Henry Kissinger

‘If killing hundreds of thousands of innocent peasants by dropping millions of tons of bombs on undefended civilian targets is not a war crime, then there are no war crimes. If Kissinger is not responsible for these crimes, then there are no war criminals.’

*Fred Branfman in _Salon_ on Kissinger’s role in the bombing of Laos and Cambodia.*

Henry Kissinger may have one of the most recognized faces on the planet. Born in Germany, young Henry came to the US in 1938 as Hitler’s Nazi thugs were busy building the Third Reich. With his Teutonic bearing, marcelled hair and guttural, buzzsaw voice the former US official would have trouble being inconspicuous. Not that he’s tried – Dr K has not exactly kept his light under a bushel since he served as US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford between 1969 and 1977.

Now nearly 80, the ex-Harvard Prof is still full of brio and a force to be reckoned with. He is regularly invited to opine on CNN and ABC. His dyspeptic prose shows up in the pages of _Newsweek_ and the _Washington Post_ and his banal speeches to the corporate élite earn him $30,000 a pop. Kissinger is a man with connections and he’s made them pay. The client list of his New York-based consulting firm reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the world’s major corporations: Freeport-McMoRan, Volvo, Chase Manhattan, American Express. He is fêted in the salons of London and Los Angeles and has parlayed his statesmanship _shtick_ into a nice little earner – offering to ‘smooth and facilitate contact between multinational corporations and foreign governments’.

Kissinger’s recent corporate whoring has been sleazy but hardly criminal. In fact, a cynic would say it’s pretty routine stuff. Not so his past – and that is what’s coming back to haunt him. In an era where high-ranking politicians like the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the Serb assassin Slobodan Milosovic have been brought to book for their crimes against humanity, there is a growing international campaign to call Dr K to account. The case against him was recently boosted by the publication of _The Trial of Henry Kissinger_, journalist Christopher Hitchens’ masterful account of the man’s felonies.

And those there are aplenty. Evidence shows that Kissinger sabotaged the 1968 Vietnam peace talks which allowed the US-Vietnam War to drag on for another four years. Three million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans were killed in that conflict. There is also proof that Kissinger personally persuaded Nixon to extend the war to Cambodia and Laos which led to another million civilian deaths. The secret bombing raids were given nauseating code names like ‘Operation Breakfast’. After one raid, Nixon’s chief of staff HR Haldeman wrote in his diary: ‘Historic day, K’s “Operation Breakfast” finally came off at 2.00pm... K really excited... he came beaming in with the report, very productive.’ The raids killed 350,000 civilians in Laos and more than 600,000 in Cambodia.

The truth is out there, Henry – and it’s getting closer all the time. Last April, Kissinger was about to fly to London when he discovered that a Spanish judge and a French magistrate were both requesting permission from Britain to question him about ‘Operation Condor’ – a 1970s plan by seven South American dictatorships to wipe out leftist opposition in Latin America with behind-the-scenes support from Washington. The judges want to question Kissinger about the torture and illegal execution of French and Spanish citizens after the 1973 military coup in Chile.

Richard Nixon was especially annoyed by the 1970 election of the socialist, Salvador Allende, in Chile and he assigned Kissinger the job of getting rid of him. Dr K was chairman of the Forty Committee, a CIA working group whose task was to cause chaos inside the country which would lead to a military coup. After all, quipped Kissinger: ‘The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves... I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people.’

The first plan was to assassinate General René Schneider (a Chilean democrat who was opposed to military involvement in government) and pin it on the Left. Hitchens implicates Kissinger directly in this act of state terrorism. Schneider’s family is now pursuing the case through the courts. And the Chilean supreme court has also requested that Kissinger answer questions about the murder of Charles Horman, an American journalist arrested by Pinochet’s troops after the 1973 coup. The case was the subject of the award-wining 1983 film _Missing_.

And the charges don’t stop there. Hitchens outlines Dr K’s nefarious role in one bloodbath after another – from Cyprus to Angola to Bangladesh to East Timor. In the last case, the day after Kissinger and President Ford flew out of Jakarta on 6 December 1975 Indonesia launched a full-scale attack on the small island which left 200,000 dead. Before leaving, Kissinger told the Indonesian leader, General Suharto, that the US would not recognize East Timor’s independence claim –  effectively a green light for the invasion and brutal repression that followed.

For his part Dr K is mum about his past deeds. But he is clearly worried. ‘No-one can say that he served in an administration that did not make mistakes,’ he confessed recently. ‘The issue is whether 30 years after the event, courts are the appropriate means by which determination is made.’

Wake up, Henry. Pinochet was lucky to escape. Milosevic will get his due. Perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda are to be tried. There is a rising tide of global support for tribunals elsewhere – in Cambodia, East Timor and Sierra Leone. The real war criminals, the big boys who’ve so far been unaccountable, are finally getting their due.

The net is tightening, Henry. You can run, but you can’t hide.

New Internationalist issue 348 magazine cover This article is from the August 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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