Exhuming the Disappeared

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Over at Vanity Fair's spiffed-up new website Christopher Hitchens has an angry essay about new evidence linking Henry Kissinger to South America's murderous 1970s dictatorships.

New and democratic governments, assisted by principled lawyers and judges and forensic investigators, are disinterring and identifying the maimed and twisted corpses of men and women, and of boys and girls, who were lost to their friends and families about a quarter of a century ago. […] At the same time, in Washington, D.C., the declassification process for government documents is entering the disclosure phase. And, in a horrible way that is not being faced, the two excavations have begun to converge. From the standpoint of their victims, the death squads of Argentina and Chile were going about their busy work with the approval—no, the encouragement—of the secretary of state of the United States of America. […]

A suit has also been filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C., by the family of General Rene Schneider, charging Kissinger with orchestrating his killing. Every single paper in the prosecution dossier is a United States government declassified document.

The Schneider family has standing in this matter, not just morally, but legally-because of the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-Americans to seek redress in American courts. This act dates from the 18th century and was one of the first laws of the American Republic. The Bush administration recently tried and failed to have the Supreme Court strike the ancient legislation down … If I add that Henry Kissinger was offered the chairmanship of the 9/11 commission, and declined the honor only when he realized that he would have to disclose his unsavory client list at Kissinger Associates, you might start wondering which country is the real banana republic.

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  1. Go, Hitch, Go.

  2. Kissinger should be strung up from the gallows — or at least be made to have a cell next to Slobo in the Hague and listen to his maddening rants.

  3. But if those women and children hadn’t been machine gunned, some American companies might have had their assets seized. Assests, I tell you, with economic value!

    Priorities, people.

  4. Mein Fuerher! I can valk!

  5. So am I to understand that killing civilians covertly is wrong but openly dropping bombs on them is okay? Maybe it’s that killing civilians in the ’80s is bad but killing civilians in the 21st Century is okay? Or am I to understand that killing civilians to fight communism is bad but killing civilians to fight the Baath Party is okay? Maybe it’s that killing civilians on purpose is bad and killing civilians by accident is okay.

    It’s probably the latter, but what am I to make of Orwell’s anti-imperialism then?

  6. Hitchens should write another book: Why What Matters About Orwell Didn’t Apply to Iraq.

  7. I suspect that this will quickly morph into the old debate over left wing dictators vs. right wing dictators. One may indeed be a lesser evil relative to the other, but both are evil, neither are worthy of support, and it’s a bloody shame (literally) that the US gov’t supported some of them.

    But, since the left wing dictator vs. right wing dictator is a favorite topic on this forum, I’ll just appease everybody by saying that I’d rather be killed by the right wing death squads than the left wing death squads. The left wing death squads would kill me with bullets purchased by stealing assets from American corporations. The right wing death squads would kill me with bullets purchased using money from the US gov’t…

    …which was obtained by stealing it from Americans.

    Doh!

  8. I tend to agree with Ken on this. Hitchens is a master of selective outrage. (Bombing Commies and supporting a puppet regime in Cambodia = Doubleplus Bad!; Bombing Islamists and supporting a puppet regime in Afghanistan = Doubleplus Good!)

  9. Hitchens is a master of selective outrage

    Hitchens has a soft spot for Communism and no sympathy at all for Islamic fascism. He’s a left-wing atheist; what do you expect?

    And Ken — it could be that you don’t draw a distinction (a) between deliberately rounding up a family and murdering them and (b) accidentally killing them with a stray bomb while fighting guerillas who decided to hide in a civilian area. But most people do. If hostages accidentally get shot by policemen during a hostage rescue operation, we don’t put the police on trial for their murder.

  10. thoreau,

    I think the blossoming of freedom and free-markets in Eastern Europe – particularly Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republicans, and Hungary – puts to bed the notion that right-wing dictatorships are somehow better. Indeed, compare the Czech Republic to Argentina to see how the argument can be turned on its head. Its a stupid and dimwitted meme that has now been completely fisked.

  11. Jason, that whole “authoritarian/totalitarian” line was such transparent after the fact rationalization, it astounds me that anyone took it seriously. Have you seen the South Park that tells the story of the Mormons?

    Jeanne Kirkpatrick was a prophet, Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb!

  12. “If hostages accidentally get shot by policemen during a hostage rescue operation, we don’t put the police on trial for their murder.”

