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“The Trials of Henry Kissinger”: As the Former Secretary of State Faces Possible Extradition to Chile for His Role in the 1973 Coup, a New Film Provides Fresh Evidence of War Crimes

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Henry Kissinger may face extradition proceedings in connection with his role in the 1973 military coup in Chile. This is according to a recent article in the London Guardian. The former U.S. secretary of state is wanted as a witness for questioning by Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán, who is investigating U.S. involvement in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet. Guzmán is particularly interested in whether U.S. officials passed lists of leftist Americans in Chile to the military and whether the U.S. Embassy failed to assist Americans deemed sympathetic to the deposed government. Kissinger has refused to cooperate with the investigation.

This is not the first attempt to interview Kissinger about his role in this brutal period in Latin American history. It is also not the first time Kissinger has come under scrutiny for human rights abuses. A growing chorus of voices has long argued that Kissinger should be tried for war crimes, based on his role in the assassination of a Chilean general in 1970, the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and the approval of and military support for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975.

These arguments are examined in a new documentary which traces Kissinger’s part in the tragic and bloody history of Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor and Chile. It tells a different story of the man who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, who Compton’s Encyclopedia heralds as “the most influential foreign policy figure in the administrations of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.”

The film is called “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” and it opened this weekend at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Henry Kissinger may face extradition proceedings in connection with his role in the 1973 military coup in Chile. Well, that’s according to a recent article in the London Guardian. The former U.S. secretary of state is wanted as a witness for questioning by Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán, who is investigating U.S. involvement in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet. Guzmán is particularly interested in whether U.S. officials passed lists of Americans in Chile to the military, and whether the U.S. Embassy failed to assist Americans deemed sympathetic to the deposed government. Kissinger has refused to cooperate with the investigation.

This is not the first attempt to interview Kissinger about his role in this brutal period in Latin American history. It’s also not the first time Kissinger has come under scrutiny for human rights abuses. Journalist Christopher Hitchens has long argued that Kissinger should be tried for war crimes based on his role in the assassination of a Chilean general in 1970, the secret bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and the approval of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, which led to a third of the population of East Timor wiped out.

Hitchens’ arguments are examined in a new documentary which traces Kissinger’s part in the tragic and bloody history of Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor and Chile. It tells a different story of the man who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, who Compton’s Encyclopedia heralds as, quote, “the most influential foreign policy figure in the administrations of U.S. presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.” The new film is called The Trials of Henry Kissinger, and it opened last night at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The film opens with the quotes of Alexander Haig; Daniel Davidson; William Safire; former President Richard Nixon; Walter Isaacson, now head of CNN, AOL Time Warner; William Shawcross; Chris Matthews; Christopher Hitchens; Roger Morris; and Geoffrey Robertson. Let’s just take a listen.

ALEXANDER HAIG: I had a deep respect for Henry Kissinger, his knowledge, his background and his philosophic outlook.

DANIEL DAVIDSON: I thought he was intelligent, charming and just a good companion.

WILLIAM SAFIRE: I like Henry. I respect him. I think he has been a major force in our lives.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: Dr. Kissinger is perhaps one of the major scholars in America and the world today in this area.

WILLIAM SAFIRE: He was a fascinating mixture of power and strategy.

WALTER ISAACSON: It wasn’t just that power made you a celebrity. It’s sometimes that just creating yourself as a celebrity gave you more power.

NARRATOR: Everyone has a New York dream.

MONTGOMERY BURNS: Thank you so much for visiting our plant, Dr. Kissinger.

HENRY KISSINGER: It was fun.

WAYLON SMITHERS: We’ll let you know if your glasses turn up.

WILLIAM SHAWCROSS: I think Kissinger is clearly an extraordinarily brilliant man. But he did have this — I think this fatal flaw of preferring to act without public scrutiny.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: In Harper’s Magazine this month, there’s an article called “The Case Against Henry Kissinger: The Making of a War Criminal.” Explain, Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I think he’s a war criminal.

