BETWEEN THE LINES: Pinochet's Release Angers Widow of U.S. Citizen Slain During Coup
On March 3, Chile's former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet returned to his homeland after 16 months under house arrest in London. British authorities released Pinochet after denying a Spanish judge's request for the former dictator's extradition to stand trial for murder, kidnapping and torture committed during his rule. British Home Secretary Jack Straw decided to release Pinochet after determining that the aging despot was neither physically or mentally fit to stand trial a decision challenged by human rights groups and several European governments.During the first days of Chile's 1973 coup, which overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, Charles Horman, a U.S. journalist living in Santiago, was abducted and murdered by agents of the Chilean military, as were thousands of others. His widow, Joyce Horman, has struggled for 26 years to uncover the facts surrounding her husband's murder. She has also worked hard to expose the U.S. government's participation in Chile's coup and support for the Pinochet government's reign of terror.Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Joyce Horman, who shares her reaction to the British decision to release the former dictator from house arrest, ending the prospects for a trial in Spain.Joyce Horman: At first I was very disappointed, but there was a part of me saying, well if he's really mentally unfit perhaps there's no point to a trial. But then, as I see in the news, I think we all start to get a sense of disbelief and mounting anger at the fact that (Pinochet) seems not only fit, but that he knows just who to hug first when gets off the plane and can hold his cane in the air. So I must say that it's more than disappointing at this point. There were four governments appealing Jack Straw's decision to send him back; three out of the four said there was more than one interpretation to the medical report that was distributed to them, and the fourth one said there was no grounds for a medical release from an extradition request.So, you have to wonder what it was that arranged for Pinochet to go back to Chile just one week before the newly elected government will be inaugurated. I am grateful that Jack Straw arrested Pinochet 16 months ago; and so I can't help but think there were some very powerful forces at work here to help him be released and sent back home.I was hoping there would be some questions about Pinochet's link to the U.S. government during the a trial in Spain, even though they managed to narrow the time period covered of crimes committed for the purpose of extradition, which excluded (Charlie's) case. I was very much looking forward to Pinochet's being cross-examined about his relationship with the United States before, during and after the coup. Now we've lost that immediate opportunity. That is not to say that there aren't forces in Chile who are moving to find out if there is some way that he could be tried there.But right now, I believe he still has a certain amount of immunity as "senator for life" and that's being negotiated. And we'll see what happens in Chile. But he certainly looks much more fit than we were all given to believe.Between The Lines: Do you think that the United States had any role in pressuring Jack Straw and the British government to release Pinochet, given the potential for embarrassing revelations to come out during a trial in Spain where U.S. complicity and support for the bloody rule of Gen. Pinochet would be made public?Joyce Horman: You can't help but think that there was a lot of pressure from the U.S.. At one point, I understand there was even a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright which disappointed me greatly. Certainly, Henry Kissinger was lobbying for his friend Pinochet. So there was a real reason to believe that a lot of very powerful forces influenced the decision that Jack Straw finally came to.Between The Lines: When you look at the 16 months of detention that Gen. Pinochet served in London, do you take any hope away from the international precedents that have been set in this case?Joyce Horman: That's a great question. Yes, I think it was very, very important. I think that when Pinochet was arrested, that gave many of us the thrill and the taste of justice that we had waited so long for. The fact that he was detained for 16 months refreshed the memory of the world as to the abuses of human rights that went on under his rule. I think that the verdict from the world's consciousness is definitely that he is guilty. I just hope that when he goes back to Chile that this telling of the truth and unraveling of the lie can continue and that the families of the disappeared can learn the truth of their beloved. I hope that the friends and families of Chile's victims can have some clarity and closure to this terrible chapter of history.Between The Lines: Why do you think it's important for Americans to know about their government's complicity with some of the world's most brutal dictatorships?Joyce Horman: It's not what the American citizenry asks our government to do, to overthrow democracies and install brutal dictatorships in their place. That is not what Americans want to have done and it's not what the U.S. government is saying that they're doing. Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive, who has been digging out these documents for a long time, was quoted as saying, 'It's really about the American public's right to know -- what was done in their name and without their knowledge.' And I would add to that, 'and with their money.' I think the American public needs to know how wrong this was in order to try and prevent it from happening again in the future.Scott Harris is WPKN Radio's public affairs director and executive producer of Between The Lines.