Thursday, December 12, 2002
Asking Henry Kissinger to investigate government malfeasance or nonfeasance is akin to asking Slobodan Milosevic to investigate war crimes. Pretty damn akin, since Kissinger has been accused, with cause, of engaging in war crimes of his own. Moreover, he has been a poster-child for the worst excesses of secret government and secret warfare.
Yet George W. Bush has named him to head a supposedly independent commission to investigate the nightmarish attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a commission intended to tell the public what went wrong on and before that day. This is a sick, black-is-white, war-is-peace joke--a cruel insult to the memory of those killed on 9/11 and a screw-you affront to any American who believes the public deserves a full accounting of government actions or lack thereof. It''s as if Bush instructed his advisers to come up with the name of the person who literally would be the absolute worst choice for the post and, once they had, said, "sign him up."
Hyperbole? Consider the record.
Vietnam. Kissinger participated in a GOP plot to undermine the 1968 Paris peace talks in order to assist Richard Nixon''s presidential campaign. Once in office, Nixon named Kissinger his national security adviser, and later appointed him secretary of state. As co-architect of Nixon''s war in Vietnam, Kissinger oversaw the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, an arguably illegal operation estimated to have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Bangladesh. In 1971, Pakistani General Yahya Khan, armed with U.S. weaponry, overthrew a democratically elected government in an action that led to a massive civilian bloodbath. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Kissinger blocked U.S. condemnation of Khan. Instead, he noted Khan''s "delicacy and tact."
Chile. In the early 1970s, Kissinger oversaw the CIA''s extensive covert campaign that assisted coup-plotters, some of whom eventually overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende and installed the murderous military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. On June 8, 1976, at the height of Pinochet''s repression, Kissinger had a meeting with Pinochet and behind closed doors told him that "we are sympathetic to what you are trying to do here," according to minutes of the session (which are quoted in Peter Kornbluh''s forthcoming book, "The Pinochet File.")
East Timor. In 1975, President Gerald Ford and Kissinger, still serving as secretary of state, offered advance approval of Indonesia''s brutal invasion of East Timor, which took the lives of tens of thousands of East Timorese. For years afterward, Kissinger denied the subject ever came up during the Dec. 6, 1975 meeting he and Ford held with General Suharto, Indonesia''s military ruler, in Jarkata. But a classified U.S. cable obtained by the National Security Archive notes that Suharto asked for "understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action" in East Timor. The next day, Suharto struck East Timor. Kissinger is an outright liar on this subject.
Argentina. In 1976, as a fascistic and anti-Semitic military junta was beginning its so-called "dirty war" against supposed subversives--between 9,000 and 30,000 people would be "disappeared" by the military over the next seven years--Argentina''s foreign minister met with Kissinger and received tacit encouragement for his government''s violent efforts. Two years later, Kissinger, then a private citizen, traveled to Buenos Aires as the guest of dictator General Jorge Rafael Videla and praised the junta for having done, as one cable put it, "an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces."
Accused War Criminal
Appropriately, Kissinger is a man on the run for his past misdeeds. He is the target of two lawsuits, and judges overseas have sought him for questioning in war-crimes-related legal actions. In the United States, the family of Chilean General Rene Schneider sued Kissinger last year. Schneider was shot on Oct. 22, 1970, by would-be coup-makers working with CIA operatives.
These CIA assets were part of a secret plan authorized by Nixon--and supervised by Kissinger--to foment a coup before Allende, a Socialist, could be inaugurated as president. Schneider, who opposed a coup, died three days later.
This secret CIA program in Chile gave $35,000 to Schneider''s assassins after the slaying. Michael Tigar, an attorney for the Schneider family, claims, "Our case shows, document by document, that [Kissinger] was involved in great detail in supporting the people who killed General Schneider, and then paid them off."
On Sept. 9, 2001>, 60 Minutes aired a segment on the Schneider family''s charges against Kissinger. The former secretary of state came across as partly responsible for what is the Chilean equivalent of the JFK assassination. It was a major blow to his public image: Kissinger cast as a supporter of terrorists. Two days later, Osama bin Laden struck. Immediately, Kissinger was again on television, but now as a much-in-demand expert on terrorism.
In another lawsuit, filed earlier this month, 11 Chilean human rights victims--including relatives of people murdered after Pinochet''s coup--claimed Kissinger knowingly provided practical assistance and encouragement to the Pinochet regime. Kissinger''s codefendant in the case is Michael Townley, an American-born Chilean agent who was a leading international terrorist in the mid-1970s. In his most notorious operation, Townley in 1976 planted a car-bomb that killed Orlando Letelier, Allende''s ambassador to the United States, and Ronni Moffitt, Letelier''s colleague, on Washington''s Embassy Row.
Kissinger has more trouble than these lawsuits. The Chilean Supreme Court sent the State Department questions for Kissinger about the death of Charles Horman, an American journalist killed during the 1973 coup in Chile. (Horman''s murder was the subject of the 1982 film Missing.) A criminal judge in Chile has said he might include Kissinger in his investigation of Operation Condor, a now infamous secret project, in which the security services of Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina worked together to kidnap and murder political opponents.
The Spanish judge who requested the 1998 arrest of Pinochet in Great Britain has declared he wants to question Kissinger as a witness in his inquiry into crimes against humanity committed by Pinochet and other Latin American military dictators.
In France, a judge probing the disappearance of five French citizens in Chile during the Pinochet years wants to talk to Kissinger. Last May, he sent police to a Paris hotel, where Kissinger was staying, to serve him questions. In February, Kissinger canceled a trip to Brazil, where he was to be awarded a medal by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. His would-be hosts said he had pulled out to avoid protests by human rights groups.
And now, this fellow who has coddled state-sponsored terrorism has been put in charge of this terrorism investigation. A proven liar has been assigned the task of finding the truth.
Other qualifications for the job, as Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney might see it? A leaks-obsessed Kissinger, when he served as Nixon''s national security adviser, wiretapped his own staff. (One of his targets, Morton Halperin, sued and eventually won an apology.)
And when he left office, Kissinger took tens of thousands of pages of documents--created by government employees on government time--and treated them as his personal records, using them for his own memoirs and keeping the material for years from the prying eyes of historians and journalists. He and the Bush-Cheney White House agree on open government: the less the better.
Remember, the White House was never keen on setting up an independent commission that would answer to the public. Cheney at one point reportedly intervened to block a compromise that had been painstakingly worked out in Congress regarding the composition and rules of the commission. Finally, the White House said okay, as long as it could pick the chairman and subpoenas would only be issued with the support of at least six of the commission''s 10 members.
With Kissinger in control, the secret-keepers of the White House--who already have succeeded in preventing the House and Senate intelligence committees'' investigation of 9/11 from releasing embarrassing and uncomfortable information--will have little reason to fear.
With Kissinger''s appointment, Bush has rendered the independent commission a sham.
David Corn is Washington editor of The Nation.