Take Him Away

by Doug Ireland

In These Times magazine, August 2001


Book Review:

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 but


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 Allende.

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 CIA.

"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 it."

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.

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