Global Policy Forum

Kissinger Cool to Criticizing Juntas in ’76


By Diana Jean Schemo

New York Times
October 1, 2004

In June 1976, three months after the military seized power in Buenos Aires, Henry A. Kissinger, then secretary of state, learned that the American ambassador, Robert C. Hill, had just cautioned the country's new government over its wholesale violations of human rights. Mr. Kissinger was unhappy with the warning.

"In what way is it compatible with my policy?" he asked his top official for Latin America, Harry W. Shlaudeman.

"It is not," Mr. Shlaudeman replied.

"How did it happen?" Mr. Kissinger asked.

"I will make sure it doesn't happen again," Mr. Shlaudeman promised.

"If that doesn't happen again, something else will," Mr. Kissinger persisted and then asked who had given the ambassador the instruction to lodge his complaint. "I want to know who did this and consider having him transferred."

The exchange comes from 3,216 transcripts of telephone conversations, released some 27 years after Mr. Kissinger stepped down as secretary of state in 1977. The transcripts, obtained by the nonprofit National Security Archive, appear to document in the most explicit fashion yet a reluctance on the part of Mr. Kissinger to criticize directly the military governments in Chile and Argentina, and a behind-the-scenes hostility toward forceful demands from United States diplomats that the dictators uphold civil liberties and human rights as they eliminated leftist insurgents and, more broadly, political opponents. Mr. Kissinger was traveling and could not be reached for comment, said Jesse Incao, an assistant in his office. Mr. Shlaudeman was also traveling, and could not be reached, said his wife, Carol.

Earlier documents have shown the former secretary of state discussing human rights with Chilean and Argentine officials, but largely as an issue that left them vulnerable to undeserved criticism, from Congress and the American public, and complicated American support. They also showed him complaining to junta leaders about the concern for human rights among American diplomats working on Latin America, quipping at one point that the State Department attracted people with a vocation for the ministry, not statecraft.

Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said such overtures could conceivably suggest a delicacy by Mr. Kissinger in tackling a tough subject. But the newly released phone transcripts "show Kissinger ranting and railing inside his own department, to his own top aides, against any diplomacy that attempted to press human rights concerns," he said.

In his previous writings and remarks, Mr. Kissinger has spoken little about human rights in Latin America, except to say he discussed the subject at a June 1976 meeting with Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean leader. A Kissinger friend and associate, William D. Rogers, has publicly defended Mr. Kissinger as more and more documents have emerged raising questions about his stewardship during the years of military dictatorship in Latin America. "Henry, like everybody, has reactions from time to time," Mr. Rogers said in an interview. "To read into this some great sympathy with human rights violators borders on the preposterous."

Mr. Rogers has maintained that Mr. Kissinger pressed the issue of human rights, most notably at a June 1976 speech before the Organization of American States in Santiago, Chile, and that his former boss never signaled any acceptance of repression and torture in Latin America. Mr. Rogers served as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs and under secretary for economic affairs under Mr. Kissinger, and is a vice chairman of Kissinger Associates, the consulting firm.

Mr. Kissinger initially handed over the transcripts of his phone conversations as secretary of state in August 2001, after Mr. Blanton's group prepared, but did not file, a lawsuit demanding their release and then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. Some 1,900 more transcripts, which include conversations with George H. W. Bush, who was then director of central intelligence, have not been released.

The transcripts show Mr. Kissinger growing similarly enraged by Robert E. White, then deputy ambassador to the Organization of American States, also in June 1976. The Washington Post had just reported that Mr. White had made a passionate defense of an O.A.S. report on human rights that criticized Chile and which the Chileans had rejected. In the transcript of the conversation with Mr. Rogers, Mr. Kissinger says Mr. White has "lashed out at the Chileans down there." "I think I have made it very clear what my strategy is," Mr. Kissinger says. "I have not become a super liberal. This is not an institution that is going to humiliate the Chileans." "It is a bloody outrage," he adds. "Why don't we get him out?"

Mr. White, who is now president of the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based advocacy group, was reprimanded for "criticizing or passing judgment on the internal political systems of other countries.'' In an interview, Mr. White said he had threatened to quit unless the reprimand was withdrawn. The next day, it was, and he received a commendation instead.

At the time, Mr. White said, he was unaware that Mr. Kissinger had signaled his sympathy in a meeting with General Pinochet just days earlier, in which the secretary of state warned that he would have to raise the issue of human rights in the speech he was about to give to the O.A.S., but said he believed Chile was being unfairly criticized over the issue. Mr. White said he had never been advised of Mr. Kissinger's conversation with General Pinochet. "If Rogers had said, 'Soft-pedal human rights,' of course I would have done it," Mr. White said. "I'm an instructed delegate."

In an interview, Mr. Rogers accepted blame. He said, however, that Mr. Kissinger did not want diplomats to soft-pedal human rights, but to refrain from direct, public criticism of American allies. "I was probably indulging in my own more energetic and aggressive attitude toward the issue than some others," he said.

Mr. Rogers, who comes across in the documents as quietly advocating human rights in his contacts with Mr. Kissinger, said his boss "was persuaded to lower the boom at the O.A.S. meeting in Santiago" by addressing human rights, though his speech was "heavily nuanced," and refrained from open and direct criticism of Chile. "He didn't want to do it in a way that would be offensive and insulting, and create a backlash," Mr. Rogers said.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Henry Kissinger
More Information on the Rogues Gallery


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.