Christopher Hitchens is the author of The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso, 2001), which argues that Henry Kissinger should be tried "for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against ... international law" including conspiring to "commit murder, kidnap, and torture." In the book, Hitchens plays prosecutor, making the case that Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford, has blood on his hands from the war in Indochina and genocide in East Timor, among other atrocities.
Hitchens will draw on some of his research for that book, and discuss developments since its publication, on Oct. 5 at "Counter-Kissinger," an event co-organized by City Paper that is concurrent with an appearance by Kissinger himself at Heinz Hall. The event will also include the screening of a documentary inspired by Hitchens' book.
Although in the past widely embraced by the left, Hitchens has lately confounded and alienated many liberals with his support of the Bush administration's war in Iraq.
Hitchens is a columnist and contributing editor for Vanity Fair and The Atlantic and from 1982-2002 wrote a column for The Nation. His books include decidedly irreverent attacks on Mother Theresa (The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice) and on the Clintons (No One Left to Lie To.)
Why'd you write the Kissinger book when you did?
[General Augusto] Pinochet was arrested. Slobodon Milosevic was deposed. [Major] General Suharto of Indonesia was put under house arrest and indicted for corruption. Kissinger's Argentine friend General Leopold Galtieri was going to jail. Some of these were his former business as well as political partners, people he worked with and helped to either hold or gain power. The one who was really their patron, Kissinger, was the only unpunished one.
Everyone had suddenly got used to the idea of universal jurisdiction, that someone who is a liar and a murderer and butcher and a war criminal can be not just deposed if they go wrong or they fuck up, but can be arrested and put on trial. From Pinochet to Sadaam, that's what people of that kind now face.
Why isn't there a response in your book from Kissinger?
He would not agree to meet me. Nor would he agree to take questions by e-mail or fax or any other neutral form. After the book came out, when he was asked about it he usually would say, "Oh it's beneath my dignity, why should I bother?" But one day he just lost his rag and said, "Why should I respond to questions from someone who's trashed Jackie Kennedy and Mother Theresa and who denies the Holocaust?" And I got the tape and I thought, "As far as I know I've never written anything bad about Jackie Kennedy, though I certainly have about Mother Theresa. But about the third point, I'll see you in court." And I sued him.
How'd Kissinger respond?
His lawyers walked around a letter the next day saying, "Our client agrees he will not repeat the [Holocaust] allegation." And I said that's not good enough, he has to take it back, otherwise he'll have to say it in court. They knew that if I could get him into court I'm entitled to bring a witness from Cambodia or Cypress or East Timor and say, "You lied about the following and isn't it a general fact, Dr. Kissinger, that you are a psychopathic liar?" So his only way out was to make a rather narrowly phrased apology. He can't have liked to apologize to me of all people at that point. It must have cost him some bile.
Couldn't some arguments that you make for Kissinger being a war criminal and complicit in torture be directed at the present administration with Abu Ghraib?
No, which is not to say that someone should not have been shot for Abu Ghraib and probably someone not all that low on the totem pole. But there's all the difference in the world between, say, what Kissinger did in Chile, which was to destroy a functioning democracy and impose a military dictatorship, and deposing a functioning dictatorship and trying to have an election [in Iraq]. I just simply think those things can't be mentioned in the same breath.
Still, it is confounding that you support the war in Iraq yet seem to be generally anti-war in the Kissinger book.
I've never been anti-war at all. I'm anti-fascist, quite convincedly so. Kissinger was a middle man -- in Indonesia, for example -- for murderous regimes and the corporations that love them. Now the policy of regime change from the current administration is as different from that as chalk from cheese. The main objection you can make to it is that it's a very risky policy, extremely hazardous and with a terrible risk of chaos and violence and defeat. But that's morally in a totally different league, it's not even in the same column as Kissinger.
What do you think of the Nobel Peace Prize, which Kissinger won?
It's like the Pulitzer -- I don't think any less of someone if they win it. The whole Nobel thing is a stupid idea. Look at their literature prize - they let Nabokov die without giving it to him! And look at the list of people that did get it when Nabokov was alive. It's a scandal. Who gets the Nobel Prize for literature doesn't matter to me and I don't think to anyone who thinks about literature at all. The same with [the] peace [prize]. It expresses the mentality of certain kinds of Scandinavian liberal.
Jack Shafer's been writing recently in Slate about Kissinger dodging questions from a New York Times reporter.
He's hiding from the press here. The declassification process in this country is between 25 and 30 years, though sometimes longer. Kissinger now lives in the period, as we do, that the time he was in office is open to public scrutiny. New stuff has come out about Argentina, new cables that flatly contradict what he said at the time and what he says in his unbelievably lying and ill-written memoirs. This has happened several times now -- on Vietnam, Argentina, East Timor and I think more and more it will happen with Chile. The record is being officially published where you can read the State Department cables and they show Kissinger was always in bed with the enemies of democracy here and overseas.
Are you seeing that sort of pressure on Kissinger coming from journalists besides Shafer?
The most nauseating thing is the extraordinary way that some senior people in the press either don't ask him any questions, or lie for him, or cover. Worst certainly by far is Ted Koppel, who had him as an ABC news consultant -- not someone who comes on as part of the controversy, but to arbitrate it, for an undisclosed sum. Barbara Walters is on her knees before him. [Former New Yorker and Talk editor] Tina Brown has him to all her parties. They'd like to have John Gotti to dinner if they could get away with it because they get the real thrill of meeting a guy who's done it with his bare hands, you know? He's a pornographic figure for sort of bored tenth-rate America media gluttons.