Charles Edmund Lazar Horman|
May 15, 1942
New York City, U.S.
September 18, 1973 (aged 31)|
Santiago de Chile
Elizabeth Horman (mother)|
Edmund Horman (father)
Charles Edmund Lazar Horman (May 15, 1942 – September 18, 1973) was an American journalist documentary filmmaker killed during the 1973 Chilean coup d'état led by General Augusto Pinochet that deposed the socialist president Salvador Allende. Horman's death was the subject of the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing, in which he was portrayed by actor John Shea.
In June 2014, a Chilean court ruled that the US played a "fundamental" role in Horman's murder. In January 2015, two former Chilean intelligence officials were sentenced in the murders of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Book, film, and television depictions of the case
- 3 State department memo
- 4 Chilean investigation
- 5 Relevant characters in the case
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Horman was born in New York City, the son of Elizabeth Horman and Edmund Horman. He was an only child and attended the Allen-Stevenson School, where he was a top student in English as well as an excellent cellist; he graduated in 1957. He then graduated cum laude (top 15%) from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1960 and summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1964, where he was President of Pendulum literary magazine. Working as filmmaker at King TV in Portland Oregon, Charles conceived the short documentary "Napalm" which took a Grand Prize at the Cracow Film Festival in 1967.
Upon returning to New York City, Charles wrote articles as an investigative journalist for magazines in the United States such as Commentary and The Nation, and newspapers, including the Christian Science Monitor, and worked as a reporter in 1967-68 for INNOVATION magazine.
Charles protested the Vietnam War at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and was honorably discharged from the Air National Guard in 1969.
In December 1971, Charles and wife, Joyce, left New York to journey to Chile. The pair studied Spanish in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the Ivan Illich school for a month, before proceeding southward through Central America.
In Panama, they sold their camper and flew to Medellin, Colombia. They arrived in Santiago in the late spring of 1972, and settled temporarily in Santiago, where Charles worked as a freelance writer.
On September 17, 1973, six days after the military takeover, Horman was seized by Chilean soldiers and taken to the National Stadium in Santiago, which had been turned by the military into an ad hoc prison camp, where prisoners were interrogated and tortured. Many were executed. The whereabouts of Horman's body were presumably undetermined, at least according to the Americans, for about a month following his death, although it was later determined that, after his execution, Horman's body was buried inside a wall in the national stadium. It later turned up in a morgue in the Chilean capital. A second American journalist, Frank Teruggi, met with a similar fate.
At the time of the military coup, Horman was in the resort town of Viña del Mar, near the port of Valparaíso, which was a key base for the American and Chilean coup plotters. US officials speculated at the time that Horman was a victim of "Chilean paranoia," but did nothing to intervene. It is unlikely that Horman would have been killed without a green light from the CIA, according to papers released in 1999 under the Freedom of Information Act. Efforts to determine his fate were initially met with resistance and duplicity by US embassy officials in Santiago.
Book, film, and television depictions of the case
The Horman case was made into the Hollywood film Missing (1982), directed by Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras, starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek as Horman's father and wife, trying to discover his fate. Horman himself was portrayed by John Shea. In the film Horman is depicted as having spoken with several U.S. operatives who assisted the Chilean military government. The film alleges that Horman's discovery of US complicity in the coup led to his secret arrest, disappearance, and execution. American complicity in the Chilean coup was later confirmed in documents declassified during the Clinton administration. The film was based on a book, first published in 1978 under the title The Execution Of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice, written by Thomas Hauser; this book was later republished, under the title Missing, in 1982.
When the film was released by Universal Studios, Nathaniel Davis, United States Ambassador to Chile from 1971 to 1973, filed a USD 150 million libel suit against the director and the studio, although he was not named directly in the movie (he had been named in the book). The court eventually dismissed Davis's suit. The film was removed from the market during the lawsuit but re-released upon dismissal of the suit.
State department memo
For many years thereafter, the US government steadfastly maintained its ignorance of the affair. However, in October 1999, Washington finally released a document admitting that CIA agents played a role in his death. The State Department memo, dated August 25, 1976, was declassified on October 8, 1999, together with 1,100 other documents released by various US agencies which dealt primarily with the years leading up to the military coup.