    Actually, when police officers kill people (even armed criminals) they’re subjected to a review process and if they are found to have used disproportionate force they can be disciplined, fired, sued, or even held criminally responsible (see example here: http://www.wkyt.com/Global/story.asp?S=1931053 ). If a local police force ordered ***airstrikes*** on a house because of a single sniper, they would be looking at significant civil damages at least. Ask the City of Philadelphia, which ended up paying out a total of over $30 million dollars for its firebombing of the “Move” compound back in 1985: http://www.cnn.com/US/9606/24/move.vertict/

  13. Ah, Captain Hitchens and his ever-elusive white whale. Sorry, I’m with Kirkpatrick & Co. on this one. In the second half of the 20th century, the left-wing dictatorships might not have always been allied, but they were generally agreed that capitalist democracy and the US must be destroyed. The right-wing dictatorships weren’t part of an international movement and didn’t plot to destroy us.

    Plus, the right-wing dictatorships tended to end with the death of the original leader (Franco in Spain) or peacefully transition to democracies (Argentina, Chile). Not true with most left-wing dictatorships.

  14. SR,

    I remember the MOVE bombing. An 80s example of the stupidity of militarizing the police. Wilson Goode made Frank Rizzo look like a wussy by blowing up that house. Burned down the better part of a city block, if I recall.

    The airstrikes reference would also apply to Iraq under the concept of propotionality. If we had declared war and decided to obey the law of land warfare. Which we didn’t.

    Joe,

    I’ll admit to a preference for the old style right wing oppression over the modern totalitarian type. You might have a chance for the Okhrana to forget about you or to get off with a few years in a Siberian village. You wouldn’t have that chance with the Cheka.

    Thoreau,

    It would have to be about authoritarian or totalitarian for people interested in liberty. Even in the total state some liberty is necessary, if only for the Dear Leader. Depends on if you prefer more liberty to less. If you believe the choice is between Chiang and Mao or between Fujimori and Guzman, I say you pick Chiang or Fujimori.

    Now whether that justifies the raison d’etat or realpolitik of whacking Allende or deposing Hussein is another, interesting, question.

    Which brings us full circle to Rizzo versus Goode. Would you rather be beaten up by Rizzo’s police or blown up by Goode’s?

  15. Quintus-

    It’s one thing to say that one dictator is less reprehensible than another. It’s quite another thing to support the transgressions of that lesser evil.

  16. An analogy just occured to me: Suppose that I bought a weapon and gave it to a burglar, and afterwards told the police “Well, if I didn’t give it to him I would have given it to a serial killer!”

  17. An analogy just occured to me: Suppose that I bought a weapon and gave it to a burglar, and afterwards told the police “Well, if I didn’t give it to him I would have given it to a serial killer!”

    Not quite apt. The reason we supported some right-wing dictators back then was that they were perceived (rightly or not) as the alternative to left-wing ones. So the analogy would be more like giving the burglar a weapon so that he isn’t murdered and his house taken over by a serial killer.

  18. “…it could be that you don’t draw a distinction (a) between deliberately rounding up a family and murdering them and (b) accidentally killing them with a stray bomb while fighting guerillas who decided to hide in a civilian area. But most people do.”

    …or it could be that I don’t get the rationalization of the man who both wrote “Why Orwell Matters” and supports, nay, embraces neo-conservative imperialism. That is to say, it’s hard for me to imagine the man who wrote “Shooting an Elephant” supporting the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

    I read whatever Hitchens writes whenever I come across it. I’ve listened to him debate in real time. I come down on the opposite side of most everything he stands for, but I think of Hitchens as a well reasoned man. (Actually, I spend much of my current events reading time reading well reasoned people who disagree with me.) I would very much like to read or hear Hitchens’ response to the question, “Do you think Orwell would have supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq?”

  19. Jason Bourne, et. al.,

    At the risk of being fisked, Kirkpatrick was brilliant, and her South American strategy worked. Communism never got a toe hold in South America due to this strategy in part. We’ve already had the discussion about what a basket case Argentina is at present, I’ll rehash the argument that its economy most certainly isn’t a product of Kirkpatrick’s policies and that even if it is a basket case, at least it’s not a basket case under a military junta.

    Alternate histories seem to be the rage; what would the world look like if communism had taken root in Chile, Argentina and Peru?

    P.S. I haven’t studied diplomacy formally, but I consider Kirkpatrick, Baker and Shultz to be true Pragmatists, in opposition to the neo-conservatives. I often read of Kissinger as a Pragmatist, which may be accurate in regards to China, but he seems like more of an old school Real Politick guy to me.

