The Trial of Henry Kissinger


By Christopher Hitchens

Introduction by Ariel Dorfman

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“If the courts and lawyers of this country will not do their duty, we shall watch as the victims and survivors of this man pursue justice and vindication in their own dignified and painstaking way, and at their own expense, and we shall be put to shame.”

Forget Pinochet, Milosevic, Hussein, Kim Jong-il, or Gaddafi: America need look no further than its own lauded leaders for a war criminal whose offenses rival those of the most heinous dictators in recent history-Henry Kissinger.

Employing evidence based on firsthand testimony, unpublished documents, and new information uncovered by the Freedom of Information Act, and using only what would hold up in international courts of law, The Trial of Henry Kissinger outlines atrocities authorized by the former secretary of state in Indochina, Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, East Timor, and in the plight of the Iraqi Kurds, “including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.”

With the precision and tenacity of a prosecutor, Hitchens offers an unrepentant portrait of a felonious diplomat who “maintained that laws were like cobwebs,” and implores governments around the world, including our own, to bring him swiftly to justice.


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Foreword to the
Twelve Edition

It was not long into our first conversation with Hitch—can it be thirty years ago?—that the unctuous presence of Henry Kissinger made itself felt. The year must have been 1981, and my wife, Angélica, and I were in exile from a Chile terrorized by General Augusto Pinochet and Christopher had just arrived in Washington, DC, to write for The Nation, after a recent stint as a foreign correspondent on the luckless island of Cyprus. Cyprus and Chile, two countries joined in misfortune and sorrow and betrayal, hounded by the same man, the same "statesman," the same war criminal who had been Nixon's secretary of state.

I can't recall exactly the place where Angélica and I met Hitch—it may have been Barbara Ehrenreich's apartment or at the always welcoming house of Saul Landau—nor can I recollect the exact contours of our almost simultaneous diatribe against Kissinger that evening, but I like to think that in some glorious recess of Christopher's febrile and extraordinary brain, he was already planning this book, starting to put on trial the despoiler of Chile and Cyprus. And let's not forget Cambodia and Vietnam and East Timor and the Kurds—the Kurds, above all let us not ever forget the Kurds, because Christopher never did.

Over the years, more indictments like those of that first evening were sprinkled through our long and plentiful and often contentious friendship. Like true friends, we did not agree on everything, but Kissinger was always there to remind us of how deep our desire for justice ran; our conviction, his and mine, that if one could not physically bring a man responsible for genocide before a tribunal, there was always the written word to pin him to the wall and eviscerate his impunity. Neither of us thought—at least I didn't—that such a trial in the world of realpolitik and fawning media and obsequious politicians would ever be possible.

General Pinochet's arrest in London in 1998 changed that. That a former head of state could be subjected to universal jurisdiction (a term that Christopher highlights in his opening remarks of this book) for crimes against humanity, that the decision to find sufficient reasons to extradite the former Chilean dictator to Spain had been approved by the several courts in London and confirmed by the Law Lords (an equivalent to the US Supreme Court), was undoubtedly the trigger that led to The Trial of Henry Kissinger being written. If Pinochet, then why not Kissinger? Why not anyone whose dossier proved a conscious and systematic involvement in egregious human rights violations, no matter how influential that person might be? Or should the law only be applied to a land like Chile, with no nuclear weapons or bases strewn around the world, and not the United States, flexing its power and muscle?

The book itself is vintage Hitchens, in the tradition of Thomas Paine, one of his heroes: incisive, ironic, chock full of information, contemptuous of what the pundits might think, redolent with indignation and choice adjectives. But most crucial, what I now read behind the rant, many years later, is the same thing that struck me about Christopher in that very first conversation we had.

A topic that Hitch kept coming back to on that night in 1981, as he would often during the years ahead, was that of the missing of Chile, the desaparecidos, men and women abducted from the streets or their homes by the secret police and never heard of again, absent from the world as if they had never been born. We discussed at some length (it was my obsession then and still is) how this atrocity, along with affecting the bodies of those who had been kidnapped, devastated the lives of the relatives who could not find their beloved, who could not even bury their corpses or mourn an uncertain death.

