“There are difficult days ahead”
By Dr George Venturini
Heinz Alfred ‘Henry’ Kissinger obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1954. His interest was on Castelreagh and Metternich – two empire builders. He devoted his life to sublimate them.
In an incendiary, studiedly defamatory book the late Christopher Hitchens described him as “a mediocre and opportunist academic [intent on] becoming 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.”
The story is all here: from the martyrdom of Indochina to becoming the real backchannel to Moscow on behalf of his new client: Donald Trump.
Editor’s note: This outstanding series by Dr Venturini is published bi-weekly (Wednesdays and Saturdays). Today we publish Part Sixteen. Here is the link to Part Fifteen; Dirty warriors in a dirty war.
Time to sum up
The wave of document disclosure has continued during the past thirty years. The latest release occurred almost accidentally by initiative of the Trump Administration. (Trump Leaks Operation Condor-Era Declassified Docs to Argentina, 27 April 2017). The resulting story runs as follows.
Just three months after the Argentine generals’ coup on 24 March 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave that country’s military a ‘green light’ to continue its ‘dirty war’, according to a State Department memorandum. It is contained in a document which clearly shows that in early 1977 Robert Hill, then the U.S. Ambassador to Buenos Aires, told a top Carter Administration official that Kissinger had given his approval to the repression in which up to 30,000 people were kidnapped and secretly murdered. Kissinger, he charged, put his imprimatur on the massive ‘disappearances’ at a 10 June 1976 meeting in Santiago, Chile, with Argentina’s Foreign Minister, Admiral Guzzetti, both men being in attendance of the Sixth General Assembly of the Organization of American States, the agenda of which, in tragic irony, had been dominated by the human rights issue. Guzzetti was one of the most outspoken advocates of the ‘dirty war’. In August 1976 he told the United Nations: “My idea of subversion is that of the left-wing terrorist organisations. Subversion or terrorism of the right is not the same thing. When the social body of the country has been contaminated by a disease that eats away at its entrails, it forms antibodies. These antibodies cannot be considered in the same way as the microbes.”
The ninety-minute early morning meeting, at Santiago’s Hotel Carrera, across from La Moneda Palace, came just three weeks after Hill had urgently warned Kissinger of the worsening Argentine rights record. A word from the Secretary of State would have helped rein in the generals. A secret analysis by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, dated 5 April 1976, had noted that “human rights could become a problem area as the military clamps down on terrorism.” It went on: “To date, however, the Junta has followed a reasonable, prudent line in an obvious attempt to avoid being tagged with a ‘made in Chile’ label.” According to the records of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Argentina’s foremost human rights group, by the time Kissinger and Guzzetti met, 1,022 people had been ‘disappeared’. At least another 7,938 met the same fate afterward. According to Hill, when Kissinger arrived at the Santiago conference the Argentine generals were nervous about the prospect of being ‘floored’ by the United States for their human rights record. But Kissinger merely told Guzzetti that the regime should solve the problem before the United States Congress reconvened in 1977.
Within three weeks of the meeting a wave of wholesale executions began, and hundreds of detainees were killed in reprisal for attacks by leftist guerrillas. The memorandum shows that Hill believed the responsibility for this ballooning state terrorism to be Kissinger’s. Hill died in 1978; confirmation is impossible. Guzzetti was to suffer lasting brain damage in a 1977 attack. Kissinger referred inquiries to former Secretary of State William D. Rogers, who was with him in Santiago. Rogers did “not specifically remember” a meeting with Guzzetti, but added: “What Henry would have said if he had had such a meeting was that human rights were embedded in our policy, for better or worse. He’d have said sympathetic things about the need for effective methods against terrorism, but without abandoning the rule of law.” But Ms. Patricia Derian, Carter’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, confirmed the account of Hill’s charges and was ‘nauseated’ to learn of Kissinger’s role. Two former American diplomats also corroborated Hill’s story. Hill’s own past appears to put him above suspicion that his charges against Kissinger were politically motivated. “Hill’s biography reads like a satirical left-wing caricature of an imperialist,” noted the authoritative Latin America newsletter.
