Global Policy Forum

Is Henry Kissinger A War Criminal?


By Marcus Gee

Globe and Mail
June 11, 2002

Thirty years after the death of Charles Horman inspired a bestseller and an Oscar-winning movie, his widow still pursues those she believes are really to blame -- including the former U.S. secretary of state. It's one reason the quest for international justice makes the United States so nervous.


Henry Alfred Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of state, national security adviser and Nobel laureate


Complicity in coup against Chilean government plus the "killing, injury and displacement" of three million people during Vietnam War.


Head of Kissinger Associates, Inc., international consulting firm in Washington.

It was a rainy day in spring when they brought Charles Horman home. The U.S. journalist and filmmaker had been abducted and killed after the Chilean military overthrew president Salvador Allende in September, 1973. Six months later, his body arrived by plane in a crude wooden crate with "Charles Horman from Santiago" scrawled on the side. As the makeshift coffin was unloaded at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y., the driving rain washed the words away, sending trails of black ink down the box. It was April 13, 1974. Even before Mr. Horman's widow, Joyce, found herself standing in the rain that day, she had vowed that no one would ever erase the memory of what had been done to her husband. She has been true to her word.

In the chaos that followed General Augusto Pinochet's decision to depose Mr. Allende on Sept. 11, 1973, hundreds of the leftist president's supporters were taken away to be tortured, beaten or killed. Mr. Horman, an Allende sympathizer living in Santiago, was one of them. In the month that followed, Ms. Horman, then 29, and her father-in-law, Ed, searched frantically for Mr. Horman -- an ordeal dramatized in the Oscar-winning 1982 film Missing, starring Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon. The movie ends when Joyce and Ed discover that Charles is dead, killed by the military and his body hidden in a wall at a Santiago cemetery. But Joyce Horman's search continues. For 28 years, she has struggled to track down those who killed the man she loved. And the person at the center of her quest is none other than Henry Alfred Kissinger. A leading citizen of the world's most powerful nation, Mr. Kissinger served as U.S. Secretary of state and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the same year as the coup in Chile. He was also national security adviser to president Richard Nixon, and Ms. Horman believes that he and other U.S. officials were deeply involved in the events that cost her husband his life.

It has been almost 30 years, and she doesn't seem bitter. At 57, she is pleasant and straightforward, in her stylish glasses with owlish frames, and has friends, a career and a social life. Nor does she seem obsessed with her dead husband. No photographs of him are to be seen in her bright apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Even so, the events of 1973 still cast a dark shadow. Asked what she misses most about Charles, she dissolves into tears and then explains: "He was intelligent, friendly, interesting -- he just loved life, and that's why his friends loved him." Of course, nothing can replace the life she and her husband might have had. All that she wants now, she says, is the simple truth -- and that leads to Mr. Kissinger. "There's no way around him," she says. "He is the most responsible person for the behavior of the U.S. government in Chile at that time. He needs to be put on trial."

A few years ago, that would have seemed wildly improbable. The armor of sovereign immunity protected all officials from the acts they committed on government service, no matter how unsavory. But the 1998 arrest of the man behind the coup, Gen. Pinochet, has knocked a gaping hole in that armor Since then, a posse of victims, human-rights activists and crusading prosecutors has tried to apply this "Pinochet precedent" to others accused of mass killing, torture, abduction and war crimes. Mr. Kissinger is their biggest quarry yet, and they are getting closer all the time. Now, prosecutors in Chile, Argentina, Spain and France want him to testify about what happened in Chile. Last month, a Chilean judge staged a re-enactment of the Horman killing at Santiago's National Stadium, and now wants Mr. Kissinger at least to answer written questions about U.S. involvement in the coup.

Ms. Horman is thrilled, but she has a different reason for chasing the great statesman: "My main goal is to find out what happened to Charles." As author Thomas Hauser wrote in The Execution of Charles Horman,the book that inspired the film Missing,both Mr. Horman, the brilliant son of a New York industrial designer, and Joyce, the lively daughter of a Minnesota grocer, had absorbed the questing, skeptical spirit of the Sixties. Mr. Horman covered the riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 for the liberal journal The Nation and made a film about napalm. The couple had been married less than three years when, in 1971, they set off in a camper van through Latin America. When they reached Santiago, they decided to stay.

