A discussion of Henry Kissinger's support of repression and terror throughout his career in US government.
A resurgent topic in the national media in recent months has been the punishment of war criminals. Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Yugoslavia, is on trial at the Hague for having committed crimes against humanity. Saddam Hussein will be tried in Iraq by a court structured by the US military with the end of punishing him for war crimes committed during his dictatorship. Recently former Mexican president Luis Echeverria was indicted by the Fox administration for genocide related to his oversight of the mass killing of student protesters in 1971. Augusto Pinochet of Chile recently had his veil of immunity lifted by the Chilean Supreme Court and now may be prosecuted for mass killings carried out during his rule in the 1970's and 1980's. Though no proceedings have yet been initiated to indict Donald Rumsfield for war crimes related to Iraqi civilian deaths or deaths of prisoners who were systematically tortured by the US military, it is not beyond reason to imagine that an awakened US legislature or judiciary might someday hold him accountable for his actions as Secretary of Defense.
Living in prosperity and freedom in Washington D.C., however, is a genuine war criminal whose continued impunity in the face of past crimes on behalf of the US government undermines the notion of justice in the United States. In a short article featured on August 27, 2004, the New York Times reported that Henry Kissinger had held several meetings with the Argentine junta during their campaign of represssion directed at members of the left wing opposition during the 1970's. It is estimated that over 30,000 Argentines died in this reign of terror, during which a common practice was to throw victims from military helicopters into the Rio Plata river after they had been subjected to torture. Kissinger gave the Argentine authorities a green light to deal with their internal problems at an initial meeting in June 1976 shortly after the junta had taken power by removing Isabel Peron. After being told by Argentine Admiral Guzzetti that the "first priority" was "to insure the internal security of the country", Kissinger responded: "We are aware you are in a difficult period. It is a curious time, when political, criminal and terrorist activities tend to merge without any clear separation. We understand you must establish authority... If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly." During the three months leading up to this meeting the Argentine government had been torturing and murdering those individuals perceived as being non-supportive of military rule.
More disturbing than this one incident of sanctioning torture and mass elimination of civilians is the larger pattern of repression that Kissinger condoned throughout Latin America and indeed throughout the world.
Kissinger was instrumental in bringing the Chilean dictatorship to power in 1973, as declassified State Department cables reveal a constant monitoring and manipulation of events to ensure the removal of the socialist President Salvador Allende, who had been elected in 1970. As Christopher Hitchens reveals in his excellent book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Kissinger was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the removal of Allende and the implementation of state sponsored terrorism by the US and Chilean governments to control groups opposed to a right wing military regime. An October 1970 cable from Kissinger's so-called 'Track Two' group at the State Department sent to the CIA contact in Chile laid out the policy:
"It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date. We are to continue to generate maximum pressure toward this end utilizing every appropriate resource. It is imperative that these actions be implemented clandestinely and securely so that the USG and American hand be well hidden."
Allende was scheduled to be confirmed as president by the Chilean congress on October 24, 1970. An October 18 cable from the CIA to Kissinger's group revealed that a CIA agent had "met clandestinely evening 17 Oct with [two Chilean armed forces officers] who told him their plans were moving along better than had thought possible. They asked that by evening 18 Oct [cooptee] furnish them with eight to ten tear gas grenades. Within 48 hours they need three 45 calibre machine guns... ". The plan was to remove Chilean general Rene Schneider, a member of the Chilean General Staff who was opposed to any military intervention in Chilean democracy. The thought was that with his removal, the path would be clear to a military coup in Chile. On October 22, after the sterile machine guns had been delivered to the conspirators, General Schneider was murdered in Santiago.
Allende, however, managed to hold onto power for three years despite Nixon's directive that "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." Kissinger worked to undermine the Chilean president by contributing oversight to Project FUBELT, the CIA operation structured to this end, as well as by economic measures that assisted in disrupting the Chilean economy. On September 11, 1973, Allende was murdered during a military coup, leading the US naval attache in Chile to proudly proclaim that "our D-Day" was "close to perfect".
What followed was a reign of terror conducted by the Chilean dictator Pinochet and supported by the US administration. It is estimated that over 5,000 Chileans were murdered during Pinochet's rule, the majority of them victims during the 1970's. The notorious Latin American death squads operated with impunity during this era, with military rule in effect not only in Chile but also in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil. What is remarkable about this time is that the atrocities were not being committed by solitary states in isolation, but were often the result of a coordinated operation referred to as Operation Condor which was itself supported by the US government and by its chief foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger. In addition to the mass slaughter of dissident civilians in Argentina and Chile, the long list of crimes committed during this period included the murder of general Carlos Prats of Chile, the murder of general Juan Jose Torres of Bolivia, and the assassination of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C. in 1976. In a conversation with Pinochet in June 1976 before an address to the Organization of American States, Kissinger went to great lengths to show where his loyalties were:
"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."
And later, he continued in a show of deference to the dictator who was at this time systematically torturing and disappearing civilians opposed to his military rule:
"We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here. We are not out to weaken your position."
A September 2000 CIA internal inquiry made it clear that the US government, and in particular the intelligence services of which Kissinger was such an integral part, were keenly aware of what was happening in South America during this time:
"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."
Unfortunately, one of the most powerful men in the one country that might have forced an end to such practices was in fact a strong supporter of political repression.
In his oversight of US operations in Asia Kissinger demonstrated a similar disdain for human life and international law. Whether through his advocacy of clandestine invasions of the neutral states Laos and Cambodia, or his support for a policy of massive carpet bombing that eliminated hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese civilians, or his political jockeying to ensure the continuance of the war when the Johnson administration had a realistic chance at securing a peace agreement before the 1968 elections, Kissinger was consistent in his avoidance of any allegiance to human morality or international law. A significant share of the blame for both the American military deaths and estimated 2 million Vietnamese dead must be placed at his feet for his role as National Security Advisor during the war. When the carnage in Vietnam is viewed alongside Kissinger's complicity in the atrocities in 1970's Latin America, and when other events of mass human slaughter such as East Timor in 1975 are woven into the fabric of Kissinger's trail of public service, the face of a ruthless tyrant emerges from behind the fašade of distinguished diplomat. In Argentina one sometimes comes across stately mansions in the nicer districts of Buenos Aires that have been splashed with red paint. This is the way in which Argentine citizens who have not forgotten the repression of the military junta mark the residences of military officers who were complicit in the atrocities but never punished through the judicial system. Though he is viewed by many as an elder statesman, Henry Kissinger's pristine residence would rightfully be marked in similar fashion.
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