Written by three State Department functionaries — Rudy Fimbres, R.S. Driscolle and W.V. Robertson and addressed to Harry Schlaudeman, a high-ranking official in the department's Latin American division — the August document described the Horman case as "bothersome," given reports in the press and Congressional investigations charging that the affair involved "negligence on our part, or worse, complicity in Horman's death." The State Department, the memo declared, had the responsibility to "categorically refute such innuendoes in defense of US officials." It went on, however, to acknowledge that these "innuendoes" were well founded.
The three State Department officials said they had evidence that "The GOC [Government of Chile] sought Horman and felt threatened enough to order his immediate execution. The GOC might have believed this American could be killed without negative fall-out from the USG [US Government]."
The report went on to declare that circumstantial evidence indicated "US 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 GOC. At worst, US intelligence was aware the GOC saw Horman in a rather serious light and US officials did nothing to discourage the logical outcome of GOC paranoia."
After the release of the State Department memo, Horman's widow, Joyce, described it as "close to a smoking pistol." The same memo had been released to the Horman family more than twenty years earlier, but the above-mentioned paragraphs had been blacked out by the State Department. The latest version still has blacked-out passages, for reasons of "national security," but reveals more.
Several other documents released in 1999 report that a Chilean intelligence officer claimed an agent of the CIA was present when a Chilean general made the decision to execute Horman because he "knew too much."
In 2001, Chilean judge Juan Guzmán Tapia conducted an investigation into Charles Horman's death. Among five Americans who gave evidence was Joyce Horman, his widow who had filed a criminal suit against Augusto Pinochet the previous December. The investigation included a four-hour re-enactment of the scene in the National Stadium where Horman was killed, one of 10,000 who suffered there.
The judge also considered extradition proceedings for former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger after receiving no cooperation from him or Nathaniel Davis to requests from the Supreme Court of Chile. "At the time of his death, Horman was investigating the murder of René Schneider, the Commander-in-Chief in the Chilean army whose support for Allende and the constitution was seen as an obstacle to the coup."
On November 29, 2011, a Chilean court indicted a retired U.S. military officer, Navy Captain Ray E. Davis, head of the U.S. military group in Chile in September 1973, charging him with involvement in Horman's murder; Davis had driven Horman from Vina del Mar, in the coastal area where the coup was launched, to Santiago during the coup. On October 17, 2012, Chile’s Supreme Court approved an extradition request for Davis concerning the deaths of Horman and Teruggi. As of September 11, 2013 the U.S. has not yet been served with the extradition request. Davis, secretly living in Chile, died in a Santiago nursing home in 2013.
Relevant characters in the case
The only theory available for thirty years was that the order to execute Charles Horman was given by General Augusto Lutz during his period as head of the Directorate of Army Intelligence (Spanish: Dirección de Inteligencia del Ejército or DINE), also known as Army Intelligence Service (Spanish: Servicio de Inteligencia Militar, or SIM). In 2003 judge Juan Guzmán was removed from the Horman case and the lawsuit was assigned to judge Jorge Zepeda, whose work represented a break with the previous investigation. Basically, Zepeda's thesis is that Department II (Intelligence) of the General Staff of the National Defense (Spanish: Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional, or EMDN) would have been the organization responsible for Horman's death. This theory has been questioned from various standpoints.
Since the 1970s the Lutz-Herrera family have insisted that it is not consistent with the personal and military career of their father that he should have been involved in the murder of opponents to the Chilean dictatorship, especially considering his opposition to the Pinochet government. Instead, the death of Augusto Lutz would have been caused precisely by his opposition to Pinochet and the DINA.
Researchers on the coup d'état conspiracy, such as Patricia Verdugo (Interferencia secreta), Ignacio González Camus (El día que murió Allende), Mónica González (La conjura: los mil y un días del golpe) and Ascanio Cavallo, Manuel Salazar and Óscar Sepúlveda (La historia oculta del régimen militar) do not assign any role in it to Gen. Lutz. After the coup, Lutz interceded for various detainees and others he freed. Gen. Lutz did not last one month in his position as Director of Army Intelligence, and by the next year he was found dead in mysterious circumstances.
