The case against Henry Kissinger
It will become clear, and may as well be stated at the outset, that this is written by a political opponent of Henry Kissinger. Nonetheless, I have found myself continually amazed at how much hostile and discreditable material I have felt compelled to omit. I am concerned only with those Kissingerian offenses that might or should form the basis of a legal prosecution: for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.
Thus, I might have mentioned Kissinger's recruitment and betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds, who were falsely encouraged by him to take up arms against Saddam Hussein in 1972-75, and who were then abandoned to extermination on their hillsides when Saddam Hussein made a diplomatic deal with the Shah of Iran, and who were deliberately lied to as well as abandoned. The conclusions of the report by Congressman Otis Pike still make shocking reading and reveal on Kissinger's part a callous indifference to human life and human rights. But they fall into the category of depraved realpolitik and do not seem to have violated any known law.
In the same way, Kissinger's orchestration of political and military and diplomatic cover for apartheid in South Africa presents us with a morally repulsive record and includes the appalling consequences of the destabilization of Angola. Again, though, one is looking at a sordid period of Cold War and imperial history, and an exercise of irresponsible power, rather than an episode of organized crime. Additionally, one must take into account the institutional nature of this policy, which might in outline have been followed under any administration, national security adviser, or secretary of state.
Similar reservations can be held about Kissinger's chairmanship of the Presidential Commission on Central America in the early 1980s, which was staffed by Oliver North and which whitewashed death-squad activity on the isthmus. Or about the political protection provided by Kissinger, while in office, for the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran and its machinery of torture and repression. The list, it is sobering to say, could be protracted very much further. But it will not do to blame the whole exorbitant cruelty and cynicism of decades on one man. (Occasionally one gets an intriguing glimpse, as when Kissinger urges President Ford not to receive the inconvenient Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, all the while posing as Communism's most daring and principled foe.)
No, I have confined myself to the identifiable crimes that can and should be placed on a proper bill of indictment, whether the actions taken were in line with general "policy" or not. These include, in this installment, the deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina and the personal suborning and planning of murder of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation--Chile--with which the United States was not at war. In a second installment we will see that this criminal habit of mind extends to Bangladesh, Cyprus, East Timor, and even to Washington, D.C.
Some of these allegations can be constructed only prima facie, since Mr. Kissinger--in what may also amount to a deliberate and premeditated obstruction of justice--has caused large tranches of evidence to be withheld or possibly destroyed. We now, however, enter upon the age when the defense of "sovereign immunity" for state crimes has been held to be void. As I demonstrate below, Kissinger has understood this decisive change even if many of his critics have not. The House of Lords' ruling in London, on the international relevance of General Augusto Pinochet's crimes, added to the splendid activism of the Spanish magistracy and the verdicts of the International Tribunal at The Hague, has destroyed the shield that immunized crimes committed under the justification of raison d'etat. There is now no reason why a warrant for the trial of Kissinger may not be issued in any one of a number of jurisdictions and no reason why he may not be compelled to answer it. Indeed, as I write, there are a number of jurisdictions where the law is at long last beginning to catch up with the evidence. And we have before us in any case the Nuremberg precedent, by which the United States solemnly undertook to be bound.
A failure to proceed will constitute a double or triple offense to justice. First, it will violate the essential and now uncontested principle that not even the most powerful are above the law. Second, it will suggest that prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity are reserved for losers, or for minor despots in relatively negligible countries. This in turn will lead to the paltry politicization of what could have been a noble process and to the justifiable suspicion of double standards.
Many if not most of Kissinger's partners in politics, from Greece to Chile to Argentina to Indonesia, are now in jail or awaiting trial. His own lonely impunity is rank; it smells to heaven. If it is allowed to persist then we shall shamefully vindicate the ancient philosopher Anacharsis, who maintained that laws were like cobwebs--strong enough to detain only the weak and too weak to hold the strong. In the name of innumerable victims known and unknown, it is time for justice to take a hand.
On December 2, 1998, Michael Korda was being interviewed on camera in his office at
Simon & Schuster. As one of the reigning magnates of New York publishing, he had
edited and "produced" the work of authors as various as Tennessee Williams,
Richard Nixon, Joan Crawford, and Joe Bonanno. On this particular day, he was talking
about the life and thoughts of Cher, whose portrait adorned the wall behind him. And then
the telephone rang and there was a message to call "Dr." Henry Kissinger as soon
as possible. A polymath like Korda knows--what with the exigencies of publishing in these
vertiginous days--how to switch in an instant between Cher and high statecraft. The camera
kept running, and recorded the following scene for a tape that I possess:
Asking his secretary to get the number (759-7919--the digits of Kissinger Associates), Korda quips dryly, to general laughter in the office, that it "should be 1-800-CAMBODIA ... 1-800-BOMB-CAMBODIA." After a pause of nicely calibrated duration (no senior editor likes to be put on hold while he's receiving company, especially media company) it's "Henry--Hi, how are you? ... You're getting all the publicity you could want in the New York Times but not the kind you want ... I also think it's very, very dubious for the administration to simply say yes, they'll release these papers ... no ... no, absolutely ... no ... no ... well, hmmm, yeah. We did it until quite recently, frankly, and he did prevail ... Well, I don't think there's any question about that, as uncomfortable as it may be ... Henry, this is totally outrageous ... yeah ... also the jurisdiction. This is a Spanish judge appealing to an English court about a Chilean head of state. So it's, it ... Also, Spain has no rational jurisdiction over events in Chile anyway, so that makes absolutely no sense ... Well, that's probably true ... If you would. I think that would be by far and away the best ... Right, yeah, no, I think it's exactly what you should do, and I don't think it should be long, and I think it should end with your father's letter. I think it's a very important document ... Yes, but I think the letter is wonderful, and central to the entire book. Can you let me read the Lebanon chapter over the weekend?" At this point the conversation ends, with some jocular observations by Korda about his upcoming colonoscopy: "a totally repulsive procedure."
By means of the same tiny internal camera, or its forensic equivalent, one could deduce not a little about the world of Henry Kissinger from this microcosmic exchange. The first and most important is this: Sitting in his office at Kissinger Associates, with its tentacles of business and consultancy stretching from Belgrade to Beijing, and cushioned by innumerable other directorships and boards, he still shudders when he hears of the arrest of a dictator. Syncopated the conversation with Korda may be, but it's clear that the keyword is "jurisdiction." What had the New York Times been reporting that fine morning? On December 2, 1998, its front page carried the following report from Tim Weiner, the paper's national-security correspondent in Washington. Under the headline "U.S. Will Release Files on Crimes Under Pinochet," he wrote:
Treading into a political and diplomatic confrontation it tried to avoid, the United States decided today to declassify some secret documents on the killings and torture committed during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile....
The decision to release such documents is the first sign that the United States will cooperate in the case against General Pinochet. Clinton Administration officials said they believed the benefits of openness in human rights cases outweighed the risks to national security in this case. But the decision could open "a can of worms," in the words of a former Central Intelligence Agency official stationed in Chile, exposing the depthof the knowledge that the United States had about crimes charged against
the Pinochet Government....
While some European government officials have supported bringing the former dictator to court, United States officials have stayed largely silent, reflecting skepticism about the Spanish court's power, doubts about international tribunals aimed at former foreign rulers, and worries over the implications for American leaders who might someday also be accused in foreign countries.
President Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger, who served as his national security advisor and Secretary of State, supported a right-wing coup in Chile in the early 1970s, previously declassified documents show.
But many of the actions of the United States during the 1973 coup, and much of what American leaders and intelligence services did in liaison with the Pinochet Government after it seized power, remain under the seal of national security. The secret files on the Pinochet regime are held by the C.I.A., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the National Archives, the Presidential libraries of Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, and other Government agencies. According to Justice Department records, these files contain a history of human rights abuses and international terrorism:
* In 1975 State Department diplomats in Chile protested the Pinochet
regime's record of killing and torture, filing dissents to American foreign
policy with their superiors in Washington.
* The C.I.A. has files on assassinations by the regime and the Chilean
secret police. The intelligence agency also has records on Chile's attempts
to establish an international right-wing covert-action squad.
* The Ford Library contains many of Mr. Kissinger's secret files on
Chile, which have never been made public. Through a secretary, Mr.
Kissinger declined a request for an interview today.
One must credit Kissinger with grasping what so many other people did not: that if the Pinochet precedent became established, then he himself was in some danger. The United States believes that it alone pursues and indicts war criminals and "international terrorists"; nothing in its political or journalistic culture yet allows for the thought that it might be harboring and sheltering such a senior one. Yet the thought had very obliquely surfaced in Weiner's story, and Kissinger was a worried man when he called his editor that day to discuss the concluding volume of his memoirs (eventually published under the unbearably dull and self-regarding title Years of Renewal), which was still in progress.
"Harboring and sheltering," though, are understatements for the lavishness of Henry Kissinger's circumstances. His advice is sought, at $30,000 an appearance, by audiences of businessmen and academics and policymakers. His turgid newspaper column is syndicated by the Los Angeles Times and appears as far afield as the Washington Post. His first volume of memoirs was in part written, and also edited, by Harold Evans, who with Tina Brown is among the many hosts and hostesses who solicit Kissinger's company, or perhaps one should say society, for their New York soirees. At different times, he has been a consultant to ABC News and CBS; his most successful diplomacy, indeed, has probably been conducted with the media (and his single greatest achievement has been to get almost everybody to call him "Doctor"). Fawned on by Ted Koppel, sought out by corporations and despots with "image" problems or "failures of communication," and given respectful attention by presidential candidates and those whose task it is to "mold" their global vision, this man wants for little in the pathetic universe that the "self-esteem" industry exists to serve. Of whom else would Norman Podhoretz write, in a bended-knee encomium to the second volume of Kissinger's memoirs, Years of Upheaval:
What we have here is writing of the very highest order. It is writing that is equally at ease in portraiture and abstract analysis; that can shape a narrative as skillfully as it can paint a scene; that can achieve marvels
of compression while moving at an expansive and leisurely pace. It is writing that can shift without strain or falsity of tone from the gravitas befitting a book about great historical events to the humor and irony dictated by an unfailing sense of human proportion.
