Greece 1964-1974

"Fuck your Parliament and your Constitution,"
said the President of the United States

excerpted from the book

Killing Hope

by William Blum


"It's the best damn Government since Pericles," the American two-star General declared. (The news report did not mention whether he was chewing on a big fat cigar.)

The government, about which the good General was so ebullient, was that of the Colonels' junta which came to power in a military coup in April 1967, followed immediately by the traditional martial law, censorship, arrests, beatings, torture, and killings, the victims totaling some 8,000 in the first month. This was accompanied by the equally traditional declaration that this was all being done to save the nation from a "communist takeover". Corrupting and subversive influences in Greek life were to be removed. Among these were miniskirts, long hair, and foreign newspapers; church attendance for the young would be compulsory.

So brutal and so swift was the repression, that by September, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands were before the European Commission of Human Rights to accuse Greece of violating most of the Commission's conventions. Before the year was over Amnesty International had sent representatives to Greece to investigate the situation. From this came a report which asserted that "Torture as a deliberate practice is carried out by both Security Police and the Military Police."

The coup had taken place two days before the campaign for national elections was to begin, elections which appeared certain to bring the veteran liberal leader George Papandreou back as prime minister. Papandreou had been elected in February 1964 with the only outright majority in the history of modern Greek elections. The successful machinations to unseat him had begun immediately, a joint effort of the Royal Court, the Greek Military, and the American military and CIA stationed in Greece.

Philip Deane (the pen name of Gerassimos Gigantes) is a Greek, a former UN official, who worked during this period both for King Constantine and as an envoy to Washington for the Papandreou government. He has written an intimate account of the subtleties and the grossness of this conspiracy to undermine the government and enhance the position of the military plotters, and of the raw power exercised by the CIA in his country. ... Greece was looked upon much as a piece of property to be developed according to Washington's needs. A story related by Deane illustrates how this attitude was little changed, and thus the precariousness of Papandreou's position: During one of the perennial disputes between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus, which was now spilling over onto NATO, President Johnson summoned the Greek ambassador to tell him of Washington's "solution". The ambassador protested that it would be unacceptable to the Greek parliament and contrary to the Greek constitution. "Then listen to me, Mr. Ambassador," said the President of the United States, "fuck your Parliament and your Constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good.... We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about Democracy, Parliament and Constitutions, he, his Parliament and his Constitution may not last very long."

In July 1965, George Papandreou was finally maneuvered out of office by royal prerogative. The king had a coalition of breakaway Center Union Deputies (Papandreou's party) and rightists waiting in the wings to form a new government. It was later revealed by a State Department official that the CIA Chief-of-Station in Athens, John Maury, had "worked in behalf of the palace in 1965. He helped King Constantine buy Center Union Deputies so that the George Papandreou Government was toppled. For nearly two years thereafter, various short-lived cabinets ruled until it was no longer possible to avoid holding the elections prescribed by the constitution.

What concerned the opponents of George Papandreou most about him was his son Andreas Papandreou, who had been head of the economics department at the University of California at Berkeley and a minister in his father's cabinet, was destined for a leading role m the new government. But he was by no means the wide-eyed radical. In the United States Andreas had been an active supporter of such quintessential moderate liberals as Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey. His economic views, wrote Washington Post columnist Marquis Childs, were "those of the American New Deal".

But Andreas Papandreou did not disguise his wish to take Greece out of the cold war. He publicly questioned the wisdom of the country remaining in NATO, or at least remaining in It as a satellite of the United States. He leaned toward opening relations with the Soviet Union and other Communist countries on Greece's border. He argued that the swollen American military and intelligence teams in Greece compromised the nation's freedom of action. And he viewed the Greek Army as a threat to democracy, wishing to purge it if its most dictatorial- and royalist-minded senior officers.

Andreas Papandreou's bark was worse than his bite, as his later presidency was to amply demonstrate. (He did not, for example, pull Greece out of NATO or US bases out of Greece.) But in Lyndon Johnson's Washington, if you were not totally and unquestionably with us, you were agin' us. Johnson felt that Andreas, who had become a naturalized US citizen, had "betrayed America". Said LBJ:

"We gave the son of a bitch American citizenship, didn't we? He was an American, with all the rights and privileges. And he had sworn allegiance to the flag. And then he gave up his American citizenship. He went back to just being a Greek. You can't trust a man who breaks his oath of allegiance to the flag of these United States.

What, then, are we to make of the fact that Andreas Papandreou was later reported to have worked with the CIA in the early 1960s? (He criticized publication of the report, but did not deny the charge.) If true, it would not have been incompatible with being a liberal, particularly at that time. It was incompatible, as he subsequently learned, only with his commitment to a Greece independent from US foreign policy.

As for the elder Papandreou, his anti-communist credentials were impeccable, dating back to his role as a British-installed prime minister during the civil war against the left in 1944-45. But he, too, showed stirrings of independence from the Western superpower. He refused to buckle under Johnson's pressure to compromise with Turkey over Cyprus. He l accepted an invitation to visit Moscow, and when his government said that it would accept Soviet aid in preparation for a possible war with Turkey, the US Embassy demanded an explanation. Moreover, in an attempt to heal the old wounds of the civil war, Papandreou began to reintroduce certain civil liberties and to readmit into Greece some of those who had fought against the government in the civil war period.

When Andreas Papandreou assumed his ministerial duties in 1964 he was shocked to discover what was becoming a fact of life for every techno-industrial state in the world: an intelligence service gone wild, a shadow government with powers beyond the control of the nation's nominal leaders. This, thought Papandreou, unaccounted for many of the obstacles the government was encountering in trying to carry out its policies.