It was a heady time in Chile. Mr. Allende had come to power in 1970 and brought in radical changes: land reform, wealth redistribution and the nationalization of key industries. Mr. Horman began writing for a local magazine that often attacked Mr. Nixon for undermining the Allende government. When the military stepped in, he was in the coastal city of Vina del Mar with friend Terry Simon; they met two U.S. officers who seemed to know a lot about the coup. Mr. Horman concluded that his country had plotted with Gen. Pinochet, and made copious notes -- which may have cost him his life.

Back in Santiago, essentially a war zone, he and his wife decided to return to the States as soon as possible. But on Sept. 17, a light green truck pulled up at their house, and a dozen soldiers carried out Mr. Horman and armloads of papers and books. Ms. Horman wasn't home at the time, and never saw her husband again. The truck drove straight to the National Stadium, a clearinghouse for the thousands of Chileans being rounded up. At least four dozen were killed there -- a first installment on the more than 3,000 killed during the Pinochet regime.

Returning home to find the house in a shambles, Ms. Horman contacted the U.S. Embassy seeking help. She got the run-around. When she finally asked if the embassy could get her into the stadium, a U.S. diplomat asked, "What are you going to do, Mrs. Horman, look under all the bleachers?" For four weeks, she pounded the pavement, meeting with anyone she thought might be able to help, while her father-in-law, who had flown in from New York, visited hospitals and morgues. Finally, they got into the stadium. A Chilean colonel led Ed Horman to a platform, where he addressed the roughly 2,000 prisoners under guard in the stands. "Charles Horman, this is your father," he said. "If you are here, I would like you to take my word that it is safe and come to me now." His heart jumped when a young man ran forward, but he realized that it was not his son. "Right then," he said later, "I knew I'd never see Charles again."

Five days later, an official of the Ford Foundation, a U.S. philanthropic agency, told Mr. Horman he had learned from a military contact that his only child "was executed in the National Stadium on Sept. 20." The next day, a U.S. official confirmed that Charles's body had been found in a local morgue. Two days later, Ms. Horman and her father-in-law flew home, and it was then that her real struggle began.

She and her husband's parents brought a wrongful-death suit against the U.S. Government and Mr. Kissinger, but it was dismissed for lack of evidence in 1978. The book followed, along with the Oscar-winning 1982 movie by director Constantin Costa-Gavras. By then Ms. Horman was struggling with an attack of lymphoma and she decided she had to get on with her life. For the next two decades, she worked as a computer and systems consultant for the United Nations Development Program, the office of the Mayor of New York, Oracle Corp. and others. She dated other men, but did not remarry. Before the coup, she and her husband had planned to return to the United States to raise a family. He would have turned 60 on May 15 (an occasion she marked by holding a 20th anniversary party for Missing, with proceeds going to the Charles Horman Truth Project). She remained close to the Hormans, moving into the Manhattan building where her husband grew up and helping to care for them as they aged. Ed Horman died in 1993, followed last year by his wife, Elizabeth, at the age of 96.

Ms. Horman never gave up wondering about her husband's death, and in 1998 an event gave her new hope. On Oct. 16, she turned on the news to hear that Gen. Pinochet had been arrested in London on an extradition request from a Spanish judge seeking to prosecute him. Exhilarated, she traveled to England to join the attempt to persuade British courts to hand him over. Eventually, the British government let him go home for health reasons, but Gen. Pinochet's detention set a precedent that galvanized the international justice movement. Ms. Horman and her lawyers tried again to get the U.S. Government to release classified documents relating to her husband's disappearance.

Finally, in 2000, it gave them the full results of two internal reviews of the killing. Neither found any direct U.S. link, but one did uncover "circumstantial evidence" that the Central Intelligence Agency "may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death." It went on to say that "the government of Chile might have believed this American could be killed without negative fallout from the U.S. Government" The second review said it was hard to believe that the Chilean military would have killed Mr. Horman unless it had some kind of signal from Washington. Although tantalizing, the disclosures were not enough to reopen the wrongful-death case. So Ms. Horman did some sleuthing on her own. Supported by money from the Ford Foundation, she traveled to France, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile and different parts of the United States to search for people who might have some idea of how and why her husband was killed. She gathered enough information to file a criminal complaint in Chile against Gen. Pinochet and others in his circle. The case found its way to Juan Guzman, the crusading judge who indicted the general for human-rights crimes after his return from England and who managed to have his immunity to prosecution lifted.

