Press Box

Kissinger’s Travels

He ducks the New York Times yet again.

Henry Kissinger must be piling up frequent flyer miles by the millions. Today (Oct. 1) marks the fourth time in four months that New York Times reporter Diana Jean Schemo has called Kissinger to collect a comment for a news story about him. It also marks the fourth time in four months that an aide has told Schemo that Kissinger can’t talk because he’s “traveling.”

Schemo’s latest story, “Kissinger Cool to Criticizing Juntas in ‘76,” documents two occasions when the former secretary of state hauled U.S. diplomats across the coals after one of them went off the Kissinger script to criticize human rights violations in Argentina and Chile. The article relies on transcripts of telephone conversations recorded in 1976, which were obtained by the National Security Archive through a Freedom of Information Act request. Most of Kissinger’s callers had no idea that he had instructed his secretaries to listen in and transcribe the telephone conversations, according to the archive.

One transcript captures Kissinger reaming out a State Department Latin America specialist on the phone when a U.S. ambassador admonished the new government in Argentina for serious human rights violations.

“In what way is it compatible with my policy?” … “How did it happen?” … “I want to know who did this and consider having him transferred,” Kissinger growled at Harry W. Shlaudeman.

That same year, the Kissinger barked at State Department associate William D. Rogers in a phone conversation after the U.S. deputy ambassador to the Organization of American States defended an OAS study that criticized Chile for its human rights violations.

“I think I have made it very clear what my strategy is.” … “I have not become a super liberal. This is not an institution that is going to humiliate the Chileans.” … “It is a bloody outrage.” … “Why don’t we get him out?”

The transcripts indicate that inside the State Department, Kissinger reacted furiously whenever his underlings disparaged the Argentine and Chilean regimes for torturing and murdering their countrymen. Rogers, who still works for Kissinger at Kissinger Associates, defends his boss in the Times, saying Kissinger never communicated his approval of human rights violations in Latin America.

Kissinger has used the “traveling, can’t talk” gambit three other times to dodge Schemo’s critical questions in recent months. (“Kissinger Accused of Blocking Scholar,” June 5; “Dispute Over Pinochet Book Claims Another Casualty,” June 16; and “Papers Show No Protest By Kissinger On Argentina,” Aug. 27.) Schemo, who has been doing yeoman’s work on the Kissinger beat, would do her readers additional service if she were to include in her next installment—and with so many National Security Archive documents to chose from, there will certainly be another—some sort of Kissinger box score to let readers know that he’s avoiding her questions. The fact that Kissinger has repeatedly dodged Times questions about his past is worthy of mention in the Times, isn’t it?

As two previous “Press Box” columns show, Kissinger is only press avoidant when he’s the subject. Whenever a television network calls to ask his general views, he turns into a complete press hog. In the last month Kissinger has appeared on at least five television interview shows: Lou Dobbs Tonight (Sept. 22); On the Record With Greta Van Susteren (Sept. 14); Kudlow & Cramer (Sept. 13); The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer (Sept. 7); and Your World With Neil Cavuto (Sept. 2).

The TV interviewers always serve Kissinger softballs about Iraq or geopolitics when they could make real news instead of idle conversation by asking him about the Argentina and Chile controversies, a point I’ve made here repeatedly.

On the off chance that the TV interviewers who have had Kissinger on their shows in the last month don’t read the New York Times, I prepared a set of definitive questions for him with my colleague Peter Kornbluh, which they can pose to Kissinger during his next appearance. (Kornbluh is an archive analyst at the National Security Archives and the author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability, which is now in paperback.)

First, I’d outsource this question to Lou Dobbs:

Henry Kissinger, good to have you with us. The declassified transcripts of your meetings and phone calls show that your aides, briefed on atrocities in South America’s Southern cone, told you that the Argentine military was “using the Chilean model: killing priests and nuns.” And yet you wanted to fire or transfer diplomats who made private and public protests to these regimes. Where were your priorities?

For Greta Van Sustern:

Former secretary of state, Dr. Henry Kissinger: Nice to see you, sir. You denounced one U.S. diplomat who publicly criticized the Pinochet regime for violating human rights as “humiliating the Chileans.” Shouldn’t the U.S. be taking a public stance against mass murderers and torturers? What U.S. national interests were adversely affected by officially denouncing human rights abuses?

For Neil Cavuto:

Dr. Kissinger, thank you for joining us. You seemed to equate a principled protest on human rights violations with efforts to undermine and overthrow the military regimes in Chile and Argentina. But as the principal architect of U.S. efforts to undermine and overthrow the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile, didn’t you know the difference between a concerted covert campaign of regime change and a few diplomatic protests against massive human rights violations?

For Jim Cramer:

Dr. Kissinger, welcome back to Kudlow & Cramer. You had the opportunity to personally convey to Gen. Augusto Pinochet U.S. opposition to his crimes against humanity. Instead you told him that the U.S. “was sympathetic with what you are trying to do here.” You told him “we want to help, not undermine you.” Three months later he sent his secret police agents to blow up a leading Chilean exile and his 25-year-old American colleague in downtown Washington, D.C. An egregious act of international terrorism if there ever was one. What was up with that? Did you send the wrong message?

For Larry Kudlow:

Dr. Kissinger, your family came out of Nazi Germany. One would think that that experience would have made you more sensitive than the average secretary of State to repression and human rights atrocities. Yet in these private conversations you seem to have utter distain for using U.S. diplomacy to advance the cause of human rights. Can you tell us why?

I’ve saved the last and the best for Jim Lehrer, because he’s considered such a consummate interviewer:

Secretary Kissinger, if the United States doesn’t stand for human rights and democracy, what does it stand for? And a follow-up: Would it really have been so undiplomatic to simply tell Pinochet and the Argentina officials you personally met the following? “We know that you are killing, torturing, and disappearing hundreds of people in your country. The United States does not, can not, and will not support such atrocities. If you want our backing, you should cease and desist these rampant abuses.”


E-mail your Kissinger question to No fair cribbing from Christopher Hitchens’ The Trial of Henry Kissinger. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)