Judge Zepeda's ruling stated that "The decision to put Charles Horman Lazar to death, being a foreign detainee, was made by Department II of the EMDN".
Judge Zepeda condemned 1976 Vice-director of DINA, Pedro Espinoza, as author of the murder of Charles Horman, but he failed to prove that the murder took place at the Estadio Nacional or that Espinoza had been at the stadium. None of the thousands of detainees who were kept at the stadium gave a testimony (in this case or others) stating that they saw or heard about Espinoza being there, but many declared having seen Jorge Espinoza, the Army colonel in charge of the stadium.
Peter Kornbluh, researcher linked to the Horman Foundation and director of the National Security Archive's Chile Documentation Project, declared that "the details of his death and why he was killed are still murky"  and that although the judge quoted several declassified documents as grounds to his ruling, “none of them tie Davis or Espinoza to the crimes”, adding that, "the judge will have to present concrete evidence". Even the Punto Final, newspaper linked to the Revolutionary Left Movement (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionario, MIR), regretted that in his ruling, Zepeda does not reveal the exact role that Espinoza played in the murders of Horman and Frank Teruggi, or what his functions were at the time.
Weekly newspaper El Siglo, official organ of the Central Committee of the Chilean Communist Party, joined the voices complaining about what they consider a disastrous judicial work, asking if Espinoza's imputation might not be, in its absence of evidence, a smoke screen to cover up the difficulty in finding the truth. “Judge Zepeda's ruling does not give justice to the victims, nor does it give the truth to their relatives and to the community".
On December 30 of 2011, in a divided decision the Court of Appeals confirmed the prosecution of Pedro Espinoza, recording in the minority vote that no link had been shown to connect Espinoza to the crime.
From 1954 until the coup d'état of September 11, 1973, González was an agent of the Department II (Intelligence) of the General Staff of the National Defense (Spanish: Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional, or EMDN), where he carried out tasks against the CIA's economic sabotage in Chile (in Corfo), dismantling the CIA's spy webs linked to the Project Camelot in Chile in 1968. At the requests of Allende's Minister of Defense, between March and September, 1971, González acted as an advisor to the Director of Policía de Investigaciones, Dr. Eduardo Paredes. As a cover for his secret agent activities, González worked as a Corfo civil servant. Considering González's accurate reports, the head of the intelligence service of the “Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional scheduled an appointment with Undersecretary of the Interior, Daniel Vergara, in December, 1972, where he pointed out that if certain key changes were not made to improve the country's economic situation, such as removing Pedro Vuskovic from Corfo and replacing him by José Cademártori, there would be a coup d'état in September, 1973”.
González's opposition to the abuses of the new authorities manifested itself since the dictatorship's first day, and “after the coup he saved dozens of supporters of the Unidad Popular from being unjustly dismissed from their jobs, imprisoned or from an assured death, as for instance the journalist Carlos Jorquera, whom on the very September 11 he saved from suffering the fate of his comrades at Peldehue”., all of which were assassinated on September 12 in the Regimiento Tacna on orders given by Gen. Herman Brady, who was Head of the Army's Second Division, based in Santiago, Commanding officer of the capital's garrison, and military judge of Santiago, which made the fate of all detainees depend on him. González contributed with his testimony to clear up the facts related to the death of those who resisted the coup in La Moneda. On September 11 at la Moneda, Gen. Javier Palacios gave Rafael González the direct order to execute Allende's press secretary, journalist Carlos Jorquera, but González refused to carry it out. Jorquera described that "a military man recognized me and didn't obey the order he was given to kill me in the spot. I owe him my life [...] Years later, when Aylwin won, we met. We gave each other a big hug and till today he is one of my best friends: he is the former member of the Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional, Rafael González, who was later dismissed from his institution and had to go into exile". After the coup, Gen. Palacios was appointed Vicepresident of Corfo and, in retaliation for not having obeyed his order to execute Jorquera, González was dismissed from Corfo, the governmental organization where he had a job as a cover for his secret agent work. Despite the critical situation regarding human rights, former senator Alberto Jerez remembers in his memoirs how González managed to keep saving the lives of people persecuted by the dictatorship and, “taking advantage of his functions, Rafael himself threw the files on Guillermo Sáez Pardo, Juan Ibáñez Elgueta, Héctor Ortega Fuentes and Carlos Morales Salazar into the fire of the boiler at the Air Force Hospital, thereby saving them from all danger".