The General, now 86, escaped trial after a court found him mentally unfit, but Judge Guzman is pushing ahead all the same. Last month, he arranged the reenactment at the National Stadium, and last fall sent 17 questions about the Horman abduction to Mr. Kissinger and other U.S. Officials So far, no reply. Joyce Horman believes U.S. Officials tipped off friends in the Chilean military that her husband had found evidence of U.S. Involvement while in Vina del Mar. Rafael Gonzalez, a disgruntled Chilean intelligence agent, told reporters in the 1970s that the army's head of intelligence, Gen. Augusto Lutz, decided that Mr. Horman "knew too much," and an American military officer was in the room at the time. Ms. Horman hopes to track down that man. "I want to find out exactly what happened to Charlie: who picked him up, why they picked him up, who questioned him, how they came to decide he had to disappear."

Those questions lead her straight to Mr. Kissinger who, as well as being national security adviser, led the high-level "40 committee" that helped to oversee U.S. intelligence efforts. Even if he played no direct role in her husband's death, she believes he knew how and why it happened. "Kissinger rolled up his sleeves in Chile. . . . He went down to talk to Pinochet after the coup. I mean, for heaven's sake, how obnoxious."

Mr. Kissinger, now 79, denies everything. He refused to return calls for this article, but has said he knows nothing about the Horman case. "If it were brought to my attention, I would have done something," he told The New York Times. He also denies any role in the coup. In his books, he admits he took a dim view of Mr. Allende and joined a U.S. effort to have him overthrown, but aborted it as a lost cause. He met Gen. Pinochet, he says, to tell him to pay attention to calls from the U.S. Congress for an end to political repression.

But Mr. Kissinger also has others on his trail. Last May, a French judge sent the police to his Paris hotel to ask him to appear at the Justice Ministry the next day and answer questions about five French citizens who disappeared after the Chilean coup. Instead, Mr. Kissinger promptly left town. That same month, an Argentine judge said he wanted Mr. Kissinger to testify about American involvement in Operation Condor, the scheme by South American dictatorships, including Argentina and Chile, to abduct or kill opponents living in exile.

In April, a British human-rights campaigner asked a London judge to arrest Mr. Kissinger under the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957 for the "killing, injury and displacement" of three million people in Indochina during the Vietnam War years. The judge rejected the application, but not before Mr. Kissinger had to endure a protest by 200 activists calling him an "evil war criminal." Plans for a similar protest apparently led him to cancel a planned trip to Brazil as well. Finally, in Washington, Mr. Kissinger faces a $3-million (U.S.) lawsuit by the family of René Schneider, a Chilean general assassinated in 1970 for opposing plans for a coup against Mr. Allende.

This quickening pace of the pursuit raises a touchy issue for international justice: Whose justice is it? Until now, those brought to trial largely have come from poor or defeated countries such as Serbia and Rwanda. But activists say that must change. To have any force, international law must apply to the rich and powerful too. "If the drive to put Kissinger in the witness box, let alone the dock, should succeed, then it would rebut the taunt about 'victor's justice' in war-crimes trials," writes British journalist Christopher Hitchens, who asserts in his book The Trial of Henry Kissinger there are grounds for an indictment. "It would demonstrate that no person, and no society or state, is above the law. Conversely, if the initiative should fail, then it would seem to be true that we have woven a net for the catching of small fish only."

But Mr. Kissinger is one fish the United States does not want on anyone's hook. The attempts to arrest or even question him touch off Washington's worst fears about the evolving movement for international justice. Just last month, the administration of President George W. Bush declared it would have nothing to do with the world's first permanent war-crimes tribunal, the International Criminal Court. If foreign judges could second-guess their every decision, U.S. officials argue, it would be open season on the United States. The man making that argument most forcefully perhaps has the most to lose: Mr. Kissinger himself. "Nobody can say that I served in an administration that did not make mistakes," he said in London in April. "It is quite possible that mistakes were made, but that is not the issue. The issue is, 30 years after the event, whether the courts are the appropriate means by which this determination is made." In his book Does America Need a Foreign Policy?, he holds that, in theory, any court anywhere can try a person accused of crimes against humanity. "When discretion on what crimes are subject to universal jurisdiction and whom to prosecute is left to national prosecutors, the scope for arbitrariness is wide indeed," he argues.

None of this cuts much ice with Joyce Horman. She argues that the officials of a democratic nation like the United States must be accountable for their actions. If that takes a foreign prosecutor, so be it. "The American military and the American government have an incredible amount of power and the abuse of that power was typified by the Chilean coup," she says. "For Americans to be bumping off Americans in foreign lands is not what American citizens want their government to be doing."

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