A critic who can suck like that, as was once dryly said by one of my moral tutors, need never dine alone. Nor need his subject. Except that, every now and then, the recipient (and donor) of so much sycophancy feels a tremor of anxiety. He leaves the well-furnished table and scurries to the bathroom. Is it perhaps another disclosure on a newly released Nixon tape? Some stray news from Indonesia portending the fall or imprisonment of another patron (and perhaps the escape of an awkward document or two)? The arrest or indictment of a torturer or assassin; the expiry of the statute of secrecy for some obscure cabinet papers in a faraway country? Any one of these can instantly spoil his day. As we see from the Korda tape, Kissinger cannot open the morning paper with the assurance of tranquillity. Because he knows what others can only suspect, or guess at. And he is a prisoner of the knowledge, as, to some extent, are we.
Notice the likable way in which Michael Korda demonstrates his broad-mindedness with the Cambodia jest. Everybody "knows," after all, that Kissinger inflicted terror and misery and mass death on that country, and great injury to the United States Constitution at the same time. (Everybody also "knows" that other vulnerable nations can lay claim to the same melancholy and hateful distinction as Cambodia, with incremental or "collateral" damage to American democracy keeping pace.) Yet 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. He'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 secondhand darts). No, he is sought after because his presence supplies a frisson, the authentic touch of raw and unapologetic power. There's a slight guilty nervousness on the edge of Korda's gag about the indescribable sufferings of Indochina. And 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.
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.
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  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...
Let the documents tell the story. A CIA cable to Kissinger's "track two" group from Santiago dated October 18, 1970, reads (with the names still blacked out for "security" purposes and cover identities written in by hand, in my square brackets, by the ever-thoughtful redaction service) as follows:
1. [Station cooptee] 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] ARRANGE FURNISH THEM WITH EIGHT TO TEN TEAR GAS GRENADES. WITHIN 48 HOURS THEY NEED THREE 45 CALIBRE MACHINE GUNS ("GREASE GUNS") WITH 500 ROUNDS AMMO EACH. [One officer] COMMENTED HAS THREE MACHINE GUNS HIMSELF BUT CAN BE IDENTIFIED BY SERIAL NUMBERS AS HAVING BEEN ISSUED TO HIM THEREFORE UNABLE USE THEM.
2. [Officers] SAID THEY HAVE TO MOVE BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY NOW UNDER SUSPICION AND BEING WATCHED BY ALLENDE SUPPORTERS. [One officer] WAS LATE TO MEETING HAVING TAKEN EVASIVE ACTION TO SHAKE POSSIBLE SURVEILLANCE BY ONE OR TWO TAXI CABS WITH DUAL ANTENNAS WHICH HE BELIEVED BEING USED BY OPPOSITION AGAINST HIM.
3. [Cooptee] ASKED IF [officers] HAD AIR FORCE CONTACTS. THEY ANSWERED THEY DID NOT BUT WOULD WELCOME ONE. [Cooptee] SEPARATELY HAS SINCE TRIED CONTACT [a Chilean Air Force General] AND WILL KEEP TRYING UNTIL ESTABLISHED. WILL URGE [Air Force General] MEET WITH [other two officers] ASAP. [Cooptee] COMMENTED TO STATION THAT [Air Force General] HAS NOT TRIED CONTACT HIM SINCE REF A TALK.
4. [Cooptee] COMMENT: CANNOT TELL WHO IS LEADER OF THIS MOVEMENT BUT STRONGLY SUSPECTS IT IS ADMIRAL [Deleted]. IT WOULD APPEAR FROM [his contacts'] ACTIONS AND ALLEGED ALLENDE SUSPICIONS ABOUT THEM THAT UNLESS THEY ACT NOW THEY ARE LOST. TRYING GET MORE INFO FROM THE EVENING 18 OCT ABOUT SUPPORT THEY BELIEVE THEY HAVE.
5. STATION PLANS GIVE SIX TEAR GAS GRENADES (ARRIVING NOON 18 OCT BY SPECIAL COURIER) TO [cooptee] FOR DELIVERY TO [Armed Forces officer] INSTEAD OF HAVING [False Flag officer] DELIVER THEM TO VIAUX GROUP. OUR REASONING IS THAT [cooptee] DEALING WITH ACTIVE DUTY OFFICERS. ALSO [False Flag officer] LEAVING EVENING 18 OCT AND WILL NOT BE REPLACED BUT [cooptee] WILL STAY HERE. HENCE IMPORTANT THAT [cooptee] CREDIBILITY WITH [Armed Forces officers] BE STRENGTHENED BY PROMPT DELIVERY WHAT THEY REQUESTING. REQUEST HEADQUARTERS AGREEMENT BY 1500 HOURS LOCAL TIME 18 OCT ON DECISION DELIVERY OF TEAR GAS TO [cooptee] VICE [False Flag officer].
6. REQUEST PROMPT SHIPMENT THREE STERILE 45 CALIBRE MACHINE GUNS AND AMMO PER PARA 1 ABOVE, BY SPECIAL COURIER IF NECESSARY. PLEASE CONFIRM BY 2000 HOURS LOCAL TIME 18 OCT THAT THIS CAN BE DONE SO [cooptee] MAY INFORM [his contacts] ACCORDINGLY.
The reply, which is headed IMMEDIATE SANTIAGO (EYES ONLY [deleted]), is dated October 18 and reads as follows:
SUB-MACHINE GUNS AND AMMO BEING SENT BY REGULAR [deleted] COURIER LEAVING WASHINGTON 0700 HOURS 19 OCTOBER DUE ARRIVE SANTIAGO LATE EVENING 20 OCTOBER OR EARLY MORNING 21 OCTOBER. PREFERRED USE REGULAR [deleted] COURIER TO AVOID BRINGING UNDUE ATTENTION TO OP.
A companion message, also addressed to "SANTIAGO 562," went like this:
1. DEPENDING HOW [cooptee] CONVERSATION GOES EVENING 18 OCTOBER YOU MAY WISH SUBMIT INTEL REPORT [deleted] so WE CAN DECIDE WHETHER SHOULD BE DISSEMED.
2. NEW SUBJECT: IF [cooptee] PLANS LEAD COUP, OR BE ACTIVELY AND PUBLICLY INVOLVED, WE PUZZLED WHY IT SHOULD BOTHER HIM IF MACHINE GUNS CAN BE TRACED TO HIM. CAN WE DEVELOP RATIONALE ON WHY GUNS MUST BE STERILE? WILL CONTINUE MAKE EFFORT PROVIDE THEM BUT FIND OUR CREDULITY STRETCHED BY NAVY [officer] LEADING HIS TROOPS WITH STERILE GUNS? WHAT IS SPECIAL PURPOSE FOR THESE GUNS? WE WILL TRY SEND THEM WHETHER YOU CAN PROVIDE EXPLANATION OR NOT.
The full beauty of this cable traffic cannot be appreciated without a reading of an earlier message, dated October 16. (It must be borne in mind that the Chilean Congress was to meet to confirm Allende as president on the twenty-fourth of that month.)
1. [code name Trickturn] POLICY, OBJECTIVES AND ACTIONS WERE REVIEWED AT HIGH USG [United States Government] LEVEL AFTERNOON 15 OCTOBER. CONCLUSIONS, WHICH ARE TO BE YOUR OPERATIONAL GUIDE, FOLLOW:
2. 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. WHILE THIS IMPOSES ON US A HIGH DEGREE OF SELECTIVITY IN MAKING MILITARY CONTACTS AND DICTATES THAT THESE CONTACTS BE MADE IN THE MOST SECURE MANNER IT DEFINITELY DOES NOT PRECLUDE CONTACTS SUCH AS REPORTED IN SANTIAGO 544 WHICH WAS A MASTERFUL PIECE OF WORK. [Italics added.]
3. AFTER THE MOST CAREFUL CONSIDERATION IT WAS DETERMINED THAT A VIAUX COUP ATTEMPT CARRIED OUT BY HIM ALONE WITH THE FORCES NOW AT HIS DISPOSAL WOULD FAIL. THUS, IT WOULD BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO OUR [track two] OBJECTIVES. IT WAS DECIDED THAT [CIA] GET A MESSAGE TO VIAUX WARNING HIM AGAINST PRECIPITATE ACTION. IN ESSENCE OUR MESSAGE IS 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 TOGETHER WITH ALL YOUR OTHER FRIENDS CAN DO SOMETHING. YOU WILL CONTINUE TO HAVE OUR SUPPORT." YOU ARE REQUESTED TO DELIVER THE MESSAGE TO VIAUX ESSENTIALLY AS NOTED ABOVE. OUR OBJECTIVES ARE AS FOLLOWS: (A) TO ADVISE HIM OF OUR OPINION AND DISCOURAGE HIM FROM ACTING ALONE; (B) CONTINUE TO ENCOURAGE HIM TO AMPLIFY HIS PLANNING; (C) ENCOURAGE HIM TO JOIN FORCES WITH OTHER COUP PLANNERS SO THAT THEY MAY ACT IN CONCERT EITHER BEFORE OR AFTER 24 OCTOBER. (N.B. SIX GAS MASKS AND SIX CS CANNISTERS [sic] ARE BEING CARRIED TO SANTIAGO BY SPECIAL [deleted] COURIER ETD WASHINGTON 1100 HOURS 16 OCTOBER.)
4. THERE IS GREAT AND CONTINUING INTEREST IN THE ACTIVITIES OF TIRADO, CANALES, VALENZUELA ET AL. AND WE WISH THEM MAXIMUM GOOD FORTUNE. 5. THE ABOVE IS YOUR OPERATING GUIDANCE. NO OTHER POLICY GUIDANCE YOU MAY RECEIVE FROM [indecipherable: State] OR ITS MAXIMUM EXPONENT IN SANTIAGO, ON HIS RETURN, ARE TO SWAY YOU FROM YOUR COURSE. 6. PLEASE REVIEW ALL YOUR PRESENT AND POSSIBLY NEW ACTIVITIES TO INCLUDE PROPAGANDA, BLACK OPERATIONS, SURFACING OF INTELLIGENCE OR DISINFORMATION, PERSONAL CONTACTS, OR ANYTHING ELSE YOUR IMAGINATION CAN CONJURE WHICH WILL PERMIT YOU TO PRESS FORWARD OUR [deleted] OBJECTIVE IN A SECURE MANNER.
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.
Under the law of every law-bound country (including the United States), a crime committed in the pursuit of a kidnapping is thereby aggravated, not mitigated. You may not say, with a corpse at your feet, "I was only trying to kidnap him." At least, you may not say so if you hope to plead extenuating circumstances. Yet a version of "extenuating circumstances" has become the paper-thin cover story with which Kissinger has since protected himself from the charge of being an accomplice, before and after the fact, in kidnapping and murder.
