Horman v. Kissinger Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

October 1, 1977

Case Description 

Horman v. Kissinger is a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in October 1977 that charged former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the rest of the State Department with complicity in the detention and death of American journalist Charles Horman during the 1973 Chilean coup. CCR hoped to uncover information and hold accountable those responsible for the murder.

Charles Horman, a 31-year-old American writer and filmmaker born in New York City, went to Chile to be a freelance writer. He stayed in Viña del Mar, a town near Valparaíso where both Chilean coup plotters and their U.S. military supporters were stationed. While there, he wrote about the U.S. involvement in overthrowing Allende.

His actions at Viña del Mar resulted in his secret arrest, detention, and execution six days after the bloody coup that overthrew the Allende government in Chile in 1973. On September 17, 1973, Horman was taken by Chilean soldiers to an ad hoc concentration camp in Santiago, where many prisoners were being tortured. His whereabouts were kept undisclosed for months until his body was discovered at a morgue. He was arrested by the Chilean militia under circumstances that suggest that the junta may have feared that he knew of CIA involvement in the coup.

The U.S. government maintained its innocence in Mr. Horman’s death. However, the government’s complicity was exposed with the release of an August 25, 1976 memo written by State Department officials. The memo described the case as “bothersome” and involved “negligence on our part, or worse, complicity in Horman’s death.” The memo went on to say that the State Department should refute any allegation that would implicate the Department’s officials, while maintaining that the allegations are well founded.

After considerable stalling, U.S. officials admitted that Horman had been killed by the Chileans shortly after his arrest. Despite numerous legal obstacles, CCR helped uncover information concerning the activities of the Chilean junta and U.S. Embassy in this affair. Ultimately, however, the Hormans had to voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit, due to the inability to depose key witnesses and to obtain evidence classified as "secret." This legal action may still be reinstated when new disclosures come to light.

For the State Department’s memo on Charles Horman, visit http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/19991008/
For other documents, visit http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB33/index.html