In April 1974, Vice-Admiral Patricio Carvajal dismissed Rafael González from the EMDN, accusing him of having informed the Interior Minister, Gen. Óscar Bonilla, about the serious human rights violations that were taking place in Regimiento Tejas Verdes in San Antonio, whose commanding officer was Col. Manuel Contreras, chief of the nascent DINA. In April 1974, González was reassigned as an agent to the Chilean Air Force (FACH), and remained inactive, not taking part in repressive activities. Gen. Bonilla showed up in Tejas Verdes and witnessed the inhumane conditions of the prisoners, and ordered the arrest of Col. Contreras, but Pinochet canceled the order, and shortly after Bonilla died in a suspicious helicopter accident. The French technicians sent by the helicopter manufacturing company to investigate the accident died as well in dubious circumstances. Pinochet assigned Gen. Herman Brady to Bonillla's position in the Ministry of Defense.
While following orders to investigate a complaint of money embezzlement in FACH, on September 2, 1975, Rafael González was dismissed without explanations by that institution and his career as an intelligence agent came to an end. He was alerted by Carabineros' Vice-Director of Intelligence Service (SICAR), Col. Pablo Navarrete, that an order had been given by the recently created Air Force Directorate of Intelligence (DIFA) to eliminate him. Thanks to his old friend Octavio Abarca, a former Secretary of Regional Norte of the Chilean Communist Party, González sought political asylum at the Italian Chancery, but he was not granted the possibility of going into exile until three years later, once DINA was dissolved and Gen. Gustavo Leigh was removed from his post as Commander in Chief of FACH, because both Contreras and Leigh were adamant in their refusal to González's exit. Rafael González suffered the longest asylum during Pinochet's dictatorship, from September 3, 1975, to May 13, 1978, when he went into exile thanks to the intervention of Father Baldo Santi, then President of CARITAS Chile, who acted on express instructions from Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez.
While he was in the Italian Chancery in Santiago, González revealed to CBS and Washington Post journalists that he had seen Charles Horman inside the Ministry of Defense building one week after the coup, which became the starting point of the investigation into Charles Horman's death, since it became impossible for American and Chilean authorities to claim ignorance of the facts. Once in exile in Spain, in 1978, González was contacted by former socialist senator Erich Schnake on behalf of Charles Horman's father, Edmund, who invited him to the United States to help them sue Henry Kissinger, the CIA and the U.S. Department of State for his son's death. Joyce Horman, Charles' widow, declared to CNN that only with Rafael González's testimony did they go to court against them.
After being prosecuted, Rafael González created a blog ("Justicia para Horman, justicia para González") where he recounts his professional career as an intelligence agent (1954-1975) and comments on judge Jorge Zepeda's rulings, which he considers a judiciary farce that does not make justice to the Horman family, leaves the real culprits unpunished and involves him in a crime which is alien to him.
During the trial, high-ranking officers of the Chilean Navy, whose names had been kept in the dark for decades, were mentioned in connection to the death of the American journalist. They are Vice Admiral Patricio Carvajal, Corvette Captain Raúl Monsalve, and Navy Captain Ariel González. In their statements the last two (Carvajal committed suicide in 1994) claim innocence and accuse the involvement of the Chilean Army.
Before the coup, Carvajal was the Chief of the EMDN, and acting in that capacity he ordered, between May and June 1973, an investigation of the “foreign radicals” who were working in Chile Films, Charles Horman's workplace. In all likelihood such order must have been given to the Chief of the Department II of EMDN, Ariel González. On March 21, 1974, Patricio Carvajal ordered Rafael González to assist U.S. Vice-consul in Chile, James Anderson, in the search for Charles Horman's remains in order to repatriate them. According to Rafael González, they made him “look for them and find them” so as to blame him afterwards and to cover up the American and Chilean personnel involved in the murder, because the Chilean and American authorities already knew the location of the remains in a niche of the Cementerio General since October 18, 1973, one month after Horman's death, when U.S. Consul General Frederick Purdy officially informed Horman's father (Edmund) and widow (Joyce) while they were declaring a "missing person report" before Police Inspector Mario Rojas Chávez at the headquarters of Policía de Investigaciones.