A CIA report dated 23 January 1967 had specifically named the Papadopoulos group as one plotting a coup, and was apparently one of the reports discussed at the February meeting.

Of the cabal of five officers which took power in April, four, reportedly, were intimately connected to the American military or to the CIA in Greece. The fifth man had been brought in because of the armored units he commanded. George Papadopoulos emerged as the defacto leader, taking the title prime minister later in the year.

The catchword amongst old hands at the US military mission in Greece was that Papadopoulos was " the first CIA agent to become Premier of a European country".


It was torture ... which most indelibly marked the seven-year Greek nightmare [under Papadopoulos]. James Becket, an American attorney sent to Greece by Amnesty International, wrote In December 1969 that "a conservative estimate would place at not less than two thousand" the number of people tortured. It was an odious task for Becket to talk to some of the victims:

"People had been mercilessly tortured simply for being in possession of a leaflet criticizing the regime. Brutality and cruelty on one side, frustration and helplessness on the other. They were being tortured and there was nothing to be done. It was like listening to a friend who has cancer. What comfort, what wise reflection can someone who is comfortable give. Torture might last a short time, but the person will never be the same."

Becket reported that some torturers had told prisoners that some of their equipment had come as US military aid: a special "thick white double cable" whip was one Item; another was the headscrew, known as an "iron wreath", which was progressively tightened around the head or ears.

The Amnesty delegation described a number of the other torture methods commonly employed. Among these were:

a) Beating the soles of the feet with a stick or pipe. After four months of this, the soles of one prisoner were covered with thick scar tissue. Another was crippled by broken bones.

b) Serious incidents of sexually-oriented torture: shoving or an object into the vagina and twisting and tearing brutally; also done with a tube inserted into the anus; or a tube is inserted into the anus and water driven in under very high pressure.

c) Techniques of gagging: the throat is grasped in such a way that the windpipe is cut off, or a filthy

rag, often soaked in urine, and sometimes excrement, is shoved down the throat.

d) Tearing out the hair from the head and the pubic region.

e) Jumping on the stomach.

f) Pulling out toe nails and finger nails.


The United States ... provided the junta with ample military hardware despite an official congressional embargo, as well as the police equipment required by the Greek authorities to maintain their rigid control.

In an attempt to formally end the embargo, the Nixon administration asked Papadopoulos to make some gesture towards constitutional government which the White House could then point to. The Greek prime minister was to be assured, said a secret White House document, that the administration would take "at face value and accept without reservation" any such gesture.

US Vice-president Spiro Agnew, on a visit to the land of his ancestors, was moved to exalt the "achievements" of the Greek government and its "constant co-operation with US needs and wishes". One of the satisfied needs Agnew may have had in mind was the contribution of $549,000 made by the junta to the 1968 Nixon-Agnew election campaign. Apart from any other consideration, it was suspected that this was money given to the junta by the CIA finding its way back to Washington. A Senate investigation of this question was abruptly canceled at the direct request of Henry Kissinger.

Perhaps nothing better captures the mystique of the bond felt by the Greeks to their American guardians than the story related about Chief Inspector Basil Lambrou, one of Athens well-known torturers:

"Hundreds of prisoners have listened to the little speech given by Inspector Basil Lambrou, who sits behind his desk which displays the red, white, and blue clasped-hand symbol of American aid. He tries to show the prisoner the absolute futility of resistance 'You make yourself ridiculous by thinking you can do anything. The world is divided in two. There are the communists on that side and on this side the free world. The Russians and the Americans, no one else. What are we. Americans. Behind me there is the government, behind the government is NATO, behind NATO is the U.S You can't fight us, we are Americans."

Amnesty International adds that some torturers would tell their victims things like "The Human Rights Commission can't help you now ... The Red Cross can do nothing for you. Tell them all, it will do no good, you are helpless." "The torturers from the start," said Amnesty, "had said that the United States supported them and that was what counted."

In November 1973, a falling-out within the Greek inner circle culminated in the ousting of Papadopoulos and his replacement by Col. Demetrios loannidis, Commander of the Military Police, torturer, graduate of American training in anti-subversive techniques, confidant of the CIA. loannidis named as prime minister a Greek-American, A. Androutsopoulos, who came to Greece after the Second World War as an official employee of the CIA, a fact of which Mr. Androutsopoulos had often boasted.

Eight months later, the loannidis regime overthrew the government of Cyprus. It was a fatal miscalculation. Turkey invaded Cyprus and the reverberations in Athens resulted in the military giving way to a civilian government. The Greek nightmare had come to an end.

Much of the story of American complicity in the 1967 coup and its aftermath may never be known. At the trials held in 1975 of junta members and torturers, many witnesses made reference to the American role. This may have been the reason a separate investigation of this aspect was scheduled to be undertaken by the Greek Court of Appeals. But it appears that no information resulting from this inquiry, if it actually took place, was ever announced. Philip Deane, upon returning to Greece several months after the civilian government took over, was told by leading politicians that "for the sake of preserving good relations with the US, the evidence of US complicity will not be made fully public".

Andreas Papandreou had been arrested at the time of the coup and held in prison for eight months. Shortly after his release, he and his wife Margaret visited the American ambassador, Phillips Talbot, in Athens. Papandreou related the following:

"I asked Talbot whether America could have intervened the night of the coup, to prevent the death of democracy in Greece. He denied that they could have done anything about lt. Then Margaret asked a critical question What if the coup had been a Communist or a Leftist coup? Talbot answered without hesitation. Then, of course, they would have intervened, and they would have crushed the coup."

Killing Hope