Despite five ambassadorial postings to Spanish-speaking countries, he never mastered the language. Hill, a former director of the notorious United Fruit Company, was directly linked in testimony before the U.S. Senate with the C.I.A. planning of the coup which overthrew the elected government of Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán in Guatemala in 1954. Before being assigned to Buenos Aires by Richard Nixon, he was Assistant Secretary of Defense responsible for international security. Like many others, Hill had greeted the coup against the outrageously corrupt, incompetent government of Juan Perón’ s widow, Isabel Martínez de Perón, with relief. He was especially impressed by the military’s willingness to crack down on top drug traffickers, who had been protected by Isabel Peron’s inner circle. By the time of the coup, a siege atmosphere was gripping the U.S. Embassy; a U.S. honorary consul had been murdered by the left-wing Peronist Montoneros, and a U.S. diplomat had been wounded by the guerrillas of the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo.
“There are difficult days ahead,” Hill warned the National Security Council in a secret Country Analysis and Strategy Paper the day before the 24 March coup. “The strategy is essentially one of protecting our people and property from terrorism and our trade and investments from economic nationalism during this trying period.” Human rights did not immediately appear to be a problem to Hill. The 5 April Bureau of Intelligence and Research analysis concluded that “terrorism from the right would be more susceptible to control than that from the left, because right-wing operatives frequently have been attached to groups now directly under military supervision.” Less than a month later events had overtaken any such wishful thinking. On 18 May two prominent Uruguayans exiled in Buenos Aires were taken from their homes by unidentified men. Héctor Gutiérrez Ruiz, a former president of the Uruguayan House of Deputies, was assassinated in pursuance of Operation Condor on 20 May 1976; on the same day and in the same ‘operation’ Zelmar Michelini, a charismatic former senator, was assassinated. Neither was involved in armed politics, nor did they belong to the ultra-radical left.
On 25 May Hill sent a secret cable to Secretary of State Kissinger, requesting instructions. The page-long copy is heavily redacted but it is still possible to read: “In view of the general worsening human rights situation here, believe the time has come for a demarche at the highest level. Hence, I request instructions to ask for an urgent appointment with the foreign minister. … In view of the pace of developments, I would appreciate reply by immediate cable.” Hill’s request was approved by Under Secretary of State Joseph Sisco. On 27 May Kissinger sent a secret cable: ‘Subject: Human Rights Situation in Argentina’, directed to the embassies in Montevideo and Buenos Aires: “Acting Assistant Secretary [Hewson] Ryan called in Ambassador Vasquez May 27 to warn him about the growing concern in the US about the violence in Argentina and the reported disappearances of individuals. This concern is being expressed by major universities, the responsible press – such as The New York Times – and by members of both Houses of Congress, and is having an unfavorable impact on Argentina’s image in this country. If this continues, it would make cooperation with Argentina difficult, as happened in the case of Chile. … Ambassador Ryan said there is concern in the US not only about the arrests being carried out by the [Argentines] but about the failure of the [government] to control the activities of right-wing terrorist groups.”
If Kissinger had any lingering doubts about what was happening in Argentina, they were dispelled by subordinates such as Hill. Yet, his cable is noteworthy for its blandness; his rendition of Ryan’s meeting shows the Argentines were told outside pressure – not U.S. policy – endangered business as usual. Two weeks later Kissinger went to Chile to meet Guzzetti.
Hill had quickly realised what was occurring. The new military regime was not limiting its rampage to the guerrillas, against whom it used methods which violated every accepted convention of warfare and the treatment of prisoners.
It had embarked on a crusade against anyone threatening the armed forces’ version of what they called ‘Western Christian civilisation.’ Hill’s alarm grew as he heard of examples of the horror. Three priests and two seminarians were murdered by vengeful police; an American priest and the daughter of a U.S. missionary were tortured; a progressive Catholic bishop was killed in a staged car crash.
“Hill was shaken, he became very disturbed by the case of the son of a thirty-year embassy employee, student who was arrested, never to be seen again,” recalled former New York Times reporter Juan de Onis. “Hill took a personal interest.”
He went to the Interior Minister, an army general with whom he had worked on drug cases, saying, “Hey, what about this? We’re interested in this case.’’ He then went to Guzzetti and, finally, to President Videla himself.