    Why not go after Kissinger for Cambodia instead?

  20. or it could be that I don’t get the rationalization of the man who both wrote “Why Orwell Matters” and supports, nay, embraces neo-conservative imperialism.

    Hitchens doesn’t embrace neo-conservative imperialism for the simple reason that neo-conservative imperialism doesn’t exist. Nor has any other form of American imperialism existed for well over half a century.

    The fact that you entertain the ridiculous belief that we’re building an empire doesn’t obligate Hitchens to do the same.

  21. Was Queen Victoria an emperor? Imperialism doesn’t have anything to do with “building an empire” per se. The abbreviated definition of imperialism is economic, political and cultural hegemony. If you don’t think that what we’re doing over there is political and cultural hegemony, then there’s no point in discussing this with you further.

    Once again, Orwell was a champion denouncer of imperialism. Orwell is one of Hitchens’ heroes. Look at this quote from a recent interview summarizing Hitchens’ view:

    “He has replaced a belief in Marxist revolution with a belief in spreading the American revolution. Thomas Jefferson has displaced Karl Marx.”

    Read the whole article at the link below, and tell me that Hitchens doesn’t think the neo-conservatives are engaging in political and cultural hegemony; indeed, Hitchens seems to like Wolfowitz so much because he advocates imperialism.

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=15346

  22. Quintus, to the example of Russia (in which the leftist dictatorship was worse), I point right back to Chile, in which Pinochet was miles worse than Allende. I suppose I could also point to Germany, and compare the Nazis with the East German regime.

    The determination to see all leftist movements as part of a monolithic conspiracy, so ably acted out by PapyaSF, was a self-fufilling prophecy. What regime wouldn’t avail itself of Soviet support, if the United States was unswervingly belligerent? Kirkpatrick’s Latin American strategy drove a score of possible democratic revolutions into the waiting arms of the Soviets, and made us less safe as a result. Thanks, Dole!

  23. joe,

    The problem with hypothetical questions is that you only get hypothetical answers. With that out of the way, isn’t it likely that the South American dictatorships would have acted even more despicably without cozy ties to the United States? When we dropped people like Idi Amin, look what happened!

    …and I disagree with your comment, “The determination to see all leftist movements as part of a monolithic conspiracy…” This was during the Cold War, and when Reagan came to power, it looked like the Communists were winning. And, unless I’m mistaken, there was Soviet or Chinese support for all of the leftist movements you’re talking about, was there not?

  24. Was Queen Victoria an emperor?

    Empress, not emperor, but yes. She ruled an quite-specifically-named Empire, which made her an empress. Even if you want to quibble over those semantics it’s also a fact that among her and her descendants’ titles was “Empress/Emperor of India”.

    Imperialism doesn’t have anything to do with “building an empire” per se.

    It refers to “The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations”. I.e., to things the United States hasn’t done in our lifetimes.

  25. Dan wrote: “It refers to “The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations”. I.e., to things the United States hasn’t done in our lifetimes.”

    Let’s see, the United States invades a country, deposes its leader, handpicks a new leader, maintains him in office through the use of American military power, provides him with American military transportation and an all-American security detail *inside his own nation*, and that doesn’t constitute extending political hegemony over that country? Get a clue, Dan…

  26. Ken,

    “…isn’t it likely that the South American dictatorships would have acted even more despicably without cozy ties to the United States?” If they had been able to remain in power, pehaps they would. Then again, with the CIA printing manuals on how to conduct torture for the Contras, it’s tough to say. But my point is, there were broad popular opposition movements to those dictatorships, which could have formed the basis for genuinely democratic revolutions along the lines of our own, the Mexicans’, of Bolivar’s. Rather than take advantage of this opportunity for progress, we sided with the landed aristocracy and their hired thugs, because of the business relationships they had with American corporations.

    Which brings us to your second point, “there was Soviet or Chinese support for all of the leftist movements you’re talking about, was there not?” Yes, there was. The Soviets and Chinese willing to do what we were not, and were allowed for 40 years to play patron to these movements, and install leadership that favored anti-American politics.

    It could have been us, but we decided to side with the plantation owners over the demos, and the communists got to waltz right in and play the good guys.

    To tie this back into contemporary politics, I’d have a lot more faith that the self-appointed “Democratic revolutionary” neocons were genuinely interested in democracy, if they didn’t spend so much breath singing the praises of Ronald Reagan, who opposed every potentially democratic revolution that popped up on his watch.*

    *Eastern Europe being the exception.

