How The US Government Betrayed Charles Horman

“Any form of real betrayal can be final. Dishonesty can be final. Selling out is final. But you are just talking now. Death is what is really final.” —Ernest Hemingway, Islands in the Stream

In A Nutshell

In 1973, American journalist Charles Horman found himself sitting on the story of a lifetime. The Chilean military, under the control of Augusto Pinochet, had just overthrown the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and there were rumors that the US was involved. So when Horman overheard US military personnel boasting about their role in the coup, he naturally assumed it would lead to a front page headline. What he couldn’t have known that it would lead to was his own gruesome execution . . . and a search for justice that lasted over 40 years.

The Whole Bushel

The first Joyce Horman knew of her husband Charles’s death was in October 1973, a month after he’d gone missing. On September 17th, she’d returned to their house in Santiago to find everything in disarray. It was only a week after the Chilean government had been overthrown in a right-wing coup, and journalists were known to be in danger. Fearing the worst, Joyce had packed her bags and fled. Her husband, she knew, had been on to something.

Only days before his disappearance, Charles had been visiting the port town of Vina del Mar, from where Pinochet had launched his blood-soaked coup. There, he’d encountered an astonishing number of US military personnel. Many were openly boasting about overthrowing the Allende government. Deciding this signaled US involvement, Charles took notes. He then accepted a lift back to Santiago from US Captain Ray Davis, a move which would ultimately seal his fate.

During the ride back, Davis pumped Charles for information. With deliberate care, he let the car meander ever closer to the death squads roaming Santiago’s streets, death squads on the lookout for men like Charles. Although Davis ultimately returned him home safely, Charles’s widow would later say that her husband was terrified by the army captain. He resolved to leave the country and publish his scoop from the States. Days later, Joyce returned to find their house ransacked and Charles missing. Unknown to her, he’d been taken by the Chilean military to the notorious National Stadium. There, after days of torture, he was machine-gunned to death, his body buried in a stadium wall.

Although Joyce would later go public with her suspicions, no one ever listened. In the 1980s, following intense pressure, the White House released its documents on Chile. Heavily redacted, they nonetheless seemed to absolve both governments of any blame. The case would lie dormant for nearly 20 years.

Then, in 1998, Pinochet was arrested during a visit to London. As interest in the coup reached fever pitch, Clinton authorized the release of the non-redacted Chile documents. They painted the Charles Horman case in a very different light. In full, one memo read:

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.

It was the catalyst needed to get the ball for justice rolling. Joyce Horman filed a lawsuit against Pinochet, only for him to die before it could go to trial. The newly democratic Chilean government then attempted to extradite Captain Ray Davis to face charges, finally getting the go-ahead in 2013.

Sadly, it was too late. Already hiding out in Chile, Davis died while prosecutors were hunting for him in Florida. In the summer of 2014, the Chilean courts ruled that both Davis and US intelligence services were responsible for Charles Horman’s death. For his wife Joyce, justice had at last been delivered—over 40 years too late.

Show Me The Proof

The Guardian: Justice for Charles Horman—and the truth about the US and Chile’s coup
NY Times: U.S. Victims of Chile’s Coup: The Uncensored File
NBC News: Chile: U.S. Had Role In ‘Missing’ Killings of Two Americans