And this sorry euphemism has even found a refuge in the written record. The Senate intelligence committee, in its investigation of the matter, concluded that since the machine guns supplied to Valenzuela had not been actually employed in the killing, and since General Viaux had been officially discouraged by the CIA a few days before the murder, there was therefore "no evidence of a plan to kill Schneider or that United States officials specifically anticipated that Schneider would be shot during the abduction." Walter Isaacson, in his biography of Kissinger, takes at face value a memo from Kissinger to Nixon after his meeting on October 15 with Karamessines, in which he reports to the president about the Viaux plot, saying that he had "turned it off." He also takes at face value the claim that Viaux's successful hit was essentially unauthorized. These excuses and apologies are as logically feeble as they are morally contemptible. Henry Kissinger bears direct responsibility for the Schneider murder, as the following points demonstrate:
1) Bruce MacMaster, one of the "False Flag" agents mentioned in the cable traffic above, a career CIA man carrying a forged Colombian passport and claiming to represent American business interests in Chile, has told of his efforts to get "hush money" to jailed members of the Viaux group, after the assassination and before they could implicate the agency.
2) Colonel Paul M. Wimert, a military attache in Santiago and chief CIA liaison with the Valenzuela faction, has testified that after the Schneider killing he hastily retrieved the two payments of $50,000 that had been paid to Valenzuela and his partner, and also the three "sterile" machine guns. He then drove rapidly to the Chilean seaside town of Vina del Mar and hurled the guns into the ocean. His accomplice in this action, CIA station chief Henry Hecksher, had assured Washington only days before that either Viaux or Valenzuela would be able to eliminate Schneider and thereby trigger a coup.
3) Look again at the White House/Kissinger memo of October 15 and at the doggedly literal way it is retransmitted to Chile. In no sense of the term does it "turn off" Viaux. If anything, it incites him--a well-known and boastful fanatic--to redouble his efforts. "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." This is not exactly the language of standing him down. The remainder of the cable speaks plainly of the intention to "DISCOURAGE HIM FROM ACTING ALONE," to "CONTINUE TO ENCOURAGE HIM TO AMPLIFY HIS PLANNING," and to "ENCOURAGE HIM TO JOIN FORCES WITH OTHER COUP PLANNERS SO THAT THEY MAY ACT IN CONCERT EITHER BEFORE OR AFTER 24 OCTOBER." The last three stipulations are an entirely accurate, not to say prescient, description of what Viaux actually did.
4) Consult again the cable received by Henry Hecksher on October 20, referring to anxious queries "from high levels" about the first of the failed attacks on Schneider. Thomas Karamessines, when questioned by the Senate intelligence committee about the same phrase in a similar cable sent to another CIA agent in Santiago, testified of his certainty that the term "high levels" referred directly to Kissinger. In all previous communications from Washington, as a glance above will show, that had indeed been the case. This on its own is enough to demolish Kissinger's claim to have "turned off" "track two" (.and its interior tracks) on October 15.
5) Ambassador Edward Korry later made the obvious point that Kissinger was attempting to build a paper alibi in the event of a failure by the Viaux group: "His interest was not in Chile but in who was going to be blamed for what. He wanted me to be the one who took the heat. Henry didn't want to be associated with a failure, and he was setting up a record to blame the State Department. He brought me in to the President because he wanted me to say what I had to say about Viaux; he wanted me to be the soft man."
Without waiting for his many hidden papers to be released or subpoenaed, we can say with safety that he is prima facie guilty of direct collusion in the murder of a constitutional officer in a democratic and peaceful country.
[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.
There exists, within the political class of Washington, D.C., an open secret that is too momentous and too awful to tell. Although it is well known to academic historians, senior reporters, former Cabinet members, and ex-diplomats, it has never been summarized all at one time in any one place. The reason for this is, on first viewing, paradoxical. The open secret is in the possession of both major political parties, and it directly implicates the past statecraft of at least three former presidencies. Thus, its full disclosure would be in the interest of no particular faction. Its truth is therefore the guarantee of its obscurity; it lies like Poe's "purloined letter" across the very aisle that signifies bipartisanship. Here is the secret in plain words. In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations on Vietnam. The means they chose were simple: they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democratic one. In this way, they undercut both the talks themselves and the electoral strategy of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The tactic "worked," in that the South Vietnamese junta withdrew from the talks on the eve of the election, thereby destroying the peace initiative on which the Democrats had based their campaign. In another way, it did not "work," because four years later the Nixon Administration tried to conclude the war on the same terms that had been on offer in Paris. The reason for the dead silence that still surrounds the question is that in those intervening years some 20,000 Americans and an uncalculated number of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians lost their lives. Lost them, that is to say, even more pointlessly than had those slain up to that point. The impact of those four years on Indochinese society, and on American democracy, is beyond computation. The chief beneficiary of the covert action, and of the subsequent slaughter, was Henry Kissinger.
I can already hear the guardians of consensus, scraping their blunted quills to dismiss this as a "conspiracy theory." I happily accept the challenge. Let us take, first, the Diaries of that renowned conspirator (and theorist of conspiracy) H. R. Haldeman, published in May 1994. I choose to start with them for two reasons. First, because on the logical inference of "evidence against interest" it is improbable that Mr. Haldeman would supply evidence of his knowledge of a crime, unless he was (posthumously) telling the truth. Second, because it is possible to trace back each of his entries to its origin in other documented sources.
In January 1973, the Nixon-Kissinger Administration--for which Haldeman took the minutes--was heavily engaged on two fronts. In Paris again, Henry Kissinger was striving to negotiate "peace with honor" in Vietnam. In Washington, D.C., the web of evidence against the Watergate burglars and buggers was beginning to tighten. On January 8, 1973, Haldeman records:
John Dean called to report on the Watergate trials, says that if we can prove in any way by hard evidence that our [campaign] plane was bugged in '68, he thinks that we could use that as a basis to say we're going to force Congress to go back and investigate '68 as well as '72, and thus turn them off.
Three days later, on January 11, 1973, Haldeman hears from Nixon ("the P," as the Diaries call him):
On the Watergate question, he wanted me to talk to [Attorney General John] Mitchell and have him find out from [Deke] De Loach [of the FBI] if the guy who did the bugging on us in 1968 is still at the FBI, and then [FBI acting director Patrick] Gray should nail him with a lie detector and get it settled, which would give us the evidence we need. He also thinks I ought to move with George Christian [President Johnson's former press secretary, then working with Democrats for Nixon], get LBJ to use his influence to turn off the Hill investigation with Califano, Hubert, and so on. Later in the day, he decided that wasn't such a good idea, and told me not to do it, which I fortunately hadn't done.
On the same day, Haldeman reports Henry Kissinger calling excitedly from Paris, saying "he'll do the signing in Paris rather than Hanoi, which is the key thing." He speaks also of getting South Vietnam's President Thieu to "go along." On the following day:
The P also got back on the Watergate thing today, making the point that I should talk to Connally about the Johnson bugging process to get his judgment as to how to handle it. He wonders if we shouldn't just have Andreas go in and scare Hubert. The problem in going at LBJ is how he'd. react, and we need to find out from [Deke] De Loach who did it, and then run a lie detector on him. I talked to Mitchell on the phone on this subject and he said De Loach had told him he was up to date on the thing because he had a call from Texas. A Star reporter was making an inquiry in the last week or so, and LBJ got very hot and called Deke and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, that he would release [deleted material--national security], saying that our side was asking that certain things be done. By our side, I assume he means the Nixon campaign organization. De Loach took this as a direct threat from Johnson.... As he recalls it, bugging was requested on the planes, but was turned down, and all they did was check the phone calls, and put a tap on the Dragon Lady [Mrs. Anna Chennault].
This bureaucratic prose may be hard to read, but it needs no cipher to decode itself. Under intense pressure about the bugging of the Watergate building, Nixon instructed his chief of staff, Haldeman, and his FBI contact, Deke DeLoach, to unmask the bugging to which his own campaign had been subjected in 1968. He also sounded out former president Johnson, through former senior Democrats like Texas governor John Connally, to gauge what his reaction to the disclosure might be. The aim was to show that "everybody does it." (By another bipartisan paradox, in Washington the slogan "they all do it" is used as a slogan for the defense rather than, as one might hope, for the prosecution.) However, a problem presents itself at once: how to reveal the 1968 bugging without at the same time revealing what that bugging had been about. Hence the second thoughts ("wasn't such a good idea ...").
In his excellent introduction to The Haldeman Diaries, Nixon's biographer Professor Stephen Ambrose characterizes the 1973 approach to Lyndon Johnson as "prospective blackmail," designed to exert backstairs pressure to close down a congressional inquiry. But he also suggests that Johnson, himself no pushover, had some blackmail ammunition of his own. As Professor Ambrose phrases it, the Diaries had been vetted by the National Security Council, and the bracketed deletion cited above is "the only place in the book where an example is given of a deletion by the NSC during the Carter Administration." "Eight days later Nixon was inaugurated for his second term," Ambrose relays. "Ten days later Johnson died of a heart attack. What Johnson had on Nixon I suppose we'll never know."
The professor's conclusion here is arguably too tentative. There is a well-understood principle known as "Mutual Assured Destruction," whereby both sides possess more than enough material with which to annihilate the other. The answer to the question of what the Johnson Administration "had" on Nixon is a relatively easy one. It was given in a book entitled Counsel to the President, published in 1991. Its author was Clark Clifford, the quintessential blue-chip Washington insider, who was assisted in the writing by Richard Holbrooke, the former assistant secretary of state and current ambassador to the United Nations. In 1968, Clark Clifford was secretary of defense and Richard Holbrooke was a member of the American negotiating team at the Vietnam peace talks in Paris. From his seat in the Pentagon, Clifford had been able to read the intelligence transcripts that picked up and recorded what he terms a "secret personal channel" between President Thieu in Saigon and the Nixon campaign. The chief interlocutor at the American end was John Mitchell, then Nixon's campaign manager and subsequently attorney general (and subsequently Prisoner Number 24171-157 in the Maxwell Air Force Base prison camp). He was actively assisted by Madame Anna Chennault, known to all as the "Dragon Lady." A fierce veteran of the Taiwan lobby, and all-purpose right-wing intriguer, she was a social and political force in the Washington of her day and would rate her own biography.
