Henry Kissinger : peacemaker or war criminal?

One major war criminal still walks free, says Michael Schmitt. But efforts to bring Henry Kissinger to justice are making headway. “It was at that moment that satire died. There was nothing more to say after that.”

(The musical satirist Tom Lehrer, when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. Lehrer decided he could no longer perform.) Henry Kissinger, former US State Secretary, elder statesmen par excellence, coveted dinner guest, quick-witted public lecturer, widely sought consultant and wise man of international relations, or pathological liar, pitiful and odious schlumpf and wanted war criminal?

Surely, this cannot be the same man. Hundreds of statesmen, businessmen, journalists worldwide as well as the honourable Nobel committee cannot be wrong about Kissinger’s praiseworthiness. Are they in error, the plethora of journalists, human rights activists and researchers who have claimed to have compiled evidence for Kissinger’s multifarious criminal record since he first came into office in 1969? Are Kissinger’s critics misguided and confused agitators ? Let us examine the outrageous claim that Kissinger merits the label ‘war criminal’ and ought not to be incessantly consulted on realpolitik, but prosecuted for the version he practiced. A selection of the charges follows:

While the genocide against Bangladeshis was well underway, Kissinger and Nixon, willfully ignoring the warnings of US diplomats on the ground, assured the continuation of the flow of US arms to the bloodthirsty military regime of Pakistan.

In 1975 the US intervened in Angola several months before Russian and Cuban troops entered the conflict area. Kissinger ordered the CIA to rewrite documents to justify his disastrous policy, claiming that the US intervention took place after the Russians and Cubans had arrived.

East Timor
In the same year Kissinger and Ford visited General Suharto in Jakarta. Recently declassified governmentdocuments prove what Kissinger denied in his rather silly and self-revealing memoirs: They gave the green light to Suharto’s invasion of East Timor, and by implication approved of the ensuing genocide. In violation of US law, US weapons continued to flow to the Indonesian army while the death count mounted.

Kissinger’s role in the deliberate destabilization and eventual overthrow of Salvador Allende’s government is well documented. His justification for this act of state terrorism par excellence: “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

The cruelty with which the US pursued the Vietnam war has been met with widespread criticism. With the notable exception of the infamous ‘Christmas Bombing,’ Kissinger’s role in the prolongation, intensification and expansion of the war is less well known.
In interviews I always draw attention to and highlight the gravity of the bombings of Cambodia and Laos which resulted in several hundred thousand casualties. Kissinger has praised himself as the architect of the expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia and initiated the orders to intensify the bombings of Laos. In Cambodia, Kissinger’s realpolitik led to the partial destruction of the fabric of society and paved the way for the seizure of power by the genocidal Khmer Rouge. More bombs were dropped on Laos than on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. Apart from the direct casualties, remnants of US cluster bombs have killed more than 11,000 Laotian civilians in the last twenty years.

Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.

The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.

The nice thing about being a celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it’s their fault.

The real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mold reality in the light of their purposes.

There cannot be a crisis next week; my schedule is already full.

University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

In an interview a few years ago, Kissinger was asked: “What if the United States had allowed Vietnam to go communist after World War II?” The great man replied: “Wouldn’t have mattered very much. If the Vietnam domino had fallen then, no great loss.” No great loss. The post-cold war 1990s were supposed to have ushered in the age of human rights and exposure of state officials as war criminals. I cannot but conclude that the striking feature of this purported human rights era was the highly selective perception of human rights violations and the respective perpetrators. Yes, General Pinochet was detained in London and almost handed over to Judge Baltazar Garcon in Spain on grounds of torture charges. Slobodan Milosevic was extradited to the ICTY in the Hague to face a trial for genocide and war crimes. But Henry Kissinger continues to saunter with impunity and his reputation remains unscathed.

Or maybe not. In June 2001, Kissinger was asked to Paris to award the UNESCO peace prize to the otherwise laudable Mary Robinson, then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. During his stay in Paris, Kissinger was summoned by a French judge to answer questions concerning his knowledge of the 1970s Latin American governmental killer network ‘Operation Condor.’ He immediately departed and asked the US embassy to deal with this ‘contemptible’ attempt at interrogating him in the context of state-sponsored and US supervised terrorism. In October, a slim majority of right-wing MPs , in the Geneva Parliament rejected a resolution which would have called upon Swiss authorities to declare Kissinger persona non grata and to open investigations into his role in ‘Operation Condor.’

‘Condor se escribe con K’ (Condor is spelled with a K), a Chilean friend and fellow campaigner likes to say. A group of victims and human rights activists in Chile filed a criminal complaint against Kissinger on September 11, 2001, the 28th anniversary of the US-sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government. On the preceding day, another promising legal action had been taken in Washington by the Family of General Rene Schneider, the Chilean General killed in 1970 on behalf of the CIA — the supervising committee of which was chaired by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger at the time. This was followed by a second suit in November 2002, alleging that Kissinger knowingly provided practical assistance and encouragement to the Chilean repressive regime before, during, and after the coup, with reckless disregard for the lives and well-being of the victims and their families. Both suits are based on the examination of declassified US government documents.

Activists in Ireland have tried to perform a citizens’ arrests, and the British human rights lawyer Peter Tatchell tried to obtain an arrest warrant for Kissinger’s Indochina crimes. Lawyers in various countries are currently examining national Universal Jurisdiction with respect to possible suits against Kissinger.
Even the opposition of the US to the recently established International Criminal Court is seen in the context of these efforts to bring Kissinger to justice. The New York Times (September 7, 2002) reported that: ‘In the forefront of the Americans’ minds are the continuing assertions from various quarters that Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, should be tried as a war criminal for his alleged actions in Indochina, Chile, Indonesia and Cyprus, all of which his spokesmen have dismissed out of hand.’

Increasingly irritated by the intransigent questioning of a growing number of journalists, the usually eloquent Kissinger reacts muttering to questions about his travel restriction in the light of Universal Jurisdiction laws in countries like Belgium: ‘I am not a war criminal. I have conducted major negotiations.’
Millions of victims of Henry Kissinger’s pernicious foreign policy tarry in the waiting room to justice and redress. Although the avenue towards justice for the victims of Kissinger’s crimes is strewn with obstacles, the door to the discrediting and even prosecution of a former US foreign secretary has been pried open. In the name of justice, let us seize upon the opportunity and put the historical records of Kissinger’s realpolitik straight.

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