War Criminal Henry Kissinger Comes to Grand Rapids

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger will speak in Grand Rapids on Tuesday. In conjunction with protests planned outside of the event, Media Mouse explores Kissinger’s record as a war criminal.

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Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who held the position in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald R. Ford and worked as National Security Adviser to President Nixon, will speak in Grand Rapids on Tuesday October 24 as part of the Ford Museum’s 30th anniversary celebration. Kissinger is being brought to celebrate his diplomatic career and there has been no consideration of Henry Kissinger’s record as a war criminal and the calls that Kissinger be held accountable for his role in policies that amounted to war crimes in Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, and East Timor. Since the 1970s there has always been a distant chorus of activists calling for Kissinger to be put on trial for war crimes, but those calls have accelerated since the release of Christopher Hitchens’ book The Trial of Henry Kissinger earlier this decade and the declassification of government documents pertaining to Kissinger’s activities. Hitchens’ book provided a lengthy and well-argued case that Kissinger should at the least be tried for war crimes, if not punished for them. The crimes identified by Hitchens included the deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina, deliberate collusion in mass murder and assassination in Bangladesh, personal suborning and planning of murder in relation to a senior constitutional officer in Chile, involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in Cyprus, the incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor, and even personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist in Washington, DC. However, it has not just been activists—ranging from the East Timor Action Network to the now defunct Grand Rapids group Confronting Empire that have called for Kissinger to be held accountable for his crimes—but also governments and courts in countries such as France, Argentina, Chile. Kissinger has furthermore admitted that it is possible that “mistakes were made” in the administrations in which he served, but he objects to the idea that the architects of those policies—including himself—should be tried in court and has argued that international politics should not be subject to judicial procedures.

The war crimes of Kissinger are varied and reflect the immense involvement he had in the United States’ foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s. While Kissinger won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a cease-fire in Vietnam, critics such as Christopher Hitchens argue that much of how Kissinger is remembered—whether it is for the cease fire in Vietnam or his opening of China to trade—is dishonest and leaves out the fact that the China negotiations were conducted in secret and served as a distraction from Vietnam and, by virtue of the negotiations being conducted through Pakistan, helped the United States turn a blind eye to genocide in Bangladesh. Moreover, Kissinger had actually acted to prolong the Vietnam War, and was actively involved in Nixon’s efforts to sabotage the Paris peace negotiations in 1968 as a means of securing a Republican victory by undercutting the peace platform of Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey. The war in Vietnam went on for another four years before it was ultimately concluded with the same terms offered in 1968, but with the added cost of the lives of some 20,000 US soldiers and countless numbers of South Asian peoples. During this period of 1968 to 1973, Kissinger and Nixon crafted a war policy that involved the direct bombing of civilian targets (Vietnamese hamlets suspected of “harboring” guerrillas in violation of the Geneva Convention on Civilian Protection that prohibits “collective penalties” and “reprisals against protected persons.” In addition, Kissinger helped develop a secret plan to extend this bombardment of civilians onto two countries—Laos and Cambodia—resulting in an estimated 350,000 and 600,000 civilians being killed in the two countries. The bombardment of Cambodia in 1969 was conducted using codenames drawing an analogy to food, with an overall “menu” consisting of “breakfast,” “lunch,” “snack,” and so on being used to obscure the targets from the B-52 pilots who flew at high altitudes to further obscure their actions and who dropped massive quantities of bombs with no warning or capacity to target the bombings. According to Hitchens, Kissinger claims in his memoirs that he subverted “the customary chain of command whereby commanders in the field receive, or believe that they receive, their orders from the President and then the Secretary of Defense” and “boasts” about how he—along with H.R. Haldeman, Alexander Haig, and Colonel Ray Sitton—developed “a military and a diplomatic schedule” for the secret bombing of Cambodia and that Kissinger was frequently screening targets and processing intelligence pertaining to Cambodia. Hitchens asserts that “he knew more about them [the bombings of Cambodia], and in more intimate detail, than any other individual,” suggesting that Kissinger was ultimately responsible. He also notes that while Kissinger did request that the bombing avoid civilian casualties, there were no precautions taken and no punishments issued.

