The Age, Australia -- By Christopher Hitchens -- April 30 2002 -- Here are some snapshots from the recent career of Henry Kissinger.
In May of last year, during a stay at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, he is visited by the criminal brigade of the French police, and served with a summons. This requests him to attend the Palais de Justice the following day to answer questions from Judge Roger LeLoire.
The judge is investigating the death and disappearance of five French citizens during the rule of General Pinochet in Chile. Kissinger declines the invitation and leaves Paris at once.
In the same week, Judge Rodolfo Corrall of Argentina invites Kissinger's testimony in the matter of "Operation Condor". This was the codename for a state-run death-squad, operated by the secret police of six countries - Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Ecuador - during the 1970s and 1980s.
Its central coordination was run through an American base in Panama, at the time when the National Security Adviser and Secretary of State (and chairman of the committee overseeing all US covert operations) was Henry Kissinger. Again, Kissinger declines to answer written requests for information.
Later in the same year, Judge Guzman in Santiago, Chile, sends a written summons to the State Department requesting Kissinger's testimony about the death and disappearance of an American citizen, Charles Horman, in the early days of the Pinochet dictatorship. (Horman's story was dramatised by Constantine Costa-Gavras in the award-winning movie Missing.) Once again, no reply is received to this request for testimony.
On September 10, 2001, a major civil suit is filed in the Federal Court in Washington, DC, by the relatives and survivors of General Rene Schneider, the former head of the Chilean general staff, who was assassinated in 1970 because of his opposition to a military coup.
The lawsuit charges Henry Kissinger with ordering and arranging General Schneider's murder. The attorney for the plaintiffs, Professor Michael Tigar, announces that every document in the indictment comes from declassified government sources.In the European spring of 2002, Judge Balthazar Garzon, of Spain, supported by other judges in France, asks Interpol to detain Kissinger for questioning during his visit to London.
In Chile, the courts announce that if they continue to meet with no response to their requests for cooperation, they may seek Henry Kissinger's extradition.
At the same time, the government of Brazil asks Kissinger to cancel a proposed visit to the city of Sao Paolo, saying that it cannot guarantee that he will be immune from attempts to indict him.
Earlier this month, a petition for Kissinger's arrest is filed in the High Court in London, citing the destruction of civilian populations and the environment in Indochina during the years 1969-75. The High Court rules in such a manner as to leave room for a further application.
This is not a complete or exhaustive list of the difficulties now facing America's best-known ex-secretary of state. Recently, I was informed via the former Spanish ambassador to the United States that Kissinger had approached the embassy asking whether he would be safe if he visited Spain. These days he does not travel without legal advice.
In the new legal context created by the arrest of General Pinochet and the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the principle of "universal jurisdiction" applies, and states that crimes against humanity are indictable and punishable everywhere in the world.
It should be noted, though, that with the exception of the lawsuit in Federal Court in Washington, Kissinger is not being sought as a defendant. He is only being summonsed or subpoenaed as a witness. His refusal to cooperate therefore licenses the suspicion that he has something very unpleasant to hide.
Parallel disclosures only help to materialise this same suspicion. The State Department recently declassified the verbatim conversation between Kissinger and General Suharto on the day of the invasion of East Timor in 1975. The record shows Kissinger giving warm approval to the proposed annexation, and also promising to keep a flow of weapons coming to Indonesia.
This flagrant agreement to break both international law and the law of the United States (which supplied weapons on the specific condition that they be used only in self-defence) contradicts every statement so far made by Kissinger on the subject.
Only a few weeks ago, documents released by the State Department also proved beyond doubt that Kissinger had urged the apartheid regime in South Africa to intervene in Angola before any Cuban soldier had landed in that disputed colony. Again, the disclosure represented a complete negation of everything ever said or written by Kissinger.
Without exaggeration, it can be said that these legal and investigative initiatives represent the highest point ever attained by the long campaign to enforce international law on human rights. Never before has so senior a figure in a government victorious in war been asked to answer questions about what he did, what he ordered, and what he covered up.
If the drive to put Kissinger in the witness box, let alone the dock, should succeed, then it would rebut the taunt about "victor's justice" in war-crimes trials. It would demonstrate that no person, and no society or state, is above the law. Conversely, if the initiative should fail, then it would seem to be true that we have woven a net for the catching of small fish only.
Much hinges on this distinction. The International Criminal Court has now won more than the 60-nation vote that was required for its establishment. Almost all Western and democratic nations, with the exception of the United States, have "signed on".
Once again, it has to be inferred that there are matters, past and present, which American administrations would prefer not to submit to impartial judgment. Certainly, Kissinger himself has been prominent in the campaign against congressional ratification of the treaty (which was signed by President Clinton but which still awaits confirmation). Quite rightly, the new court will not be allowed to revisit atrocities that took place before it was set up. Unlike the exceptional case of Nuremburg, the accusation of retro-active justice cannot be hurled around.
However, this may not be as obvious in application as at first appears. There are many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans, Greek Cypriots, Bangladeshis and Timorese, Cambodians and Vietnamese, who seek to know what happened to their "missing" family members.
In the absence of a proof of death, these cases might be adjudicated as "live" and therefore as contemporary and relevant. If so, Kissinger would be the most embarrassed man on the planet. He sat in the secret meetings during which the coups in Cyprus and Chile, the slaughter by the Pakistani army in Bangladesh, the carpet-bombing of Cambodia and the invasion of East Timor were discussed and (without the knowledge or consent of the United States Congress) were approved.
Of the original group that formed the core of the Nixon regime and took part in the many violations of the United States constitution, by means of illegal bugging and illegal covert action, Richard Nixon had to accept a pardon in order to avoid prosecution, his vice-president, Spiro Agnew, had to resign in a flurry of indictments and his attorney-general, John Mitchell, became the first attorney-general to go to jail. Only Henry Kissinger has so far avoided a full investigation of his abuses of power.
Of the despots on the international scene with whom he enthusiastically cooperated, Brigadier Ioannidis of Greece is in prison, as is General Videla of Argentina. Generals Pinochet of Chile and Suharto of Indonesia have avoided trial and condemnation by claiming that they are too sick in mind and body to face prosecution (and a more humane successor government has spared them the kind of treatment they would have meted out to their own foes).
Only the senior partner in all this has evaded any inconvenience. Until now. We are once again forced to ask ourselves if we speak the truth when we say that no man is above the law.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, is published in Australia by Text.
Kissinger: Wanted for questioning