BOMBARDIER: Ah, look at it burst! Look at it burst!

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I think he’s a liar. I think he’s responsible for kidnapping, for murder.

ROGER MORRIS: My own view is that if we held Henry Kissinger to the standards we have begun to hold other leaders, other policymakers, and the standards to which we held policymakers in Germany and in Japan after World War II, yes, Kissinger ought to be the subject of an international tribunal, ought to be the subject of a legal process in the United States and elsewhere.

BRIAN COX: What are we to make of these accusations? Henry Kissinger is the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the most famous American diplomat in history. Yet, armed with recent evidence, his critics claim that some of his past actions amounted to crimes against humanity. In a new climate of international justice, a reexamination of Kissinger’s career may be in order.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: The important thing, before people die or go senile, like Pinochet, is to punish them, to provide retribution for the victims, a sense that they haven’t or their relatives haven’t died in vain, and to provide a deterrent to make dictators, tyrants, cruel people, be they generals or national security advisers, now think that if they take the wrong course and abuse their power, they may be held to and may be punished at some time in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Excerpt of the film The Trials of Henry Kissinger, directed by Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki. And Eugene Jarecki joins us in our firehouse studio now.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

EUGENE JARECKI: Thank you very much. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it was great to see The Trials of Henry Kissinger last night at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at Lincoln Center here in New York. It’s playing to sold-out audiences at the festival level here in New York. I haven’t yet seen it on TV in the United States. Occasionally, it makes me want to live in Britain, because I guess that’s where you did show it, though I don’t have many desires for that. You aired this where? Where has this been shown?

EUGENE JARECKI: BBC Television had the sort of, I think, foresight and courage at a very early point in our research and investigation to not only commit to showing the program at a national level throughout the U.K., but also to use it to launch a new digital channel that they were doing, because I think in England there were complaints that BBC maybe was selling out too much and being too serious about making money and not about out subject matter. And I think they thought the investigation into Henry Kissinger and his legacy was something that would herald to the British public that they meant business with a new channel in terms of really seeking some meaningful programming. And they launched BBC Four using the film.

AMY GOODMAN: Raising the questions of whether Henry Kissinger should be tried for crimes against humanity, for war crimes, you trace the quest of one journalist, Christopher Hitchens — he wrote the book The Trial of Henry Kissinger — looking at the charges against Henry Kissinger around his role in countries like Cambodia, Chile, East Timor. Can you talk about what you uncovered in putting together this film, some of the documents?

EUGENE JARECKI: Sure. Christopher Hitchens’ book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, was really a launching pad for a number of people who I think were somewhat late to the party. Even Christopher himself came at a very late point, in the sense that for 25 or 30 years a host of journalists and authors, from Seymour Hersh, Walter Isaacson, William Shawcross, who wrote the famous book Sideshow about the Cambodian tragedy — a number of writers and investigators had gathered a tremendous amount of documentary evidence by using the Freedom of Information Act, putting enormous pressure on a very unwilling U.S. information machine to provide some of the secret documentation and testimony that would shed light on, in the film’s case and in the book’s case, a number of areas of the world — Cambodia, Chile, East Timor, and there were really a host of others.

And we really chose a few territories in which Dr. Kissinger’s influence was very marked and in which the document record was so powerful that it supported the sense that a hearing of these charges in a legitimate legal setting was not only warranted, but it cried out for it. And it meant that we could explore those charges, not with a presumption of guilt — that’s, I think, very key to mention — with a presumption of innocence, as I would want for anyone, but very much Henry Kissinger is in a powerful position where he hasn’t had to respond to these charges. And so, for millions of people around the world, not only hasn’t — not only had their lives been tremendously damaged by loss of life and disruption of whatever they felt their lives would have been before these wars and democratic disruptions and damages, but also because justice hasn’t been served simply because these things don’t even get heard. They just remain sort of on a back burner somewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the break-in at the Watergate, Richard Nixon. A lot of people coming of age right now don’t even know the history of Chile, don’t know about Vietnam and Cambodia except sort of ancient history. Can you lay out, very briefly, in each of these cases that we keep listing — Timor, Chile, Vietnam — what was Henry Kissinger’s role?