Clifford describes a private meeting at which he, President Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and National Security Adviser Walt Rostow were present. Hawkish to a man, they kept Vice President Humphrey out of the loop. But, hawkish as they were, they were appalled at the evidence of Nixon's treachery. They nonetheless decided not to go public with what they knew. Clifford says that this was because the disclosure would have ruined the Paris talks altogether. He could have added that it would have created a crisis of confidence in American institutions. There are some things that the voters can't be trusted to know. And even though the bugging had been legal, it might not have looked like fair play. (The Logan Act flatly prohibits any American from conducting private diplomacy with a foreign power.) In the event, Thieu pulled out of the negotiations anyway, ruining them just three days before the election. Clifford is in no doubt of the advice on which he did so:
The activities of the Nixon team went far beyond the bounds of justifiable political combat. It constituted direct interference in the activities of the executive branch and the responsibilities of the Chief Executive, the only people with authority to negotiate on behalf of the nation. The activities of the Nixon campaign constituted a gross, even potentially illegal, interference in the security affairs of the nation by private individuals.
Perhaps aware of the slight feebleness of his lawyerly prose, and perhaps a little ashamed of keeping the secret for his memoirs rather than sharing it with the electorate, Clifford adds in a footnote:
It should be remembered that the public was considerably more innocent in such matters in the days before the Watergate hearings and the 1975 Senate investigation of the CIA.
Perhaps the public was indeed more innocent, if only because of the insider reticence of white-shoe lawyers like Clifford, who thought there were some things too profane to be made known. He claims now that he was in favor either of confronting Nixon privately with the information and forcing him to desist, or else of making it public. Perhaps this was indeed his view. A more wised-up age of investigative reporting has brought us several updates on this appalling episode. And so has the very guarded memoir of Richard Nixon himself. More than one "back channel" was required for the Republican destabilization of the Paris peace talks.
There had to be secret communications between Nixon and the South Vietnamese, as we have seen. But there also had to be an informant inside the incumbent administration's camp, a source of hints and tips and early warnings of official intentions. That informant was Henry Kissinger. In his own account, RN : The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, the disgraced elder statesman tells us that, in mid-September 1968, he received private word of a planned bombing halt. In other words, the Johnson Administration would, for the sake of the negotiations, consider suspending its aerial bombardment of North Vietnam. This most useful advance intelligence, Nixon tells us, came "through a highly unusual channel."
It was more unusual even than he acknowledged. Kissinger had until then been a devoted partisan of Nelson Rockefeller, the matchlessly wealthy prince of liberal Republicanism. His contempt for the person and the policies of Richard Nixon was undisguised. Indeed, President Johnson's Paris negotiators, led by Averell Harriman, considered Kissinger to be almost one of themselves. He had made himself helpful, as Rockefeller's chief foreign-policy adviser, by supplying French intermediaries with their own contacts in Hanoi. "Henry was the only person outside of the government we were authorized to discuss the negotiations with," Richard Holbrooke told Walter Isaacson. "We trusted him. It is not stretching the truth to say that the Nixon campaign had a secret source within the U.S. negotiating team."
So the likelihood of a bombing halt, wrote Nixon, "came as no real surprise to me." He added: "I told Haldeman that Mitchell should continue as liaison with Kissinger and that we should honor his desire to keep his role completely confidential." It is impossible that Nixon was unaware of his campaign manager's parallel role in colluding with a foreign power.
Thus began what was effectively a domestic covert operation, directed simultaneously at thwarting the talks and embarrassing the Hubert Humphrey campaign. Later in the month, on September 26 to be precise, and as recorded by Nixon in his memoirs, "Kissinger called again. He said that he had just returned from Paris, where he had picked up word that something big was afoot regarding Vietnam. He advised that if I had anything to say about Vietnam during the following week, I should avoid any new ideas or proposals." On the same day, Nixon declined a challenge from Humphrey for a direct debate. On October 12, Kissinger once again made contact, suggesting that a bombing halt might be announced as soon as October 23.
And so it might have been. Except that for some reason, every time the North Vietnamese side came closer to agreement, the South Vietnamese increased their own demands. We now know why and how that was, and how the two halves of the strategy were knit together. As far back as July, Nixon had met quietly in New York with the South Vietnamese ambassador, Bui Diem. The contact had been arranged by Anna Chennault. Bugging of the South Vietnamese offices in Washington, and surveillance of the "Dragon Lady," showed how the ratchet operated. An intercepted cable from Diem to President Thieu on the fateful day of October 23 had him saying: "Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you had already softened your position." The wiretapping instructions went to one Cartha DeLoach, known as "Deke" to his associates, who was J. Edgar Hoover's FBI liaison officer to the White House. We met him, you may recall, in H. R. Haldeman's Diaries. In 1999 the author Anthony Summers was finally able to gain access to the closed FBI file of intercepts of the Nixon campaign, which he published in his 2000 book, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. He was also able to interview Anna Chennault. These two breakthroughs furnished him with what is vulgarly termed a "smoking gun" on the 1968 conspiracy.
By the end of October 1968, John Mitchell had become so nervous about official surveillance that he ceased taking calls from Chennault. And President Johnson, in a conference call to the three candidates, Nixon, Humphrey, and Wallace (allegedly to brief them on the bombing halt), had strongly implied that he knew about the covert efforts to stymie his Vietnam diplomacy. This call created near-panic in Nixon's inner circle and caused Mitchell to telephone Chennault at the Sheraton Park Hotel. He then asked her to call him back on a more secure line. "Anna," he told her, "I'm speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It's very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position, and I hope you made that clear to them.... Do you think they really have decided not to go to Paris?"
The reproduced FBI original document shows what happened next. On November 2, 1968, the agent reported:
MRS. ANNA CHENNAULT CONTACTED VIETNAMESE AMBASSADOR, BUI DIEM, AND ADVISED HIM THAT SHE HAD RECEIVED A MESSAGE FROM HER BOSS (NOT FURTHER IDENTIFIED), WHICH HER BOSS WANTED HER TO GIVE PERSONALLY TO THE AMBASSADOR. SHE SAID THAT THE MESSAGE WAS THAT THE AMBASSADOR IS TO "HOLD ON, WE ARE GONNA WIN" AND THAT HER BOSS ALSO SAID "HOLD ON, HE UNDERSTANDS ALL OF IT." SHE REPEATED THAT THIS IS THE ONLY MESSAGE. "HE SAID PLEASE TELL YOUR BOSS TO HOLD ON." SHE ADVISED THAT HER BOSS HAD JUST CALLED FROM NEW MEXICO.
Nixon's running mate, Spiro Agnew, had been campaigning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that day, and subsequent intelligence analysis revealed that he and another member of his staff (the one principally concerned with Vietnam) had indeed been in touch with the Chennault camp. The beauty of having Kissinger leaking from one side and Anna Chennault and John Mitchell conducting a private foreign policy on the other was this: It enabled Nixon to avoid being drawn into the argument over a bombing halt. And it further enabled him to suggest that it was the Democrats who were playing politics with the issue. On October 25, in New York, he used his tried-and-tested tactic of circulating an innuendo while purporting to disown it. Of LBJ's Paris diplomacy he said, "I am also told that this spurt of activity is a cynical, last-minute attempt by President Johnson to salvage the candidacy of Mr. Humphrey. This I do not believe."
Kissinger himself showed a similar ability to play both ends against the middle. In the late summer of 1968, on Martha's Vineyard, he had offered Nelson Rockefeller's files on Nixon to Professor Samuel Huntington, a close adviser to Hubert Humphrey. But when Huntington's colleague and friend Zbigniew Brzezinski tried to get him to make good on the offer, Kissinger became shy. "I've hated Nixon for years," he told Brzezinski, but the time wasn't quite ripe for the handover. Indeed, it was a very close-run election, turning in the end on the difference of a few hundred thousand votes, and many hardened observers believe that the final difference was made when Johnson ordered a bombing halt on October 31 and the South Vietnamese made him look like a fool by boycotting the peace talks two days later. Had things gone the other way, of course, Kissinger was a near-certainty for a senior job in a Humphrey administration.
With slight differences of emphasis, the larger pieces of this story appear in Haldeman's work as cited and in Clifford's memoir. They are also partially rehearsed in President Johnson's autobiography, The Vantage Point, and in a long reflection on Indochina by William Bundy (one of the architects of the war) entitled rather tritely The Tangled Web. Senior members of the press corps, among them Jules Witcover in his history of 1968, Seymour Hersh in his study of Kissinger, and Walter Isaacson, editor of Time magazine, in his admiring but critical biography, have produced almost congruent accounts of the same abysmal episode. The only mention of it that is completely and utterly false, by any literary or historical standard, appears in the memoirs of Henry Kissinger himself. He writes just this:
Several Nixon emissaries--some self-appointed--telephoned me for counsel. I took the position that I would answer specific questions on foreign policy, but that I would not offer general advice or volunteer suggestions. This was the same response I made to inquiries from the Humphrey staff.
This contradicts even the self-serving memoir of the man who, having won the 1968 election by these underhanded means, made as his very first appointment Henry Kissinger as national security adviser. One might not want to arbitrate a mendacity competition between the two men, but when he made this choice Richard Nixon had only once, briefly and awkwardly, met Henry Kissinger in person. He clearly formed his estimate of the man's abilities from more persuasive experience than that. "One factor that had most convinced me of Kissinger's credibility," wrote Nixon later in his own delicious prose, "was the length to which he went to protect his secrecy." That ghastly secret is now out.
In the January 1969 issue of the Establishment house organ Foreign Affairs, published a few days after his appointment as Nixon's right-hand man, there appeared Henry Kissinger's own evaluation of the Vietnam negotiations. On every point of substance, he agreed with the line taken in Paris by the Johnson-Humphrey negotiators. One has to pause for an instant to comprehend the enormity of this. 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 Bundy ruefully confirms, as if they did indeed have a deal. This meant, in the words of a later Nixon slogan, "Four More Years." But 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 the fall of 1968.
This was what it took to promote Henry Kissinger. To promote him from a mediocre and opportunistic academic to an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger's global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.
Even while compelled to concentrate on brute realities, one must never lose sight of that element of the surreal that surrounds Henry Kissinger.
Paying a visit to Vietnam in the middle 1960s, when many technocratic opportunists were still convinced that the war was worth fighting and could be won, the young Henry reserved judgment on the first point but developed considerable private doubts on the second. He had gone so far as to involve himself with an initiative that extended to direct personal contact with Hanoi. He became friendly with two Frenchmen who had a direct line to the Communist leadership in North Vietnam's capital. Raymond Aubrac, a French civil servant who was a friend of Ho Chi Minh, and Herbert Marcovich, a French microbiologist, began a series of trips to North Vietnam. On their return, they briefed Kissinger in Paris. He in his turn parlayed their information into high-level conversations in Washington, relaying the actual or potential negotiating positions of Pham Van Dong and other Communist statesmen to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. (In the result, the relentless bombing of the North made any "bridge-building" impracticable. In particular, the now forgotten American destruction of the Paul Doumer Bridge outraged the Vietnamese side.)
