Take Him Away
by Doug Ireland
In These Times magazine, August 2001
The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens, Verso
Twenty-seven years after Richard Nixon was chased from the
White House by a nation sickened by his crimes, the architect
and author of some of that administration's most heinous and felonious
acts still walks among us, fawned upon by the business, policy
and academic establishments, lavishly paid for his pronouncements,
consulting for the likes of CBS and ABC News, even cavorting with
Jay Leno, and, above all, making multiple fortunes as consigliere
to the world's most rapacious and iniquitous multinational corporations.
Even supposedly sophisticated Americans seem to have forgotten
just how sanguineous the consequences of the Nixon-Kissinger tandem
were for the unfortunate people of places like Chile, Bangladesh,
Iran, East Timor and Cyprus, not to mention Indochina. Fortunately,
Henry Kissinger has now met his match in Christopher Hitchens.
The Trial of Henry Kissinger begins by recounting Kissinger's
role as a double agent in the Republican destabilization of Paris
peace negotiations on Vietnam-engaged in by the administration
of Lyndon Johnson-during Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. No
less an establishment figure than Richard Holbrooke (then a senior
LBJ negotiator) says that "Henry was the only person outside
of the government we were authorized to discuss the negotiations
with.... It is not stretching the truth to say the Nixon campaign
had a secret source within the U.S. negotiating team."
At the same time, Dr. K was advising the Nixon camp on how
to scuttle the talks, which they did by using a "back channel"-the
infamous "Dragon Lady," Anna Chennault-to get the South
Vietnamese to "hold on" and refuse the Johnson proposal.
"One has to pause for an instant to comprehend the enormity
of this," Hitchens writes. "Kissinger had helped elect
a man who had surreptitiously promised the South Vietnamese junta
a better deal than they would get from the Democrats. The Saigon
authorities then acted, as Johnson advisor William Bundy ruefully
confirms, as if they did indeed have a deal. This meant ... four
more years of an unwinnable and undeclared and murderous war,
which was to spread before it burned out, and was to end on the
same terms and conditions as had been on the table in 1968."
Once ensconced in the White House as Nixon's foreign policy
right hand (he was, as Hitchens underscores, Nixon's "very
first appointment"), Kissinger was deeply involved in micromanaging
the war. Hitchens demonstrates by a masterful synthesis of various
sources-the work of the respected historian Lawrence Lifschultz,
the annotated diaries of Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman,
(partially) declassified government documents, interviews with
surviving witnesses-that Kissinger was directly responsible for
deliberate massacres of civilians, from the notorious "pacification"
campaigns like Operation Speedy Express (in which at least 10,000
Vietnamese villagers were killed) to the secret bombings of Laos
and Cambodia, which were given the repulsive code names "Breakfast,"
"Lunch," "Snack," "Dinner" and "Dessert."
Thus Haldeman's diary records for March, 17, 1969: "Historic
day. K's 'Operation Breakfast' finally came off at 2.00 PM ...
K really excited, as was P[resident]"; or again the next
day, "K's 'Operation Breakfast' a great success. He came
beaming in with the report, very productive." These bombing
raids caused at least 350,000 civilian deaths in Laos and 600,000
more in Cambodia.
Then came Chile. In September 1910, that country chose as
its president the Socialist Salvador Allende, who was anathema
to the multinationals doing business there like ITT, Pepsi and
Chase Manhattan-Nixon supporters all. Kissinger "had previously
neither known nor cared about Chile, describing it offhandedly
as 'a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica,' " but he
lost no opportunity to curry favor with Nixon by making Allende
a priority target. At an Oval Office meeting with Kissinger and
CIA Director Richard Helms, Nixon snarled his wishes for Allende's
elimination. From Helms' contemporaneous notes of the meeting:
"Not concerned risks involved. No involvement of embassy.
$10,000,000 available, more if necessary.... Make the economy
scream. 48 hours for plan of action."
As chairman of the Forty Committee, Kissinger not only oversaw
spurred on the formation of a working group at CIA headquarters
whose purpose was "a strategy of destabilization, kidnap,
and assassination designed to provoke a military coup" against
The first step in this plan was to get rid of the chief of
the Chilean General Staff, Gen. Rene Schneider, a conservative
who was nonetheless opposed to any military meddling in the electoral
process. The CIA put a price on Schneider's head, offering $50,000
to any Chilean officers willing to kidnap him; Helms later said
that "we tried to make clear to Kissinger how small the possibility
of success was," but Dr. K ordered them to press on. After
the first attempt to grab Schneider failed, CIA cabled its Santiago
station demanding urgent action, since "Headquarters must
respond ... to queries from high levels." The ClA's director
of covert operations, Thomas Karamessines, later testified to
the Senate Intelligence Committee that "high levels"
referred directly to Kissinger.
After yet another bungled kidnapping attempt, Schneider was
finally murdered on October 22, 1970. Three more years of meticulously
managed sabotage of Chile's entrenched democratic tradition culminated
in Allende's death in the coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet on
September 11, 1973.
Much of this information has already come out in dribs and
drabs over the years; it is Hitchens' merit that he assembles
it all with prosecutorial skill aimed unerringly at his target.
But he also raises the veil on a number of episodes that have
received little or no attention.