EUGENE JARECKI: Sure. During the Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger was national security adviser, the same post currently occupied by Condoleezza Rice. And Kissinger had come from academia — he had been a professor at Harvard — and in that capacity had gotten to know the Johnson administration and had been very active in Washington as a kind of intellectual that they consulted on strategic arms matters.

When he joined the Nixon administration, the first action which was undertaken — it’s a very remarkable thing — became known as the secret bombing of Cambodia. And the secret bombing was the choice by Nixon and Kissinger, who were facing a Vietnam situation that in the eyes of many was already a war crime. LBJ was no — you know, was no favorite of the antiwar movement, of course. So they came into a situation where they thought, if we just use enormous force, a savage, brutal blow against North Vietnam, we will end the kind of wishy-washy back-and-forth that they saw the U.S. — as characterizing U.S. policy over the ’60s, and they thought that was adding up to tremendous loss of life. This is their explanation of why they then chose to begin secretly bombing the country of Cambodia, a neighboring country.

And one would say, “Well, why? Why Cambodia?” They claimed that Cambodia was being used by the North Vietnamese; sort of borderline border sanctuaries in Cambodia were being used as staging areas to attack U.S. troops. The truth of that has never been determined. Whether it was true or not, they opted to begin secretly bombing Cambodia and to cover it up, not only from the Congress but also from the American people.

And very few people realize that in the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, the fourth article was actually for the secret bombing of Cambodia. And as a matter of political will in Washington, that charge was allowed to kind of atrophy and fall away, and never really made it to the sort of final charges and final claims that were made against Nixon, who, of course, then was pardoned, and all of it got washed away.

But certainly not forgotten to Cambodia is that that secret bombing began the disruption of Cambodian life. It embroiled Cambodia in a war that many would argue had had no role in prior thereto. It was a neutral country. And bombing a neutral country is, among other things, a violation of international law. And on the domestic level, of course, it’s a violation of Congress’s right to declare war. And they sort of subverted that by secretly bombing Cambodia. That’s Cambodia. I’m sorry it’s not a very short answer. These subjects are even hard for me to try to keep all the pieces in.

In Chile, very simple. A left-wing leader, Salvador Allende, was gaining ground in Chile, and the CIA and a number of U.S. business interests were perturbed by that. He had announced he was going to nationalize businesses in Chile. That was a threat to copper interests in the United States and to Pepsi-Cola in the United States, both of whom put pressure on the Nixon administration, in the person of Henry Kissinger, to do something. And “do something” meant begin what became known as Track II, a covert action policy, to overthrow and — to stop Allende from coming to power, and, if that failed, to then find ways to foment a military coup and overthrow him.

What happened was that a single man — you know, it all comes back to people. And one general, General Schneider, who was not even friendly to the left-wing candidate, Salvador Allende, or even to the appointed elected President Salvador Allende, he was just a relatively moderate to right-wing military figure, but he was an absolutist about his role as chief of staff. And he said, “I’m not going to allow a military coup. I’ve heard murmurings of it. And my military will uphold the Constitution, and that means they’ll uphold the election of Salvador Allende.” He objected to Track II, which was the CIA covert policy overseen by Kissinger to overthrow Allende. And by doing that, he became the principal target of Track II, and within a matter of a month was assassinated by right-wing groups that were funded by the CIA with what now appears, through the document record, to be very clear connection to Henry Kissinger.

