LIMA, Peru — Chile is set to ask the United States to extradite a former US Navy officer in connection with the murders of two Americans following the 1973 coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.
The South American country's supreme court approved the extradition application Wednesday over the killings of journalist Charles Horman and student Frank Teruggi, according to their relatives' Chilean lawyer Sergio Corvalan, the Associated Press reported.
Retired Captain Ray E. Davis, then commander of the US Military Group at the Santiago embassy, is accused of passing information about the pair to Chilean intelligence officers under Pinochet's command. The case also claims that Davis could have prevented their slayings.
The murders became an international cause celebre after the award-winning 1982 Hollywood film "Missing," starring Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek, told the story of Horman's death and the subsequent struggle for justice by his widow and father.
Speaking to Cooperativa, a Chilean radio station, Corvalan said the ruling affirmed the principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity — the same legal precept that had allowed the arrest of Pinochet in London in 1998.
"After more than 39 years, we have been able to establish in the Chilean courts a judicial sentence, criminal responsibilities that correspond both to members of the Chilean armed forces and Americans in the murders of these two Americans," said the attorney.
Chile's Foreign Ministry is now expected to send the file on the case to the US Justice Department, likely to re-open old wounds regarding the alleged involvement of the Nixon administration in the bloody coup on Sept. 11, 1973.
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Led by Pinochet, then head of Chile's armed forces, the meticulously planned military uprising led to the suicide of President Salvador Allende — Latin America's first elected Marxist head of state — as the air force bombed La Moneda, the presidential palace.
It also ushered in a brutal, far-right dictatorship that lasted 17 years and led to the deaths and disappearances of 3,095 people and the torture of many others, according to Chile's official truth and reconciliation report.
Horman, a 31-year-old native of New York City, had settled in Chile to work as a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker when he was sucked into the coup's aftermath.
Teruggi, 24, had recently graduated from the California Institute of Technology and was studying economics at the University of Chile. He was working with Horman on a weekly news digest.
Horman was allegedly arrested two weeks after the coup and held at Santiago's national soccer stadium, which was used as a holding pen for suspected opponents of the new military junta. He is thought to have been summarily executed there the following day.
A body returned to his widow was subsequently revealed not to be his. Teruggi was murdered four days after Horman.
It remains unclear why the pair was targeted although their journalistic work may have been viewed as threatening by Pinochet and his henchmen.
Davis, now 86, was first charged by presiding judge Jorge Zepeda a year ago. He suffers from Alzheimer's disease and lives in a nursing home, his wife Patricia Davis, who lives in Florida, told the AP. She says that her husband has always denied his involvement in the slayings.
When "Missing" was first released, during the early years of the Reagan administration, it prompted a fierce denial from the US State Department.
Nevertheless, official documents declassified in 1999 show US officials acknowledging the possibility that embassy officials gave the green light to the Chilean mutineers to kill the pair.
One 1976 State Department memo, viewable online at George Washington University's archive, described the Horman case as "bothersome."
It also noted the accusations in the media and by Horman's family of "negligence on our part or worse, complicity in Horman's death." It added that officials did not have a "coherent account" and were therefore unable to either refute the allegations or proceed against individuals suspected of involvement.
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If proven, the Horman and Teruggi case fits into a pattern of heavy intervention in Chile by the Nixon administration.
First, the White House attempted to stop Allende's election, including efforts to orchestrate a coup, according to the George Washington University archive. When that failed, they orchestrated a covert policy to undermine the Chilean economy.
And finally, they turned a blind eye to the grotesque human rights abuses committed under Pinochet, instead backing him as a bulwark against the spread of communism in Latin America.
"However unpleasant they act, the [military] government is better for us than Allende was," then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said at one point.
Now, four decades later, the US will be called on to decide whether Capt. Davis, one small cog in the Nixon administration's foreign policy machine, is fit enough to stand trial for his alleged role in implementing that strategy.