from the scene. During the kidnapping, Schneider was killed in a shootout.

On November 29, 2011, a Chilean court indicted a retired U.S. military officer, Navy Captain Ray E. Davis, for conspiracy to murder Horman. Davis is the guy who gave Horman a ride from Vina del Mar back to Santiago. On October 17, 2012, Chile’s Supreme Court granted a request to extradite Davis to Chile.

The executions of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi were a watershed event in the history of the U.S. national-security state. It was at that point that it became clear that the national-security state could murder Americans without ever having to worry about being called to account for it. The Congress refused to investigate the murders. The federal judiciary rolled over. And no president has ever dared suggest that the Justice Department convene a grand jury investigation into the murders.

Interestingly, the CIA is still keeping records relating to the coup secret from the American people. The ground? You guessed it: the much-vaunted “national security,” that nebulous, meaningless term that has always been used to cover up government wrongdoing. How pathetic is that?

Just as Americans have the right to know the standards by which the U.S. national-security state assassinates Americans, don’t we also have the right to know the standards by which it executes Americans? Doesn’t the national-security state owe an explanation to the Horman and Teruggi families for why it helped murder Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi? Doesn’t it owe an explanation to us?

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.