  27. Actually, that wasn’t completely fair. I wrote, “Rather than take advantage of this opportunity for progress, we sided with the landed aristocracy and their hired thugs, because of the business relationships they had with American corporations.”

    In fact, the business relationships between our economic elite and theirs was only part of the reason the US reflexively opposed those popular movements. Many people in positions of power genuinely thought that political movements based around the overthrow of the anachronistic plantation system, and universal human rights, was incompatible with American republican ideals. Odd as that may seem, it was the guiding principle of our Latin American policy for a century.

  28. Jason,

    You’re probably right that (at least) bureaucratic late-communist regimes are less bloody-handed than, say, Pinochet’s Chile. Stalin’s Russia is a different matter.

    But post-1990 developments are a poor hook to hang that argument on. The so-called “free markets” in post-communist societies are in fact kleptocracies, dominated by looters and crony capitalists. Which is pretty much the same kind of “free market” set up by Pinochet.

  29. “In the second half of the 20th century, the left-wing dictatorships might not have always been allied, but they were generally agreed that capitalist democracy and the US must be destroyed.”

    Hey, if you can prove that the governments we overthrew during the cold war wanted to destroy the U.S. and our capitalist democracy, I’d appreciate it.

    Did the people of East Timor want to destroy us? Is that why we handed Indonesian thugs rounds of ammunition as they shot down men, women and children (hundreds of thousands of them) in the streets?

    Is that why we gave the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala and Nicaragua military training and equipment as they rounded up peaceful dissidents to torture and murder?

    Did the peasants that the terrorist Contras raped and murdered want to destroy the U.S.?

    To be perfectly honest, I’m always rather appalled at how people excuse our behavior during the Cold War. I wonder if it ever occurred to anyone who isn’t bothered by U.S. support and assistance of mass murder and terrorism during the cold war that the reason some people worked against U.S. interests was precisely because we supported and assisted in mass murder and terrorism.

    If a right-wing totalitarian government is being threatened by leftist rebels, how do we guarantee that the rebels will be our enemy? By rewarding the totalitarian government for being totalitarian. How do we guarantee that support for leftists will increase? By helping the totalitarian government kill and torture all dissidents. And then we can say, “We HAD to support the dictator! The leftists want to destroy us and they’re gaining support all the time!”

    Does anyone seriously believe that the Soviet Union would have risked its existence by supporting an attack of the U.S. via Central America? Did the Soviets want to intimidate us? Of course. Did they want to threaten us? Sure. Did we need to be so frightened of them that we absolutely had to give aid and money and equipment to torturers and murderers?

    Would it have been possible to win the cold war without supporting terrorists and mass murderers? Maybe I’m just a naive patriot who believes in our ingenuity and decency enough to think that we could have found a way to oppose right-wing mass murderers as well as left-wing mass-murderers. I sincerely believe that we could have defeated “the evil empire” without committing deliberate acts of evil ourselves. Does that make me a radical?

  30. Personally, I think Jean Kirkpatrick showed her true stripes in December of 1980 when four nuns were raped, tortured, and murdered by the US backed, equipped, and trained Salvadoran Army. Kirkpatrick (and Alexander Haig) accused the nuns of supporting rebels, ferrying weapons, and running roadblocks. None of it was true. They were killed for protecting dissidents from and speaking out against the death squads that, according to some here, protected the U.S. way of life from the threat of leftism.

  31. Hitchens doesn’t embrace neo-conservative imperialism for the simple reason that neo-conservative imperialism doesn’t exist. Nor has any other form of American imperialism existed for well over half a century.

    i stand amazed at some of the things that many people don’t see.

    It refers to “The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations”. I.e., to things the United States hasn’t done in our lifetimes.

    mr dan, i submit to you that your definition of “empire” is too narrow to be of any real use. by your definition, some of the world’s most important historical empires were not.

    empires are not simply territorial — the concept is far more complex that that which you seem to be reducing it to. athens constructed an empire out of the delian league. britain, portugal and holland constructed maritime empires of trading ports. i would offer niall ferguson’s analysis as a clearheaded one.

    whether or not you are motivated to ignore the better part of the definition of the concept because you ideologically prefer not to see that the united states in fact is a global empire of military bases, client states, trade agreements and maritime force is not for me to say. but it is a fact to any serious student of history that the united states possesses the great empire of the latter 20th and early 21st centuries, just as clearly as britain did of the 18th and 19th.

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