Christopher Hitchens' Trial of Henry Kissinger: A Review

By Mike McGlothlin

One of the pleasures of reading the small, concise, and direct books written by Christopher Hitchens, political gadfly and columnist at The Nation, and published by Verso is that they go for the jugular, as real argument should. In today's confused and confounded political and social "debates", false civility, illogic, verbosity, deceptive rhetoric, and the other assorted techniques of disinformation and mental flim-flammary abound. Hitchens cannot be accused of this mental crime. He may occasionally be wrong, but he is always brutally honest. This is not the case of his targets, who are not only frequently wrong, but always dishonest. After Hitchens has delivered the truth about President William Jefferson Clinton to an unreceptive, self-deceived, or Machiavellian audience, he has focused his logic scope on the reputation of former Secretary of State and Nobel Prize winner, Henry Kissinger. Just as Clinton was no less an ethical zero and an intensely deceptive Machiavel, Secretary Kissinger is no less than a murder conspirator and war criminal.

Hitchens is one of those rare writers who professes no other loyalty than to the facts, the conclusions those facts force, and their implications for a liberal society. His writing stresses two themes, that government and society should be true to its liberal ideals, laws, and pronouncements, and secondly, that in America fame and fortune all too often erroneously result from reputation alone, not reputation resulting from accomplishment. From the second theme arrives the idea that Clinton was a "wunderkind" and later that he had infallible political instincts, both completely false notions as Hitchens has clearly and logically documented in his delightful and savage way. Hitchens demonstrates, although less clearly than in the Clinton case, the arguments that support his contention that Henry K. is a murder conspirator and war criminal. Unfortunately, the case is less clear in large part because Henry K. is a slyer fox than "The Appetite" as Jesse Jackson once called Clinton. Kissinger's years in the Harvard snake pit and his years in government honed his Machiavellian techniques to a very high edge. Hence his discredited master Nixon (who even now the post-modern conservatives are attempting to levitate to the high rank of Eternal Statesman), suffers historical ignominy (the truth) while Henry K. basks not just in the esteem of others that matches his own matchless self-esteem, but he also enjoys both fun and high profit. It must be fun to be interviewed by the Charlie Rose's of the media world every time Israelis bomb Arabs or Arabs bomb Israelis or yet another crisis erupts involving an inconvenient American military blunder in some heretofore unknown part of the globe. And it is very profitable to be Henry K., the highly paid influence peddling servant of some of America's past and present enemies, such as Communist China.

Hitchens presents a rather strait-forward argument that establishes two seemingly undeniable propositions: on at least one occasion, Henry K. conspired to commit murder, and that on numerous other occasions, Henry K. was the primary force behind certain acts that could quite plausibly be considered war crimes.

The case for Henry K. as murder conspirator is what Hitchens calls a "lay-down" case, i.e., one that stands out for its clear facts and clear law. The murder victim is General Rene Schneider, who was the Commander in Chief of the Chilean Army, whom Hitchens misidentifies as the Chilean "Chief of Staff."; According to Hitchens (and the 09 September, 1970 minutes of the "40" Committee, the Kissinger chaired secret panel that oversaw U.S. covert operations), the Chilean military had a strong tradition of neutrality in political affairs, a rarity on the South American continent. General Schneider was known as an officer committed to upholding the Chilean constitution and therefore opposed to the rumored incipient coup against newly elected Socialist President Salvador Allende by a right wing would-be junta of current and former Chilean military officers. Using U.S. Government communications cables from the CIA and documents from the State Department, and White House, Hitchens relates the facts of Kissinger's direct involvement in the direction, planning, financing, and general support by the organs of the U.S. Government in the plot to remove General Schneider. President Richard Nixon had determined that Salvador Allende was not to become the head of the Chilean government, for various nefarious reasons, not obviously and directly connected with U.S. national security, if that has any relevance. Kissinger became the high-level action officer focused on accomplishing this mission directive from the President. The most significant obstacle to eliminating Allende was General Schneider, for the obvious reason that he controlled the military forces to a more significant degree than the smaller and more reactionary branch of right-wing military plotters. Therefore, General Schneider had to be removed.

