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20 February 2003 Edition

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Speaking of war criminals

Heavy-hitting, factual documentaries are hard to come by these days, but The Trials Of Henry Kissinger (Network 2) provided a timely and disturbing account of US power and Henry Kissinger's malicious disregard for human life in exercising it. The programme drew its narrative from Christopher Hitchens' book of the same name, put pictures to the words, and threw some talking heads into the mix.

Kissinger came into power in the first place through his role in the Viet Nam war, acting as an advisor to both the Johnson and Nixon camps and scuppering the peace talks in Paris to help Nixon secure a narrow election victory. Once installed as the key Nixon aide, Kissinger proceeded to authorise the secret bombing of Cambodia, an act Hitchens called a "public relations mass murder" - bombing towns and villages as a negotiating tool.

By 1973, the Viet Nam war was intractable, and Henry Kissinger was being given the Nobel Peace Prize. Here was a man who had prolonged the war by years, almost single-handedly, being celebrated as a peacemaker. The joint Nobel winner, Doc Tao - the leader of Southern Vietnam, and the man who had plotted with Kissinger to bring down the peace talks, refused to take to the stage with Kissinger, on the grounds that there was no peace to celebrate in Viet Nam.

Two years after he won the Nobel Prize, peace did actually materialise in Viet Nam and the US finally disengaged from that country in 1975. Kissinger was still concerned about the possibility for communist growth across the border in Cambodia, and authorised the bombing of towns, villages and agricultural land across that country, with the US dropping as many explosives (110,000 tonnes) on Cambodia as were dropped on Japan during World War II. 500,000 people died in the bombing, and a further 2 million were killed in the resulting famine. But the suffering of the Cambodian people was not over, for their devastated country provided the perfect battleground for the Khmer Rouge to siege control, which they did with brutality, and a blind eye from the US.

The secret bombings were just part of a tissue of lies and intrigue that would lead to the Watergate scandal, causing Nixon to step down rather than be impeached. President Ford took over, but Kissinger remained, now firmly ensconced as part of the permanent administration in Washington. Together, they travelled to Indonesia to discuss their concern over the growth of a left-wing independence movement south of the border in East Timor. Kissinger and Ford gave the nod to the Suharto administration to use US munitions, logistics and food in East Timor.

Kissinger's hand was also to be found behind the assault on democracy in Chile, which culminated on 11 September 1973 in the instalment of dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled through terror for 17 years. Kissinger first became involved when IT&T, just one of the US corporations with interests in exploiting Chile, brought to his attention the growth of a left-wing movement, headed by Allende, and demanded that the US take action. Kissinger agreed, and after Allende was elected, he argued that "we can't stand by and watch communism take over, because of the irresponsibility of its people".

In order to prevent this, Kissinger ordered the covert assassination of one of the obstacles to a military coup - Shneider, an Army Officer who believed the military owed its allegiance to the Constitution. Kissinger hired known violent criminals, and equipped them with high-tech weaponry to take him out. After he was assassinated, $135,000 was paid to the killer.

Twenty-five years later, Pinochet was being held on charges of war crimes. The US came under pressure to release its secret files on Chile, and there is significant evidence to suggest that Kissinger panicked and tried to prevent this from happening. He has put all of his papers in trust, to remain undisclosed until five years after his death. It's only then we may know the full truth of crimes against humanity in Cambodia, East Timor and Chile.

Christopher Hitchens has constantly accused Kissinger of war crimes and has directly challenged him to sue for libel. Kissinger has not sued, Hitchens argues, because a court case would expose the facts, and leave Kissinger open for prosecution. A French judge has already issued a warrant for his arrest, to answer questions about his role in war crimes.

Closer to home, and in Dublin 100,000 people marched against the proposed Bush/ Blair war on Iraq. Coverage on Six One (RTE) was the fairest, reporting the "good humour" of the crowd, and providing all of the participants seemingly equal airtime, even mentioning the issue of Irish complicity, vis a vis Shannon. TV3 News committed the cardinal sin of using Richard Boyd Barrett (well-mannered, well-off Socialist Workers' Party leader) as a spokesperson for the Anti-War forces, but they were also impressed by the goodwill of the crowd, and one of their on-the-scene reporters seemed to be almost ecstatic at being swept up in the carnival atmosphere. All across the world, people spoke with one voice to say we need peace, not war. It can be best summed up in a Leonard Cohen lyric, as seen on one of the many colourful banners at Saturday's march: "May the lights in the land of plenty shine on the truth some day".


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