“All he got was stonewalling; he got nowhere,” de Onis said. “His last year was marked by increasing disillusionment and dismay, and he backed his staff on human rights right to the hilt.” This view of events was confirmed by Wayne Smith, who was Hill’s political officer at the time.
It was a troubled, angry Hill who met in early 1977 with a senior Carter Administration official, eager to unburden himself about Kissinger’s role and explain why the generals were only partly to blame for the slaughter. According to the memorandum: “Hill said that he had made arrangements seven times for a Kissinger visit to Argentina. Each time the Secretary cancelled. Finally Kissinger decided to go to the [Organization of American States] meeting.
In the middle of the meetings, the Secretary wanted to visit Buenos Aires. This tine the Argentines refused because they did not want to interrupt O.A.S. activities being held in a neighbouring state. Kissinger and Foreign Minister Guzzetti agreed to meet in Santiago.
The Argentines were very worried that Kissinger would lecture to them on human rights. Guzzetti and Kissinger had a very long breakfast but the Secretary did not raise the subject. Finally Guzzetti did. Kissinger asked how long would it take [Argentines] to clean up the problem. Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved.
Later, in about August, the Ambassador discussed the matter personally with Kissinger, on the way back to Washington from a Bohemian Grove meeting in San Francisco. Kissinger confirmed the Guzzetti conversation. Hill said that the Secretary felt that Ford would win the election. Hill disagreed. In any case, the Secretary wanted Argentina to finish its terrorist problem before year end – before Congress reconvened in January 1977. In September, Hill prepared an eyes-only memorandum for the Secretary urging that the U.S. vote against an [Inter-American Development Bank] loan on Harkin [human rights] grounds. Hill felt that he would strengthen his hand in dealing with the Argentines. The memorandum was given to Assistant Secretary [Harry] Shlaudeman. The latter asked the Ambassador personally if Hill really wanted to send the memorandum to the Secretary, who had already decided to vote for the loan. Shlaudeman suggested that the Secretary might fire Hill. Hill told Shlaudeman to send the memo Hill’s I.D.B. memorandum was ignored. The United States voted for the loan, warning the Argentines, however, that America might not be able to support future Argentine projects in the I.D.B. unless the human rights picture changed.
When asked about what transpired in Santiago, Kissinger’s spokesperson said that Kissinger “doesn’t have a great deal of memory about events in 1975” and that Kissinger expressed “a great deal of affection for Ambassador Hill.” Asked about whether they shared the trip back from the Bohemian Grove retreat, the spokesperson replied: “Yeah, I guess he was on the plane.” Yet, Kissinger had spoken at the O.A.S. conference on “Human rights in the Western Hemisphere.”
On that occasion, Kissinger had proclaimed: “One of the most compelling issues of our time, and one which calls for the concerted action of all responsible peoples and nations, is the necessity to protect and extend the fundamenta1 rights of humanity.”
The rhetoric, however, was at variance with accounts of Kissinger’s meeting with Guzzetti, with the background to the O.A.S. speech itself and with the Secretary of State’s attitude once he was out of public office. A U.S. diplomat who asked to remain anonymous told Hill he had been told of Kissinger’s green light by Argentine military sources.
Wayne Smith, Hill’s political officer, was to confirm: “Kissinger told Guzzetti in Santiago, Look, we have to do these things [speak out publicly on the rights issue], but don’t take it too seriously.” [Emphasis added]. Certainly some of the Latin Americans at the O.A.S. remained unimpressed by Kissinger’s speech. “He said genocide gets you ‘adverse international judgment’ ” said one Venezuelan representative of the social democratic government of Carlos Andrés Pérez. “Has he forgotten where he comes from?”
There was a further suggestion that Kissinger’s commitment on human rights was meant for public consumption only. Robert White, who later became Ambassador to El Salvador, was deputy representative of the delegation at the Santiago conference. He had made a public statement there on human rights, based on a position paper approved by the State Department. Kissinger sent him a telegramme of reprimand, although he later retreated after former Representative William Mailliard, the head of the delegation, sent his own sharp reply to Kissinger. White also had a report from what he regarded as a reliable Chilean source of a meeting between Kissinger and Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. “Kissinger told Pinochet he would have to make reference to human rights in his speech.” White said that “that’s all he would hear on the subject.”
Next installment Wednesday: The Kissinger trademark – the repression of democracy
Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.
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