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For relatives of Pinochet victims, questions remain

WASHINGTON—Despite the death Sunday of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a small band of Americans is vowing to seek justice for the murders of loved ones committed in the aftermath of the U.S.-backed coup that brought Pinochet to power 33 years ago.

Joyce Horman still regrets that the United States never ordered an investigation into the death of her husband, Charles, who disappeared in the days after the Sept. 11, 1973, coup and whose body was found months later buried in a cemetery wall.

Janis Page Teruggi, whose brother, Frank, apparently died in a soccer stadium that was converted into a torture camp, says Pinochet's death will never squelch her urge for justice.

And Sherry Weiss is still searching for answers in the death of her cousin, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, an American who was blown up in Washington, D.C., when a bomb exploded under a car carrying Orlando Letelier, Chile's former defense minister and a Pinochet critic.

"Pinochet's death does not close the book on Frank's death. Nothing does, on a very personal level," Teruggi told McClatchy Newspapers. "Pinochet's death means little to me, as I hold the U.S. government responsible for the coup in Chile and the deaths of Charles Horman and my brother."

Weiss said she, too, found little comfort in Pinochet's death. "I wish I could say it brought closure," she said. "You learn to live with the pain, but this did not bring closure to me or my family."

Weiss and Letelier's son Francisco want more U.S. government documents declassified to show what the CIA and State Department knew about the Sept. 21, 1976, car bombing along Washington's Embassy Row. It's still the worst act of state-sponsored terrorism on U.S. soil.

Two top Chilean intelligence officials, Manuel Contreras and Pedro Espinoza, were convicted in 1995 in Chile of being leaders of the conspiracy to kill Letelier. Years later, they said they acted with Pinochet's knowledge. The pair, sentenced to seven years in a Chilean prison, remain under indictment in Washington.

The Clinton administration almost indicted Pinochet, but left the call to the Bush administration, which didn't act. On Monday, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Washington said the criminal case will go forward, but not against Pinochet.

"As a result of Pinochet's death, our investigation as it relates to him can be considered over," said Channing Phillips. "The overall (Letelier) prosecution is still pending."

That disappoints Sam Buffone, an attorney for Ropes & Gray in Washington, who won a U.S. civil court case against the Chilean government for the murder of Letelier and Moffitt. He believes a Pinochet indictment would have sent an important message and that prosecuting all involved remains a historical necessity.

"This was the result of an action of state-sponsored terrorism. It results in the loss of American life on U.S. soil, and if we're going to be serious about anti-terror policy, then no matter how long it takes, these people should be brought to justice," Buffone said.

But Pinochet's death may move Horman's and other cases forward, Buffone said. With Pinochet no longer a target of a possible indictment, the Justice Department no longer has reason to keep secret documents that might be useful in charging others.

"Now that he has died, there's no reason why these files should not see the light of day," Buffone said.

Under pressure from Washington, Chile handed over Michael Townley, a U.S.-born agent of Chile's feared intelligence agency, known as DINA, in 1978. As part of a plea deal, Townley acknowledged arranging and carrying out the Letelier bombing with a hit team comprised of anti-Castro Cuban exiles. He pointed the finger at Contreras and Espinoza before entering a U.S. witness protection program.

Thirty years later, declassified documents suggest that the CIA, which was headed at the time by George H.W. Bush, had extensive knowledge of DINA's hand in the Letelier bombing.

"I think there's a lot more information that's actually available in documents that haven't been declassified. ... I think that more will be revealed," Francisco Letelier said in a phone interview from Venice, Calif. "A lot is known; more will be revealed that will be the kind of revelations that will stand in a court of law."

Many Americans associate Pinochet with the hit 1982 film "Missing," which earned actor Jack Lemmon an Oscar nomination. The film was inspired by the frantic search for Charles Horman, a 31-year-old journalist and cartoonist who disappeared six days after Pinochet's coup. Lemmon played the missing man's father, Edmund, while Sissy Spacek portrayed his widow.

In an interview, Joyce Horman, a native of Kiester, Minn., who now lives in New York, said Pinochet's death won't deter her efforts to find the regime members who murdered her husband 33 years ago and the government officials in both countries who covered it up.

"The U.S. never demanded an investigation of Charles' murder, and I'm still sad about that," she said. But she added that she's grateful that Pinochet lived long enough to see Chilean prosecutors charge him with human rights crimes, including one that accused him of being responsible for her husband's death.

"Until the truth is fully out, I don't see it being a closed book," she said.

U.S. government documents declassified by Clinton in 1999 show that U.S. officials might have had a hand in the Americans' deaths.

"U.S. intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death. At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the (government of Chile)," said one document.

FBI documents released in 2001 showed that Frank Teruggi was under surveillance as a Vietnam war protester in Chicago before he moved to Chile in 1971. These documents added to suspicion that U.S. officials may have shared information about Americans in Chile that led to their being rounded up, tortured and murdered.

Teruggi disappeared on Sept. 20, 1973, and was last seen alive at the national soccer stadium in Santiago. His body was found at a morgue days later with signs of torture, bullet holes and a slashed throat.

The Horman and Teruggi families accuse Henry Kissinger of covering up the murders of Americans in Chile to protect a Cold War ally. Declassified documents show that despite the murders, Kissinger told Pinochet that "we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here."

In a Feb. 20, 2001, interview on "Newshour with Jim Lehrer," Kissinger defended that approach. "We thought, wrongly or rightly, we were in a life and death struggle with the Soviet Union as a functioning global system," he said.


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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