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 Seventeen. Here is the link to Part Sixteen; “There are difficult days ahead”.
In 1978, long after the Argentine military’s policy of arranging massive ‘disappearances’ had been conclusively demonstrated, turning the country into an international pariah, Kissinger was the guest of Argentine President Videla during the World Cup soccer competition. The generals used the visit to show they enjoyed the sympathy of the onetime superstar of U.S. diplomacy. At the end of the tournament Kissinger held a news conference in which he criticised the Carter Administration for not understanding that human rights were a necessary casualty in the battle against terrorism.
He also spent much time in public in the company of the Junta’s Minister of the Economy-and David Rockefeller’s friend – José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz – better known as ‘the Wizard of Hoz.’ His policies were the ideological framework for the murder of hundreds of labour activists unconnected to the guerrillas.
A firm, principled word from Kissinger in June 1976 might have stopped the bloodbath in the making. In the early months of military rule, the armed forces were quite aware of international pressure for human rights. Even as late as the end of 1976, U.S. diplomats learned, Argentina’s top military leaders were still debating the international consequences of the repression. By the time President Carter took office, however, the killing had gone too far for the generals to turn back.
Hill returned to Buenos Aires from the United States in early September 1976. “The Argentine press had been saved for him and he sifted through stacks of newspapers” the Hill memorandum reads. “He saw that the terrorist death toll had climbed steeply. The Ambassador said that he wondered – although he had no proof – whether the Argentine government was not trying to solve its terrorist problem before the end of the year.”
As Hill suspected, the mass execution of prisoners and suspects became a generalised phenomenon only after the Kissinger-Guzzetti meeting. More than seventy people, including the three priests and two seminarians, were murdered in reprisal for the 2 July bombing of a police headquarters by the Montoneros in which a score of people were killed. On 20 August thirty people were executed and their bodies blown up in reprisal for the assassination of retired Gen. Omar Actis. More than fifty were executed in response to the bombing of a police station in the provincial capital of La Plata. Thirty others were slain in reprisal for an attack on the Ministry of Defence. Forty more died over the New Year’s holiday in retaliation for the killing of a colonel.
“It sickened me” said Patricia Derian “that with an imperial wave of his hand, an American could sentence people to death on the basis of a cheap whim. As time went on I saw Kissinger’s foot prints in a lot of countries. It was the repression of a democratic ideal.” (Martin Edward Andersen, Kissinger and the ‘dirty war’,The Nation, 31 October 1987).
In 2000, on the occasion of a visit to Buenos Aires, President Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine J.K. Albright promised that more documents, part of thousands pages from secret archives on American-Argentine diplomacy, would be release. So they were.
The documents, which cover events between June and October 1976, the time of the most frequent ‘disappearances’ in Argentina, show that the Junta regime was convinced that there was no real problem with the United States over the issue of human rights. The Argentine foreign minister, Admiral Guzzetti, drew that conclusion after meetings in October 1976 with Kissinger, Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller and other highly positioned State Department officials, according to an American embassy cable from Buenos Aires.
The new documents provided a detailed insight into the bitter dispute about U.S. support for a military dictatorship and include a rare example of an ambassador daring directly to oppose the very powerful Kissinger.
Ambassador Robert Hill described Guzzetti as “euphoric” and “almost ecstatic” and “in a state of jubilation” after returning from Washington to report on the meetings to Argentine President Videla. According to Hill, “[Guzzetti] said the vice president urged him to advise President Videla to ‘finish the terrorist problem quickly.’ ” [Emphasis added].
In his three-page cable, Hill showed barely concealed outrage that his superiors in Washington were undercutting his efforts to encourage human-rights improvements. The cable, dated 19 October 1976, had the effect of putting “bitter criticism” of Kissinger’s handling of the meetings with Guzzetti on the record, according to a memorandum by another U.S. official who recommended an immediate response.
Hill quoted Guzzetti as saying that Kissinger had assured him “that the United States ‘wants to help Argentina.’ ” Kissinger told Guzzetti “that if the terrorist problem was over by December or January, he [Kissinger] believed serious problems could be avoided in the United States.” A reply to Hill from Kissinger’s chief Latin American officer claimed that Guzzetti “heard only what he wanted to hear” and had arrived at his interpretation “perhaps [because of] his poor grasp of English.”
