excerpted from the book

The Trial of Henry Kissinger

by Christopher Hitchins

Verso Press, 2001



In a famous expression of his contempt for democracy, Kissinger once observed that he saw no reason why a certain country should be allowed to "go Marxist" merely because "its people are irresponsible." The country concerned was Chile, which at the time of this remark had a justified reputation as the most highly evolved pluralistic democracy in the southern hemisphere of the Americas. The pluralism translated, in the years of the Cold War, into an electorate that voted about one-third conservative, one-third socialist and communist, and one-third Christian Democratic and centrist. This had made it relatively easy to keep the Marxist element from having its turn in government, and ever since 1962 the CIA had - as it had in Italy and other comparable nations - largely contented itself with funding the reliable elements. In September 1970, however, the Left's candidate actually gained a slight plurality of 36.2 percent in the presidential elections. Divisions on the Right, and the adherence of some smaller radical and Christian parties to the Left, made it a moral certainty that the Chilean Congress would, after the traditional sixty-day interregnum, confirm Dr Salvador Allende as the next president. But the very name of Allende was anathema to the extreme Right in Chile, to certain powerful corporations (notably ITT, Pepsi Cola and the Chase Manhattan Bank) which did business in Chile and the United States, and to the CIA.

This loathing quickly communicated itself to President Nixon. He was personally beholden to Donald Kendall, the President of Pepsi Cola, who had given him his first corporate account when, as a young lawyer, he had joined John Mitchell's New York firm. A series of Washington meetings, held within eleven days of Allende's electoral victory, essentially settled the fate of Chilean democracy. After discussions with Kendall and with David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan, and with CIA director Richard Helms Kissinger went with Helms to the Oval Office. Helms's notes of the meeting show that Nixon wasted little breath in making his wishes known. Allende was not to assume office. "Not concerned risks involved. No involvement of embassy. $10,000,000 available, more if necessary. Full-time job - best men we have.... Make the economy scream. 48 hours for plan of action."

Declassified documents show that Kissinger - who had previously neither known nor cared about Chile, describing it offhandedly as "a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica" - took seriously this chance to impress his boss. A group was set up in Langley, Virginia, with the express purpose of running a "two track" policy for Chile: one the ostensible diplomatic one and the other - unknown to the State Department or the US ambassador to Chile, Edward Korry - a strategy of destabilization, kidnap and assassination, designed to provoke a military coup.

There were long- and short-term obstacles to the incubation of such an intervention, especially in the brief interval available before Allende took his oath of office. The long-term obstacle was the tradition of military abstention from politics in Chile, a tradition which marked off the country from its neighbors. Such a military culture was not to be degraded overnight. The short-term obstacle lay in the person of one man - General Rene Schneider. As chief of the Chilean General Staff, he was adamantly opposed to any military meddling in the electoral process. Accordingly, it was decided at a meeting on 18 September 1970 that General Schneider had to go.

The plan was to have him kidnapped by extremist officers, in such a way as to make it appear that leftist and pro-Allende elements were behind the plot. The resulting confusion, it was hoped, would panic the Chilean Congress into denying Allende the presidency. A sum of $50,000 was offered around the Chilean capital, Santiago, for any officer or officers enterprising enough to take on this task. Richard Helms and his director of covert operations, Thomas Karamessines, told Kissinger that they were not optimistic. Military circles were hesitant and divided, or else loyal to General Schneider and the Chilean constitution. As Helms put it in a later account of the conversation, "We tried to make clear to Kissinger how small the possibility of success was." Kissinger firmly told Helms and Karamessines to press on in any case.

Here one must pause for a recapitulation. An unelected official in the United States is meeting with others, without the knowledge or authorization of Congress, to plan the kidnapping of a constitution-minded senior officer in a democratic country with which the United States is not at war, and with which it maintains cordial diplomatic relations. The minutes of the meetings may have an official look to them (though they were hidden from the light of day for long enough) but what we are reviewing is a "hit" - a piece of state-supported terrorism.

Ambassador Korry has testified that he told his embassy staff to have nothing to do with a group styling itself Patria y Libertad (Fatherland and Freedom), a quasi-fascist group intent on defying the election results. He sent three cables to Washington warning his superiors to have nothing to do with them either. He was unaware that his own military attaches had been told to contact the group and keep the fact from him. And when the outgoing president of Chile, the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, announced that he was opposed to any US intervention and would vote to confirm the legally elected Allende, it was precisely to this gang that Kissinger turned. On 15 October 1970, Kissinger was told of an extremist right-wing officer named General Roberto Viaux, who had ties to Patria y Libertad and who was willing to accept the secret US commission to remove General Schneider from the chessboard. The term "kidnap" was still being employed at this point, and is often employed still. However, Kissinger's Track Two group authorized the supply of machine guns as well as tear gas grenades to Viaux's associates, and never seems to have asked what they would do with the general once they had kidnapped him.