And it’s the stuff of a current legal case. The son of General Schneider is suing Henry Kissinger in D.C. court right now in a wrongful death suit, as well as Richard Helms, the director of the CIA, who’s also being sued. Very few people know that, which I’m always kind of amazed about. The suit was announced on September 11th of last year, which allowed it to fade into the back pages of — if even, of many papers. But that lawsuit symbolizes, really, 30 years later now, an effort to come to justice in the matter of the assassination of General Schneider, the head of a military in a democratically elected presidency of an ally of the United States. It’s a remarkable disruption of a democratic process.

East Timor, I’d be a fool to tell you much about, except that what we learned and what was interesting was that Henry Kissinger relies very heavily on the notion that he knew nothing of President Suharto of Indonesia’s goals to invade East Timor and to use U.S. weapons to do so in 1975. And Kissinger and Ford met with Suharto on December 6th of 1975. And many looked at this kind of one seminal meeting that they all had as a moment in which Kissinger gave the green light, as it were, in his capacity to do so, for the use of U.S.-made arms in an impending invasion.

Well, as they left Indonesia — and I learned this a lot, actually, from you, Amy — as they left Indonesia and sort of — you know, as the story goes, left Indonesian airspace even, the invasion began. And it became clear over the ensuing weeks that Kissinger had known about it, and there was a lot of tumult back at the State Department about the illegality of the use of U.S.-made arms in that process. And Kissinger’s knowledge of it became a legal issue among his staff. In the years since, he says, “No, no, no, I had no knowledge of it.” And Kissinger has hidden many, many documents from the public and has sheltered them in a special deal with the U.S. government that makes them unavailable for review until five years after his death. So he sort of had a monopoly on the information about this. And it was only through the tireless efforts of many who were concerned about the plight of East Timor that the sufficient documents and also from the Australian intelligence services, sufficient documents were released that really made very clear that actually it was made quite clear in the meeting with Suharto, and a green light was implicitly given.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break for stations to identify themselves, and hear a bit more from the documentary, The Trials of Henry Kissinger. And then I’m going to ask you if you expect that it will play nationally in the United States. Then we’re going to the Philippines. We’ll talk to Walden Bello about the increasing relationship between the Philippine military and the U.S. military. Stay with us.

[break]

VERNA AVERY BROWN: Hi, I’m Verna Avery Brown, acting deputy executive director of Pacifica Radio. For over 50 years, Pacifica has been in the forefront of the political, social and economic movements of the time. We’ve helped to shape the dialogue by adding alternative voices to the mix. Wednesday, June 19th, Pacifica will set aside regular programming to continue its proud legacy with a day-long special on the state of the world 2002, war, peace and human rights. Please join us coast to coast from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on this specific occasion.

AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to Democracy Now!, Breaking the Sound Barrier. I’m Amy Goodman. Tune in tomorrow on Democracy Now! when we talk about the life and legacy of the great writer and activist June Jordan. Among our guests will be the great writer, activist and poet Alice Walker.

Today, though, we’re talking about Henry Kissinger, a new film called The Trials of Henry Kissinger. I remember the program we were doing on September 11th on Democracy Now! as the second plane hit the World Trade Center. In fact, we were doing an interview with the National Security Archives at that moment talking about René Schneider and the new documents that were coming out around his case. But let’s go to The Trials of Henry Kissinger.

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI: I’m sure they would want your observations on what you see here.

HENRY KISSINGER: On the one hand, it’s a testimony to what evil can do in the world. But what the mayor and his associates have done here shows the resilience and the power of the human spirit.

BRIAN COX: As the former secretary of state surveyed the wreckage, the campaign had already begun to see that those responsible for the loss of innocent life be captured and brought to justice.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: I don’t think you could have it metaphorically more perfect than that, that the hunt for those who will use force against civilians or against democracy for short-term or fanatical aims of their own is now a hunt in which the whole world takes part. There can’t be any exceptions.

BRIAN COX: Whether or not Kissinger is guilty of crimes against humanity, his case raises issues about the accountability of public figures, the way the past haunts the present, and the movement for universal justice.