Hill, in a carefully phrased ‘comment’ ending the cable to Washington, disguised his criticism of Kissinger by limiting to speak only about Guzzetti’s impressions of the meetings. Nevertheless Hill emphasised that Guzzetti received the same message from. But, significantly, Hill seems to stress that Guzzetti received the same message from at last five other highly-placed American officials on four separate occasions. Hill did not consider the possibility that Guzzetti misinterpreted what he heard at those meetings.
Guzzetti’s meetings in Washington, coming just six months after the coup, took place at a critical time in Argentina. Before Guzzetti travelled to the United States, Hill forcefully told him that the continuing atrocities could not be defended. In the view of the United States, Hill recalled in a subsequent cable to the State Department, dated 20 September 1976, having told Guzzetti that “murdering priests and dumping 47 bodies in the street in one day could not be seen in context of defeating the terrorists quickly; on the contrary, such acts were probably counterproductive. What the [United States Government] hoped was that the [Government of Argentina] could soon defeat terrorists, yes, but do so as nearly as possible within the law.”
Guzzetti went to the United States “fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warnings on his government’s human-rights practices,” Hill wrote after meeting with the Argentine leader upon the latter’s return to Buenos Aires. “Rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem with the United States over this issue. Based on what Guzzetti is doubtless reporting to the [Government of Argentina], it must now believe that if it has any problems with the U.S. over human rights, they are confined to certain elements of Congress and what it regards as biased and/or uninformed minor segments of public opinion.”
Hill closed the cable with a pessimistic note: “While this conviction exists, it will be unrealistic and ineffective for this Embassy to press representations to the [Government of Argentina] over human-rights violations.”
Kissinger became increasingly concerned as to Hill’s attitude to the events in Argentina, particularly since Hill had been known to have said, quite firmly, that he would tell all he knew to Congress had he been put on the stand under oath. “I am not going to lie” he openly told several of his colleagues. There was a threat to Kissinger position in those words.
Still, Kissinger continued to refer only fleetingly to Argentina, much as he had done and would continue to do with dirty deeds in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, East Timor, Chile or anywhere else he had acted as an enabler for the kind of endeavours which cost the life of many thousands, millions of people. (David Corn, New memo: Kissinger gave the ‘Green Light’ for Argentina’s dirty war, 14 January 2014).
More declassified documents were published on 8 August 2016. They showed how Kissinger’s close relationship with the Juntas hindered President Carter’s attempts to influence the Argentine regime during is years 1977-1981 presidency.
Carter’s officials were infuriated by Kissinger’s attendance at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina as the personal guest of President Videla, the general who was responsible for oversaw the forced ‘disappearance’ of some 30,000 persons regarded as enemies of the regime.
In 1978 Kissinger was no longer in office after Carter defeated Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential election, but the documents reveal that American diplomats feared his praise for the Junta’s behaviour would encourage further bloodshed.
Carter had made human rights a cornerstone of American foreign policy and was exerting pressure on Argentina’s regime by withholding loans and sales of military equipment.
The newly declassified cables would show how Kissinger lauded Videla and other officials for their methods during his 1978 visit. “His praise for the Argentine government in its campaign against terrorism was the music the Argentine government was longing to hear,” reads one of the documents.
Another diplomatic cable describes how, during a lunch with Videla, “Kissinger applauded Argentina’s efforts in combatting terrorism” and lamented that “it was unfortunate many Americans thought Argentina was a soft drink. He said this indicated that Americans are not aware of Argentine history nor of its struggle against terrorism.”
Kissinger even held a private meeting with Videla without the presence of the American ambassador to Buenos Aires, Raúl Castro, at which human rights and Carter’s foreign policy were discussed. “Videla prearranged it so Kissinger and the interpreter would meet with him privately half an hour before ambassador’s arrival,” one cable shows.
