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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Henry Kissinger: Haunted by his past
Henry Kissinger, hero or villain?
He was arguably the most influential architect of US foreign policy since the war, but, as Bob Chaundy of the BBC's News Profiles Unit reports, attempts to question Henry Kissinger about terrorist crimes have put the darker side of his career under the spotlight.

Henry Kissinger once said that "90% of politicians give the other 10% a bad reputation".

Throughout his career, this German Jewish emigré who began his working life in a shaving brush factory in New York, rose to become a Harvard professor and then assumed control of America's foreign policy under Presidents Nixon and Ford, has bitterly divided opinion over which of these two percentage categories he belongs to.

Kissinger with Nixon
He had a hold over President Nixon
Kissinger became Richard Nixon's national security adviser in 1969. It was testament to his mastery of political in-fighting and his increasing hold over the president that, in all but the final year of the Nixon presidency, he ran foreign policy over the head of the Secretary of State, William Rogers.

By this policy, say his supporters, he made the world a safer place. He was the man who effected détente with the Soviet Union. He opened up the way to Nixon's visit to China. He negated the Communist threat in America's back yard, most notably in Chile.

With his famous "shuttle diplomacy" after the 1973 Yom Kippur war in the Middle-East, he brokered the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

He was the secret negotiator at the Paris peace talks which ended the Vietnam War for which he was awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize. And he was the man who kept American foreign policy on the rails after the Watergate scandal and maintained its momentum under President Ford.

Kissinger as US Secretary of State
He assumed almost complete control of foreign affairs during the Nixon years
His wisdom is still sought after. His punditry on the current state of American foreign policy is aired by TV networks everywhere, and he is a regular on the highly lucrative lecture circuit.

Of course, say his defenders, there were times when American policy under Kissinger was more motivated by global balance of power and national interest at the expense of human rights, but, as the Times put it in a recent editorial, "the world was polarised, and fighting communism involved hard choices and messy compromises".

This messy business, though, is what has made him a highly controversial figure. His critics refer to Kissinger's complicity in the illegal carpet-bombing of neutral Cambodia, designed to deprive North Vietnam of troops and supplies, but which sowed the seeds for the murderous Pol Pot regime.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Seymour Hersh, in a 1983 biography, Kissinger, the Price of Power, argued that this bombing, moreover, jeopardised America's atomic security.

American B52 bomber over Cambodia
Kissinger sanctioned the illegal bombing of Cambodia
British writer, Christopher Hitchens, in his recent book The Trial of Henry Kissinger, argues that Kissinger is a war criminal. He claims he connived with brutal regimes, allied to the US, most notably Pakistan, Greece and Indonesia, to embark on savage acts of repression.

Most notably, charges relating to Latin America have returned to haunt Henry Kissinger. The CIA's involvement in the coup which toppled the elected Chilean leader Salvador Allende and brought General Pinochet to power, has been long well-documented.

"I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people," Kissinger once famously uttered.

But a number of factors have brought these old chestnuts back into public prominence.

Chilean demonstration against Pinochet
Chileans demonstrating against the brutality of the Pinochet regime
Documents recently released by the CIA, strengthen previously-held suspicions that Kissinger was actively involved in the establishment of Operation Condor, a covert plan involving six Latin American countries including Chile, to assassinate thousands of political opponents.

At the same time, the success of international tribunals in bringing suspected war criminals such as Yugoslavia's former leader Slobodan Milosevic to trial has created a new impetus for righting the serious wrongs of the past.

The new International Criminal Court, ratified this month, is a de facto message to tyrants and torturers everywhere that they can run but can't hide.

The Spanish judge, Baltazar Garzon, pursued the extradition to Spain of General Pinochet while the former Chilean dictator was in London.

Now this same judge is trying to question Kissinger about the deaths of Spanish nationals murdered and tortured as part of Operation Condor. A French judge is doing the same in relation to murdered French citizens.

Kissinger delivering lecture
Kissinger is highly sought after on the lecture circuit
Kissinger has admitted that mistakes were "quite possibly" made by the administrations in which he served. But he has questioned whether, 30 years after the event, "courts are the appropriate means by which determination is made".

None of the judges, so far, have suggested that they want to do anything more than question Henry Kissinger. If it ever came to a trial, the prosecution would be hampered by Kissinger's obsession with secrecy.

Not only did he execute much of his foreign policy by the back door, when he left office in 1977, he deposited most of his personal papers in the US Library of Congress. They will remain sealed until five years after his death.


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