In April 1977 Carvajal was decorated by dictator Francisco Franco. Once democracy was restored, Carvajal functioned for two consecutive periods (1988-1989 and 1989-1993) as member of the Supreme Tribunal of the right-wing party Independent Democratic Union (Spanish: UDI).
James Anderson was a CIA agent operating under cover as U.S. Vice-consul and together with another CIA agent, John S. Hall, under cover as Consular Associate, pretended to be helping the Horman family in their plight. Anderson stated his total ignorance about Horman when he told Washington Post on September 17, 2000, that neither the U.S. Consulate nor the CIA were even aware that Horman and Teruggi were in Chile until they were reported missing.
This captain of the Chilean Navy played a key role in the history of the coup conspiracy, because he was the one who fooled the Board of Admiralty on September 9, assuring them that the army had already confirmed their participation in the coup; it was he who (accompanied by Admiral Sergio Huidobro) convinced Pinochet of joining the coup, threatening that if he did not join them, he himself would lead from Valparaíso the Chilean marines on their way to Santiago. After the coup and as chief of EMDN intelligence, he organized the enforcement of “new interrogation techniques” (meaning, torture) together with Brazilian intelligence agents. In 1973 U.S. authorities asked for information about the Horman case to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vice admiral Ismael Huerta, to Vice admiral Patricio Carvajal (by that time Minister of Defense), to the EMDN, and even the American ambassador Nathaniel Davis transmitted their concern to Pinochet himself. However, Ariel González, chief of EMDN intelligence and Carvajal's subordinate (both were naval officers), declared not to have known anything about the Horman case until 2004, but his account has been questioned as implausible. Researcher Jonathan Haslam quotes the son-in-law of Gen. William Westmoreland (commanding officer of American forces in Vietnam between 1964 and 1968) as stating that Vernon Walters (Deputy Director of CIA between 1972 and 1976) operated in Chile through Ariel González. In spite of this record, during the thirteen years judge Zepeda led the judicial inquiry on the murder of Charles Horman, he never interrogated personally former Navy intelligence officer Ariel González, nor did he ascribe any responsibility in the crime to him. “Today, Ariel González Cornejo keeps drifting around Viña del Mar free and clear”.
On September 11, 1973, Corvette Captain Raúl Monsalve was posted at the General Staff of the Navy (Spanish: Estado Mayor General de la Armada, or EMGA) as liaison officer with the U.S. Military Group (almost all of them U.S. Navy officers linked to the Defense Intelligence Agency, DIA), whose chief was Ray Davis. Monsalve had been working for years as liaison with CIA local spy webs, to the extent that the U.S. Embassy itself described him in a report as the "most pro-American" officer of the Chilean Navy, as revealed by a research carried out by Universidad Arcis and published in its Estudios Político Militares. Programa de Estudios Fuerzas Armadas y Sociedad.
After the coup, Monsalve maintained his contacts with the CIA and his name appears in Colonia Dignidad's file cards (written and compiled by Gerd Seewald, one of Paul Schäfer's collaborators), sometimes to visit Albert Schreiber (one of the pedophile sect's leaders), other times, as on November 31, 1975, accompanied by a couple of American intelligence agents.
Monsalve also participated in the persecution and extermination of the dictatorship's opponents, as confirmed by Juan R. Muñoz Alarcón, the "hooded man (encapuchado) of the Estadio Nacional", in his testimony before the Vicariate of Solidarity (Vicaría de la Solidaridad), where he declared having worked for Monsalve, and that Monsalve took him to the Estadio Nacional. Monsalve has also been pointed at by his subordinates from the Navy intelligence as the officer who gave the order to arrest and eliminate Arnoldo Camú, security chief of the Unidad Popular, an incident which took place in the same days when Horman was arrested and murdered.
