Radical media, politics and culture.

Paul Cantor, "Charlie Horman, Sept. 11th... and Chile"

The Sunshine Grabber

Paul Cantor

Every year, around September 11, I feel the need to write something about Charlie. There are two reasons why.

First it is therapeutic. I find writing about him eases the pain. Second, I think it can help others better understand the significance of 9/11 to people in other countries.

Charlie, as you by now suspect, died in the aftermath of the September 11th attack. Actually, it would be more accurate to say he was one of the thousands who were killed. So what do I want to write about him this year?

Well, first of all he was my friend. Second, he was a New Yorker born and bred. Third, he was an only child. Fourth he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. Fifth he was a sensitive, caring, highly intelligent human being. Sixth he was a gifted writer who wrote a screenplay for an animated cartoon called the Sunshine Grabber.

The Sunshine Grabber destroys people for so much as thinking that they can make the world a warmer place in which to live. “He has fangs as long as Yak horns and yellow eyes. And if he hears anyone, anywhere in the world, talking about WARM PLACES, his ears wiggle and his nose twitches and he comes slinking and sliming around and GRABS them and so much for that person.”

Seventh, September 11th didn’t surprise Charlie. Rather, he saw it coming. Still, he didn’t think he might be one of its victims. Nor did I until I got the news that he was missing.

Then I had a nightmare. In the nightmare Charlie was being beaten and interrogated in a room with bare walls, a chair, and a metal bed frame. The questioning went on for a short time. After it was over Charlie was taken outside and shot. Later I learned that is the way things probably happened and that the person doing the questioning may well have been a US government operative.Here is what we know now: Charlie, or Charles Horman, had information indicating that the United States was directly involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile on September 11, 1973; he obtained that information from US government officials and intelligence operatives; Rafael Gonzalez, a 20 year veteran of the Chilean intelligence service, claims he was present when Charlie was interrogated and that an American was present as well; and finally, Charlie was killed in the National Stadium which was being used as a detention center one week after the coup and a number of days after US embassy officials were aware he had been arrested.

Therefore, it seems to me unlikely that he would have been shot unless some US government official acquiesced when the decision was made to kill him. On the other hand, it seems to me quite likely that President Nixon or his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, signaled the Chilean military that it would be a good thing if Charlie disappeared. Furthermore, anyone who has seen Costa Gavras Academy Award winning movie Missing or read Thomas Hauser’s book, The Execution of Charles Horman, on which it was based might easily come to the same conclusion.

After the coup Nixon and Kissinger supported the brutal military junta headed by Augusto Pinochet. The Pinochet regime, which held power from the 1973 1990, abolished elections, dissolved the Chilean congress, outlawed labor unions and political parties, burned books, and murdered thousands. Meanwhile, Covert Action in Chile 1963-1973, a staff report of the US Senate available on the web, detailed the role the Nixon administration played in destabilizing and then overthrowing the Allende government. Currently Pinochet is facing trial in Chile for human rights violations.

What would Charlie say today about all this if the dead could talk? Charlie, in addition to being a gifted writer and filmmaker, was a student of history. Therefore, I think he would say, “there is a thread that runs from before 9/11, 1973 to after 9/11, 2001. If we could trace that thread from one end to the other it would take us through the Nixon administration’s claims that it was promoting democracy in Chile to the Bush administrations claims that it is promoting democracy in Iraq.”

Then after pointing out many ways in which the two 9/11s are connected I think he would conclude by saying, “Chile was about copper. Iraq is about oil. Both, in other words, should be viewed as manifestations of the US’ desire to maintain hegemony and control of resources. Indeed the claim that either had anything at all to do with spreading democracy, human rights, or justice in the world is blatant nonsense. The truth is democracy, human rights and justice or the rule of law were victims of both 9/11s.

[Paul Cantor is a professor of economics who lived in Chile from 1971 to 1973.]