In another off-the-record meeting with the Argentine Council of International Relations – a group of conservative and highly influential Argentine diplomats – Kissinger went even further, saying that “in his opinion the government of Argentina had done an outstanding job in wiping out terrorist forces.”
The American ambassador was shocked by Kissinger’s behaviour. “My only concern is that Kissinger’s repeated high praise for Argentina’s action in wiping out terrorism … may have gone to some considerable extent to his hosts’ heads.” the ambassador said in a lengthy cable to Washington. “There is some danger that Argentines may use Kissinger’s laudatory statements as justification for hardening their human rights stance.”
The documents’ release – which had been announced by President Obama during a visit to Argentina in March 2016 – was welcomed by Argentina’s human rights secretary, Claudio Avruj. “There is no doubt about the participation of the United States in Argentina’s bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship, Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj said following the news that Washington announced it will declassify military and intelligence files from the Dirty War period ahead of Barack Obama’s visit to the country.” (C. Avruj: There’s no doubt about US involvement in Argentina’s coup, Buenos Aires Herald, 18 March 2016).
“We’re surprised by the speed with which the United States has delivered this documentation,” he told reporters. “We thought it would take longer.” (Uki Goñi, ‘Kissinger hindered US effort to end mass killings in Argentina, according to files’, The guardian, 10 August 2016).
Meeting Argentine President Mauricio Macri on 27 April 2017, President Trump handed over 931 declassified Department of State records related to Operation Condor, the cold war-era campaign of violence across Latin America which brought death to thousands of activists.
Trump’s delivery falls in line with President Obama’s promise to release intelligence documents about human rights abuses committed by the Argentine Juntas during the 1970s and 1980s.
Under the title ‘Secret/Exdis’ the declassified documents provide new insight into United States support for human rights abuses in Argentina and neighbouring countries.
The documents describe Operation Condor as a trans-border, multinational effort by ‘Southern Cone’ secret police services to ‘track down and liquidate’ regime opponents, the National Security Archive reports.
They detail the role played by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and other intelligence agencies in purposefully ignoring human rights abuses committed by the Juntas.
The documents reveal that the orchestrators of Operation Condor considered establishing ‘field offices’ in the United States and Europe.
They provide information on relationship between President Carter and General Videla in 1977.
They do more: they confirm that Orlando Letelier, chief economist for former Chilean President Salvador Allende, was killed by members of Chile’s intelligence service under the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship and, more importantly, they include details about the censorship of the U.S. Buenos Aires embassy human rights officer Tex Harris, who tried making human rights abuses public.
The declassification and release of other top secret documents from the records of fourteen intelligence agencies are expected to occur before the end of the year. (Trump leaks Operation Condor-era declassified docs to Argentina, 28 April 2017).
It cannot be said that Kissinger has not suffered some consequences of his Realpolitik.
And the best one can say is that such ‘hiccups’ go with the position.
As Secretary of State in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Kissinger was closely involved diplomatically with the Southern Cone governments at the time and well aware of the Operation Condor. According to the French newspaper L’Humanité, the first cooperation agreements were signed between the C.I.A. and anti-Castro groups, and the right-wing death squad of the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina – Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, set up in Argentina by Juan Perón and Isabel Martínez de Perón’s ‘personal secretary’ José López Rega, and Rodolfo Almirón Sena, who was to be arrested in Spain in 2006.
On 31 May 2001 French judge Roger Le Loire called for a summons be served on Kissinger while he was staying at the Hôtel Ritz in Paris. Judge Le Loire wanted to question Kissinger as a witness regarding ‘alleged’ United States involvement in Operation Condor and for possible U.S. knowledge concerning the ‘disappearance’ of five French nationals in Chile during military rule. Kissinger left Paris that evening, and Le Loire’s inquiries were directed to the U.S. State Department.
In July 2001 the Chilean Supreme Court granted investigating judge Juan Guzmán Tapia the right to question Kissinger about the 1973 killing of American journalist Charles Horman. (His execution by the Chilean military after the coup was dramatised in the 1982 Costa-Gavras film Missing). The judge’s questions were relayed to Kissinger via diplomatic routes but were not answered.