Finally, it is essential to read the White House "memorandum of conversation, 'dated 15 October 1970, to which the above cable directly refers and which it is a more honest summary. Present for the "high USG level" meeting were, as noted in the heading: "Dr Kissinger, Mr Karamessines, Gen. Haig" The first paragraph of their deliberations has been entirely blacked out, with not so much as a scribble in the margin from the redaction service. (Given what has since been admitted, this twenty-line deletion must be well worth reading.) Picking up at paragraph two, we find the following:

2. Then Mr Karamessines provided a run-down on Viaux, the Canales meeting with Tirado, the latter's new position [after Porta was relieved of command "for health reasons"] and, in some detail, the general situation in Chile from the coup possibility viewpoint.

3. A certain amount of information was available to us concerning Viaux's alleged support throughout the Chilean military. We had assessed Viaux's claims carefully, basing our analysis on good intelligence from a number of sources. Our conclusion was clear: Viaux did not have more than one chance in twenty - perhaps less - to launch a successful coup.

4. The unfortunate repercussions, in Chile and internationally, of an unsuccessful coup were discussed. Dr Kissinger ticked off his list of these negative possibilities. His items were remarkably similar to the ones Mr Karamessines had prepared.

5. It was decided by those present that the Agency must get a message to Viaux warning him against any precipitate action. In essence our message was to state: "We have reviewed your plans, and based on your information and ours, we come to the conclusion that your plans for a coup at this time cannot succeed. Failing, they may reduce your capabilities for the future. Preserve your assets. We will stay in touch. The time will come when you with all your other friends can do something. You will continue to have our support."

6. After the decision to de-fuse the Viaux coup plot, at least temporarily, Dr Kissinger instructed Mr Karamessines to preserve Agency assets in Chile working clandestinely and securely to maintain the capability for Agency operations against Allende in the future.

7. Dr Kissinger discussed his desire that the word of our encouragement to the Chilean military in recent weeks be kept as secret as possible. Mr Karamessines stated emphatically that we had been doing everything possible in this connection, including the use of false flag officers, car meetings and every conceivable precaution. But we and others had done a great deal of talking recently with a number of persons. For example, Ambassador Korry's wide-ranging discussions with numerous people urging a coup "cannot be put back into the bottle:' [Three lines of deletion follow.] [Dr Kissinger requested that copy of the message be sent to him on 16 October.] 8. The meeting concluded on Dr Kissinger's note that the Agency should continue keeping the pressure on every Allende weak spot in sight: - now after the 24th of October, after 5 November, and into the future until such time as new marching orders are given. Mr Karamessines stated that the Agency would comply.

So Track Two contained two tracks of its own. Track Two/One was the group of ultras led by General Roberto Viaux and his sidekick Captain Arturo Marshal. These men had tried to bring off a coup in 1969 against the Christian Democrats; they had been cashiered and were disliked even by conservatives in the officer corps. "Track Two/Two" was a more ostensibly "respectable" faction headed by General Camilo Valenzuela, the chief of the garrison in the capital city, whose name occurs in the cables above and whose identity is concealed by some of the deletions. Several of the CIA operatives in Chile felt that Viaux was too much of a mad-dog to be trusted. And Ambassador Korry's repeated admonitions also had their effect. As shown in the 15 October memo cited above, Kissinger and Karamessines developed last-minute second thoughts about Viaux, who as late as 13 October had been given $20,000 in cash from the CIA station and promised a life insurance policy of $250,000. This offer was authorized direct from the White House. However, with only days to go before Allende was inaugurated, and with Nixon repeating that "it was absolutely essential that the election of Mr Allende to the Presidency be thwarted," the pressure on the Valenzuela group became intense. As a direct consequence, especially after the warm words of encouragement he had been given, General Roberto Viaux felt himself under some obligation to deliver also, and to disprove those who had doubted him.

On the evening of 19 October 1970, the Valenzuela group, aided by some of Viaux's gang, and equipped with the tear gas grenades delivered by the CIA, attempted to grab General Schneider as he left an official dinner. The attempt failed because he left in a private car and not the expected official vehicle. The failure produced an extremely significant cable from CIA headquarters in Washington to the local station, asking for urgent action because "Headquarters must respond during morning 20 October to queries from high levels." Payments of $50,000 each to General Viaux and his chief associate were then authorized on condition that they made another attempt. On the evening of 20 October, they did. But again there was only failure to report. On 22 October, the "sterile" machine guns above-mentioned were handed to Valenzuela's group for another try. Later that same day, General Roberto Viaux's gang finally murdered General Rene Schneider.