>The documents show that Kissinger orchestrated the delivery of "sterile" (non-traceable) weapons, funds, and orders to the plotters. The key document is the White House "memorandum of conversation" of 15 October, 1970 recording the discussions between Kissinger, Mr. Thomas Karamessines, the head of covert operations at the CIA, and General Alexander Haig, a member of Nixon's White House staff. This memo states that Kissinger instructed Karamessines to "preserve Agency assets in Chile, working clandestinely and securely to maintain the capability for Agency operations against Allende in the future; and that our encouragement to the Chilean military in recent weeks be kept as secret as possible." And while this document also details instructions to the coup plotters to refrain from "precipitate action" (Kissinger thought the coup would fail), it fully documents that Kissinger was a co-conspirator in a planned act of violence, which, in a bald-faced lie, he denied in an interview on the PBS Newshour, broadcast on 20 February, 2001. That act of violence was the ostensible kidnapping of Schneider, as part of a general coup. On 22 October 1970 the military plotters assassinated General Schneider.

It is best to now allow Hitchens to mark out the facts:

Here one must pause for a recapitulation. An unelected official in the United States is meeting with others, without the knowledge or authorization of Congress, to plan the kidnapping of a constitution-minded senior officer in a democratic country with which the United States is not at war, and with which it maintains cordial diplomatic relations. The minutes of the meetings may have an official look to them (though they were hidden from the light of day for long enough) but what we are reviewing is a "hit"-a bit of state-supported terrorism.

The problem that now confronts Henry K. several years later is that such actions are illegal under the laws of the United States and other countries. I do not think there is a codicil in the U.S. Code that exempts the National Security Advisor from conducting a conspiracy to commit kidnapping that results in a murder. And as Hitchens points out, a murder committed during a kidnapping is legally tantamount to murder itself. The facts establish the logical conclusion that there is a prima facie case of conspiracy to commit murder against Henry Kissinger. The implication is, not surprisingly, that the Nixon Presidency and it primary underlings were conducting serial criminal acts ostensibly in the name of the Republic and the American people. It is more accurate to say for the greater glory of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

The most convincing case to my mind that Hitchens makes for the charge of Henry K. as a war criminal are the illegal bombings of Laos and Cambodia in a constitutionally undeclared and therefore illegal war. Hitchens presents convincing and logical cases for many acts that might plausibly be considered war crimes around the globe, from Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, and East Timor, to Cyprus and Greece. And if the same acts had been committed by the less powerful or more despised (such as the execrable Serbian thugs), there would undoubtedly be indictments on file in The Hague. And yet there do exist "extenuating circumstances," which make it less clear as to the legal probability that Kissinger is actually guilty. The case for ethical conviction of heinous acts is undeniable; the question is whether a good legal case can be made that actual war crimes were committed and that Kissinger is legally culpable for them.

The case for Henry K.'s war crimes culpability in Laos and Cambodia however rests on more solid ground. The primary authority that Hitchens uses is General Telford Taylor, one of the major prosecutors at the Nuremberg Tribunal. Hitchens quotes extensively from Taylor's general views about the illegal nature of many of the acts undertaken by the United States in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam era. The general outline of the case is as follows: Kissinger recommended and supervised extensive bombing raids into Laos and Cambodia (mis)using Nixon's constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief. These numerous and secret raids were conducted by B-52 Stratofortresses that released millions of tons of bombs indiscriminately over the Laotian and Cambodian countryside, killing uncountable thousands of civilians. A military attack across the borders of a country that you are not at war with against civilians is illegal under international military and legal conventions that the United States is a signatory to. General Taylor calls the first crime an "act of aggressive war" and the second is plainly a war crime against civilians. As Hitchens points out, prior to the advent of the Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon "realist"; school of foreign policy, the United States had opposed such acts of international military aggression, even when conducted by close allies against communist clients, such as the 1956 Suez War that Britain, France, and Israel conducted against Egypt. In other words, the United States had attempted to live up to its own legal and ethical standards before the Nixon/Kissinger criminal gang ascended to power.

