Christopher Hitchens and David Rieff exchange frank views on politics, personalities and what constitutes a war criminalby Christopher Hitchens / August 20, 2001 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2001 issue of Prospect Magazine
28th June 2001
I hold no brief for Henry Kissinger, and had your recent attack on him been concerned-as you put it-with exposing his “depraved realpolitik,” I would not have been disposed to quarrel with you. There is much to loathe about what Kissinger believes, and much to despise about what he did when he applied his brand of amoral realism to the conduct of US foreign policy. But you insist that your goal is different. You claim that the book you have written is “concerned only with the Kissingerian offences that might or should form the basis of a legal prosecution for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offences against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap and torture.”
You claim that in your bill of indictment you have included only those acts of Kissinger’s which can be properly described as identifiable crimes rather than exercises of irresponsible power, or acts which, however repulsive they are to you, “might in outline have been followed under any US administration.” These include the secret bombing of Indochina; collusion with the Pakistani government’s campaign of slaughter in East Pakistan in 1971 and in the subsequent assassination of Bangladesh’s first president, Sheikh Mujib; collusion in the assassination of Rene Schneider, the chief of the Chilean general staff under Allende; involvement in the plan to assassinate President Makarios of Cyprus; guilt for the Indonesian genocide in East Timor; and personal involvement in a plot to kidnap and murder Elias Demetracopoulos, an exiled Greek journalist then living in Washington.
There are a number of flaws in your argument which would be apparent even to someone who shared both your politics and your presuppositions. Among them is the fact that, as you yourself admit, you don’t have a lot of direct evidence in a number of these cases. You blame Kissinger for withholding access to his papers and speculate, without evidence as far as I can see, that he has destroyed certain key documents. But the result, as you concede, is that you can often only bring what you call a prima facie case. In other words you want Kissinger in the dock, but you often don’t have enough evidence to warrant an indictment under the legal standards you yourself invoke and depend on.