MICHAEL TIGAR: All revolutions are impossible 'til they happen; then they become inevitable. Well, one of the things that's happened is that this movement has acquired an air of inevitability.

BRIAN COX: A hundred and thirty-nine nations have become signatories to the International Criminal Court, a global judiciary with the power to try individuals for crimes against humanity.

DANIEL DAVIDSON: I think the idea of Kissinger as a war criminal is a very dangerous idea. As you know, America has not signed up for the International Criminal Tribunal for fear of this.

BRIAN COX: In his latest book on international affairs, Henry Kissinger argues strongly against what he calls “The Pitfalls of Universal Jurisdiction.”

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: It’s a facet of American exceptionalism to think that international law is a very fine thing for other countries, that international law applies to everyone except Americans.

HENRY KISSINGER: The average person thinks that morality can be applied as directly to the conduct of states to each other as it can to human relations. That is not always the case, because sometimes statesmen have to choose among evils.

SEYMOUR HERSH: I do think that somewhere down deep, he knows what he was doing. He knows it was against a lot of first principles, which is why so much is masked and hidden, and there’s so much distrust. It’s a very, very sad way to go through your life. Whatever he did, whatever he accomplished, I’m not sure it’s worth it, because he had to live a lot more years. And he’s been out of power for a long time, you know, 25 years now. In his own way, the reason I don’t worry about war crimes or anything else, he’s got his own sentence. He’s got to live with himself.

AMY GOODMAN: And that last comment of Seymour Hersh in The Trials of Henry Kissinger, new film directed by Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki, Eugene Jarecki in the studio with us. This issue of universal justice and the U.S. now pulling out of the International Criminal Court?

EUGENE JARECKI: Yeah, it’s heavy business. I think that, you know, the U.S. has made some moves in the wake of September 11th, of course, which have revealed a great deal about the U.S. stance toward international justice. You know, the United States has used the international courts historically for our own purposes. We desperately needed the international courts when the shah was seizing assets. We have desperately needed them in situations where American citizens were in foreign countries in distress. We have used them politically. We used them beginning at Nuremberg, and before even.

And the model under which Milosevic, Pinochet, Rwandans, anyone around the world is seen by the U.S. as a candidate for a criminal proceeding in an international setting, the U.S. is clearly declaring, in the Bush administration, that those laws are not going to apply to the United States, that we don’t trust the laws that we apply to foreigners. And obviously, that sends a ripple effect of, you know, a basic moral confusion to anyone who hears that, because it’s just making up the rules as you go along. It’s part of the — you know, it’s part of a unilateralist approach, that I fear greatly as a young person learning about all this and seeing history sort of repeat itself now.

Leaders at this time — Henry Kissinger reflects, as he did just in that clip, he reflects on this notion that morality is not applicable to the conduct of state policy, and that it’s not just like a friendship or a human relation, it’s something very different. And that banishment of morality from the conduct of public office, if that’s a message we mean to send to the world, the resulting behaviors that one would hope one would expect to see in young countries, in countries around the world that apparently look to the United States as a beacon, it’s a very confusing signal. But it shows you how desperately aware the administration is, and the U.S. government in general, of the risk to American statesman, the risk to American actors in the military, of coming under fire in international court settings.

AMY GOODMAN: Where, how would Henry Kissinger be tried, in what kind of court?

EUGENE JARECKI: Well, Henry Kissinger, the charges that have been raised against him by the various — by various camps actually cover a kind of wide range of charges. There are domestic criminal charges, in the sense that the secret bombing was really a domestic violation. René Schneider Jr. chose to sue Henry Kissinger in D.C. court in a basic wrongful death suit, not so different from the O.J. Simpson wrongful death suit. One could also find Henry Kissinger in an international setting for violation of international laws about the targeting of civilians in Cambodia, in East Timor, the participation with Indonesian president in clear violations of the laws of war and clear violations also of domestic U.S. instruments like the Arms Export Control Act, which made it illegal for us to sell arms for use in ways other than self-defense for Indonesia, and East Timor was not a great threat to Indonesia, I think. So, really, there are a host of charges, and with each comes a very unique and very specific setting that would suit it.