Hitch's interest in this tragedy was motivated, naturally, by something that would define a life crusading for the rights of those who were neglected and forgotten and postponed. Especially by the mainstream media. And it was Cyprus, which Christopher mentioned to me and Angélica during that first interminable and deep conversation, gesturing toward his own then wife, Eleni, a Greek Cypriot whom Hitch had met while covering the Turkish invasion of the island. "Eleni's people also have desaparecidos," was, if I am not mistaken, the stark way in which he introduced the theme. And not long thereafter, he called me up at our home and invited us to the opening of an exhibition of photographs about the plight of the Cypriot refugees, which emphasized in particular the calamity of those who were still missing after the war. When Angélica and I arrived for the inauguration (it was at an out-of-the-way place, a small gallery, I think), there was hardly a soul there—an instance of inattention that outraged Hitch and made him even more determined to highlight the invisible sorrow that was visiting a people he had fallen in love with. Years later he would recall, both publicly and privately, how moved he was that we had taken the time to share that experience of exile and sorrow and struggle when so many others simply didn't give a damn.

But he got that one wrong. I wasn't the one to be thanked for having been present at that exhibition. Hitch was the one to be thanked for caring enough, for helping me understand (as he does in this book) how the catastrophe of Chile was linked in so many ways to the disasters assailing other areas of the earth, how we need to hold those who inflicted the damage accountable in as many ways as we possibly can. In that invitation to see the photos, as in this book that now sees the light of day again, as in a variety of other instances, he expanded the universe, he made the connections. He was always ready to open doors and windows that nobody else dared to even notice, and he did so, invariably with unfailing wit and grace and a sort of penetrating lyricism, provoking us till we paid attention. He simply refused to remain silent.

That is what really pulses through this book.

The victims. So many who have not lived to see Kissinger and others like him put on trial. So many who are represented in the sweet tirade against a war criminal who walks in freedom but who is always, thanks to books like these, looking over his shoulder.

Wondering if the Hitch will get him.

Because a year after this book was published, the heroic Kissinger was sojourning at (where else?) the Ritz Hotel in Paris when he was summoned to appear before French judge Roger Le Loire, who wanted to question the "elder statesman" about his involvement in Operation Condor (and whether he knew anything about five French nationals who had been "disappeared" during the Pinochet dictatorship). Rather than take the occasion to clear his name, Kissinger fled that very night. And he has never been able to sleep abroad with any semblance of serenity ever since: more indictments followed, from Spain, from Argentina and Uruguay, and even a civil suit in Washington, DC.

Oh yes, maybe the Hitch will indeed get him.

True, Christopher did not believe in ghosts or spirits or the afterlife.

But indulge me, comrade. Accept that while books like these are alive, and while your innumerable allies continue the quest for justice, well, perhaps you can smile at the thought that we will refuse to let you become one more desaparecido.


February 2012

Preface to the Paperback Edition

When this little book first appeared, in what may now seem the prehistoric spring of 2001, it attracted a certain amount of derision in some quarters, and on two grounds. A number of reviewers flatly declined to believe that the evidence presented against Henry Kissinger could be true. Others, willing to credit at least the veracity of the official documents, nonetheless scoffed at the mere idea of bringing such a mighty figure within the orbit of the law.

It says nothing for the author, but a great deal about the subject, to be able to report that the lapse of just one year has brought important and incriminating new disclosures and seen significant new developments. To begin with the disclosures, then, one might instance fresh and conclusive evidence under four of the headings originally discussed here: Indochina, Latin America, East Timor and Washington, DC. And, to follow on with the legal developments, one can now cite important proceedings brought against Kissinger in four democratic countries, including his own. I hope I will not seem to boast if I say that most of these disclosures and initiatives were foreshadowed in the first version of this book. At any rate, they now appear below and any reader may judge by comparison with the unaltered original text.


Further material has come to light about both the origins and the conclusion of this terrible episode in American and Asian history. The publication of Larry Berman's No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam in early 2001 provided further evidence of the secret and illegal diplomacy conducted by Nixon and his associates in the fall of 1968, and discussed on here here as well as in my appendix on here. Indeed, it can now be safely said that the record of this disgusting scandal has become, so to speak, a part of the official and recognized record, rather as President Johnson's original provocation in the Gulf of Tonkin is now generally called by its right name. (In his edition of President Johnson's private papers and conversations in the fall of 2001, Professor Michael Beschloss produced first-hand and direct proof that Johnson himself knew at the time that he was lying to the Congress and the world about the episode.)

