By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
On the exact point of war crimes, Hitchens’ case is not airtight. Take the deadly “Operation Speedy Express,” for instance, carried out under Kissinger’s watch. In the first six months of 1969, U.S. troops “cleansed” the civilian population of Kien Hoa, in the Mekong Delta. Perhaps 5,000 civilians died — a death toll, Newsweek reported, that “made the My Lai massacre look trifling by comparison.” Although “Speedy Express” had been hatched in the Johnson administration, Hitchens argues, “We can be sure that the political leadership in Washington was not unaware” of the atrocities. “Indeed,” he goes on, “the degree of micro-management revealed in Kissinger’s memoirs quite forbids the idea that anything of importance took place without his knowledge or permission.” But this, as lawyers say, is hardly dispositive.
Chile, by contrast, presents a much stronger case. Incensed at the September 1970 election of Salvador Allende, Nixon assigned Kissinger the job of denying Allende the presidency. The plan was to make it appear as if the left were behind a kidnapping of General RenÃ© Schneider, a staunch defender of Chilean democracy. It was hoped that the kidnapping would rattle centrists in the Chilean congress into refusing to seat Allende. The United States furnished tear-gas grenades, machine guns and, later, hush money to right-wing gangsters, who duly nabbed and assassinated General Schneider. It was “a ‘hit’ — a piece of state-supported terrorism,” Hitchens writes, and of this there can be little doubt. A string of formerly classified government memos, reprinted here, underscore Hitchens’ assertion 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 normal motives for anyone who solicits or suborns murder . . . We can say with safety that he is prima facie guilty of direct collusion in the murder of a democratic officer in a democratic and peaceful country.
Hitchens adduces from the Kissinger oeuvre more of the same: Kissinger’s refusal, in 1971, to condemn Pakistan’s genocidal invasion of Bangladesh because the Pakistanis were a conduit for Nixon’s secret diplomacy with China; “his decision to do nothing . . . therefore a direct decision to do something, or to let something be done” when he learns of the 1974 plot by the ruling fascist Greek generals to overthrow Archbishop Mihail Makarios, the democratic leader of the “unarmed republic” of Cyprus; his green-lighting of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in December 1975, in which one-sixth of the entire Timorese population is eradicated “with weapons that [Kissinger] bent American laws to furnish to the killers.” Much of this, again, is based on circumstantial evidence, but then, good cases often are.
If The Trial of Henry Kissinger is left to make logical inferences where the record is incomplete, it is partly so because Kissinger himself hid much of the public docket. The man, plainly, is afraid of what the complete record will reveal. And this is a serious theme that asserts itself throughout Hitchens’ book. Kissinger is a former scholar who rebuffs scholarly access. He is a frequent commentator who routinely denies requests for interviews. When in power, he ruthlessly invoked the requirements of “American prestige.” Out of power, he disowns the consequences of his hegemonic swagger. What emerges is an indictment not only of a criminal, but of a coward too.
THE TRIAL OF HENRY KISSINGER By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS | Verso 2001 | 159 pages | $22 hardcover
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