The interesting thing about Henry Kissinger, and I think the reason he draws so much attention, is because he was so active in so many different parts of the world. And his his disregard for certain processes was both a domestic disregard and an international disregard. He was very convinced that everything — that communism should be stopped and overthrown at all cost. And that even meant he was willing to pursue it in extralegal ways. And we don’t let — as America, we don’t let other countries pursue their ideologies and their sense of right and wrong in extralegal ways. We’re very clear about that. But we’re unclear when it comes to Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: My last question is about how much this discussion is being had in the United States in the media. I know that when Henry Kissinger spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., with — I think he was talking about his latest book or something — the press club actually made an agreement with him that no matter how many questions were put forward on index cards from journalists about his own history and this issue of war crimes, they wouldn’t put those questions publicly forward to him. Russell Mokhiber, a journalist in Washington, learned this from the person who was asking the questions, reading from the index cards of the audience. And routinely, we rarely see him questioned about this issue. Your film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, is a powerful one. Will it air nationally in the United States? How many countries has it aired in?

EUGENE JARECKI: Well, at the moment, it’s airing in about 25 countries around the world, and the United States is quickly becoming the only country in which you cannot see Henry Kissinger in this, in The Trials of Henry Kissinger, on television. We’re lucky that the film is going to open theatrically in September in America, at the Film Forum in New York, and I hope people come. But at the same time, the reality is that Henry Kissinger remains a very powerful man. And this is — a lot of people say, “Why not do a film about a current figure who is worthy of war crime status?” or this or that. I was asked that the other day. And Henry Kissinger remains very powerful. This is not ancient history. When you go around and you talk about this film, and you talk about just finding out about the merit of charges, certainly not trying to find him guilty in a court of public opinion, but rather just trying to explore yesterday, people look at you like, “That’s not yesterday. That’s today. And he has some impact on my daily bread.” He’s a very powerful man in the media. He has close relations all over the power structure in the United States.

And I actually think that those who protect him by not welcoming this kind of material, or by shelving it or making it hard to watch for people, do no one a service. I actually don’t think they do Henry Kissinger a service, because he’s an older man. He’s approaching the end of his life. And he’s opting, in a sense, to run out the clock, and they’re helping him. But while he runs out the clock, the jury is out on his life. You know, courts operate to clear people’s names, as well as to find them guilty. And by not having a trial in a legitimate international setting, or by not even letting these charges get heard, or not even releasing the documents that would allow critics to assess the charges, and even supporters to use them to defend the charges — against the charges, Henry Kissinger is opting for letting history have this black cloud hovering over it. And so, in a sense, I don’t even think they do a service to him. And I certainly don’t think they do a service to the need for self-awareness in a democracy, in a democratic world.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us. The issue of terrorism and state terror and who’s behind it and having a universal standard of justice, we saw Henry Kissinger just at ground zero. We were just listening to him after September 11th. He is one of the first to say that we have to go after the terrorists and bomb the countries that harbor them. I got very nervous, because I live in the same city as Henry Kissinger. But I want to thank you very much for joining us, Eugene Jarecki, co-director of The Trials of Henry Kissinger. Hopefully it will air nationally in the United States. PBS? Have they bitten?

EUGENE JARECKI: We’re doing everything we can, and we’re very, very hopeful that it’ll find an audience so that people in my age range and below my age range and above will — you know, a lot of what I learned here was new to me, and it’s very important to learn, so that we can look at today and tomorrow with history in our quiver.

AMY GOODMAN: Eugene Jarecki, The Trials of Henry Kissinger. You are listening to Democracy Now! Thanks very much for joining us.

EUGENE JARECKI: Thank you. Thanks very much.

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