While the facts surrounding the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, must still be determined, one thing is clear: If it turns out that the killing was not justified, the law dictates that he is subject to being criminally indicted and also to being sued in a civil action for wrongful death by Brown’s survivors.
Not so, however, if the killing had come at the hands of the military or the CIA. In that case, the soldier or the CIA agent would be immune from criminal prosecution and civil suit, so long as they claimed that the killing took place as part of a “national-security” operation. Once their lawyers cited those two magical words, every judge in the land, both state and federal, would immediately slam down the gavel and declare “Case dismissed.”
Among the best examples of this immunity phenomenon involves the murder of two American men, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, during the Chilean coup in 1973, killings about which, owing to their importance even today.
Although the military and the CIA have long denied having directly participated in the murder of these two Americans, the great weight of the circumstantial evidence points in the direction of guilt, lies, and cover-ups. In fact, an official report that ultimately came out from the State Department, which had been kept secret for decades (on grounds of “national security”), disclosed that an official secret investigation had determined that U.S. intelligence had played a role in the murder of these two men.
The circumstantial evidence indicates that a U.S. military official, Ray Davis, who might well have been CIA operating under cover as a military officer, fingered Horman and Teruggi to his Chilean military counterparts to be executed, along with the thousands of innocent Chilean people who were being tortured and murdered by the military goons of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the military dictator who took power in the coup.
Why did the U.S. national-security state want Horman and Teruggi executed?
They had several strikes against them.
While coincidentally visiting the Chilean coastal town of Vina del Mar, where the coup originated, Horman had discovered evidence of U.S. participation in the coup, something that the Pentagon and CIA (and President Nixon) were determined to keep secret, on grounds of “national security.”
Horman and Teruggi were also leftists or socialists—that is, people who believed in such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and government subsidies. As such, they were highly supportive of the socialist agenda of Chilean President Salvador Allende, whose socialist and interventionist economic policies were similar to those of President Franklin Roosevelt.
The two men worked for a Chilean newspaper named Fin, which reported on U.S. involvement in Chilean affairs. In fact, as a journalist Horman was investigating the assassination of head of the Chilean military, Rene Schneider, who was opposed to a military coup. Schneider’s assassination had been, as it later turned out, secretly instigated and orchestrated by the CIA.
Horman and Teruggi also were opposed to the U.S. national-security state’s war on Vietnam, which made them “subversives” in the eyes of the FBI and national-security state officials.
What happened after that secret State Department investigation determined that the U.S. intelligence had snuffed out the lives of these two Americans?
No, there was no federal grand jury indictment. No, there was no request by U.S. officials to have Davis or anyone else prosecuted in Chile for the murders. There wasn’t even an official investigation to determine how high up the chain of command the orders to execute these two Americans went.
That’s because under U.S. national-security state doctrine, national-security state officials are held immune from any criminal action involving operations relating to “national security.” The mere mention of those two words is enough to foreclose any further investigation into the matter. The mere mention of “national security” removes the matters from the realm of criminal conduct.
When Horman’s widow filed suit in federal district court for wrongful death, the federal judiciary threw her case out of court. The judges said that she hadn’t provided enough evidence to permit the suit to go forward. They also wouldn’t permit her to take the depositions of the CIA and the Pentagon, unlike the police killing of Michael Brown, where the law enables Brown’s family members to depose the cop who did the killing plus everyone else that was involved in the shooting.
Where does the law provide for such immunity for the military and the CIA? Nowhere. It’s certainly not in the Constitution, which doesn’t even mention the magic term “national security.” The term provides an automatic wall of immunity that the Pentagon and the CIA have constructed around themselves, a wall that is honored and defended by the other three branches of the federal government, no doubt in recognition of the power that the Pentagon and the CIA wield in American life.
Michael Brown is dead but if the facts show that his killing was wrongful, at least there is a chance for justice in both the criminal-justice system and the civil-court system.
Unfortunately, owing to the omnipotent power of the national-security state apparatus in American life, the same does not hold true for the killings of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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