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Author says Kissinger should face war crimes trial

Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Christopher Hitchens is a one-man truth squad, a journalist who never hesitates to lay siege to the vanities, sacred cows and pomposities of both the Left and the Right. In "No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family," he anatomized the bad-faith of the Clintons and how their "co-presidency" transformed American liberalism into a politics of codependency and corruption.

In "The Monarchy: A Critique of Britain's Favorite Fetish," Hitchens used a guillotine to settle the question of the divine right of kings once and for all. Even the century's supreme model of spiritual rectitude and self-sacrifice was given a sound thrashing in "The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice."

Last week, Hitchens was back in town promoting "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" (Verso), a savage, but nuanced polemic about abuse of power by the former secretary of state who continues to haunt our politics like a wraith too intoxicated by the limelight to move on.

As if there weren't already plenty of evidence of perfidy and banality in high places, an item in last week's New York Observer disclosed Kissinger's "infatuation" with Oprah, something Hitchens would've made great sport of during his lecture at the Frick had he known about it.

Actually, "abuse of power" doesn't do justice to the scope of Hitchens' indictment. Because Kissinger's role in the overthrow of Chile's Salvador Allende and the secret bombing of Cambodia is already notorious, Hitchens merely connects the dots of assassinations, military intrigues and coups that lead directly to the former secretary of state's door. Unlike the historians and journalists who've tackled the enigmatic diplomat in the past, Hitchens insists that Kissinger deserves nothing less than to be prosecuted for war crimes.

"The Trial of Henry Kissinger" doesn't unearth new facts as much as provide a grand unifying theory regarding much of what we already know or have vaguely suspected about the man who once manipulated the levers of American foreign policy with all of the subtlety of a Cold War Machiavelli.

A visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh in 1997, Hitchens is practically family here. The turnout for his Friday lecture was standing-room-only with folks lined two or three deep in the doorway straining to hear his every mordant word.

Earlier in the day at the Crawford Grill, I told Hitchens about attending a speech by then-South African President Nelson Mandela at Soldiers & Sailors a decade ago. I sat in the balcony overlooking Henry Kissinger's entourage that evening.

It certainly struck me as hypocritical that a former secretary of state who was once counted among the white South African regime's best friends would applaud Mandela's speech as if he'd been in the trenches with him during his long, painful struggle against apartheid.

Thinking back on that day, I remember protesters carrying signs outside Soldiers & Sailors accusing Mr. Mandela of countenancing the murder of the apartheid regime's black collaborators. They were upset about collaborators being murdered with flaming tires tied around their necks. I wonder if many of those same protesters would be willing to protest Kissinger's next appearance in Pittsburgh on the basis of Hitchens' charges?

Behind a cloud of cigarette smoke and several glasses of merlot over lunch, Hitchens predicted that an indictment against Kissinger by the World Court was imminent and that it would probably come via Chile. He repeated the same scenario that evening at the Frick.

Hitchens paints a picture of an increasingly frightened Kissinger who has lately resorted to consulting with lawyers before leaving the country, fearing arrest and extradition to a country that considers him the moral equivalent of Pinochet or Milosevic.

His mastery of the minutiae of Kissinger's alleged crimes is impressive to behold, especially when he follows up dark musings with vulgar witticisms. Despite an Oxford University pedigree and a growing contempt for the complacency of the American press, Hitchens really is a regular guy who takes assaults against democracy seriously.

At a memorial service for Pitt philosophy professor Tamara Horowitz at the Andy Warhol Museum the night before, Hitchens read Yossarian's declaration of agnosticism (or was it atheism?) in Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." It was a book that meant a lot to Horowitz, who died a year ago. Hitchens dedicated "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" to Heller who "saw it early and saw it whole."

Later we stood in the back of the auditorium and sang "You Can't Always Get What You Want" with amateur panache.

Hitchens reminded me that the song provided "The Big Chill" with its moral coda. I wondered how disappointed he'd be if it turned out to be prophetic in the case of Henry Kissinger.

Tony Norman's e-mail address is: tnorman@post-gazette.com

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