Mark Falcoff: What’s really missing

Occasional contributor Mark Falcoff writes to comment on the story that a Chilean judge is charging a US military officer with the 1973 murder of two Americans:

I don’t know how many Power Line readers have ever seen Costa-Gavras’s 1982 film Missing. Even if they have, they probably have forgotten the details. The story is alleged to be true, although it deals very carelessly with the facts surrounding the military coup in Chile in 1973. That event resulted in the overthrow of Marxist president Salvador Allende, his suicide, and the arrest, torture and murder of several thousand of his supporters.

The particular subject of Missing, however, is not a Chilean at all but one Charles Horman, who, together with his friend Frank Teruggi, were among the thousands of leftist groupies who poured into Chile from dozens of countries during the three-year rule of Allende. Like many of their comrades, they were picked up by the Chilean military and executed in underground jails.
The film Missing does not merely deal with this event, but rather with the supposed complicity of the United States government in Horman and Teruggi’s disappearances.

But the film is not logical even within its own terms. Supposedly the U.S. government becomes aware of Horman’s existence in Chile when a naval officer from Washington gives the young man and his girlfriend a ride from the port of Valparaiso to the capital, Santiago, a few days before the coup. In casual conversation with the young people, the naval officer (in civilian clothes) says, “I came here to do a job, and I am going home soon.” But even more revealingly (as far as Costa-Gavras is concerned), the officer says that prior to coming to Chile he had been in Bolivia.

But — the audience is supposed to grasp immediately — that means the officer was not in Chile on naval matters at all but on some other, inexplicable task. Why? Because Bolivia has no Navy! The only problem with this is, Bolivia does in fact have a Navy, complete with admirals, but its waterborne fleet is largely (though not entirely) restricted to the enormous Lake Titicaca between Bolivia and Peru.

Costa-Gavras has us then believe that this casual encounter by this Naval officer explains how the U.S. government became aware of Horman’s existence in Chile and then to his execution.

There is also a problem with this. His girlfriend, who was in the car too, and who also, presumably “knew too much” is seen in the film going home on an ordinary flight.

Flash forward to 2011.

The Los Angeles Times today carries a story that a Chilean judge is asking for the extradition of the former U.S. Naval attache in Santiago, Captain Ray E. Davis, on suspicion of participation in the murder of Horman and Teruggi. What is his evidence? We are not told, merely that he did nothing to stop the execution of the two Americans “although he had the opportunity of doing so,” and that he is suspected (by whom?) of giving Pinochet officials “a list of subversive U. S. citizens in Chile.”

Mind you, this all had to happen very, very quickly, because Horman was executed within hours days of the coup. The U.S. government had to be very quick off the mark in an extremely chaotic and dangerous situation. Moreover, there were some serious East bloc and Cuban agents operating in Chile. Were two American leftist hippies really worth the effort?

Here is another question. How does the Chilean judge know that the U.S. Naval attache could save the two, assuming he even knew of their existence? The allegation is, alas, reminiscent of an old Latin American saw — anything unpleasant that happens in the region is the fault of the United Staters, because if it really wanted to it could prevent it.

For years the Horman family and assorted leftists in the United States have been trying to pin Horman’s murder not merely on the Chilean army or police — of whose guilt there can be little doubt — but on the U.S. government, in order to raise the ideological significance of the deaths. These people have had nearly forty years to make their case, and have failed to do so. Now they are trying to revive not the investigation so much as the charges, which they want to see washed over newspapers the world over yet once again.

The State Department is reported as “not comment[ing] on specific extradition matters, but…supports a thorough investigation into the Horman and Teruggi deaths, said spokesman Will Ostick.” The Obama people at Foggy Bottom are thus able to have it both ways.

By the way, if Captain Davis were naval attache in Santiago in 1973, it is reasonable to assume that if alive today he would be well into his nineties. As it is, the Los Angeles Times casually remarks that his “whereabouts were not immediately clear.” No matter: the story has served its purpose.

Mark Falcoff is the author, among other books, of Modern Chile, 1970-1989: A Critical History (Transaction).

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