According to the later verdict of the Chilean military courts, this atrocity partook of elements of both tracks of Track Two. In other words, Valenzuela was not himself on the scene but the assassination squad, led by Viaux, contained men who had participated in the preceding two attempts. Viaux was convicted on charges of kidnapping and of conspiring to cause a coup. Valenzuela was convicted of the charge of conspiracy to cause a coup. So any subsequent attempt to distinguish the two plots from each other, except in point of degree, is an attempt to confect a distinction without a difference.

It scarcely matters whether Schneider was slain because of a kidnapping scheme that went awry (he was said, but only by the assassins, to have had the temerity to resist) or whether his assassination was the objective m the first place. The Chilean military police report, as it happens, describes a straightforward murder.

The concept of "deniability" was not as well understood in Washington in 1970 as it has since become. But it is clear that Henry Kissinger wanted two things simultaneously. He wanted the removal of General Schneider, by any means and employing any proxy. (No instruction from Washington to leave Schneider unharmed was ever given; deadly weapons were sent by diplomatic pouch, and men of violence were carefully selected to receive them.) And he wanted to be out of the picture in case such an attempt might fail, or be uncovered. These are the normal motives of anyone who solicits or suborns murder. However, Kissinger needed the crime very slightly more than he needed, or was able to design, the deniability...

There is no particular need to rehearse the continuing role of the Nixon-Kissinger administration in the later economic and political subversion and destabilization of the Allende government, and in the creation of favorable conditions for the military coup that occurred on 11 September 1973. Kissinger himself was perhaps no more and no less involved in this effort than any other high official in Nixon's national security orbit. On 9 November 1970 he authored the National Security Council's "Decision Memorandum 93," reviewing policy towards Chile in the immediate wake of Allende's confirmation as President. Various routine measures of economic harassment were proposed (recall Nixon's instruction to "make the economy scream") with cutoffs in aid and investment.

More significantly, Kissinger advocated that "close relations" be maintained with military leaders in neighboring countries, in order to facilitate both the coordination of pressure against Chile and the incubation of opposition within the country. In outline, this prefigures the disclosures that have since been made about Operation Condor, a secret collusion between military dictatorships across the hemisphere, operated with United States knowledge and indulgence.

... Operation Condor ... was a machinery of cross-border assassination, abduction, torture and intimidation, coordinated between the secret police forces of Pinochet's Chile, Stroessner's Paraguay, Videla's Argentina and other regional caudillos. This internationalization of the death-squad principle is now known to have been responsible, to name only the most salient victims, for the murder of the dissident general Carlos Prats of Chile (and his wife) in Buenos Aires, the murder of the Bolivian general Juan Jose Torres, and the maiming of a Chilean Christian Democrat senator, Bernardo Leighton, in Italy. A Condor team also detonated a car bomb in downtown Washington, DC, in September 1976, killing the former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and his aide Ronni Mofffitt. United States government complicity has been uncovered at every level of this network. It has been established, for example, that the FBI aided Pinochet in capturing Jorge Isaac Fuentes de Alarcon, who was detained and tortured in Paraguay, then turned over to the Chilean secret police, and "disappeared." Astonishingly, the surveillance of Latin US dissident refugees in the United States was promised to Condor figures by US intelligence.

These and other facts have been established by the work of "truth and reconciliation" commissions set up by post-dictatorship forces in the countries of the southern hemisphere. Stroessner has been overthrown, Videla is in prison, Pinochet and his henchmen are being or have been brought to account in Chile. The United States has not so far found it convenient to establish a truth and reconciliation commission of its own, which means that it is less ready at present to face its historical responsibility than are the countries once derided as "banana republics."

All of the above-cited crimes, and many more besides, were committed on Kissinger's "watch" as secretary of state. And all of them were and are punishable, under local or international law, or both. It can hardly be argued, by himself or by his defenders, that he was indifferent to, or unaware of, the true situation. In 1999 a secret memorandum was declassified, giving excruciating details of a private conversation between Kissinger and Pinochet in Santiago, Chile, on 8 June 1976. The meeting took place the day before Kissinger was due to address the Organization of American States. The subject was human rights. Kissinger was at some pains to explain to Pinochet that the few pro forma remarks he was to make on that topic were by no means to be taken seriously. My friend Peter Kornbluh has performed the service of comparing the "Memcon" (Memorandum of Conversation) with the account of the meeting given by Kissinger himself in his third volume of apologia, Years of Renewal:

The Memoir "A considerable amount of time in my dialogue with Pinochet was devoted to human rights, which were, in fact, the principal obstacle to close United States relations with Chile. I outlined the main points in my speech to the OAS which I would deliver the next day. Pinochet made no comment."

