Author: Christopher Hitchens

Published: Verso

Year: 2001


The Trial of Henry Kissinger  documents how the pursuit of justice became the least important consideration for US foreign policy makers.  Henry Kissinger,  national security advisor to two presidents (Nixon and Ford), one-time Secretary of State and now cosseted elder statesman  personifies the worst features of the US’s interventions in different countries of the world. 

Hitchens’ indictment of Kissinger includes the following:

  1. The deliberate mass killing of civilian populations in Indochina
  2. Deliberate collusion in mass murder, and later assassination, in Bangladesh
  3. The personal suborning and planning of murder, of a senior constitutional officer in a democratic nation – Chile – with which the United States was  not at war
  4. Personal involvement in a plan to murder the head of state in the democratic nation of Cyprus
  5. The incitement and enabling genocide in East Timor
  6. Personal involvement in a plan to kidnap and murder a journalist living in Washington, DC

Lest Kissinger be regarded as a lone ranger, it is worth bearing in mind what Roger Morris, a former member of the National Security Council under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, has to say:

“I would just remind you that though Henry Kissinger’s culpability is quite clear, he was never alone. He could not have conducted this savage, heedless, criminal foreign policy by himself. He was surrounded by Kissinger’s Kissingers. And they were men who profited personally, materially, in career terms, in terms of reputation, in terms of power, almost as much as he. Only a few of the names you know, Alexander Haig – we have here a catalogue of future secretaries of state – Alexander Haig and Larry Eagleburger and future national security advisor Brent Scocroft, the list goes on. You must understand, of course, that their proteges populate the new administration. There is a direct genealogical line between Henry Kissinger and the national security apparatus, as it were, of George W. Bush. Henry’s transgressions would not have been possible without the active intellectual and substantive support of his aides.” [1]

Kissinger’s hand can be seen today in the ‘war against terrorism’ rhetoric.  A week after the WTC and Pentagon attacks, he stated,   “President Bush has wisely warned that the attacks on New York and Washington amounted to a declaration of war. And in a war it is not enough to endure; it is essential to prevail.”[2]  Kissinger called for ‘retaliatory blows’, notwithstanding the illegality of such action under international law (the oft-cited right of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter gives a state the right to repel an attack that is ongoing or imminent, but the right of unilateral self-defence does not include the right to retaliate once an attack has stopped).  His contempt remains  thinly veiled: “Then there is the argument that America should modify its foreign policy to remove the resentments that produce terrorism.  Of course US policy should be under constant review. And good relations with the Islamic nations must be a principal component.  However, moderation is a virtue only in those known to have an alternative”.

Kissinger’s role as a grand player in US foreign policy making was first revealed by Seymour Hersch in ‘Price of Power’ (1983), in particular the intrigue leading to the settlement of the Vietnam war. Christopher Hitchens is now able to throw new light on the sordid affair based on access to previously closed FBI files on the Nixon campaign.  During the 1968 presidential campaign, Kissinger was a senior member in the team of Hubert Humphrey, who had been Lyndon Johnson’s vice-president. Johnson and Humphrey were at the time conducting peace talks with the North and South Vietnamese.  However a few days before the election, the South Vietnamese broke off the talks, thus discrediting the Democrats and giving victory to the Republican Richard ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon.  The new president’s very first appointment was to make Henry Kissinger the National Security Advisor.   Hitchen now provides the definitive account of an act of treachery:

Here is the secret in plain words.  In the fall of 1968, Richard Nixon and some of his emissaries and underlings set out to sabotage the Paris Peace negotiations on Vietnam.  The means they chose were simple: they privately assured the South Vietnamese military rulers that an incoming Republican regime would offer them a better deal than would a Democrat one……more than one ‘back channel’ was required for the Republican destabilisation of the peace talks.  There had to be secret communications between Nixon and the South Vietnamese [as we have seen].  But there also had to be an informant inside the incumbent administration’s camp – a source of hints and tips and early warnings of official intentions.  That informant was Henry Kissinger.

This act of mendacity promoted a mediocre and opportunisitic academic to an international potentate. The war continued for another four years under Nixon, resulting in untold human suffering and the destabisation of Laos and Cambodia.  The travesty is that Kissinger then jointly shared the Nobel Prize in Peace in 1973 for negotiating the cease fire agreement with the North Vietnamese. 

Between 1969 and 1976, Hitchens found that Kissinger had served as chairman of the ’40 Committee’, which provided “ultimate supervision over United States covert actions overseas (and, posibly, at home) during this period”.