Perhaps the most engaging part of the book, once you become inured to the wanton illegality and lethal destruction that envelopes the power mad Kissinger, is recounted in the final pages of the book where a public controversy erupts in the pages of the New York Times between Hitchens et. al., and Kissinger/Brent Scowcroft. It is here that Kissinger is revealed for what he is: the essential Machiavel, which necessarily means an unregenerate deceiver. Henry K. and Brent Scowcroft in a letter to the editor, denounce Hitchens review of a book that contains some of the same evidence and accusations that Hitchens makes. What the letter does not do is refute any substantive fact. Kissenger's uses at least two of his favorite logical fallacies, the ad hominem attack ("Hitchens tendentious account of a tendentious book"), and the reliance on misplaced appeal to authority ("no substantive proposal of any kind was put forward by the Johnson administration;it is therefore nonsense to assert that Nixon in 1972 achieved no better terms than what Lyndon Johnson was offering in 1968"). What must be kept in mind about these illogical tactics is that they deflect the inquiry from the facts and send the reader in another and irrelevant direction. The reader should notice that Kissinger does not prove with independent facts or analysis how Hitchens is tendentious or that Hitchens'; claims about the Democrat's 1968 peace terms are false; Kissinger knows already that his deep and sonorous words drip with sufficient authority to reassure the readers of the New York Times that their former Secretary of State is not a murder conspirator and war criminal.

In this letter Kissinger and Scowcroft also can't help but attack former colleagues who might contradict their own version. They do this by attacking former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger for his command to the military during Nixon's final days that the military "ignore orders from their commander-in-chief--an unprecedented arrogation of authority." Kissinger/Scowcroft also complain that "whatever his motives, Schlesinger never came to either of us with his concerns and what to do about them." This particular argument is almost completely without merit. The Constitution makes the President the Commander-in-Chief, but Congress--through law--stipulates the chain-of-command. The 1947 National Defense Act inserted the Secretary of Defense into the chain-of-command over the uniformed military officers and under the command of the President. In other words, Schlesinger was merely reinforcing his own legal command authority to the uniformed services during a very critical time in which a President--who would within days resign in lieu of impeachment--was under extreme political pressure. Any legal order would be presumed to be transmitted from the President through the Secretary of Defense. Schlesinger was saying to the uniformed military commanders that any orders received directly from Nixon without Schlesinger's knowledge may in fact be illegal orders. No officer or enlisted member has any obligation under any U.S. law including the Constitution to follow illegal orders from their superiors, even the President. Both Kissinger and Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft (ret.) are well aware of these realities, any second lieutenant knows this much as well. It is less well known to the general public and the heavily civilianized media. And the reader might have observed, that the chain of command does not include the National Security Advisor, so the idea that Schlesinger should have consulted Kissinger or Scowcroft about his own legal authority over the military and its relationship to the President probably never occurred to Schlesinger since it was completely unnecessary and irrelevant. As a competent Secretary of Defense Schlesinger was a wise enough government official to know what actions were required to make sure the Republic was well and legally served by its military. The same statement cannot be made about Kissinger.

Here is the now the exact problem for Henry K., the place to determine legal culpability is in a courtroom, at trial. This is the crushing conclusion of Hitchens logic. After all, the United States is supposed to be the ethical and political leader of the Free World, the Indispensable Nation, a nation committed to the precepts of constitutional republican democracy and the rule of law, not of powerful, violent, and ambitious men. If that is the case, then it seems quite necessary that the substantial criminal accusations Hitchens documents and levels should be investigated by competent judicial authority and a just decision rendered, at the trial of Henry Kissinger.

Mike McGlothlin is a 38-year-old returned to school college student and struggling writer who lives in Long Beach, CA. He can be reached at