This weightless mid-position, which ultimately helped enable his double act in 1968, allowed Kissinger to ventriloquize Governor Rockefeller and to propose, by indirect means, a future detente with America's chief rivals. In his first major address as a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1968, Rockefeller spoke ringingly of how "in a subtle triangle with Communist China and the Soviet Union, we can ultimately improve our relations with each--as we test the will for peace of both." [Italics added.] This foreshadowing of a later Kissinger strategy might appear at first reading to illustrate prescience. But Governor Rockefeller had no more reason than Vice President Humphrey to suppose that his ambitious staffer would defect to the Nixon camp, risking and postponing this same detente in order later to take credit for a debased simulacrum of it.
Morally speaking, Kissinger treated the concept of superpower rapprochement in the same way as he treated the concept of a negotiated settlement in Vietnam: as something contingent on his own needs. There was a time to feign support of it and a time to denounce it as weak-minded and treacherous. And there was a time to take credit for it. Some of those who "followed orders" in Indochina may lay a claim to that notoriously weak defense. Some who even issued the orders may now tell us that they were acting sincerely at the time. But Kissinger cannot avail himself of this alibi. He always knew what he was doing, and he embarked upon a second round of protracted warfare having knowingly helped to destroy an alternative that he always understood was possible. This increases the gravity of the charge against him. It also prepares us for his improvised and retrospective defense against that charge: that his immense depredations eventually led to "peace." When he announced that "peace is at hand" in October 1972, he made a boastful and false claim that could have been made in 1968. And when he claimed credit for subsequent superpower contacts, he was announcing the result of a secret and corrupt diplomacy that had originally been proposed as an open and democratic one.
In the meantime, he had illegally eavesdropped and shadowed American citizens and public servants whose misgivings about the war, and about unconstitutional authority, were mild compared with those of Messieurs Aubrac and Marcovich. In establishing what lawyers call the mens rea, we can say that in Kissinger's case he was fully aware of, and is entirely accountable for, his own actions. Upon taking office at Richard Nixon's side in the winter of 1969, it was Kissinger's task to be plus royaliste que le roi in two respects. He had to confect a rationale of "credibility" for punitive action in an already devastated Vietnamese theater, and he had to second his principal's wish that he form part of a "wall" between the Nixon White House and the Department of State. The term "two track" was later to become commonplace. Kissinger's position on both tracks, of promiscuous violence abroad and flagrant illegality at home, was decided from the start. He does not seem to have lacked relish for either commitment; one hopes faintly that this was not the first twinge of the "aphrodisiac."
President Johnson's "bombing halt" had not lasted long by any standard, even if one remembers that its original conciliatory purpose had been sordidly undercut. Averell Harriman, who had been LBJ's chief negotiator in Paris, later testified to Congress that the North Vietnamese had withdrawn 90 percent of their forces from the northern two provinces of South Vietnam, in October and November 1968, in accordance with the agreement of which the "halt" might have formed a part. In the new context, however, this withdrawal could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, or even as a "light at the end of the tunnel." The historical record of the Indochina war is voluminous, and the resulting controversy no less so. This does not, however, prevent the following of a consistent thread. Once the war had been unnaturally and undemocratically prolonged, more exorbitant methods were required to fight it and more fantastic excuses had to be fabricated to justify it.
Let us take four connected cases in which the civilian population was deliberately exposed to indiscriminate lethal force, in which the customary laws of war and neutrality were violated, and in which conscious lies had to be told in order to conceal these facts and others. The first such case is an example of what Vietnam might have been spared had not the 1968 Paris peace talks been sabotaged. In December 1968, during the "transition" period between the Johnson and Nixon administrations, the United States military command turned to what General Creighton Abrams termed "total war" against the "infrastructure" of the Vietcong/National Liberation Front insurgency. The chief exhibit in this campaign was a six-month clearance of the province of Kien Hoa. The code name for the sweep was Operation "Speedy Express."
It might, in some realm of theory, be remotely conceivable that such tactics could be justified under the international laws and charters governing the sovereign rights of self-defense. But no nation capable of deploying the overwhelming and annihilating force described below would be likely to find itself on the defensive. And it would be least of all likely to find itself on the defensive on its own soil. So the Nixon-Kissinger Administration was not, except in one unusual sense, fighting for survival. The unusual sense in which its survival was at stake is set out, yet again, in the stark posthumous testimony of H. R. Haldeman. From his roost at Nixon's side he describes a Kissingerian moment on December 15, 1970:
K[issinger] came in and the discussion covered some of the general thinking about Vietnam and the P's big peace plan for next year, which K later told me he does not favor. He thinks that any pullout next year would be a serious mistake because the adverse reaction to it could set in well before the `72 elections. He favors, instead, a continued winding down and then a pullout right at the fall of `72 so that if any bad results follow they will be too late to affect the election.
One could hardly wish for it to be more plainly put than that. (And put, furthermore, by one of Nixon's chief partisans with no wish to discredit the re-election.) But in point of fact, Kissinger himself admits to almost as much in his own first volume of memoirs, The White House Years. The context is a meeting with General de Gaulle, in which the old warrior demanded to know by what right the Nixon Administration subjected Indochina to devastating bombardment. In his own account, Kissinger replies that "a sudden withdrawal might give us a credibility problem." (When asked "where?" Kissinger hazily proposed the Middle East.) It is important to bear in mind that the future flatterer of Brezhnev and Mao was in no real position to claim that he made war in Indochina to thwart either. He certainly did not dare try such a callow excuse on Charles de Gaulle. And indeed, the proponent of secret deals with China was in no very strong position to claim that he was combating Stalinism in general. No, it all came down to "credibility" and to the saving of face. It is known that 20,763 American, 109,230 South Vietnamese, and 496,260 North Vietnamese servicemen lost their lives in Indochina between the day that Nixon and Kissinger took office and the day in 1973 that they withdrew American forces and accepted the logic of 1968.
Must the families of these victims confront the fact that the chief "faces" at risk were those of Nixon and Kissinger? Thus the colloquially titled "Christmas bombing" of North Vietnam, continued after that election had been won, must be counted as a war crime by any standard. The bombing was not conducted for anything that could be described as "military reasons" but for twofold political ones. The first of these was domestic: a show of strength to extremists in Congress and a means of putting the Democratic Party on the defensive. The second was to persuade South Vietnamese leaders such as President Thieu--whose intransigence had been encouraged by Kissinger in the first place--that their objections to American withdrawal were too nervous. This, again, was the mortgage on the initial secret payment of 1968.
When the unpreventable collapse occurred in Cambodia and Vietnam, in April and May 1975, the cost was infinitely higher than it would have been seven years previously. These locust years ended as they had begun--with a display of bravado and deceit. On May 12, 1975, in the immediate aftermath of the Khmer Rouge seizure of power, Cambodian gunboats detained an American merchant vessel named the Mayaguez. The ship was stopped in international waters claimed by Cambodia and then taken to the Cambodian island of Koh Tang. In spite of reports that the crew had been released, Kissinger pressed for an immediate face-saving and "credibility"-enhancing strike. He persuaded President Gerald Ford, the untried and undistinguished successor to his deposed former boss, to send in the Marines and the Air Force. Out of a Marine force of 110, 18 were killed and 50 were wounded. Twenty-three Air Force men died in a crash. The United States used a 15,000-ton bomb on the island, the most powerful nonnuclear device that it possessed. Nobody has the figures for Cambodian deaths. The casualties were pointless, because the ship's company of the Mayaguez were nowhere on Koh Tang, having been released some hours earlier. A subsequent congressional inquiry found that Kissinger could have known of this by listening to Cambodian broadcasting or by paying attention to a third-party government that had been negotiating a deal for the restitution of the crew and the ship. It was not as if any Cambodians doubted, by that month of 1975, the willingness of the U.S. government to employ deadly force.
In Washington, D.C., there is a famous and hallowed memorial to the American dead of the Vietnam War. Known as the "Vietnam Veterans Memorial," it bears a name that is slightly misleading. I was present for the extremely affecting moment of its dedication in 1982 and noticed that the list of nearly 60,000 names is incised in the wall not by alphabet but by date. The first few names appear in 1959 and the last few in 1975. The more historically minded visitors can sometimes be heard to say that they didn't know the United States was engaged in Vietnam as early or as late as that. Nor was the public supposed to know. The first names are of the covert operatives, sent in by Colonel Edward Lansdale without congressional approval to support French colonialism. The last names are of those thrown away in the Mayaguez fiasco. It took Henry Kissinger to ensure that a war of atrocity, which he had helped to prolong, should end as furtively and ignominiously as it had begun.
Some statements are too blunt for everyday, consensual discourse. In national "debate," it is the smoother pebbles that are customarily gathered from the stream and used as projectiles. They leave less of a scar, even when they hit. Occasionally, however, a single hard-edged remark will inflict a deep and jagged wound, a gash so ugly that it must be cauterized at once. In January 1971 there was a considered statement from General Telford Taylor, who had been chief U.S. prosecuting counsel at the Nuremberg trials.
Reviewing the legal and moral basis of those hearings, and also the Tokyo trials of Japanese war criminals and the Manila trial of Emperor Hirohito's chief militarist, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, Taylor said that if the standard of Nuremberg and Manila were applied evenly, and applied to the American statesmen and bureaucrats who designed the war in Vietnam, then "there would be a very strong possibility that they would come to the same end [Yamashita] did." It is not every day that a senior American soldier and jurist delivers the opinion that a large portion of his country's political class should probably be hooded and blindfolded and dropped through a trapdoor on the end of a rope. In his book Nuremberg and Vietnam, General Taylor also anticipated one of the possible objections to this legal and moral conclusion. It might be argued for the defense, he said, that those arraigned did not really know what they were doing; in other words, that they had achieved the foulest results but from the highest and most innocent motives.
The notion of Indochina as some Heart of Darkness "quagmire" of ignorant armies has been sedulously propagated, then and since, in order to make such a euphemism appear plausible. Taylor had no patience with such a view. American military and intelligence and economic and political teams had been in Vietnam, he wrote, for much too long to attribute anything they did "to lack of information." It might have been possible for soldiers and diplomats to pose as innocents until the middle of the 1960s, but after that time, and especially after the My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968, when serving veterans reported major atrocities to their superior officers, nobody could reasonably claim to have been uninformed, and of those who could, the least believable would be those who--far from the confusion of battle--read and discussed and approved the panoptic reports of the war that were delivered to Washington.