As for the expiring moments of that hideous war, the month of May 2001 saw the publication of an extraordinary book, The Last Battle: The Mayaguez Incident and the End of the Vietnam War. Written by Ralph Wetterhahn, a Vietnam veteran who had decided to stay with the subject, the book establishes beyond doubt by the use of contemporary documents and later interviews that:

a)   The crew of the Mayaguez were never held on Koh Tang island, the island that was invaded by the United States Marine Corps.

b)   The Cambodians had announced that they intended to return the vessel, and had indeed done so even as the bombardment of Cambodian territory was continuing. During that time, the crew was being held on quite another island, named Rong Sam Lem. The statements of Ford and Kissinger, claiming credit for the eventual release and attributing it to the intervention on the wrong island, were knowingly false.

c)   American casualties were larger than has ever been admitted: twenty-three men were pointlessly sacrificed in a helicopter crash in Thailand that was never acknowledged as part of the operation. Thus, a total of sixty-four servicemen were sacrificed to "free" forty sailors who had already been let go, and who were not and had never been at the advertised location.

d)   As a result of the official panic and confusion, three Marines were left behind alive on Koh Tang island, and later captured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge. The names of Lance Corporal Joseph Hargrove, Pfc Gary Hall and Pvt Danny Marshall do not appear on any memorial, let alone the Vietnam Veterans' wall (see here). For a long time, their names had no official existence at all, and this "denial" might have succeeded indefinitely were it not for Mr. Wetterhahn's efforts.

Kissinger was the crucial figure at all stages of this crime and cover-up, arguing at the onset of the crisis that B-52 bombers should at once (and again) be launched against Cambodia and arguing, too, for the dropping of the BLU-82 bomb—a 15,000-pound device—on the center of Koh Tang island. He must also have been crucial in the following hair-raising episode, made public by William Triplett in the official publication of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Mr. Triplett interviewed then-Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, who recalled two cabinet meetings during the crisis. The first was the one at which Kissinger demanded the use of B-52s. The second was the one—no less alarming to Secretary Schlesinger—at which it was decided to sink all ships spotted in the vicinity of Koh Tang island. As Schlesinger recalled it:

When I got [back] to the Pentagon… I said that before any ships are sunk, our pilots should fly low over the ships and see what they could see, particularly if there were any [Mayaguez] crew members aboard. If they did see them, they were to report back immediately before doing anything. In the course of flying over the area, one of our Navy pilots called back saying that he saw "Caucasians" aboard a ship…. Or he thought he saw that. It later turned out that every member of the Mayaguez crew was on that ship.

Q:  Did you apprise the White House of this ship with the Caucasians aboard?

A:  Yes, indeed.

Q:  And it was then that the White House said to sink it?

A:  Yes, the White House said, "We told you to sink all ships, so sink it!"

By stalling for three hours, the Secretary of Defense managed to avoid committing this atrocity. And by "the White House" he clearly does not mean the President, or he would have said so. In any case, we know who was managing the Mayaguez "rescue," and who took credit for it at the time. We are sure to learn even more about Kissinger's "hands-on" policy in Indochina as still more officials write their memoirs or make their confessions.

Latin America

The documentary record on Chile is now more or less complete, but much remains to be discovered about Kissinger's role in Operation Condor (see here), and in the nexus of dictatorship and repression which gave it birth. Recent published work by Martin Edwin Andersen and John Dinges, in the conservative Washington magazine Insight in January 2002, has presented us with incontrovertible proof of high-level approval for Argentina's "dirty war" of death and "disappearance" in the mid-1970s.

The evidence here might be described as unimpeachable, since it originates with a senior member of the Argentine dictatorship and an ultra-conservative United States diplomat. The first man, Admiral Cesar Guzzetti, foreign minister of the Videla dictatorship, had a dispute about both means and ends with the second man, US Ambassador Robert Hill. Ambassador Hill was a Cold-War veteran with tight family connections to the business oligarchy in Latin America. A Nixon appointee to the Buenos Aires post, he had also served contentedly as envoy to a number of despotic right-wing regimes. However, he was appalled by the campaign of murder unleashed in Argentina after the 1976 military coup, and became distressed by the way in which Kissinger, from Washington, undercut his representations on the matter.

To those familiar with the Chile investigation, in which a "two-track" policy was pursued and the officially accredited ambassador is not supposed to know of the real or covert policy, this may seem unsurprising. But not to Hill, an old-school type, the declassification of whose cables furnishes much of the new material. Before Admiral Guzzetti traveled to Washington to see Kissinger in October 1976, Hill had met him and told him that "murdering priests and dumping forty-seven bodies in the street in one day could not be seen in the context of defeating the terrorists quickly; on the contrary such acts were probably counterproductive. What the USG [United States Government] hoped was that the GOA [Government of Argentina] could soon defeat terrorists, yes, but as nearly as possible within the law."

