The Case against Henry Kissinger
The making of a war criminal
By Christopher Hitchens
(Excerpt quoted from Part One of Christopher Hitchens` Report The Case against Henry Kissinger, The Making of a War Criminal, in
Harper`s Magazine, February 2001)
THE 1968 ELECTION * INDOCHINA * CHILE
It will become clear, and may as well be stated at the outset,
that this is written by a political opponent of Henry Kissinger. Nonetheless, I have found myself continually amazed at how much hostile and discreditable material I have felt compelled to omit. I am concerned only with those Kissingerian offenses that might or should form the basis at a legal prosecution: for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.
Thus, I might have mentioned Kissinger`s recruitment and betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds, who were falsely encouraged by him to take up arms against Saddam Hussein in 1972-75, and who were then abandoned to extermination on their hillsides when Saddam Hussein made a diplomatic deal with the Shah of Iran, and who were deliberately lied to as well as abandoned. The conclusions of the report by Congressman Otis Pike still make
shocking reading and reveal on Kissinger`s part a callous indifference to human life and human rights. But they fall into the category of depraved realpolitik and do not seem to have violated any known law.
In the same way, Kissinger`s orchestration of political and military and diplomatic cover for apartheid in South Africa presents us with a morally repulsive record and includes the appalling consequences of the destabilization of Angola. Again,
though, one is looking at a sordid period of Cold War and imperial history, and an exercise of irresponsible power, rather than an episode of organized crime. Additionally, one must take into account the institutional nature of this policy, which might in outline have been followed under any administration, national security adviser, or secretary of state.
Similar reservations can be held about Kissinger`s
chairmanship of the Presidential Commission on Central America in the early 1980s, which was staffed by Oliver North and which whitewashed death-squad activity on the isthmus. Or about the political protection provided by Kissinger, while in office, for the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran and its machinery of torture and repression. The list, it is sobering to say, could be protracted very much further. But it will not do to blame the whole exorbitant cruelty and cynicism of decades on one man.
(Occasionally one gets an intriguing glimpse, as when Kissinger urges President Ford not to receive the inconvenient Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, all the while posing as Communism`s most daring and principled foe.)
No, I have confined myself to the identifiable crimes that can and should be placed on a proper bill of indictment, whether the actions taken were in line with general »policy« or not. These
include, in this installment, the deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina and the personal suborning and planning of murder of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation - Chile - with which the United States was not at war. In a second installment we will see that this criminal habit of mind extends to Bangladesh, Cyprus, East Timor, and even to Washington, D.C.
Some of these allegations can be constructed only prima facie,
since Mr. Kissinger - in what may also amount to a deliberate and premeditated obstruction of justice - has caused large tranches of evidence to be withheld or possibly destroyed. We now, however, enter upon the age when the defense of »sovereign immunity« for state crimes has been held to be void. As I demonstrate below, Kissinger has understood this decisive change even if many of his critics have not. The House of Lords` ruling in London, on the international relevance of General
Augusto Pinochet`s crimes, added to the splendid activism of the Spanish magistracy and the verdicts of the International Tribunal at The Hague, has destroyed the shield that immunized crimes committed under the justification of raison d`etat. There is now no reason why a warrant for the trial of Kissinger may not be issued in any one of a number of jurisdictions and no reason why he may not be compelled to answer it. Indeed, as I write, there are a number of jurisdictions where the law is at
long last beginning to catch up with the evidence. And we have before us in any case the Nuremberg precedent, by which the United States solemnly undertook to be bound.
A failure to proceed will constitute a double or triple offense to justice. First, it will violate the essential and now uncontested principle that not even the most powerful are above the law. Second, it will suggest that prosecutions for war crimes and
crimes against humanity are reserved for losers, or for minor despots in relatively negligible countries. This in turn will lead to the palmy politicization of what could have been a noble process and to the justifiable suspicion of double standards. Many if not most of Kissinger`s partners in politics, from Greece to Chile to Argentina to Indonesia, are now in jail or awaiting trial. His own lonely impunity is rank; it smells to heaven. If it is
allowed to persist then we shall shamefully vindicate the ancient philosopher Anacharsis, who maintained that laws were like cobwebs - strong enough to detain only the weak and too weak to hold the strong. In the name of innumerable victims known and unknown, it is time for justice to take a hand.