In September this year, a day after the WTC attack, newspapers carried a brief report of a law suit filed against Kissinger by the family of the Chilean military commander Rene Schneider, killed during a botched kidnapping in 1970. The background story behind these brief press reports can be obtained from Hitchens’s book:

In a famous expression of contempt for democracy, Kissinger once observed that he saw no reason why a certain country should be allowed to ‘go Marxist’ merely because “its people are irresponsible”.  The country concerned was Chile, which at the time of this remark had a justified reputation as the most highly evolved pluralistic democracy in the southern hemisphere of the Americas…..A group was set up in Langley, Virginia , with the express purpose of running a ‘two track’ policy for Chile: one the ostensible diplomatic one and the other – unknown to the State Department or the US ambassador to Chile Edward Korry – a strategy of destabilization, kidnap and assassination, designed to provoke a military coup.  There were long- and short- term obstacles to the incubation of such an intervention, especially in the brief interval before Allende [the democratically elected Marxist President of Chile] took his oath of office.  The long-term obstacle was the tradition of military abstention from politics in Chile….the short-term obstacle lay in the person of one man- General Rene Schneider.  As chief of the Chilean General Staff, he was adamantly opposed to any military meddling in the electoral process. Accordingly, it was decided at a meeting on 18 September 1970 that General Schneider had to go….As [CIA chief] Helms put it in a later account of the conversation, “We tried to make it clear to Kissinger how small the possibility of success was”.  Kissinger firmly told Helms and Karamessines [CIA director of covert operations]] to press on in any case.

It is ironic that the US-inspired bloody coup d’etat, in which Allende was killed, also took place on 11 September, thirty one year ago.

Hitchen’s concluding chapter is entitled ‘The Profit Margin’.  This provides an insight into the work of Kissinger Associates, the private consultancy firm run by Henry Kissinger, and in which the initial fellow ‘associates’ were Lawrence Eagleburger and General Brent Snowcroft..  Notwithstanding Tienanman Square and other human rights violations in Tibet and East Turkmenstan, Kissinger Associates have opened doors in China for companies such as H.J. Heinz , Atlantic Richfield,  ITT, David Rockefeller and the Chase Manhattan Bank.  The firm also has significant interests in Serbia, and Hitchen notes wrily “at all time during this protracted [Balkan] crisis, and somewhat out of step with his usually hawkish colleagues, Henry Kissinger urged  a consistent policy of conciliation with the Milosovic regime. Mr Eagleburger in due course rejoined the State Department as Deputy Secretary of State and briefly became Secretary of State. So it goes.”

Robert Crane, a career US diplomat who served as foreign policy advisor to Richard Nixon from 1963 to 1968 and ambassador to the UAE in 1981, recently observed:

“In response to the terrorist attacks on the symbols of America’s material power, Americans began to ask, “What have we done? Why would anybody want to do this to us?….Some patriotic philosophers suggested that the root of the problem is an inevitable clash of civilisations, and that therefore America must abandon all traditional guidelines for moral action and pulverise every person, movement, and government that threatens the ‘American way’.  Others blamed the phenomenon of terrorism on sheer envy ….  Every possible cause for terrorism has been invoked other than deliberate American foreign policies”…..America’s success will come only from a commitment to promote justice as the root of stability….” (Dialogue, November 2001)

Just as the Muslim world is quite correctly being urged to put its house in order, by isolating and neutralising rogue infrastructures for whom the ends justify the means, the US too needs to call its own rogues to account and acknowledge its state crimes.

In June 1999, the British broadcaster Jeremy Paxman had an on-air  confrontation with Kissinger that has entered the annals of journalistic history:

Paxman: “It’s been 17 years since the last volume of your memoirs. You said you wanted to let the dust settle but [didn’t you] need the distance in order to rewrite history?”

Kissinger: “No, I based these memoirs on documents which were as valid then as they are now.”

Paxman then describes Kissinger’s claim to have ended the cold war as “far-fetched”, adding: “What bothers a lot of people is that you seem to ignore the human rights of people within regimes in which you’re trying to establish a balance of power.”

Kissinger: “That’s not correct either.”

Paxman then questions support of General Pinochet and undermining President Allende.

Kissinger: “We did not support Pinochet. In what way did we support Pinochet?”

Paxman: “You supported the military regime.”

Kissinger: “After the coup we preferred Pinochet to Allende.”

Paxman: “It doesn’t stop there… you’re on record justifying the [behaviour of the] Chinese government in Tiananmen Square.”

Kissinger: “I have never supported what the Chinese did in Tiananmen Square.”

Paxman: “Did you feel a fraud for accepting the Nobel Prize [for the Indo-China agreement]?”

Kissinger (who had been promised the interview would not be too hostile): “I wonder what you do when you do a hostile interview?”

Paxman later accused Kissinger of a “wilful misreading of history”.

Kissinger: “It may be a misreading but it wasn’t wilful.”

Paxman asks about the “hundreds of thousands of people killed in the bombing of Cambodia”.

Kissinger: “That’s absolutely untrue. We have no evidence that hundreds of thousands of people were killed… I think this is an absolute outrage. It’s nonsense.”

Paxman: “You don’t deny [the bombing of Cambodia] was a secret though?… This was a secret operation against a neutral country.”

Kissinger: “Come on now, Mr Paxman, this was 15 years ago, and you at least have the ability to educate yourself about a lie on your own programme…”

Paxman: “What’s factually inaccurate?”

Kissinger: “That’s outrageous.”

Kissinger storms out of the studio.

A treaty creating the world’s first independent and permanent International Criminal Court has recently been ratified by many countries. The ICC’s  brief  will be able to investigate and prosecute those individuals accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes of war. A handful of countries have voted against the Treaty, including the United States.  The prospect of its senior figures being charged for crimes against humanity is obviously a matter of consideration.  It will be a hearing in which Kissinger will not have the option of storming out.

M A Sherif

[1] (source:

[2] (source