Even this admonition, which might be seen by some as containing a loophole or two, was considered too harsh by Kissinger. Guzzetti set off for Washington, Hill subsequently minuted, "fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warnings on his government's human rights practices." However, having met Guzzetti on his return to Buenos Aires, he concluded:

Rather than that, he [Guzzetti] 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 GOA, it must now believe that if it has any problems with the US 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…. While this conviction exists, it will be unrealistic and ineffective for this Embassy to press representations to the GOA over human rights violations.

This is even more grave in its implications than may at first appear. In October 1976 the rate of state-sponsored kidnapping and "disappearance" was relatively slow and could, Ambassador Hill believed, be made slower still. But the declassified documents show Kissinger advising Guzzetti, in effect, to speed up the pace. He told him that "if the terrorist problem was over by December or January, he [Kissinger] believed that serious problems could be avoided in the United States." These and other reassurances were, according to Hill—and in a phrase that has since become obscenely familiar—"the green light" for intensified repression. When Kissinger and Guzzetti first met, the number of "disappeared" was estimated at 1,022. By the time that Argentina had become an international byword for torture, for anti-Semitism, for death-squads and for the concept of the desaparecido, a minimum of 15,000 victims had been registered by reliable international and local monitors. In 1978, when the situation was notorious, Kissinger (by then out of office) accepted a personal invitation from the dictator General Videla to be his guest during Argentina's hosting of the soccer World Cup. The former Secretary of State made use of the occasion to lecture the Carter administration for its excessive tenderness concerning human rights. General Videla, with whom I had a horrifying interview at about this time in the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires, has since been imprisoned for life. One of the more specific charges on which he was convicted was the sale of the children of rape victims held in his secret jails. His patron and protector, meanwhile, is enjoying a patriarchal autumn that may still (see below) be disturbed by the memory of what he permitted and indeed encouraged.

East Timor

On more than one occasion (see here) Henry Kissinger has absolutely and publicly denied that he had any foreknowledge of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, any interest in the subject, or even any awareness of its importance. That this is a huge falsehood, or perhaps a series of interlocking falsehoods, has long been apparent from independent evidence. What might be called conclusive or "smoking gun" proof, however, only became available in December 2001, when a fresh document became available. Declassified by the State Department, and publicized by the National Security Archive, it is the official record of a conversation that took place in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on 6 December 1975. Present were Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford, and the Indonesian dictator Suharto with a group of his military advisers.

Since Kissinger himself had received a cable from Washington two days before, informing him that the Indonesian junta had "plans" to invade East Timor, he cannot have been very much surprised to be told exactly that. Nor can he have been startled to hear from Suharto that: "We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action." President Ford did not attempt to mask his endorsement in any ambiguity. "We will understand and will not press you on the issue," he said. "We understand the problem and the intentions you have." Kissinger, more experienced in the spin-problems that could result from unleashing extremist dictatorships, employed language similar to that which he had (see above) lavished upon Admiral Guzzetti of Argentina. "The use of US-made arms could create problems," he mused, adding that "it depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defense or a foreign operation." This was an absolute untruth, since (see here) Kissinger knew perfectly well that the use of American-supplied (not "American made") weaponry would violate international law and United States law as well. Brightening somewhat, he assured Suharto that: "We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens happens after we return…. If you have made plans, we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the President returns home." As ever, he was willing to act as errand-boy for an unelected foreign dictatorship and to consider only Congress as his enemy.

It was therefore agreed, in an early instance of the now-famous pseudoscience of "deniability," that the aggression be timed to suit the fact that "The President will be back on Monday at 2.00 pm Jakarta time. We understand your problem and the need to move quickly but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned." With these words, Kissinger made himself directly complicit in the letter and the spirit of Indonesia's attack. A certain nervousness prompted him to ask Suharto if he anticipated "a long guerrilla war"; proof in itself that he did not believe Suharto's claim of popular support in East Timor. The dictator was reassuring, predicting that there would "probably be a short guerrilla war," while refusing to be drawn on its actual duration. The announced imperative of speed, as in Argentina above, was a spur to ruthless methods that had in effect been demanded by Washington. "It is important," said Kissinger coldly, "that whatever you do succeeds quickly." The consequences of this deadly injunction are discussed on here.

