Five of Henry Kissinger’s worst war crimes

Photo: Henry Kissinger in 2016. Credit: LBJ Library.

On Nov. 29, Henry Kissinger died at the age of 100. As National Security Advisor and U.S. Secretary of State under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Kissinger was a primary architect of U.S. Cold War foreign policy to contain Soviet influence and ascendent left-wing movements across the globe.

While ruling class figures celebrate Kissinger’s legacy, his record is soaked in the blood of millions throughout the Global South. Below are five of the worst atrocities that Kissinger is directly responsible for, in no particular order.

1-Carpet bombing Cambodia

Under then-President Richard Nixon, Kissinger oversaw the genocidal carpet bombing campaign of Cambodia from 1969 to 1973. This bombing campaign was launched during the height of the Vietnam War and the U.S. administration was seeking to disrupt the supply route of weapons to the communist North Vietnamese army along the Ho Chi Minh trail, which ran from Laos and Cambodia, through South Vietnam to North Vietnam. Operation Menu, as it was called, was kept secret from Congress and American citizens, since public opinion of the Vietnam War was beginning to shift toward opposition to U.S. involvement. Only through declassified CIA documents was the operation later revealed to the public. 

In total, the United States dropped 540,000 tons of bombs over Cambodia, killing around 150,000 civilians. Not only that, but Cambodians are still living with repercussions of this terror campaign to this day: the country remains littered with unexploded ordnances and even decades after the war, civilians continue to be injured by these explosives. There are over 40,000 amputees in the country of 16.6 million — the highest per capita rate in the world. 

2-Engineering a fascist military coup in Chile

Kissinger was also the “chief architect” behind the 1973 overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected socialist leader Salvador Allende by fascist military dictator Augusto Pinochet. Nixon and Kissinger’s campaign against Allende began during Allende’s 1970 presidential run, knowing that if elected, he would nationalize Chile’s key industries which were then dominated by U.S. monopolies and, in general, implement a foreign policy hostile to U.S. imperialism. 

In a secret cable sent in October of 1970, a month after Allende won his election, CIA deputy director of plans Thomas Karamessines bluntly relayed Kissinger’s message to CIA station chief in Santiago, Henry Hecksher: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende be overthrown by a coup.” 

Up until Allende’s eventual overthrow, Kissinger and the U.S. government did everything in their power to undermine the Chilean leader, including financially supporting opposition groups, meeting with military generals to pressure them into providing a “solution” to Allende, and funding anti-government worker strikes to destabilize the economy. Kissinger also oversaw other covert operations in Chile, including the assassination of its army commander-in-chief, General René Schneider, which the Nixon administration saw as necessary to ousting the Chilean leader, since Schneider stood as a “key bulwark within the military against coups targeting Allende.”

And when Pinochet wrested power from Allende in a coup, Kissinger threw his full support behind the military general. 

The human toll of Pinochet’s dictatorial regime, which lasted from 1973 to 1990, was tremendous: Within weeks, as many as 20,000 leftists, intellectuals, workers, and supporters of Pinochet were rounded up and tortured in the National Stadium in Santiago. Many were executed. In total, over 40,000 people were killed, tortured, or detained in Pinochet’s wave of political repression. 

3-Supporting Argentina’s Dirty War

In 1976, Kissinger gave Argentina’s military junta approval for its wave of political repression against leftist civilians and political dissidents. In 2014, declassified documents include this account of a meeting between then-US Ambassador to Argentina Robert Hill, of Kissinger’s conversation with Argentine Foreign Minister César Augusto Guzzetti:

The Argentines were very worried that Kissinger would lecture to them on human rights. Guzzetti and Kissinger had a very long breakfast but the Secretary did not raise the subject. Finally Guzzetti did. Kissinger asked how long will it take you (the Argentines) to clean up the problem. Guzzetti replied that it would be done by the end of the year. Kissinger approved.

In other words, Ambassador Hill explained, Kissinger gave the Argentines the green light.

The account further states that Kissinger expressed to Guzzetti to “finish its terrorist problem [what the junta called leftists] before year end — before Congress reconvened in January 1977. At the time, Kissinger was concerned about Congress passing legislation barring U.S. aid to certain countries if those governments were in violation of human rights, and he wanted to make sure the junta could conclude their murderous state terror campaign before the laws came into effect.

In the end, the military junta’s Dirty War, as it is known, led to the deaths and disappearances of over 30,000 people.

4-Backing Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor

In December of 1975, military dictator of Indonesia Suharto was planning an invasion of East Timor, after revolutionary leftist party Fretilin declared independence from Portugal. Suharto met with then-President Gerald Ford and Kissinger, his National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, for approval of his plans to annex East Timor into Indonesia. Kissinger essentially gave Suharto the “green light”, and the latter invaded the Southeast Asian nation the very next day, on Dec. 7.

The United States not only backed the invasion politically, but it also supplied Suharto’s military with the necessary weapons. Documents reveal that roughly 90% of the Indonesian weapons used in the invasion of East Timor were provided by the United States. 

Suharto’s bloody invasion of East Timor led to 200,000 deaths and launched a brutal 24-year occupation marked by extrajudicial executions, widespread massacres, rape and torture, and forced starvation of the population.

5-Supporting Pakistan’s genocide in Bangladesh

In March of 1971, Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won Pakistan’s legislative elections on a platform of independence for East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In response, Pakistan’s president Yahya Khan launched a genocidal campaign against Bengali Hindus, which then triggered the Bangladesh Liberation War.

At the time, Pakistan was a critical ally to the United States in its project of counterbalancing then-socialist-aligned India and containing Soviet influence on the subcontinent, and also a key player in establishing relations with China. 

As India entered the war on the side of East Pakistan, Kissinger and Nixon approved weapons shipments to Yahya Khan, including the illegal transfer of ten fighter bombers from Jordan. When Archer Blood, a top U.S. diplomat to East Pakistan, protested the U.S.-backed atrocities being carried out, Kissinger responded by having him recalled.

The genocide ended when Pakistan’s military forces surrendered on Dec. 16, 1971, and Bangladesh achieved independence. In total, three million Bangladeshis were killed.

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