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Master strategist or master crook?
The Trial of Henry Kissinger, by Christopher Hitchens

Reviewed by Sreeram Chaulia

"Everything on paper will be used against me."
- Henry Kissinger, admonishing his State Department staff for writing memos on the illegality of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor in 1975.

The line separating a master statesman and a master thug is assumed to be of infinite length. This is not so in the case of Henry Kissinger, former US national security adviser and secretary of state. For myriad American diplomats, politicians and academicians, Kissinger is a living deity who personified realpolitik and shrewd tactical thinking, a genius practitioner who sits in the same pantheon as Bismarck, Castlereagh and Metternich. However, as new information leaks out every day about his misdeeds under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford (1969-76), only the ignoramus and the sycophant can glorify a man whose heartlessness and guile wrought terrible agony and human loss in the Third World.

Christopher Hitchens has pieced together some of the most odious of Kissinger's foreign policy wrongdoings in a bill of indictment that can be made the basis of prosecution for crimes against humanity, war crimes and offenses against international law. Aiming to affix direct responsibility and criminality, Hitchens has excluded material on Kissinger's crimes committed as part of a larger policymaking group, such as betrayal of Iraqi Kurds in 1974-5, support for apartheid South Africa to destabilize Angola, chairmanship of the presidential commission that sanctioned death squad murders in the Central American isthmus, and political protection for the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran that put thousands of innocent civilians through torturous meat grinders. The main investigation in the book is about those crimes for which Kissinger has complete or most significant culpability.

Double-crossing his way to power: The 1968 election
Unlike Zbigniew Brzezinski or Condoleezza Rice, Harvard professor Kissinger did not make it to the pinnacle of the foreign policy machinery through academic repute or connections with politicos. He rode to power by double crossing the Johnson-Humphrey administration in the Vietnam peace talks and passing confidential information on the details of LBJ's peace plan to the Nixon camp. Thus informed, Republicans counseled the South Vietnam negotiators in advance to reject the Democratic government's proposals by dangling the carrot of an even better peace plan if Nixon won the presidential election.

One of the factors propelling Humphrey's defeat in the closely fought election was the rebuff South Vietnam gave to LBJ's demarches. Kissinger was rewarded for this unconstitutional (the Logan Act in the US prohibits private diplomacy with a foreign power by any American citizen) and treacherous gambit as soon as Nixon came to power in 1969. A "mediocre and opportunist academic" (p.16) turned overnight into an international potentate and America's national security adviser. So adroitly had Kissinger disguised his cards that if Humphrey won, he would still have bagged a top position in the new Democratic regime.

Ravaging Indo-China
Soon after taking office, Kissinger embarked on a second round of protracted warfare, despite promising a "better peace" to the South Vietnamese before the election. When Charles de Gaulle asked him the reason for escalating punitive bombings that killed thousands of Vietnamese civilians, Kissinger replied, "A sudden withdrawal might give us a credibility problem." At one point, Kissinger angrily threatened to use thermonuclear weapons to obliterate the railway link between North Vietnam and China and flood the Viet Cong areas by target bombing irrigation dykes.

Kissinger intensified US air attacks in neighboring Laos and Cambodia, leading to a further loss of at least a million civilians. In April 1970, Kissinger was described by Nixon as "really having fun today" as more B52s raided Cambodia without US Congressional knowledge. Air Force Colonel Sitton recorded, "Not only was Henry carefully screening the raids, he was reading the raw intelligence on mission patterns." (p. 38) As late as 1975, when the US had disengaged from Vietnam, Kissinger pressured President Ford to sanction a "credibility enhancing" 15,000 pound bombing of Cambodia on the pretext of the Mayaguez ship incident. More than 35,500 Vietnamese civilians were separately murdered or kidnapped by the CIA's "Phoenix counter-guerrilla program" planned by Kissinger's top-secret "Forty Committee". When some of his own staff members leaked these illegal deeds to the press, a vindictive Kissinger telephoned FBI Director Edgar Hoover asking him to "follow it up as far as we can take it and destroy whoever did this if we can find him, no matter where he is". (p 42)