On December 2, 1998, Michael Korda was being interviewed on camera in his office at Simon & Schuster. As one of the reigning magnates of New York publishing, he had edited and
»produced« the work of authors as various as Tennessee Williams, Richard Nixon, Joan Crawford, and Joe Bonanno. On this particular day, he was talking about the life and thoughts of Cher, whose portrait adorned the wall behind him. And then the telephone rang and there was a message to call »Dr.« Henry Kissinger as soon as possible. A polymath like Korda knows - what with the exigencies of publishing in these vertiginous days - how to switch in an instant between Cher and high statecraft.
The camera kept running, and recorded the following scene for a tape that I possess: Asking his secretary to get the number (759- 7919 - the digits of Kissinger Associates), Korda quips dryly, to general laughter in the office, that it »should be 1-800-CAMBODIA... 1-800- BOMB-CAMBODIA«. After a pause of nicely calibrated duration (no senior editor likes to be put on hold while he`s receiving company, especially media company) it`s »Henry - Hi, how are you?... You're getting all the publicity
you could want in the New York Times but not the kind you want... I also think it`s very, very dubious for the administration to simply say yes, they`ll release these papers... no... no, absolutely... no... no ...well, hmmm, yeah. We did it until quite recently, frankly, and he did prevail... Well, I don't think there's any question about that, as uncomfortable as it may be... Henry, this is totally outrageous... yeah... also the jurisdiction.
This is a Spanish judge appealing to an English court about a Chilean head of state. So it's, it... Also, Spain has no rational jurisdiction over events in Chile anyway, so that makes absolutely no sense ...Well, that's probably true... If you would. I think that would be by far and away the best... Right, yeah, no, I think it's exactly what you should do, and I don't think it should be long, and I think it should end with your father`s
letter. I think it`s a very important document... Yes, but I think the letter is wonderful, and central to the entire book. Can you let me read the Lebanon chapter over the weekend?« At this point the conversation ends, with some jocular observations by Korda about his upcoming colonoscopy: »a totally repulsive procedure«.
By means of the same tiny internal camera, or its forensic equivalent, one could deduce not a little about the world of
Henry Kissinger from this microcosmic exchange. The first and most important is this: Sitting in his oflice at Kissinger Associates, with its tentacles of business and consultancy stretching from Belgrade to Beijing, and cushioned by innumerable other directorships and boards, he still shudders when he hears of the arrest of a dictator. Syncopated the conversation with Korda may be, but it`s clear that the keyword is »jurisdiction«. What had the New York Times been reporting
that fine morning! On December 2, 1998, its front page carried the following report From Tim Weiner, the paper's national-security correspondent in Washington. Under the head-line »U.S. Will Release Files on Crimes Under Pinochet«, he wrote:
»Treading into a political and diplomatic confrontation it tried to avoid, the United States decided today to declassify some secret documents on the killings and torture committed during the
dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile.... The decision to release such documents is the first sign that the United States will cooperate in the case against General Pinochet. Clinton Administration officials said they believe the benefits of openness in human rights cases outweighed the risks to national security in this case. But the decision could open »a can of worms«, in the words of a former Central Intelligence Agency official stationed in
Chile, exposing the depth of the knowledge that the United States had about crimes charged against the Pinochet Government....
While some European government officials have supported bringing the former dictator to court, United States officials have stayed largely silent, reflecting skepticism about the Spanish court`s power, doubts about international tribunals aimed at former foreign rulers, and worries over the implications for
American leaders who might someday also be accused in foreign countries. [Italics added.J
President Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger, who served as his national security advisor and Secretary of State, supported a right-wing coup in Chile in the early 1970s, previously declassified documents show.
But many of the actions of the United States during the 1973 coup, and much of what American leaders and intelligence
services did in liaison with the Pinochet Government after it seized power, remain under the seal of national security. The secret files on the Pinochet regime are held by the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the National Archives, the Presidential libraries of Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, and other Government agencies. According to Justice Department records, these 6les contain a history of human rights abuses and
- In 1975 State Department diplomats in Chile protested the Pinochet regime`s record of killing and torture, filing dissents to American foreign policy with their superiors in Washington.
- The C.I.A. has files on assassinations by the regime and the Chilean secret police. The intelligence agency also has records on Chile`s attempts to establish an international right-wing covert-action squad.
