Nixon and Kissinger: The Blood Keeps Seeping

I’ve been reading Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers to be reminded again of the tag-team murder duo of Kissinger and Nixon. It isn’t just that, like other sociopaths, their crimes didn’t seem to register with them, but that they acknowledged them and presented them as necessary, patriotic. In a bit of tape from the White House April 25, 1972 Ellsberg quotes this:

President: How many did we kill in Laos?
Ziegler: Maybe ten thousand- fifteen?
Kissinger: In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen…
President: See, the attack in the North that we have in mind…power plants, whatever’s left—POL [petroleum], the docks…And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?
Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people. President: No, no, no…I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?
Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.
President: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you?…I just want you to think big, Henry, for Chistsakes.

Thus primed, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, to be reminded of their role in the Bangladesh catastrophe of 1971 in Gary J Bass’ opinion piece in the NYTimes today.

…on March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a devastating crackdown on the rebellious Bengalis in the east. Midway through the bloodshed, both the C.I.A. and the State Department conservatively estimated that about 200,000 people had died (the Bangladeshi government figure is much higher, at three million). As many as 10 million Bengali refugees fled across the border into India, where they died in droves in wretched refugee camps.

As recently declassified documents and White House tapes show, Nixon and Kissinger stood stoutly behind Pakistan’s generals, supporting the murderous regime at many of the most crucial moments. This largely overlooked horror ranks among the darkest chapters in the entire cold war.

Blood Telegram2

Bass has just finished a book, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and the forgotten Genocide, which uses recently declassified material from White House tapes and other diplomatic sources to tell us the terrible particulars of US involvement/non-involvement of those years.

…the president and his national security advisor made sure that, despite a long-standing arms embargo (and against the wishes of the State Department), weapons, ammunition, and other military supplies kept flowing to Pakistan. Presaging the Iran-Contra affair, they followed this up by arranging for illegal transfers of advanced fighter aircraft through third countries like Iran and Jordan, crimes which have rarely garnered much attention. These episodes are expertly told and provide context for often forgotten Nixonian crimes and “Watergate” misconduct unconnected with the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters: the secret bombing of Cambodia, the extensive sabotage and spying operations against political opponents, the wiretaps of government employees, and the illegal effort to silence Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, to name a few.

The book is getting the attention it deserves, among others by Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves, in the Daily Beast.

The Blood Telegram offers a nuanced yet unflinching look at the juxtaposition of geopolitics and humanitarian crisis. Bass shines a much-needed spotlight on yet another dark corner of modern American history, revealing yet another bloody episode stemming from Kissinger’s crass calculations and Nixon’s embrace of brutal dictators. He even offers a window onto a fascinating and truly frightening episode of apparent role reversal in which Kissinger (who long claimed he regularly restrained his “madman” boss) was braying for war—advocating the U.S. throw its military might behind China in a potential conflict with India and the Soviet Union, risking an all-out nuclear war—while Nixon tried to ratchet down the rhetoric and act as the voice of reason.

And by Pankaj Mishra in The New Yorker.

Christopher Hitchens completed the first dossier of Kissinger’s crimes against humanity, in 2002 with The Trial of Henry Kissinger. The connivance with the Pakistani military is included, without the granular detail Bass brings, but with plenty more to rouse a fury. Apparently not, however,  among the high pooh-bahs of American culture and politics who seem never to have heard of Gandhi’s call for “non cooperation with evil.”

His 90th birthday celebrations earlier this year were a glittering affair, attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, James Baker, John McCain, Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Susan Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Michael Bloomberg, former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, David Petraeus, Barbara Walters, Wendi Deng, plus Tina Brown and Harold Evans.

Did no one even spill a drink on him? Crush his instep? Hurl abuse?

The genocide did occasion the first of the great SuperGroup concerts raising awareness and funds for disaster relief.  The Concert for Bangladesh was properly lauded and imitated following other tragedies in the years after,  though the awareness raised was entirely of those suffering , not at all of those who had taken them to the edge of hell.

Either or both books ought to bring anyone to a flaming shame at the America which has produced such ‘leaders. Share them and your ire with the young folks, too.

[Cross posted at All In One Boat dot org]

Obama’s Nixonian Moves

Killing TreeI’ve just returned from a 5 week trip to Southeast Asia, including a wrenching morning spent in Tuol Sleng, the infamous torture prison in Phnom Phenh, and the nearby killing fields where Pol Pot’s crews saved their own lives by murdering others.  The rise of the Khmer Rouge and its turn from its avowed resistance and revolutionary aims to mass citizen slaughter had many causes, the sequence and force of which are still being debated.  One thing is clear, however.  Massive US bombing in Cambodia’s southeast brought a level of destruction unprecedented until then, and gave Khmer Rouge recruiters convincing arguments among the survivors to join and fight those allied to those who had wiped out their families.

This bombing has recently been in the news as, of  all things, a precedent cited by President Obama for the legality of drone attacks on people living in countries not at war with the United States. As the author points out, not only is the Administration argument wrong on the morality, it is wrong on the facts.


“ON March 17, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon began a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, sending B-52 bombers over the border from South Vietnam. This episode, largely buried in history, resurfaced recently in an unexpected place: the Obama administration’s “white paper” justifying targeted killings of Americans suspected of involvement in terrorism.

…  On Page 4 of the unclassified 16-page “white paper,” Justice Department lawyers tried to refute the argument that international law does not support extending armed conflict outside a battlefield. They cited as historical authority a speech given May 28, 1970, by John R. Stevenson, then the top lawyer for the State Department, following the United States’ invasion of Cambodia.

Since 1965, “the territory of Cambodia has been used by North Vietnam as a base of military operations,” he told the New York City Bar Association. “It long ago reached a level that would have justified us in taking appropriate measures of self-defense on the territory of Cambodia. However, except for scattered instances of returning fire across the border, we refrained until April from taking such action in Cambodia.”

In fact, Nixon had begun his secret bombing of Cambodia more than a year earlier. (It is not clear whether Mr. Stevenson knew this.) So the Obama administration’s lawyers have cited a statement that was patently false.

A more limited, secret bombing campaign in Cambodia had begun in 1965 during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, but Nixon escalated it to carpet-bombing. The aim was to disrupt Communist bases and supply routes. The New York Times reported on it two months after it began, but the White House denied it, and the trail went cold. When the bombing began, Nixon even kept it a secret from his secretary of state, William P. Rogers. Worried about leaks, Nixon told Henry A. Kissinger, his national security adviser: “State is to be notified only after the point of no return.”

The bombing campaign, called Operation Breakfast, was carried out through out-and-out deception. Sixty B-52 bombers were prepared for a bombing run over targets in Vietnam. After the usual pre-mission briefing, pilots and navigators of 48 planes were then pulled aside and informed that they would receive new coordinates from a radar installation in Vietnam. Their planes would be diverted to Cambodia. But the destination was kept secret even from some crew members. The historian Marilyn B. Young found an “elaborate system of double reporting,” such that “even the secret records of B-52 bombing targets were falsified so that nowhere was it recorded that the raids had ever taken place.”

So the sort of “scattered instances of returning fire across the border” cited by Mr. Stevenson were actually regular bombing runs by B-52’s. Over 14 months, nearly 4,000 flights dropped 103,921 tons of explosives, followed by more extensive bombing farther into Cambodia.

… Critics have argued that the ultimate result of Nixon’s strategy was to destabilize the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk and enable the Khmer Rouge’s ascent to power in 1975, and the subsequent genocide.

NY Times: Dudziak