The Memcon: "l will treat human rights in general terms, and human rights in a world context. I will refer in two paragraphs to the report on Chile of the OAS Human Rights Commission. I will say that the human rights issue has impaired relations between the US and Chile. This is partly the result of Congressional actions. I will add that I hope you will shortly remove these obstacles.... l can do no less, without producing a reaction in the US which would lead to legislative restrictions. The speech is not aimed at Chile. I wanted to tell you about this. My evaluation is that you are a victim of all left-wing groups around the world and that your greatest sin was that you overthrew a government that was going Communist."

The Memoir: "As Secretary of State, I felt I had the responsibility to encourage the Chilean government in the direction of greater democracy through a policy of understanding Pinochet's concerns.... Pinochet reminded me that 'Russia supports their people 100 percent. We are behind you. You are the leader. But you have a punitive system for your friends.' I returned to my underlying theme that any major help from us would realistically depend on progress on human rights."

The Memcon: "There is merit in what you say. It is a curious time in the US.... It is unfortunate. We have been through Vietnam and Watergate. we have to wait until the [1976] elections. We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here. we are not out to weaken your ~ position."

In an unpleasant way, Pinochet twice mentioned the name of Orlando Letelier, the exiled Chilean opposition leader, accusing him of misleading the United States Congress. Kissinger's response, as can be seen, was to apologize for the Congress and (in a minor replay of his 1968 Paris tactic over Vietnam) to suggest that the dictator should hope for better days after the upcoming elections. Three months later, a car bomb in Washington killed Letelier; today still it remains the only such outrage ever committed in the nation's capital by agents of a foreign regime. (This notable incident is completely absent from Kissinger's memoirs.) The man responsible for arranging the crime, the Chilean secret policeman General Manuel Contreras, has since testified at trial that he took no action without specific and personal orders from Pinochet. He remains in prison, doubtless wondering why he trusted his superiors.

"I want to see our relations and friendship improve," Kissinger told Pinochet (but not the readers of his memoirs). "We want to help, not undermine you." In advising a murderer and despot, whose rule he had helped impose, to disregard his upcoming remarks as a sop to Congress, Kissinger insulted democracy in both countries. He also gave the greenest of green lights to further cross-border and internal terrorism, of neither of which he could have been unaware. (In his memoirs, he does mention what he calls Pinochet's "counter-terrorist intelligence agency.") Further colluding with Pinochet against the United States Congress, which was considering the Kennedy amendment cutting off arms sales to human rights violators, Kissinger obsequiously remarked:

I don't know if you listen in on my phone, but if you do, you have just heard me issue instructions to Washington to [defeat the Kennedy amendment]. If we defeat it, we will deliver the F-5Es as we agreed to do...


Afterword on Chile

[September 2000, CIA internal report on Chile]
Support for Coup in 1970. Under "Track II" of the strategy, CIA sought to instigate a coup to prevent Allende from taking office after he won a plurality in the 4 September election and before, as Constitutionally required because he did not win an absolute majority, the Chilean Congress reaffirmed his victory. CIA was working with three different groups of plotters. All three groups made it clear that any coup would require the kidnapping of Army Commander Rene Schneider, who felt deeply that the Constitution required that the Army allow Allende to assume power. CIA agreed with that assessment. Although CIA provided weapons to one of the groups, we have found no information that the plotters' or ClA's intention was for the general to be killed. Contact with one group of plotters was dropped early on because of its extremist tendencies. CIA provided tear gas, submachine guns and ammunition to the second group, mortally wounding him in the attack. CIA had previously encouraged this group to launch a coup but withdrew support four days before the attack because, in ClA's assessment, the group could not carry it out successfully.

... Within a year after the coup, the CIA and other US Government agencies were aware of bilateral cooperation among regional intelligence services to track the activities of and, in at least a few cases, kill political opponents. This was the precursor to Operation Condor, an intelligence-sharing arrangement among Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay established in 1975.

So now we know: the internationalization of the death squad principle was understood and approved by US intelligence and its political masters across two administrations. The senior person concerned in both administrations was Henry Kissinger. Whichever "interagency committee" is meant, and whether it is the Forty Committee or the Interagency Committee on Chile, the traces lead back to the same source.

The Trial of Henry Kissinger

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