As the war in Vietnam and South Asia was taking place, Kissinger was also directing the criminal involvement of the United States in Chilean politics. Kissinger has been widely quoted stating that he did not understand why a country should be allowed to “go Marxist” just because “its people are irresponsible.” When it became clear in 1970 that the leftist candidate Salvador Allende—who was opposed by the right in Chile as well as powerful United States corporations such as ITT, Pepsi Cola, and Chase Manhattan Bank—the United States began an active policy to prevent Allende from taking office. President Nixon, at an Oval Office meeting with then CIA director Richard Helms and Henry Kissinger, expressed his desire that Allende be prevented from taking office and that he was “not concerned risks involved. No involvement of embassy. $10,000,000 available, more if necessary. Full-time job – best men we have…. Make the economy scream. 48 hours for plan of action,” an order Kissinger used to take on a two-track policy of diplomacy and a secret policy of destabilization, kidnapping, and assassination to provoke a military coup. This policy was manifested in the assassination of Chilean general Rene Schneider who was adamantly opposed to any opportunity involvement of the Chilean military in the elections. Following the military coup sought by Kissinger on September 11, 1973, Kissinger maintained US relations with Chile and ignored death squads and assassinations of Pinochet’s political opponents. Kissinger’s activities in Chile have raised questions about how to deal with United States officials believed to be complicit in war crimes, but there has been no action in terms of developing an actual policy for dealing with such accusations and Henry Kissinger, unlike Pinochet, remains free. Moreover, it is not just in Chile where Kissinger’s policies raise questions—he also gave United States approval to the “dirty war” in Argentina in 1970s in which up to 30,000 people were killed.

During the Ford administration, Kissinger and President Ford were also involved in supporting the Indonesia invasion of East Timor. Documents obtained by the National Security Archive have shown that the United States’ 24 years of support for the occupation of East Timor began with Ford assuring Indonesian military dictator Haji Mohammad Suharto as early as 1975 that the United States would support the annexation of East Timor as an ally of Indonesia. On December 5, 1975, Ford and Kissinger concluded a visit to Indonesia during which time the two leaders said that they would not pressure Indonesia against the invasion and that they further would not stop Indonesia from using US arms. Ford told Suharto that “we [the United States] will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problems you have and the intentions you have” and while Kissinger explained that the issue of the United States cutting off arms sales to Indonesia in response to the invasion was not one that needed to be seriously considered. Aside from giving approval to the policy, the United States also supplied 90% of the weapons used in the invasion. The initial invasion is believed to have resulted in the deaths of one-sixth of the Timorese population or 100,000 civilians according to Christopher Hitchens account of Kissinger’s role in crafting United States policy towards East Timor. Kissinger and Ford have been fairly silent on their role in the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, with Kissinger lying publicly in 1995 that “Timor was never discussed with us when we were in Indonesia” (source). Estimates vary on the total number of civilians killed during the occupation of East Timor, but range from 180,000 and 230,000.

In addition Kissinger’s past involvement with United States foreign policy, he is a strong proponent of the Iraq War. In May of 2003, Kissinger described President George W. Bush’s military actions in Iraq (and Afghanistan) as “essential in light of the challenges we [the United States] faced.” He went on to state that he “…was convinced history will record that President Bush saved not only America’s security but the world’s prospects for progress by the courage with which he faced those challenges.” However, more than just being a passive supporter of the Iraq War, Kissinger has taken an active role in supporting the Iraq War and has advised President Bush on the Iraq War. According to the National Security Archives, Kissinger has argued that the current situation in Iraq parallels Vietnam in 1969 and has advised President Bush, as he did with Nixon in Vietnam, against withdrawing soldiers from Iraq. Kissinger has even forwarded a 1969 memo to Bush, in which Kissinger counseled President Richard Nixon against troop withdrawals, arguing that they would only encourage the Vietnamese resistance. As discussed above, Kissinger’s Vietnam policy resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives through both the conflict and Vietnam and its extension to Cambodia and Laos.

Outside of governmental foreign policy, Henry Kissinger has also served on the boards of several large corporations including JP Morgan Chase, American Express, the Revlon Group, and Hollinger International (a media publishing corporation). Hollinger International was the subject of an SEC investigation in 2003 over payments made to Trireme Partners, a corporation investing in goods and services relating to “homeland security” and on whose board Kissinger sits and for whom Richard Perle serves as chairman. Hollinger and its chairman, Conrad Black, were investigated for mismanaging funds and in the case of Kissinger, was part of a $50 million lawsuit settlement with former shareholders. Kissinger is also the manager of Kissinger Associates, an “international consulting firm” that provides “strategic advisory and advocacy services to a select group of multinational companies. The firm provides advice regarding special projects, assists its clients to identify strategic partners and investment opportunities, and advises clients on government relations throughout the world.” In practical terms, this has meant that Kissinger has used his stature, experience, and connection to elites—both within government and outside of it—to help a range of corporate clients increase their international profits. Clients of the firm have included American Express, H.J. Heinz, ITT, and Lockheed Martin. Kissinger Associates was also connected to BCCI, a Brazilian bank that in the late 1980s sought to establish close connections with politically connected entities in the United State while simultaneously being involved evading banking regulations, laundering drug money, and aiding people seeking to avoid income taxes. Kissinger’s financial interests and corporate work exemplifies “the revolving door” that exists for former government officials in corporate America.

For additional information on Henry Kissinger, read the March 7, 2005 Media Mouse news item “Confronting Empire Group Calls on Local Law Enforcement Officials to Arrest Henry Kissinger for War Crimes.” A protest has also been planned for 7:00pm on Tuesday, October 24 outside of Kissinger’s visit. Activists are meeting at Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids before the event.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org