Date Thesis Awarded

5-2015

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)

Department

History

Advisor

Betsy Konefal

Committee Member

Susan Norman

Committee Member

Richard Turits

Abstract

On September 11, 1973, a military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile, overthrowing the government of socialist president Salvador Allende. In the days that followed, agents of the Chilean junta rounded up, detained, imprisoned, and in many cases executed those perceived to be sympathetic to the former government. In the first two weeks following the coup, the Central Intelligence Agency estimated that the military government executed nearly 2,000 people. One victim of this repression was a U.S. citizen, Charles Horman, a journalist and filmmaker who, along with his wife, had settled in Chile in 1972 to witness socialism first-hand. Members of the Chilean military seized Horman from his home, which was searched and ransacked, on September 17, and executed him sometime shortly after this.To the Hormans and many observers since, including a Department of State investigator, it appeared unlikely that a U.S. citizen could have been killed by a foreign government, during the height of the Cold War, without the act being somehow condoned by the U.S. Mystery continues to surround not only the circumstances of Charles Horman's death, but also the role of the CIA and U.S. embassy in the episode and the latter's long and fraught investigation. To complicate the picture, in 1976, a former Chilean intelligence officer claimed that he had been privy to the order of Horman’s execution. All of this makes for an intriguing case. To try to untangle and understand the circumstances surrounding the death of Charles Horman, this thesis attempts to synthesize the few scholarly and journalistic investigations of the episode and then to place them in conversation with hundreds of official U.S. documents relating to the case that were declassified in 1999 and 2000 as part of the Chilean Declassification Project. A close review of the declassified record provides the opportunity to trace the certainties and the remaining ambiguities of the case, and to show how a disappearance and death of a U.S. citizen was quickly politicized when the Hormans and other observers suspected U.S. complicity. While this review of the case largely examines evidence from the Department of State, it ultimately reveals the lack of declassified files from other U.S. agencies, namely the CIA.