General Taylor's book was being written while many of the most reprehensible events of the Indochina war were still taking place, or still to come. He was unaware of the intensity and extent of, for example, the bombing of Laos and Cambodia. Enough was known about the conduct of the war, however, and about the existing matrix of legal and criminal responsibility, for him to arrive at some indisputable conclusions. The first of these concerned the particular obligation of the United States to be aware of, and to respect, the Nuremberg principles:
Military courts and commissions have customarily rendered their judgments stark and unsupported by opinions giving the reasons for their decisions. The Nuremberg and Tokyo judgments, in contrast, were all based on extensive opinions detailing the evidence and analyzing the factual and legal issues, in the fashion of appellate tribunals generally. Needless to say they were not of uniform quality, and often reflected the logical shortcomings of compromise, the marks of which commonly mar the opinions of multi-member tribunals. But the process was professional in a way seldom achieved in military courts, and the records and judgments in these trials provided a much-needed foundation for a corpus of judge-made international penal law. The results of the trials commended themselves to the newly formed United Nations, and on Dec. 11, 1946, the General Assembly adopted a resolution affirming "the principles of international law recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the judgment of the Tribunal." However history may ultimately assess the wisdom or unwisdom of the war crimes trials, one thing is indisputable: At their conclusion, the United States Government stood legally, politically and morally committed to the principles enunciated in the charters and judgments of the tribunals. The President of the United States, on the recommendations of the Departments of State, War and Justice, approved the war crimes programs. Thirty or more American judges, drawn from the appellate benches of the states from Massachusetts to Oregon, and Minnesota to Georgia, conducted the later Nuremberg trials and wrote the opinions. General Douglas MacArthur, under authority of the Far Eastern Commission, established the Tokyo tribunal and confirmed the sentences it imposed, and it was under his authority as the highest American military officer in the Far East that the Yamashita and other such proceedings were held. The United States delegation to the United Nations presented the resolution by which the General Assembly endorsed the Nuremberg principles. Thus the integrity of the nation is staked on those principles, and today the question is how they apply to our conduct of the war in Vietnam, and whether the United States Government is prepared to face the consequences of their application.
Facing and cogitating these consequences himself, General Taylor took issue with another United States officer, Colonel William Corson, who had written that
[r]egardless of the outcome of ... the My Lai courts-martial and other legal actions, the point remains that American judgment as to the effective prosecution of the war was faulty from beginning to end and that the atrocities, alleged or otherwise, are a result of a failure of judgment, not criminal behavior.
To this Taylor responded:
Colonel Corson overlooks, I fear, that negligent homicide is generally a crime of bad judgment rather than evil intent. Perhaps he is right in the strictly causal sense that if there had been no failure of judgment, the occasion for criminal conduct would not have arisen. The Germans in occupied Europe made gross errors of judgment which no doubt created the conditions in which the slaughter of the inhabitants of Klissura [a Greek village annihilated during the Occupation] occurred, but that did not make the killings any the less criminal.
Referring this question to the chain of command in the field, General Taylor noted further that the senior officer corps had been
more or less constantly in Vietnam, and splendidly equipped with helicopters and other aircraft, which gave them a degree of mobility unprecedented in earlier wars, and consequently endowed them with every opportunity to keep the course of the fighting and its consequences under close and constant observation. Communications were generally rapid and efficient, so that the flow of information and orders was unimpeded. These circumstances are in sharp contrast to those that confronted General Yamashita in 1944 and 1945, with his troops reeling back in disarray before the oncoming American military powerhouse. For failure to control his forces so as to prevent the atrocities they committed, Brig. Gens. Egbert F. Bullene and Morris Handwerk and Maj. Gens. James A. Lester, Leo Donovan and Russel B. Reynolds found him guilty of violating the laws of war and sentenced him to death by hanging.
Nor did General Taylor omit the crucial link between the military command and its political supervision; again a much closer and more immediate relationship in the American-Vietnamese instance than in the Japanese-Filipino one, as the regular contact between, say, General Creighton Abrams and Henry Kissinger makes clear:
How much the President and his close advisers in the White House, Pentagon and Foggy Bottom knew about the volume and cause of civilian casualties in Vietnam, and the physical devastation of the countryside, is speculative. Something was known, for the late John McNaughton (then Assistant Secretary of Defense) returned from the White House one day in 1967 with the message that "We seem to be proceeding on the assumption that the way to eradicate the Vietcong is to destroy all the village structures, defoliate all the jungles, and then cover the entire surface of South Vietnam with asphalt."
This was noticed (by Townsend Hoopes, a political antagonist of General Taylor's) before that metaphor had been extended into two new countries, Laos and Cambodia, without a declaration of war, a notification to Congress, or a warning to civilians to evacuate. But Taylor anticipated the Kissinger case in many ways when he recalled the trial of the Japanese statesman Koki Hirota,
who served briefly as Prime Minister and for several years as Foreign Minister between 1933 and May, 1938, after which he held no office whatever. The so-called "rape of Nanking" by Japanese forces occurred during the winter of 1937-38, when Hirota was Foreign Minister. Upon receiving early reports of the atrocities, he demanded and received assurances from the War Ministry that they would be stopped. But they continued, and the Tokyo tribunal found Hirota guilty because he was "derelict in his duty in not insisting before the Cabinet that immediate action be taken to put an end to the atrocities," and "was content to rely on assurances which he knew were not being implemented." On this basis, coupled with his conviction on the aggressive war charge, Hirota was sentenced to be hanged.
Melvin Laird, as secretary of defense during the first Nixon Administration, was queasy enough about the early bombings of Cambodia, and dubious enough about the legality or prudence of the intervention, to send a memo to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking, "Are steps being taken, on a continuing basis, to minimize the risk of striking Cambodian people and structures? If so, what are the steps? Are we reasonably sure such steps are effective?"
No evidence has surfaced that Henry Kissinger, as national security adviser or secretary of state, ever sought even such modest assurances. Indeed, there is much evidence of his deceiving Congress as to the true extent to which such assurances as were offered were deliberately false. Others involved--such as Robert McNamara; McGeorge Bundy, national security adviser to both Kennedy and Johnson; and William Colby--have since offered varieties of apology or contrition or at least explanation. Henry Kissinger, never. General Taylor described the practice of air strikes against hamlets suspected of "harboring" Vietnamese guerrillas as "flagrant violations of the Geneva Convention on Civilian Protection, which prohibits `collective penalties,' and `reprisals against protected persons,' and equally in violation of the Rules of Land Warfare." He was writing before this atrocious precedent had been extended to reprisal raids that treated two whole countries--Laos and Cambodia--as if they were disposable hamlets.
For Henry Kissinger, no great believer in the boastful claims of the war makers in the first place, a special degree of responsibility attaches. Not only did he have good reason to know that field commanders were exaggerating successes and claiming all dead bodies as enemy soldiers--a commonplace piece of knowledge after the spring of 1968--but he also knew that the issue of the war had been settled politically and diplomatically, for all intents and purposes, before he became national security adviser. Thus he had to know that every additional casualty, on either side, was not just a death but an avoidable death. With this knowledge, and with a strong sense of the domestic and personal political profit, he urged the expansion of the war into two neutral countries--violating international law--while persisting in a breathtakingly high level of attrition in Vietnam itself. From a huge menu of possible examples, I have chosen cases that involve Kissinger directly and in which I have myself been able to interview surviving witnesses.
The first, as foreshadowed above, is Operation "Speedy Express": My friend and colleague Kevin Buckley, then a much admired correspondent and Saigon bureau chief for Newsweek, became interested in the "pacification" campaign that bore this breezy code name. Designed in the closing days of the Johnson-Humphrey Administration, it was put into full effect in the first six months of 1969, when Henry Kissinger had assumed much authority over the conduct of the war. The objective was the American disciplining, on behalf of the Thieu government, of the turbulent Mekong Delta province of Kien Hoa.
On January 22, 1968, Robert McNamara had told the Senate that "no regular North Vietnamese units" were deployed in the Delta, and no military intelligence documents have surfaced to undermine his claim, so that the cleansing of the area cannot be understood as part of the general argument about resisting Hanoi's unsleeping will to conquest. The announced purpose of the Ninth Division's sweep, indeed, was to redeem many thousands of villagers from political control by the National Liberation Front (NLF), or "Vietcong" (VC). As Buckley found, and as his magazine, Newsweek, partially disclosed at the rather late date of June 19, 1972,
All the evidence I gathered pointed to a clear conclusion: a staggering number of noncombatant civilians--perhaps as many as 5,000 according to one official--were killed by U.S. firepower to "pacify" Kien Hoa. The death toll there made the My Lai massacre look trifling by comparison.... The Ninth Division put all it had into the operation. Eight thousand infantrymen scoured the heavily populated countryside, but contact with the elusive enemy was rare. Thus, in its pursuit of pacification, the division relied heavily on its 50 artillery pieces, 50 helicopters (many armed with rockets and mini-guns) and the deadly support lent by the Air Force. There were 3,381 tactical air strikes by fighter bombers during "Speedy Express."... "Death is our business and business is good," was the slogan painted on one helicopter unit's quarters during the operation. And so it was. Cumulative statistics for "Speedy Express" show that 10,899 "enemy" were killed. In the month of March alone, "over 3,000 enemy troops were killed ... which is the largest monthly total for any American division in the Vietnam War," said the division's official magazine. When asked to account for the enormous body counts, a division senior officer explained that helicopter gun crews often caught unarmed "enemy" in open fields.... There is overwhelming evidence that virtually all the Viet Cong were well armed. Simple civilians were, of course, not armed. And the enormous discrepancy between the body count [11,000] and the number of captured weapons  is hard to explain--except by the conclusion that many victims were unarmed innocent civilians.... The people who still live in pacified Kien Hoa all have vivid recollections of the devastation that American firepower brought to their lives in early 1969. Virtually every person to whom I spoke had suffered in some way. "There were 5,000 people in our village before 1969, but there were none in 1970," one village elder told me. "The Americans destroyed every house with artillery, air strikes, or by burning them down with cigarette lighters. About 100 people were killed by bombing, others were wounded and others became refugees. Many were children killed by concussion from the bombs which their small bodies could not withstand, even if they were hiding underground." Other officials, including the village police chief, corroborated the man's testimony. I could not, of course, reach every village. But in each of the many places where I went, the testimony was the same: 100 killed here, 200 killed there.