In August 2001 Argentine Judge Rodolfo Canicoba sent a letter rogatory to the U.S. State Department, in accordance with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the two countries, requesting a deposition by Kissinger to aid the judge’s investigation of Operation Condor. (Operation Condor: Deciphering the U.S. Role).
On 10 September 2001 a civil suit was filed in a Washington, D.C. federal court by the family of Gen. René Schneider, the murdered former Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, asserting that Kissinger ordered Schneider’s murder because he refused to endorse plans for a military coup. Schneider was killed by coup-plotters loyal to General Roberto Urbano Viaux Marambio in a botched kidnapping attempt. As part of the suit, Schneider’s two sons filed a claim for civil damages against Kissinger and then-CIA director Richard Helms, quantified in US$ 3 million. (‘Kissinger sued over Chile death’, The Guardian, 12 September 2001; Schneider v. Kissinger, U.S. Department of Justice, 28 June 2005).
On 16 February 2007 a request for the extradition of Kissinger was lodged with the Supreme Court of Uruguay by Cristina Mihura, wife of Bernardo Arnone, a political activist who was kidnapped, tortured and ‘disappeared’ by the dictatorial regime in 1976. (Piden extraditar a Kissinger por Operación Condor, in La Jornada, 16 February 2007; see also: Operation Condor: Latin-American Heads of State condemned by Rome (Italy) Tribunal).
The editors of The New York Times defended Henry Kissinger, arguing that he should be given a pass for his role in Condor and other dirty works because “the world was polarised, and fighting communism involved hard choices and messy compromises.” (‘Henry Kissinger: Haunted by his past.’ BBC News, 26 April, 2002).
But these are minor ‘professional accidents’ – in the great scheme of things simply embarrassments for statesmen of the calibre of Henry Kissinger.
Every once in a while, in that great firmament which is the law a grand mind comes to bring light and dignity to the profession. One such star was Telford Taylor, an American lawyer.
In 1945 the Allied nations agreed on a judicial process, rather than summary execution, to determine the fate of the Nazis following the end of the second world war. At Nuremberg, a significant place because it was the ceremonial birthplace of the Nazi Party, the American, British, French and Soviet leaders contributed both judges and prosecutors to the series of trials which would deal with some of the most prominent politicians, military leaders and businessmen in Nazi Germany. In a work of ‘personal memoir’, Taylor, who had distinguished himself as Counsel for the Prosecution at Nuremberg, agonised about putting on trial people for crimes which have not strictly been defined, and legislated, before their commission. In his view a charge of ‘crimes against peace’ would be contrary to the fundamental principle of common law – also enshrined in Article 1 of the United States Constitution – that no one should be tried for ex post facto crimes. Against that was the murderous fact that “People whose nations had been attacked and dismembered without warning wanted legal retribution, whether or not that was a ‘first time’ ”, as he wrote in his The anatomy of the Nuremberg trials (Knopf, New York 1992).
But after Nuremberg one could rely on The Charter of the International Military Tribunal, also known as the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which was signed in London on 8 August 1945.
One could find there:
The Tribunal established by the Agreement referred to in Article 1 hereof for the trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis countries shall have the power to try and punish persons who, acting in the interests of the European Axis countries, whether as individuals or as members of organizations, committed any of the following crimes.
The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility:
(a) CRIMES AGAINST PEACE: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;
(b) WAR CRIMES: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;
(c) CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.
Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.”
In January 1971 Taylor, then professor of law at Columbia University, while reviewing the legal and moral basis of the Nuremberg hearings, as well as the Tokyo trials of Japanese war criminals and the Manila trial of General Yamashita, said that if the standards of Nuremberg and Manila were applied evenly, and applied to the American statesmen and bureaucrats who designed the war in Vietnam (aggression on Afghanistan, Iraq and many others places, too were still to come) then “there would be a very strong possibility that they would come to the same end [Yamashita] did.”
As Hitchens observed: “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 hooked and blindfolded and dropped through a trapdoor on the end of a rope.” (C. Hitchens, The trial of Henry Kissinger, Text, Melbourne 2001 at 25).
Next installment Saturday: Who were the real assassins?
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.