On September 15, 1973, when Charles Horman asked Captain Ray Davis if he would take him and his friend Terry Simon to Santiago, Davis asked Monsalve for the safe-conducts, briefing him on Horman's political background.
The involvement of Chilean Navy officers Raúl Monsalve and Ariel González in the murder of Charles Horman was not delved into by judge Jorge Zepeda, since he never called them to court to take their statement in person and did not charge them as authors, accomplices or accessories after the fact. This is particularly striking in the case of Ariel González, since Zepeda himself ruled that Department II (Intelligence) of EMDN was the unit responsible for planning and carrying out Charles Horman's death.
Ray E. Davis
After the coup, Charles Horman and Terry Simon innocently asked U.S. (Navy) Captain Ray Davis if he would take them in his car from Valparaíso to Santiago, and Davis asked for safe-conducts to his contact in the Chilean Navy, Raúl Monsalve, in fact alerting him about Horman's whereabouts. Unfortunately, judge Jorge Zepeda never took Ray Davis's statement. As late as 2011, eight years having prosecuted Rafael González, Zepeda asked the U.S. authorities for the extradition of Davis, a request that as usual took a long time to be processed by Chilean courts. The answer from American authorities was that it was impossible to extradite Davis, since Davis was living in Santiago, Chile, and besides he had died on April 30, 2013, aged 88. Joyce Horman declared that judge Zepeda's gross blunder was "extraordinarily frustrating" and Peter Kornbluh pointed out how unbelievable it was that judge Jorge Zepeda was “working to get Davis extradited and he was literally less than a couple of miles down the road"
Jorge Zepeda Arancibia
Jorge Zepeda's handling of the investigation has come under severe criticism over the years. Among other things, Judge Zepeda is faulted for not investigating the absence of evidence when assigning responsibilities in the crime; for neglecting to investigate the role of the Chilean Navy in the incident; for not determining the place of death and, instead, issuing contradictory information about it, insinuating that the murder did not occur at the Estadio Nacional, but incongruously suggesting that Horman did die at the Estadio Nacional, reason for which he prosecuted Pedro Espinoza, whence another serious negligence occurred: he never summoned for questioning Chilean Army Major Carlos Meirelles Muller, formerly in charge of the Aliens section of the Estadio Nacional. "Regardless of whether Horman was or was not kept under arrest at the Stadium and whether the major in question had or had not influence in the fate of the foreign detainees, the least to be expected was to interrogate the person who formally was in charge of them. Such inquest is now impossible, because Meirelles died in 2011".
The inner inconsistency of Zepeda's theory regarding the crime has also attracted attention: he states, on the one hand, that "the decision to execute Charles Horman [...] was taken by Department II of Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional", headed by Navy Captain Ariel González Cornejo, who was among those accused in the lawsuit presented by Joyce Horman, but the judge never prosecuted him, not even as an accomplice or accessory after the fact.
The numerous contradictions of his rulings have also been objected to, e.g. when he affirms that Horman was arrested during a routine inspection in 1973, but, a bit later in his verdict, he assures that he was arrested thanks to the intelligence information provided by then (1987) CNI Director, Gen. Hugo Salas Wenzel.
The tendency to make all pieces fit together has also been called into question, e.g.when he mixes up the crime of Horman and of Frank Teruggi, the other American student killed after the coup, attributing both crimes to the same author, "arguing that the 'doings' of Teruggi also revolved around Chile Films. But Teruggi never had anything to do with Chile Films and Joyce Horman declared that [...] her husband never even met Teruggi. The following quote from the verdict shows clearly how far-fetched the mixture turned out: 'But Pero Octavio Espinoza Bravo [sic], this is, General Nicanor Díaz Estrada, all the foreign personnel had to be detained [sic]. At the same time, the doings of the second victim, U.S. citizen Krank[sic] Teruggi Bombatch, as well as the offended Charles Horman Lazar, revolves too around Chile Films”'(p. 203)".
Sometimes Zepeda's rulings have provoked surprise, as when for instance, on December 4, 2015, judge Zepeda issued his verdict on the acts of torture leading to the death of José Tohá, former Minister of Interior (between November 1970 and January 1972) and Minister of Defense (between January 1972 and July 1973). Judge Zepeda did not consider the tortures and death of a former minister serious enough to order jail time to former Chilean Air Force officers Ramón Cáceres Jorquera and Sergio Contreras Mejías, to whom he granted the benefit of serving their three-year sentence outside of prison.
