Kissinger’s resume boasts of a criminal past

Scott Laderman

So corrupt is American political life that Henry Kissinger’s recent appointment to lead the official commission investigating the attacks of Sept. 11 elicited, according to the New York Times, “mostly bipartisan praise.” And so debased is this nation’s intellectual culture that those critics the Times identified as “skeptics of Mr. Kissinger” were largely limited in mainstream news reports to persons concerned with his penchant for secrecy, not his criminal past.

For those unfamiliar with this towering figure of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Kissinger’s is a sordid tale – portions of it were given a public airing in recent years in a series of articles in Harper’s, a book by Christopher Hitchens and a provocative documentary shown on campus last week by the University Film Society.

Kissinger served as national security adviser from 1969-73 and as secretary of state from 1973-77. During that time he was complicit in a series of actions that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the covert surveillance of Americans he considered suspect. In 1969, for instance, he and then President Richard Nixon set in motion the “secret” U.S. bombing of Cambodia, which continued either surreptitiously or openly for more than four years. The devastation of the Cambodian countryside by U.S. B-52s, which caused hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, was “probably the most important single factor” in the rise to power of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, wrote historian Ben Kiernan. The U.S.-induced carnage was massive and indiscriminate. Dozens of villagers were frequently killed in single attacks in places like Angkor Borei, Stung Kambot and Plei Lom. During a funeral procession in 1973, U.S. bombers slaughtered hundreds of peasants in one incident alone, according to the chief of the political section in the U.S. embassy.

Just across the border, the U.S. destruction of Vietnam orchestrated by Nixon and Kissinger – Jeffrey Kimball calls them “Nixinger” – was similarly merciless. While the country had been subjected to persistent bombardment for years, the “Christmas bombing” of the North in December 1972 stands out as particularly heinous. During a span of nearly two weeks, B-52s and other U.S. aircraft dropped more than 20,000 tons of bombs on both military and civilian targets. Vietnamese sources report more than 1,600 people were killed. Destroyed were the Bach Mai hospital, the Hang Co train station and other facilities in Hanoi and Haiphong. The attacks served no legitimate purpose. The United States accepted virtually the same peace terms in a January 1973 accord as were on the table the previous October – terms that were, in fact, almost substantively identical to those offered by Hanoi and the National Liberation Front as early as 1969. As a Kissinger aide – now the U.S. representative to the United Nations – later quipped, “We bombed the North Vietnamese into accepting our concessions.”

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Kissinger and then President Gerald Ford gave a “green light” in December 1975 to the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor. During the 25 years that followed, upwards of 250,000 Timorese died from the extrajudicial executions, rapes, torture and starvation that accompanied the assault; the toll during the first 18 months of the campaign was estimated by the Indonesian foreign minister at the time at 50,000 to 80,000 civilians killed. Kissinger has remained stubbornly deceitful about his support for Jakarta’s aggression. When confronted by investigative journalist Allan Nairn in 1995, he blatantly lied about his role in its origins. “Timor was never discussed while we (he and Ford) were in Indonesia” in the hours before the invasion, Kissinger insisted. Told that a declassified State Department transcript of the meeting he held with Suharto unambiguously showed otherwise, Kissinger shifted strategy and opted to attack Nairn’s personal integrity. Like many government officials, Kissinger’s service was subsequently rewarded. As a proven friend to the Suharto regime, the diplomat was granted a seat on the board of Freeport McMoRan, the U.S. corporation that runs a gold mining operation – the world’s largest – in the Indonesian archipelago. Such spoils are hardly unique.

The record of Kissinger’s criminality is broad. A complete account would need to include his travails in Chile, Bangladesh and Cyprus, among other cases.

But given even this partial public record, one wonders how as repugnant a figure as Kissinger could be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. What does it say about U.S. society that Kissinger, whose mendacity knows no bounds, is considered by the media to be one of this country’s most respected foreign policy experts? What sort of ethical calculus allows for the creation of an endowed “Henry Alfred Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations” at the Library of Congress?

On second thought, perhaps it makes perfect sense that in a world such as this one, Kissinger would be appointed by the George W. Bush administration to investigate the events of Sept. 11.

Scott Laderman’s biweekly column appears alternate Tuesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]