Other notes by Buckley and his friend and collaborator Alex Shimkin (a worker for International Voluntary Services who was later killed in the war) discovered the same evidence in hospital statistics. In March 1969, the hospital at Ben Tre reported 343 patients injured by "friendly" fire and 25 by "the enemy," an astonishing statistic for a government facility to record in a guerrilla war in which suspected membership in the Vietcong could mean death. And Buckley's own citation for his magazine--of "perhaps as many as 5,000" deaths among civilians in this one sweep--is an almost deliberate understatement of what he was told by a United States official, who actually said that "at least 5,000" of the dead "were what we refer to as non-combatants"--a not too exacting distinction, as we have already seen, and as was by then well understood. Well understood, that is to say, not just by those who opposed the war but by those who were conducting it. As one American official put it to Buckley,
The actions of the Ninth Division in inflicting civilian casualties were worse [than My Lai]. The sum total of what the 9th did was overwhelming. In sum, the horror was worse than My Lai. But with the 9th, the civilian casualties came in dribbles and were pieced out over a long time. And most of them were inflicted from the air and at night. Also, they were sanctioned by the command's insistence on high body-counts.... The result was an inevitable outcome of the unit's command policy.
The earlier sweep that had mopped up My Lai--during Operation "Wheeler Wallawa"--had also at the time counted all corpses as those of enemy soldiers, including the civilian population of the village, who were casually included in the mind-bending overall total of 10,000. Confronted with this evidence, Buckley and Shimkin abandoned a lazy and customary usage and replaced it, in a cable to Newsweek headquarters in New York, with a more telling and scrupulous one. The problem was not "indiscriminate use of firepower" but "charges of quite discriminating use--as a matter of policy in populated areas." Even the former allegation is a gross violation of the Geneva Convention; the second charge leads straight to the dock in Nuremberg or The Hague.
Since General Creighton Abrams publicly praised the Ninth Division for its work, and drew attention wherever and whenever he could to the tremendous success of Operation "Speedy Express," we can be sure that the political leadership in Washington was not unaware. Indeed, the degree of micromanagement revealed in Kissinger's memoirs quite forbids the idea that anything of importance took place without his knowledge or permission. Of nothing is this more true than his own individual involvement in the bombing and invasion of neutral Cambodia and Laos.
Obsessed with the idea that Vietnamese intransigence could be traced to allies or resources external to Vietnam itself, or could be overcome by tactics of mass destruction, Kissinger at one point contemplated using thermonuclear weapons to obliterate the pass through which ran the railway link from North Vietnam to China, and at another stage considered bombing the dikes that prevented North Vietnam's irrigation system from flooding the country. Neither of these measures (reported respectively in Tad Szulc's history of Nixon-era diplomacy, The Illusion of Peace, and by Kissinger's former aide Roger Morris) was taken, which removes some potential war crimes from our bill of indictment but which also gives an indication of the regnant mentality. There remained Cambodia and Laos, which supposedly concealed or protected North Vietnamese supply lines.
As in the cases postulated by General Telford Taylor, there is the crime of aggressive war and then there is the question of war crimes. In the postwar period, or the period governed by the U.N. Charter and its related and incorporated conventions, the United States under Democratic and Republican administrations had denied even its closest allies the right to invade countries that allegedly gave shelter to their antagonists. Most famously, President Eisenhower exerted economic and diplomatic pressure at a high level to bring an end to the invasion of Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel in October 1956. (The British thought Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser should not control "their" Suez Canal, the French believed Nasser to be the inspiration and source of their troubles in Algeria, and the Israelis claimed that he played the same role in fomenting their difficulties with the Palestinians. The United States maintained that even if these propaganda fantasies were true, they would not retrospectively legalize an invasion of Egypt.)
During the Algerian war of independence, the United States had also repudiated France's claimed right to attack a town in neighboring Tunisia that succored Algerian guerrillas, and in 1964, at the United Nations, Ambassador Adlai Stevenson had condemned the United Kingdom for attacking a town in Yemen that allegedly provided a rear guard for rebels operating in its then colony of Aden. All this law and precedent was to be thrown to the winds when Nixon and Kissinger decided to aggrandize the notion of "hot pursuit" across the borders of Laos and Cambodia. As William Shawcross reported in his 1979 book, Sideshow, even before the actual territorial invasion of Cambodia, for example, and very soon after the accession of Nixon and Kissinger to power, a program of heavy bombardment of the country was prepared and executed in secret.
One might with some revulsion call it a "menu" of bombardment, since the code names for the raids were "Breakfast," "Lunch," "Snack," "Dinner," and "Dessert." The raids were flown by B-52 bombers, which, it is important to note, fly at an altitude too high to be observed from the ground and carry immense tonnages of high explosive; they give no warning of approach and are incapable of accuracy or discrimination. Between March 1969 and May 1970, 3,630 such raids were flown across the Cambodian frontier. The bombing campaign began as it was to go on--with full knowledge of its effect on civilians and flagrant deceit by Mr. Kissinger in this precise respect. To wit, a memorandum prepared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sent to the Defense Department and the White House stated plainly that "some Cambodian casualties would be sustained in the operation" and that "the surprise effect of attack could tend to increase casualties." The target district for "Breakfast" (Base Area 353) was inhabited, explained the memo, by about 1,640 Cambodian civilians; "Lunch" (Base Area 609), by 198 of them; "Snack" (Base Area 351), by 383; "Dinner" (Base Area 352), by 770; and "Dessert" (Base Area 350), by about 120 Cambodian peasants. These oddly exact figures are enough in themselves to demonstrate that Kissinger must have been lying when he later told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that areas of Cambodia selected for bombing were "unpopulated."
As a result of the expanded and intensified bombing campaigns, it has been officially estimated that as many as 350,000 civilians in Laos and 600,000 in Cambodia lost their lives. (These are not the highest estimates.) Figures for refugees are several multiples of that. In addition, the widespread use of toxic chemical defoliants created a massive health crisis that naturally fell most heavily on children, nursing mothers, the aged, and the already infirm. That crisis persists to this day. Although this appalling war, and its appalling consequences, can and should be taken as a moral and political crisis for American institutions, for at least five United States presidents, and for American society, there is little difficulty in identifying individual responsibility during this, its most atrocious and indiscriminate stage. Richard Nixon, as commander in chief, bears ultimate responsibility and only narrowly escaped a congressional move to include his crimes and deceptions in Indochina in the articles of impeachment, the promulgation of which eventually compelled his resignation. But his deputy and closest adviser, Henry Kissinger, was sometimes forced, and sometimes forced himself, into a position of virtual co-presidency where Indochina was concerned.
For example, in the preparations for the invasion of Cambodia in 1970, Kissinger was caught between the views of his staff--several of whom resigned in protest when the invasion began--and his need to please his president. His president listened more to his two criminal associates--John Mitchell and Bebe Rebozo--than he did to his secretaries of state and defense, William Rogers and Melvin Laird, both of whom were highly skeptical about widening the war. On one especially charming occasion, Nixon telephoned Kissinger, while drunk, to discuss the invasion plans. He then put Bebe Rebozo on the line. "The President wants you to know if this doesn't work, Henry, it's your ass." "Ain't that right, Bebe?" slurred the commander in chief. (The conversation was monitored and transcribed by one of Kissinger's soon-to-resign staffers, William Watts.) It could be said that in this instance the national security adviser was under considerable pressure; nevertheless, he took the side of the pro-invasion faction and, according to the memoirs of General William Westmoreland, actually lobbied for that invasion to go ahead. A somewhat harder picture is presented by former chief of staff H. R. Haldeman in his Diaries. On December 22, 1970, he records:
Henry came up with the need to meet with the P today with Al Haig and then tomorrow with Laird and Moorer because he has to use the P to force Laird and the military to go ahead with the P's plans, which they won't carry out without direct orders.
In his White House Years, Kissinger claims that he usurped the customary chain of command whereby commanders in the field receive, or believe that they receive, their orders from the president and then the secretary of defense. He boasts that he, together with Haldeman, Alexander Haig, and Colonel Ray Sitton, evolved "both a military and a diplomatic schedule" for the secret bombing of Cambodia. On board Air Force One, which was on the tarmac at Brussels airport on February 24, 1969, he writes, "we worked out the guidelines for bombing of the enemy's sanctuaries." A few weeks later, Haldeman's Diaries for March 17 record:
Historic day. K[issinger]'s "Operation Breakfast" finally came off at 2:00 PM our time. K[issinger] really excited, as was P[resident].
The next day's entry:
K[issinger]'s "Operation Breakfast" a great success. He came beaming in with report, very productive.
It only got better. On April 22, 1970, Haldeman reports that Nixon, following Kissinger into a National Security Council meeting on Cambodia, "turned back to me with a big smile and said, `K[issinger]'s really having fun today, he's playing Bismarck.'" The above is an insult to the Iron Chancellor. When Kissinger was finally exposed in Congress and the press for conducting unauthorized bombings, he weakly pleaded that the raids were not all that secret, really, because Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia had known of them. He had to be reminded that a foreign princeling cannot give permission to an American bureaucrat to violate the United States Constitution. Nor, for that matter, can he give permission to an American bureaucrat to slaughter large numbers of his "own" civilians. It's difficult to imagine Bismarck cowering behind such a contemptible excuse. (Prince Sihanouk, it is worth remembering, later became an abject puppet of the Khmer Rouge.)
Colonel Sitton, the reigning expert on B-52 tactics at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began to notice that by late 1969 his own office was being regularly overruled in the matter of selecting targets. "Not only was Henry carefully screening the raids," said Sitton, "he was reading the raw intelligence" and fiddling with the mission patterns and bombing runs. In other departments of Washington insiderdom, it was also noticed that Kissinger was becoming a Stakhanovite committeeman. Aside from the crucial 40 Committee, which planned and oversaw all foreign covert actions, he chaired the Washington Special Action Group (WSAG), which dealt with breaking crises; the Verification Panel, concerned with arms control; the Vietnam Special Studies Group, which oversaw the day-to-day conduct of the war; and the Defense Program Review Committee, which supervised the budget of the Defense Department. It is therefore impossible for him to claim that he was unaware of the consequences of the bombings of Cambodia and Laos; he knew more about them, and in more intimate detail, than any other individual. Nor was he imprisoned in a culture of obedience that gave him no alternative, or no rival arguments. Several senior members of his own staff, most notably Anthony Lake and Roger Morris, resigned over the invasion of Cambodia, and more than two hundred State Department employees signed a protest addressed to Secretary of State William Rogers. Indeed, both Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird were opposed to the secret bombing policy, as Kissinger himself records with some disgust in his memoirs. Congress also was opposed to an extension of the bombing (once it had agreed to become informed of it), but even after the Nixon-Kissinger Administration had undertaken on Capitol Hill not to intensify the raids, there was a 21 percent increase of the bombing of Cambodia in the months of July and August 1973. The Air Force maps of the targeted areas show them to be, or to have been, densely populated.