'Genocidal diplomacy' and coup in Bangladesh
The American consulate in East Pakistan sent a cable to the State Department in April 1971 stating starkly that Pakistani military brutalities had reached a crescendo, horrifying enough to be considered genocide. Direct evidence of aerial bombardment and mass killings of Bengalis by General Tikka Khan was available with US diplomats, thanks to a radio station they ran, despite Pakistan's ban on foreign media and press. But Kissinger was not to be moved. He sent a message to President Yahya Khan congratulating Pakistan for its "delicacy and tact" in the eastern wing of the country. Knowledge of Kissinger's secret diplomacy with China via Pakistani good offices and Nixon's "tilt" against India freed Pakistani army hotheads from any moderation or inhibition in pulverizing Bengalis. Many US foreign service officers protested in memos to Kissinger that he was backing a genocidal regime, only to have their ranks demoted in the bureaucratic ladder.

Kissinger nursed a deep grudge against Mujib-ur-Rehman, the freedom fighter who won Bangladesh independence with Indian help in December 1971. He began encouraging US spies and diplomats to contact Bangladeshi rightwing army officers who intended a coup. Junior and senior officer cadres plotting to overthrow Mujib checked with their US point persons in advance, and were told by "high circles" that the overthrow was "no problem". (p. 53) Predictably, US-Bangladesh and Pakistan-Bangladesh relations prospered from 1975 following Mujib's assassination, widespread human rights abuses against minorities and military capture of power in Dhaka.

Installing Pinochet in Chile
Kissinger once pooh-poohed Chile as a "dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica", but flexed his muscles and scheming mind as soon as Salvador Allende's government won the 1970 elections. Unknown to the US ambassador in Chile, Kissinger's Forty Committee authorized a "track two" policy of destabilization, kidnap and assassination designed to provoke a military coup. Fascist military plotters led by Roberto Viaux were supplied machine guns and tear gas grenades sent through US diplomatic pouches to carry out the murder of moderate army chief Rene Schneider. Hitchens quotes a newly declassified file where cable traffic from Washington to the assassins is recorded: "It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden." (p. 60) Though Schneider's murder did not have the desired effect of a military uprising against Allende, Viaux's group members were sent "hush money" through CIA agents to prevent them from implicating Kissinger.

From 1970 to 1973, Kissinger championed "close relations" with military dictatorships in Chile's neighborhood, a pressure tactic that ended in the dreaded Operation Condor raids. Covert anti-Allende propaganda and the artificially generated crisis environment in Santiago were achieved by the Forty Committee's Project FUBELT. Kissinger's warm welcome of Pinochet's September 11, 1973, coup and the subsequent reign of terror is only too well known to recount here. In 1976, Kissinger met Pinochet in the Chilean capital and assured him of continuing assistance thus: "My evaluation is that you are a victim of all leftwing groups around the world." (p. 70) The barbaric general who tortured thousands and has several international warrants for arrest and prosecution was to Kissinger a "victim"! Kissinger also advised Manuel Contreras, the infamous secret police chief of Pinochet who ran an empire based on human carnage, to continue the "good work".

Aiding fascist Greece and militarist Turkey in Cyprus
The legally elected president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, was viewed by fascist Greece as a hurdle to Athenian control of the disputed island. Kissinger was aware that the Greek fascists bankrolled Nixon's election campaigns and felt a natural sympathy for the retarded view that "Makarios was the cause of most of Cyprus' tensions". He had advance knowledge of the fascist plan to depose and kill Makarios. A US State Department order of 1974 stood in complete agreement with Greek fascist designs: "Remove Makarios once and for all and have Greece deal directly with Turkey over Cyprus' future." (p. 83) Immediately after Greece invaded Cyprus, Kissinger's office issued this statement: "In our view there has been no outside intervention."

Not to be outdone by Greece, Turkey conducted two retaliatory invasions to occupy 40 percent of Cyprus. This time, Kissinger exerted his influence very strongly to protect Ankara, a NATO ally and aid recipient, from US Congressional sanctions for this shameful violation of international law. Most of the human rights violations the Turkish army committed in Cyprus were achieved through US aid and ammunition. Once the findings of independent monitors laid the blame entirely on the Turkish and American governments, Kissinger did a crafty U-turn and claimed, "We knew the Soviets had told the Turks to invade." (p. 88) Turkey acting on Soviet behest in 1974 is a ridiculous notion without parallel!