- The Ford Library contains many of Mr. Kissinger`s secret files on Chile, which have never been made public. Through a secretary, Mr. Kissinger declined a request for an interview today.«
One must credit Kissinger with grasping what so many other people did not: that if the Pinochet precedent became established, then he himself was in some danger. The United States believes that it alone pursues and indicts war criminals
and »international terrorists«; nothing in its political or journalistic culture yet allows for the thought that it might be harboring and sheltering such a senior one. Yet the thought had very obliquely surfaced in Weiner`s story, and Kissinger was a worried man when he called his editor that day to discuss the concluding volume of his memoirs (eventually published under the unbearably dull and self-regarding title Years of Renewal), which was still in progress.
»Harboring and sheltering«, though, are understatements for the lavishness of Henry Kissinger`s circumstances. His advice is sought, at $30,000 an appearance, by audiences of businessmen and academics and policymakers. His turgid newspaper column is syndicated by the Los Angeles Times and appears as far afield as the Washington Post. His first volume of memoirs was in part written, and also edited, by Harold Evans, who with Tina Brown is among the many hosts and hostesses
who solicit Kissinger`s company, or perhaps one should say society, for their New York soirees. At different times, he has been a consultant to ABC News and CBS; his most successful diplomacy, indeed, has probably been conducted with the media (and his single greatest achievement has been to get almost everybody to call him »Doctor«). Fawned on by Ted Koppel, sought out by corporations and despots with »image« problems or »failures of communication«, and given respectful attention
by presidential candidates and those whose task it is to »mold« their global vision, this man wants for little in the pathetic universe that the »self-esteem« industry exists to serve. Of whom else would Norman Pcdhoretz write, in a bended-knee encomium to the second volume of Kissinger's memoirs, Years of Upheaval:
»What we have here is writing of the very highest order. It is writing that is equally at ease in portraiture and abstract analysis;
that can shape a narrative as skillfully as it can paint a scene; that can achieve marvels of compression while moving at an expansive and leisurely pace. It is writing that can shift without strain or falsity of tone from the gravitas befitting a book about great historical events to the humor and irony dictated by an unfailing sense of human proportion.«
A critic who can suck like that, as was once dryly said by one of
my moral tutors, need never dine alone. Nor need his subject. Except that, every now and then, the recipient (and donor) of so much sycophancy feels a tremor of anxiety. He leaves the well-furnished table and scurries to the bathroom. Is it perhaps another disclosure on a newly released Nixon tape! Some stray news from Indonesia portending the fall or imprisonment of another patron (and perhaps the escape of an awkward document or two)? The arrest or indictment of a torturer or
assassin; the expiry of the statute of secrecy for some obscure cabinet papers in a faraway country? Any one of these can instantly spoil his day. As we see from the Korda tape, Kissinger cannot open the morning paper with the assurance of tranquillity. Because he knows what others can only suspect, or guess at. And he is a prisoner of the knowledge, as, to some extent, are we.
Notice the likable way in which Michael Korda demonstrates his
broad-mindedness with the Cambodia jest. Everybody »knows«, after all, that Kissinger inflicted terror and misery and mass death on that country, and great injury to the United States Constitution at the same time. (Everybody also »knows« that other vulnerable nations can lay claim to the same melancholy and hateful distinction as Cambodia, with incremental or »collateral« damage to American democracy keeping pace.) Yet the pudgy man standing in black tie at the
Vogue party is not, surely, the man who ordered and sanctioned the destruction of civilian populations, the assassination of inconvenient politicians, the kidnapping and disappearance of soldiers and journalists and clerics who got in his way. Oh, but he is. He`s exactly the same man. And that may be among the most nauseating reflections of all. Kissinger is not invited and feted because of his exquisite manners or his mordant wit (his manners are in any case rather gross, and his
wit consists of a quiver of borrowed and secondhand darts). No, he is sought after because his presence supplies a frisson, the authentic touch of raw and unapologetic power. There`s a slight guilty nervousness on the edge of Korda`s gag about the indescribable sufferings of Indochina. And I`ve noticed, time and again, standing at the back of the audience during Kissinger speeches, that laughter of the nervous, uneasy kind is the sort of laughter he likes to provoke. In exacting this tribute,
he flaunts not the »aphrodisiac« of power (another of his plagiarized bons mots) but its pornography.
(Excerpt quoted from Part One of Christopher Hitchens` Report The Case against Henry Kissinger, The Making of a War Criminal, in Harper`s Magazine, February 2001)
See also Encyclopedia Britannica on Kissinger