Colonel Sitton does recall, it must be admitted, that Kissinger requested the bombing avoid civilian casualties. His explicit motive in making this request was to avoid or forestall complaints from the government of Prince Sihanouk. But this does no more in itself than demonstrate that Kissinger was aware of the possibility of civilian deaths. If he knew enough to know of their likelihood, and was director of the policy that inflicted them, and neither enforced any actual precautions nor reprimanded any violators, then the case against him is legally and morally complete. As early as the fall of 1970, an independent investigator named Fred Branfman, who spoke Lao and knew the country as a civilian volunteer, had gone to Bangkok and interviewed Jerome Brown, a former targeting officer for the United States Embassy in the Laotian capital of Vientiane. The man had retired from the Air Force because of his disillusionment at the futility of the bombing and his consternation at the damage done to civilians and society. The speed and height of the planes, he said, meant that targets were virtually indistinguishable from the air. Pilots often chose villages as targets, because they could be more readily identified than alleged Pathet Lao guerrillas hiding in the jungle.
Branfman, whom I interviewed in San Francisco in the summer of 2000, went on to provide this and other information to Henry Kamm and Sydney Schanberg of the New York Times, to Ted Koppel of ABC, and to many others. Under pressure from the United States Embassy, the Laotian authorities had Branfman deported back to the United States, which was probably, from their point of view, a mistake. He was able to make a dramatic appearance on Capitol Hill on April 22, 1971, at a hearing held by Senator Edward Kennedy's subcommittee on refugees.
His antagonist was the State Department's envoy, William Sullivan, a former ambassador to Laos. Branfman accused him in front of the cameras of helping to conceal evidence that Laotian society was being mutilated by ferocious aerial bombardment. Partly as a consequence, Congressman Pete McCloskey of California paid a visit to Laos and acquired a copy of an internal U.S. Embassy study of the bombing. He also prevailed on the U.S. Air Force to furnish him with aerial photographs of the dramatic damage. Ambassador Sullivan was so disturbed by these pictures, some of them taken in areas known to him, that his first reaction was to establish to his own satisfaction that the raids had occurred after he left his post in Vientiane. (He was later to learn that, for his pains, his own telephone was being tapped at Henry Kissinger's instigation, one of the many such violations of American law that were to eventuate in the Watergate tapping-and-burglary scandal, a scandal that Kissinger was furthermore to plead--in an astounding outburst of vanity, deceit, and self-deceit--as his own alibi for collusion in the 1974 Cyprus crisis.)
Having done what he could to bring the Laotian nightmare to the attention of those whose constitutional job it was to supervise such questions, Branfman went back to Thailand and from there to Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. Having gained access to a pilot's radio, he tape-recorded the conversations between pilots on bombing missions over the Cambodian interior. On no occasion did they run any checks designed to reassure themselves and others that they were not bombing civilian targets. It had been definitely asserted, by named U.S. government spokesmen, that such checks were run. Branfman handed the tapes to Sydney Schanberg, whose New York Times report on them was printed just before the Senate met to prohibit further blitzing of Cambodia (the very resolution that was flouted by Kissinger the following month).
From there Branfman went back to Thailand and traveled north to Nakhorn Phanom, the new headquarters of the U.S. Seventh Air Force. Here, a war room code-named Blue Chip served as the command and control center of the bombing campaign. Branfman was able to pose as a new recruit just up from Saigon and ultimately gained access to the war room itself. Consoles and maps and screens plotted the progress of the bombardment. In conversation with the "bombing officer" on duty, he asked if pilots ever made contact before dropping their enormous loads of ordnance. Oh, yes, he was assured, they did. Were they worried about hitting the innocent? Oh, no--merely concerned about the whereabouts of CIA "ground teams" infiltrated into the area. Branfman's report on this, which was carried by Jack Anderson's syndicated column, was uncontroverted by any official denial.
One reason that the American command in Southeast Asia finally ceased employing the crude and horrific tally of "body count" was that, as in the relatively small but specific case of Operation "Speedy Express" cited above, the figures began to look ominous when they were counted up. Sometimes, totals of "enemy" dead would turn out, when computed, to be suspiciously larger than the number of claimed "enemy" in the field. Yet the war would somehow drag on, with new quantitative goals being set and enforced. Thus, according to the Pentagon, the following are the casualty figures between the first Lyndon Johnson bombing halt in March 1968 and February 26, 1972: Americans: 31,205 South Vietnamese regulars: 86,101 "Enemy": 475,609 The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Refugees estimated that in the same four-year period, rather more than 3 million civilians were killed, injured, or rendered homeless. In the same four-year period, the United States dropped almost 4,500,000 tons of high explosive on Indochina. (The Pentagon's estimated total for the amount dropped in the entire Second World War is 2,044,000.) This total does not include massive sprayings of chemical defoliants and pesticides. It is unclear how we count the murder or abduction of 35,708 Vietnamese civilians by the CIA's counterguerrilla "Phoenix program" during the first two and a half years of the Nixon-Kissinger Administration.
There may be some "overlap." There is also some overlap with the actions of previous administrations in all cases. But the truly exorbitant death tolls all occurred on Henry Kissinger's watch; were known and understood by him; were concealed from Congress, the press, and the public by him; and were, when questioned, the subject of political and bureaucratic vendettas ordered by him. They were also partly the outcome of a secretive and illegal process in Washington, unknown even to most Cabinet members, of which Henry Kissinger stood to be, and became, a prime beneficiary. On that closing point one may once again cite H. R. Haldeman, who had no further reason to lie and who had, by the time of his writing, paid for his crimes by serving a sentence in prison. Haldeman describes the moment in Florida when Kissinger was enraged by a New York Times story telling some part of the truth about Indochina:
Henry telephoned J. Edgar Hoover in Washington from Key Biscayne on the May morning the Times story appeared. According to Hoover's memo of the call, Henry said the story used "secret information which was extraordinarily damaging." Henry went on to tell Hoover that he "wondered whether I could make a major effort to find out where that came from ... and to put whatever resources I need to find out who did this. I told him I would take care of this right away." Henry was no fool, of course. He telephoned Hoover a few hours later to remind him that the investigation be handled discreetly "so no stories will get out." Hoover must have smiled, but said all right. And by five o'clock he was back on the telephone to Henry with the report that the Times reporter "may have gotten some of his information from the Southeast Asian desk of the Department of Defense's Public Affairs Office." More specifically, Hoover suggested the source could be a man named Mort Halperin (a Kissinger staffer) and another man who worked in the Systems Analysis Agency.... According to Hoover's memo, Kissinger "hoped I would follow it up as far as we can take it and they will destroy whoever did this if we can find him, no matter where he is." The last line of that memo gives an accurate reflection of Henry's rage, as I remember it. Nevertheless, Nixon was one hundred percent behind the wiretaps. And I was, too. And so the program started, inspired by Henry's rage but ordered by Nixon, who soon broadened it even further to include newsmen. Eventually, seventeen people were wiretapped by the FBI including seven on Kissinger's NSC staff and three on the White House staff.
And thus, the birth of the "plumbers" and of the assault on American law and democracy that they inaugurated. Commenting on the lamentable end of this process, Haldeman wrote that he still believed that ex-president Nixon (who was then still alive) should agree to the release of the remaining tapes. But:
This time my view is apparently not shared by the man who was one reason for the original decision to start the taping process. Henry Kissinger is determined to stop the tapes from reaching the public.... Nixon made the point that Kissinger was really the one who had the most to lose from the tapes becoming public. Henry apparently felt that the tapes would expose a lot of things he had said that would be very disadvantageous to him publicly. Nixon said that in making the deal for custody of his Presidential papers, which was originally announced after his pardon but then was shot down by Congress, that it was Henry who called him and insisted on Nixon's right to destroy the tapes. That was, of course, the thing that destroyed the deal.
A society that has been "plumbed" has the right to demand that its plumbers be compelled to make some restitution by way of full disclosure. The litigation to put the Nixon tapes in the public trust is only partially complete; no truthful account of the Vietnam years will be available until Kissinger's part in what we already know has been made fully transparent. Until that time, Kissinger's role in the violation of American law at the close of the Vietnam War makes the perfect counterpart to the 1968 covert action that helped him to power in the first place. The two parentheses enclose a series of premeditated war crimes that still have power to stun the imagination.
Two well-marked and separate but consistent styles may be noticed in Kissinger's successive, sanguinary encounters with Indochina and Chile: in the first instance, a megalo-style, replete with overblown operatic effects on his part and grand, terrifying consequences for others; in the second instance, a micro-style, involving an obsessive, almost fussy manipulation of smaller forces. The two practices are actually quite congruent, and there is an obvious relation between the gross and comprehensive violence of the first case and the intimate and personal cruelty of the second.
In Indochina, the megalo-scale of mass murder also required much individual fawning, the tireless flattering of numerous secret committees, and the smiling betrayal of several associates.
In Chile, the micro-scale of surreptitious assassination was paradoxically conceived with a certain grandeur, the objective being the destabilization of an entire government and, ultimately, the teaching of a sharp pedagogical lesson to a whole subcontinent. In Chile, the destruction of an economy, a president, and a constitution is followed by the knowing extension of the "death squad" system across the Southern Americas. Vendetta, in other words--against Schneider and Allende--evolves into realpolitik.
In Bangladesh, it is calmly decided that the lives of millions of Bengalis are expendable: they are the price of a glorifying photo-op in Beijing, the returning of a favor to a military dictator, and payment for an old personal resentment by Kissinger's boss. Since the victim cannot be forgiven, this grudge is later pursued to the threshold of assassination and beyond.
In Cyprus, a fancied slight or two from an elected but inconvenient leader is enough to set the machinery of designated murder and wider geopolitical "destabilization" clanking again: out of a perceived affront to power evolves a bitter war and a continuing tragedy.
In East Timor, an uncountable hill of corpses rises so that a covert and illegal handshake between Henry Kissinger and a bizarre despot may be honored. While in Washington, D.C., a lone reporter catches and offends the world's coldest eye and nearly loses both liberty and life as a consequence.
From The Trial of Henry Kissinger, 2001.