365. Editorial Note

As the Nixon administration prepared to extend formal diplomatic recognition to the military junta under General Augusto Pinochet on September 24, 1973, the Department of State began to receive more reports, and more questions, on human rights violations in Chile, including on the welfare and whereabouts of U.S. citizens there. Assistant Secretary of State John B. Kubisch addressed these concerns in his testimony to the House Subcommittee for Inter-American Affairs on [Page 944] September 20: “We have also been concerned with reports violations of human rights in Chile. However, to my knowledge, many of these reports are unsubstantiated and not necessarily indicative of the policies to be followed by the new government of Chile once the situation there has fully stabilized.” (Telegram 187235 to Santiago, September 20; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number]) Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho), who chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, was less sanguine. During a telephone conversation that morning with Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State Designate, Church remarked:

“There’s one thing that’s been weighing heavily on my mind and that’s the question of political asylum for these large numbers of people that have been taken into custody in Chile and it occurs to me—two things, first I understand there are or may be some American citizens among them and I assume the State Dept is pursuing it at the moment, the other thing is that the OAS as I recall has a council or commission that deals with questions of political asylum—and I am wondering if we have done anything to urge the OAS to look into this question on strictly humanitarian grounds.”

Kissinger acknowledged that he “had not had the chance to follow this as closely as I should” but promised to discuss it that afternoon at a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group (WSAG). (Nixon Library, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 22, Chronological File) When Kissinger raised the issue at the meeting, however, Kubisch reassured him: “That doesn’t pertain to us. There are few Americans caught up in it.” The WSAG minutes are printed as Document 361.

During the noon news briefing on September 20 at the Department of State, reporters asked repeatedly about U.S. citizens detained in Chile and what the Embassy was doing to secure their release. The spokesman initially replied:

“We have, from various sources, information about the Americans and their condition [in] Chile. At the moment, it seems that perhaps as many as six have been detained by the junta. I have some of their names but, in other cases, next of kin have not been notified, so we would withhold that for the time being. But, in any event, to answer the second part of your question, we’ve instructed the Embassy to continue its efforts to communicate with all American citizens who we would have reason to believe have been detained or otherwise deflected from their original purposes. We will do the usual—that is to say, ascertain their welfare—seek to insure their human needs, if any—and, obviously be in contact with Chilean authorities to insure that they receive fair and equitable treatment.”

The reporters asked a number of follow-up questions at the briefing but the spokesman was unable to provide much additional information. (Telegram 187854 to Santiago, September 21; National Archives, RG 59, [Page 945] Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number]). Later that afternoon, the Department, therefore, instructed the Embassy as follows: “Imperative that consular officers gain access to detainees so spokesman can say so. We note junta representative told Embassy officer they trying to improve their image in foreign press. Continued refusal to allow access by consular officers to detainees runs counter to this effort.” (Telegram 187383 to Santiago, September 20; ibid., [no film number])

In response to growing public pressure—from family members, newspaper reporters, members of Congress—the Department and the Embassy worked to account for numerous U.S. citizens in Chile, in particular, those either missing or detained by the military government. As most were soon safely located, two rose to the top of the list: Charles Horman, who disappeared on September 17; and Frank Teruggi, who disappeared on September 20. Despite persistent prompting from Washington, the Embassy struggled in its efforts to find either Horman or Teruggi. (Telegram 4529 from Santiago, September 23; ibid., [no film number]) On September 24, as the United States announced formal diplomatic recognition of the new Chilean regime, the Department pressed the Embassy again to resolve the Horman case: “Department receiving numerous inquiries. Given congressional, and other high level interest in this case, would appreciate Embassy redoubling its efforts locate Horman, including possibility he may be detained by Chilean authorities. Request status report ASAP.” (Telegram 190077 to Santiago, September 24; ibid., [no film number]) The Embassy replied the next day:

“Embassy informed that Horman missing since 17 Sept, but no firm info on his detention. Military authorities continue deny he held at National Stadium, which official detention center for all persons to be held more than overnight. Consul saw list of detainees as of 19 Sept and Horman’s name did not appear as such or under any of several possible variants. Embassy continues try locate him and all other missing Amcits with full resources at its disposal.” (Telegram 4565 from Santiago, September 25; ibid., [no film number])

For nearly a month after they had been reported missing, the Embassy tried in vain to find Horman and Teruggi—only to discover that both had been killed before September 24. On October 2, the Embassy reported that a close personal friend had identified Teruggi’s body at a local morgue. (Telegram 4787 from Santiago, October 2; ibid., [no film number]) The Embassy then reported on October 18 that Horman’s body had been delivered to the morgue on September 18 and then to a local cemetery on October 3. (Telegram 5088 from Santiago, October 18; ibid., [no film number]) Neither case has been solved. For further documentation on human rights in Chile in general and the Horman and Teruggi cases in particular—including the investigation and controversy surrounding their deaths—see (through September 24) Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–16, Documents on Chile, 1969–1973; and [Page 946] (after September 24) ibid., vol. E–11, Part 2, Documents on South America, 1973–1976.