However, the major controversies surrounding him have been related to cases of human rights violations, specifically arrests, tortures and deaths in Colonia Dignidad, being severely criticized by Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados Políticos (Association of Relatives of People Executed for Political Reasons), e.g for years he refused to make public the file cards of Colonia Dignidad claiming "reasons of National Security". According to the board of Colectivo Londres 38, during nine years these documents remained under judicial secrecy, without giving any reason as to the cause of such action "which only contributed to the concealment of information about the way in which repression took place, it restricted further knowledge of the truth about the crimes and paved the way for a persistent impunity".
In the case of Colonia Dignidad, the president of the Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados Políticos, Alicia Lira, declared that "as an association we have a negative opinion about judge Zepeda, because he has hampered the judicial process followed by Human Rights associations” 
Hernán Fernández, defense attorney of victims of sexual abuse by Paul Schäfer, declared that judge Jorge Zepeda "granted 'guaranteed impunity' to the delinquents" when he repealed the prosecution of Colonia Dignidad's leaders by illegal association, which was the original felony from which all others were derived. This measure by Zepeda "enabled the flight of many leaders to Germany, from where they cannot be extradited according to the constitution of that country", as he said in an interview given to La Nación in 2006". Colonia Dignidad is the same cult which was visited by Corvette Captain Raúl Monsalve, to whom he also granted impunity.
At the end of 2013 social pressure increased and Zepeda "started a slow process of delivery of information", telling the sites of memory and victims' relatives that he was willing to release information, but he sent misleading signals about the number of file cards, their relevance, about the existence (or not) of the intelligence report on the file cards, etc. In the investigations which Zepeda leads about Colonia Dignidad "everything is confusing", says Journalist Luis Narváez.
After the "No more secret files" campaign sustained by Londres 38, and other human rights associations, involving representatives of Chilean Congress, in 2014 Zepeda agreed to release 407 file cards to the relatives of executed and disappeared detainees, leaving more than thirty eight thousand other cards under secrecy though. It has been noticed that if the victims of Pinochet's dictatorship amount to around 4.000, the rest of the almost 40.000 file cards might contain information about those who provided support for Colonia Dignidad, from members of parliament, judges, big business, state services, police, armed forces, and many others who did business with them, buying and reselling their products, including arms, ammunition, dangerous chemicals, illegal adoptions, and money laundering.
Besides, the judge refused to release to the Human Rights National Institute (Spanish: Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos, or INDH) the analysis report of the file cards which he himself had ordered the leadership of Police Intelligence (Jipol) to perform during six months in 2005. Once the police had started to make progress, Zepeda stopped them and ordered absolute secret about it. All parties in the several Colonia Dignidad trials, including their lawyers, were also denied access to it. The INDH appealed to court to reverse Zepeda's decision. Following a public outcry, the press started an investigation about the file cards, finally finding 45.612 cards and giving them human to rights associations 
In 2014 the Asociación por la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos Colonia Dignidad, the Casa de la Conferencia de Wannsee (Alemania) and the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Chile) organized the First International Seminar on Colonia Dignidad, called "Colonia Dignidad: dialogues on truth, justice and memory", which resulted in the publication in 2015 of the book Colonia Dignidad: verdad, justicia y memoria. The book documented the crimes in Colonia Dignidad and their decades-long cover up by the judicial system and other branches of the state. In the chapter "The file cards of Colonia Dignidad: difficulties of access, quality of sources of informationand future projections", journalist Luis Narváez presented a detailed account of Zepeda's interventions in the Colonia Dignidad cases, describing his modus operandi as "secretive", always with the same court clerk and the same pair of members of JIPOL, Inspectors Jaime Carbone and Alberto Torres, both retired beforehand from the Police. Although several of Colonia Dignidad cases have been closed, judge Zepeda has kept in secret notebooks, inaccessible to everyone, relevant parts of the investigations.