Abetting ethnic cleansing in East Timor
On the very day that General Suharto's military invaded and vandalized East Timor in 1975, Kissinger told the media in Jakarta, "The United States understands Indonesia's position on the question." In December 1975, Kissinger chided his deputies in the State Department for including a legal opinion that the Indonesian invasion was a flouting of all norms of international law. He also authorized backdoor shipments of weapons to Indonesian militias who went on an extirpation spree against the Timorese people. Records of diplomatic meetings of the time show Kissinger irritated whenever his staff broached the fact that 90 percent of weapons used against Timorese were American. According to the CIA operations chief in Indonesia, "Without continued heavy US military support, the Indonesians might not have been able to pull off the invasion." On one occasion, Kissinger showed his utter disregard for human lives and American law, saying, "I know what the law is but how can it be in the US national interest for us to kick the Indonesians in the teeth?" (p.105)

Conniving in elimination of a journalist
Kissinger repeatedly tried to assist his fascist client government in Athens with the physical elimination of Greek journalist and rights activist Elias Demetracopoulos. Kissinger promised the contract killers "cooperation of various agencies of the US government" in a secret cable, mainly because Elias was investigating the links between the Forty Committee and the Greek junta. The journalist's knowledge of secret campaign donations from the Greek fascists to Nixon's party was also too uncomfortable a truth for Kissinger to sit silently by. Greece's ambassador in Washington recalled in his memoirs that the Greek desk of the US State Department, "One of Elias' most vitriolic enemies" sent him "useful advice on extermination". (p. 118) Kissinger's papers contain a secret file titled, "Acknowledging Mr Demetracopoulos' death in Athens prison." Elias survived the attempts on his life and is to this day trying to subpoena Kissinger for releasing the contents of this puzzling letter dated December 18, 1970.

The tightening noose
Kissinger Associates, a global consultancy firm, now operates on the strength of all the shady dealings its proprietor had with undemocratic regimes around the world. The CEO of Heinz credits Kissinger Associates for "helping with contacts in that shadowy world where that counts". (p. 121). Freeport McMoran and Daewoo gained access to oil and gas rights and plant construction privileges in the most repressive state of Indo-China, Myanmar, through Kissinger's exertions. Exploiting his excellent ties with Suharto's crony capitalist network, Kissinger helped another client close a deal for a 30-year lease of gold and copper mines on the Irian Jaya island of Indonesia. These acts of "consultancy" are the last straws on the camel's back as far as Kissinger's life mission goes. His public diplomacy between 1969 and 1976 laid the foundation for the present profits and commissions his firm earns by peddling "contacts".

So, will Kissinger Associates continue to perpetuate its owner's valueless and hideous foreign policy? Will the countless victims of Kissinger's greed and callousness remain un-rehabilitated? Hitchens believes that the noose is tightening around Kissinger. The Alien Tort Claims Act in America allows non-citizens to file cases against citizens for violations of a US treaty or other international law. Chilean relatives of Pinochet-era crimes are going ahead with suits against Kissinger. Sufferers in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam are also queuing to prosecute him. Judge Baltasar Garzon is trying to issue an arrest warrant for Kissinger if he sets foot on Spanish soil, and has requested Britain to detain and question Kissinger should he travel to London.

States are still hesitant to act against an establishment guru like Kissinger, but in the court of the people, he already stands convicted. Hitchens urges the American legal and human rights community to take the lead and also indict Kissinger for his violations of the US constitution on numerous occasions. A new documentary film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, is raising awareness about the ugly truths that Americans always suspected but lacked proof or courage to substantiate. Kissinger's days of innocent denial seem numbered.

Hitchens combines high quality investigation with mordant irony to make this a sensational book that exhorts the cloak of immunity to be removed from the high priest of impunity.

The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens, Verso Books, 2001, New York. ISBN: 1-85984-631-9. Price US$22, 159 pages

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Jan 11, 2003



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