by Christopher Hitchins
The Nation magazine, June 25, 2001
It was, take it for all in all, a near-faultless headline:
HENRY KISSINGER RATTRAPE AU RITZ, A PARIS, PAR LES FANTOMES DU
PLAN CONDOR. I especially liked the accidental synonymy of the
verb rattraper. What a rat. And such a trap. It was in this fashion
that the front page of the Paris daily Le Monde informed its readers
that on Memorial Day the gendarmes had gone round to the Ritz
Hotel-flagship of Mohamed Al Fayed's fleet of properties-with
a summons from Judge Roger Le Loire inviting the famous rodent
to attend at the Palace of Justice the following day. In what
must have been one of the most unpleasant moments of his career,
noted Le Monde, the hotel manager had to translate the summons
to his distinguished guest. Kissinger left the hotel, surrounded
by bodyguards, and later announced that he had no desire to answer
questions about Operation Condor. He then left town.
Operation Condor [see Peter Kornbluh, "Kissinger and
Pinochet," March 29,1999, and "Chile Declassified,"
August 9/16, 1999] was a coordinated effort in the 1970s by the
secret police forces of seven South American dictatorships. The
death squads of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador
and Bolivia agreed to pool resources and to hunt down, torture,
murder and otherwise "disappear" one another's dissidents.
They did this not just on their own soil but as far away as Rome
and Washington, where assassins and car-bombs were deployed to
maim Christian Democratic Senator Bernardo Leighton in 1975 and
to murder the Socialist Orlando Letelier in 1976. The Pinochet
regime was to the fore in this internationalization of state terror
tactics, and its secret police chief, Col. Manuel Contreras, was
especially inventive and energetic.
Thanks to the efforts of Representative Maurice Hinchey, who
attached an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act last
year, we now know that this seven-nation alliance had a senior
partner. At all material times, those directing the work of US
intelligence knew of Operation Condor and assisted its activities.
And at all material times, the chairman of the supervising "Forty
Committee," and the key member of the Interagency Committee
on Chile, was Henry Kissinger. It was on his watch that the FBI
helped Pinochet to identify and arrest Jorge Isaac Fuentes de
Alarcon, a Chilean oppositionist who was first detained and tortured
in Paraguay and then turned over to Contreras and "disappeared."
Contreras himself was paid a CIA stipend. Other Condor leaders
were promised US cooperation in the surveillance of inconvenient
exiles living in the United States.
Judge Roger Le Loire has had documents to this effect on his
desk for some time and is investigating the fate of five missing
French citizens in Chile during the relevant period. He has already
issued an arrest warrant for General Pinochet. But he understands
that the inquiry can go no further until US government figures
agree to answer questions. In refusing to do this, Kissinger received
the shameful support of the US Embassy in Paris and the State
Department, which coldly advised the French to go through bureaucratic
channels in seeking information. Judge Le Loire replied that he
had already written to Washington in 1999, during the Clinton
years, but had received no response.
On the Friday immediately preceding Memorial Day, another
magistrate in a democratic country made an identical request.
In order to discover what happened to so many people during the
years of Condor terror, said Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba
Corral, it would be necessary to secure a deposition from Kissinger.
And on June 4 the Chilean judge Juan Guzman Tapia asked US authorities
to question Kissinger about the disappearance of the American
citizen Charles Horman, murdered by Pinochet's agents in 1973
and subject of the Costa-Gavras movie Missing (as well as an occasional
Nation correspondent). So that, in effect, we have a situation
in which the Bush regime is sheltering a man who is wanted for
questioning on two continents.
Partly because I have written a short book pointing this out,
I have recently been interviewed by French, British and Spanish
radio and TV. Indeed, if it wasn't for that, I might not have
learned of Kissinger's local and international difficulties for
some days. The Financial Times carried a solid story on the Paris
episode, with some background, the day after Le Monde. But in
the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post-not
a line. And where were Messrs. Koppel and Lehrer? They usually
find the views of "Henry" to be worthy of respectful
attention. I admit my own interest, but I still feel able to ask:
By whose definition is Kissinger's moment at the Ritz not news?
It is, meanwhile, practically impossible to open the New York
Times without reading a solemn admonition, either from the Administration
or from the paper itself. Colin Powell lectures Robert Mugabe.
George Bush takes a high moral tone with Serbia. All are agreed
that wanted men should be given up to international law. All are
agreed that however painful the task, other societies must face
their own past and shoulder their own grave responsibilities.
For a long time I have found it somewhat surreal to read this
righteous material, but the experience of ingesting it now becomes
more emetic every day.
The seven Condor countries, groping their way back to democracy
after decades of trauma, are making brave and honest attempts
to find the truth and to punish the guilty. Time and again, commissions
of inquiry have been frustrated because the evidence they need
is in archives in Washington. And it is in those archives for
the unspeakable reason that the United States was the patron and
armorer of dictatorship. There is a heavy debt here. Is there
not a single Congressional committee, a single principled district
attorney, a single leader in our overfed and complacent "human
rights community," who will try to help cancel it? Or are
we going to watch while the relatives of the murdered and tortured
seek justice by lawful means, and are waved away by armed bodyguards
if they even try to serve a scrap of paper on the man whose immunity
befouls us all?
International War Crimes