According to Narváez, Zepeda's reaction to the discovery of the file cards by two police officers in 2005 shocked everyone: "he ordered the two police officers to be kept under arrest at the police station under suspicion of obstruction of justice" and prevented the squad investigating human rights violations from analyzing the cards. Instead, he ordered the cards to be taken to the central office of Jipol, the squad of inspectors Carbone and Torres. In 2007 Narváez formally requested access to the file cards, but Zepeda refused to disclose them. Once the case where the cards had been discovered was closed, Narváez requested access to the dossier, which was perfectly possible according to the criminal justice system's regulations, theory and custom, but Zepeda refused. At least until 2015 "the documentation is still inside the Jipol's vault".
Judge Zepeda has denied not only the press, victims' relatives and lawyers the access to the cards' content, but also to other judges "he has systematically denied their requests and is only open to release isolated cards referring to specific persons about which he might be asked". When Supreme Court President, Sergio Muñoz, proposed the creation of a software system which would allow all judges to look up all the dossiers, thus optimizing resources, saving time and preventing that several judges investigate what another judge had already clarified, Zepeda stood out for his vehemence in opposing the plan, arguing that it "threatened each tribunal's independence".
Ttrying to find a way of making progress in the quest of truth, justice and memory, the participants in the Colonia Dignidad seminar put forth several comments and suggestions. Firstly, they complained that "Judge Zepeda has monopolized the judicial investigations over most of Colonia Dignidad's crimes. For almost 10 years he has led these investigations in a slow and non-transparent manner, withour achieving satisfactory results" and among other things they reproach him for not having dug all those sites in Colonia Dignidad which had been pointed at by witnesses. Secondly, they made the following petition:
We propose to request the Supreme Court President that an investigation be made on judge Jorge Zepeda's responsibility in the concealment for nine years of the file-cards archive and the report written by the Police Intelligence Headquarter on the documents seized. All this material must be systematically analyzed and made available to all judges investigating cases of human rights violations, to human rights organizations and to society in general. We ask that a judge, who should not be Jorge Zepeda, investigate the location of the rest of the documents seized in 2005 and which do not correspond to the 46.000 cards digitally handed over to the INDH.— 
At the end of 2015, judge Jorge Zepeda was promoted to President of the Court of Appeals and in March 2016 he absolved all those accused of the death and enforced disappearance of American mathematician Boris Weisfeiler in the surroundings of Colonia Dignidad in 1985 and applied the statutes of limitation for the incident. To be able to do this, he also denied Weisfeiler's death was a crime against humanity, therefore it was not imprescriptible and could be subjected to the statute of limitations. According to Olga Weisfeiler, judge Zepeda refused to investigate the connection between Colonia Dignidad and her brother' death. She complained that “the judge slyly deceived us, me and the U.S. Embassy with his 'complete' investigation”.
To begin with, judge Zepeda affirmed to have read the translation into Spanish of the documents in English which were presented to him by the U.S. Embassy in Chile together with Olga Weisfeiler, Boris's sister. Later he acknowledged that they had not been translated, so he had not been able to read them. As a result of this negligence, in 2011 Zepeda informed the National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture Report (Comisión Valech) that the Weisfeiler case was not a human rights case, so the Comisión did not include it in its Report. In March 2016, to justify his application of the statute of limitations and the release of all those prosecuted, Zepeda argued that it was the Valech Commission who refused to categorize it as a human rights case. The U.S. Government, through its Ambassador in Chile, Mike Hammer, issued a press release stating that "The recent court ruling absolving the eight accused parties over a statute of limitations is a frustrating setback", but the U.S. Embassy in Chile would go on supporting the Weisfeiler family in its search of truth and justice. Boris Weisfeiler made remarkable contributions to the theory of algebraic groups and enjoyed a well-deserved professional prestige, so the Mathematical Society of Chile (Somachi) issued a public statement where they criticize judge Zepeda's verdict and call for a reopening of the case. They have been joined in their campaign by the American Mathematical Society  and the Committee of Concerned Scientists.
- 1970 Chilean presidential election
- Operation Condor
- U.S. intervention in Chile
- Chilean political scandals
- United States intervention in Chile#1973 coup
- Jeffrey Davidow
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