Take for example the July 1974 coup in Cyprus, mounted by
the junta then in power in Greece, that toppled and exiled the
Cypriot president, Archbishop Makarios, and triggered a Turkish
invasion that keeps the island bitterly I divided to this day.
Hitchens shows how Kissinger "made himself an accomplice
in a plan of political assassination [of Makarios] which, when
it went awry, led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, the
violent uprooting of almost 200,000 refugees, and the creation
of an unjust j and unstable amputation of Cyprus l which constitutes
a serious threat to | peace a full quarter-century later."
Kissinger later claimed he never knew that a coup was in the
works. In fact he had multiple warnings-from his own State Department
Cyprus desk, from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
J. William Fulbright, and even from the National Intelligence
Daily. Indeed, the head of the Greek armed forces, Gen. Grigorios
Bonanos, wrote in his 1986 memoir that a message of "approval
and support" for the coup was received from Nixon and Kissinger's
chosen intermediary with the Greek junta, Thomas Pappas.
Pappas was a conservative Greek -American businessman who
had endeared himself to Nixon by delivering a contribution of
$549,000-in cash-to John Mitchell for Nixon's 1968 campaign. The
money came directly from the KYP, the Greek equivalent of the
"Its receipt was doubly illegal," Hitchens notes.
"Foreign governments are prohibited from making campaign
donations ... and given that the KYP was in receipt of CIA subsidies
there existed the further danger that American intelligence money
was being recycled back into the American political process-in
direct violation of the ClA's own charter."
Exiled Greek journalist Elias P. Demetracopoulos, a foe of
the fascist junta in Athens who had briefed Fulbright on the Cyprus
coup, provided this information to Democratic National Committee
Chairman Larry O'Brien, who publicly called for an investigation.
Was it information on this "Greek connection" that motivated
Nixon's burglars to break into O'Brien's office at the Watergate?
As Hitchens puts it, "Considerable weight is lent to this
view by one salient fact: When the Nixon White House was seeking
'hush money' for the burglars, it turned to Thomas Pappas to provide
Hitchens' chapter on a plot to kidnap Demetracopoulos from
Washington and murder the thorny journalist breaks new ground.
The Greek ambassador to Washington at the time has said that Kissinger
was "fully aware of the proposed operation" and "most
probably willing to act as its umbrella." But Kissinger personally
intervened with Sen. Frank Church to squelch any investigation
of the plot by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the (unspecified)
grounds of "national security."
In an afterword titled "The Profit Margin," Hitchens
shows how "there is a perfect congruence between Kissinger's
foreign policy counsel and his own business connections."
For example, Kissinger was a staunch defender of the People's
Republic of China in the wake of the massacre in and around Tienanmen
Square in June 1989, writing that "no government in the world
would have tolerated having the main square of its capital occupied
for eight weeks by tens of thousands of demonstrators."
While the client list of Dr. K's consulting firm, Kissinger
Associates, is secret-indeed, "contracts with 'the Associates'
contain a clause prohibiting any mention of the arrangement"-
some of the clients are known. Kissinger "assisted several
American conglomerates, notably H.J. Heinz, to gain access to
the Chinese market," Hitchens writes. "He assisted Atlantic
Richfield/Arco to market oil deposits in China.... Six months
before the massacre in Tienanmen Square, Kissinger set up a limited
investment partnership named China Ventures, of which he personally
was chairman, CEO and chief partner." The firm's brochure
explicitly states that it only takes on projects "that enjoy
the unquestioned support of the People's Republic."
Hitchens was inspired to write this essay in part by the arrest
in London, on a Spanish warrant, of the retired Chilean dictator
Pinochet. Since it was written, Slobodan Milosevic has been dragged
off in manacles to face war crimes charges in The Hague. Kissinger's
latest book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy?, is a turgid
tour du monde that serves as a prospectus for future Associates
clients, but this partly ghostwritten tome is unremarkable save
for an impassioned chapter attacking the Pinochet arrest and the
concept of international jurisprudence that allows for transnational
trials of war criminals.
But in the new climate symbolized by the arrest of Pinochet
(who will almost certainly escape trial) and now of Milosevic
(who won't), Hitchens argues that Kissinger "may be found
liable for terrorist actions under the Alien Tort Claims Act,
or may be subject to an international request for extradition,
or may be arrested if he travels to a foreign country, or may
be cited for crimes against humanity by a court in an allied nation."
Victims of the ethnic cleansing of the British colonial island
of Diego Garcia in the '70s, who were displaced to make room for
a U.S. military base, have a case that has already won a victory
in the British courts-a case in which Kissinger is cited for his
role in "forced relocation, torture and genocide."
The Trial of Henry Kissinger confirms Hitchens' reputation
as the most skilled political essayist and polemicist this country
possesses-fortuitously, thanks to the native Brit's desire to
escape from Maggie Thatcher. In the interests of full disclosure,
I should say I've been a friend of Hitchens since he came to this
side of the Atlantic. Reading his incisive, mordant prose is a
tonic, for he captures not only what's wrong about Kissinger,
but what's wrong with us.
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. It'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 second-hand
darts). No, he is sought after because his presence supplies a
frisson: the authentic touch of raw and unapologetic power....
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.