The same memorandum shows that the talk then turned to Indonesia's oil policy, and to Suharto's complaint that major petroleum corporations shared more of the wealth with their Middle Eastern partners than they did with Indonesia. Expressing sympathy for his attempt to negotiate a better deal, Kissinger found time to warn the despot that, whatever he did, he should "not create a climate that discourages investment." This was a case of pushing at an open door: to the very end of his regime Suharto maintained an investment-friendly climate, at least for a certain class of cronies of whom, perhaps coincidentally (see here), Kissinger eventually became one. Indeed, Indonesian "crony capitalism" and its practitioners became a major element in the scandal of United States campaign finance, and of the Congressional investigation into it, that marked the Clinton years. Kissinger even hired Clinton's former White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty as a partner in Kissinger Associates, and it may not be fanciful to suppose that the Indonesian connection played a role in this beautiful piece of bipartisanship.

The Suharto regime collapsed and imploded between the years 2000 and 2001. East Timor won its independence, and Indonesia formally withdrew its claim to the territory. Suharto himself was indicted by the Indonesian courts for corruption and only escaped the verdict by resorting, as had General Pinochet, to the claim of mental and physical incompetence. Once again, though, the senior partner in the massacres and in the corruption managed to escape condemnation.


As I was preparing to publish the original version of this book, I received a call from William Rogers. Mr. Rogers is a partner in the distinguished Washington law firm of Arnold and Porter and was, during Kissinger's period as Secretary of State, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs. He is also a cog in the wheel of Kissinger Associates (for the activities of which, see chapter 10). Someone had leaked the advance news of publication to a New York newspaper and Mr. Rogers, on first contact, was all friendliness. Could he help? he wanted to know. I told him that I had already forwarded a request for an interview to his boss, and had mentioned the headings—Chile, Timor, Bangladesh and the Demetracopoulos affair—which I hoped to discuss with him. Mr. Rogers professed astonishment at the fourth of these topics. "Who is this guy Demetra-whatsisname?" he inquired. "We've never heard of him." He then asked me to send a list of all my questions, in order that he might be more "helpful" still. Recognizing a fishing expedition when I saw one, I instead wrote again to Kissinger offering to pay him for his trouble and proposing that, if he would give me and Harper's magazine half an hour on the record, we would pay him at the same rate offered by ABC News Nightline. (I did not add that, for this honorarium, we would ask him all the questions he has never been asked by Mr. Ted Koppel.)

Mr. Rogers then dropped the mask of pretended if inquisitive politeness and sent me a savage e-mail, in which he said that he had never heard of such a disgraceful proposal. How could I, he demanded to know, propose to pay a source? Quite obviously I was morally unfit for further conversation. His indignation got the better of him. I was only making an ironic reference to Kissinger's habit of charging immense fees for his time (and at no period did I think of him as a "source"). I wrote back to Rogers, saying that he seemed to be the same man who had attended the Kissinger-Pinochet private discussion on 8 June 1976 (see here) during which Pinochet had threatened a Chilean exile then living in Washington. On that occasion, I pointed out, the record showed that Mr. Rogers had sat in silence. It was therefore good to know what did, and what did not, touch his nerve of outrage. Mr. Rogers, it now turns out, also played a role in facilitating the Kissinger-Guzzetti conversations in 1976, and later in trying to put a positive shine upon them. Such men are always, it seems, with us.

The absurdity of the official pretense, that Elias Demetracopoulos was beneath Kissinger's notice, is even further exposed by a recently declassified letter from Kissinger to Nixon, sent on 22 March 1971. It is headed "SECRET: The Demetracopoulos Affair." It begins by saying to the President: "You may have heard some repercussions from the recent flap over a request by Greek 'journalist' and resistance leader, Elias Demetracopoulos, to return to Greece to see his sick father." (It's rather flattering that Kissinger should have put "journalist" in sarcastic quotes, but left the definition of resistance leader unamended.) The letter goes on to say:

Since Demetracopoulos has such a following in Congress and has an outlet in Rowland Evans [then a senior Washington columnist] I thought you might be interested in knowing that he has long been an irritant in US-Greek relations. Among his intrigues—which have included selling himself as a trusted US agent to anyone and everyone—he has touched off a record number of controversies and embarrassments between Greek and American officials. Through various journalistic enterprises, he has somehow managed to gain access to press and government circles. CIA, State, Defense and USIA have repeatedly warned officials about Demetracopoulos…


On Sale
Apr 10, 2012
Page Count
304 pages

Christopher Hitchens

About the Author

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a prolific author, columnist, editor, and book critic, writing on issues ranging from politics, to religion, to the nature of debate itself. Hitchens' 2007 manifesto God Is Not Great was a #1 New York Times bestseller and National Book Award nominee. His other New York Times bestsellers include Hitch 22Arguably, and Mortality

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