Court Time for Henry

Article excerpt

Although it may appear that the aftershocks of September 11 have somewhat deposed the discourse of human rights and international law and replaced it with that of law and order, there is still a great deal to fight for. If anything, in fact, the new context makes it more urgent that there be solid rules of international criminal evidence and reliable institutions of international law. The Bush Administration is opposed to the International Criminal Court that is now taking shape, which meant that when the President was asked what he intended to do about the perpetrators of the recent aggression he had to embarrass himself by resorting to his least attractive "don't mess with Texas" mode, and babble about "wanted dead or alive" like a cartoon sheriff.

The military option has the effect of overshadowing all others, and it is of course true that the Nuremberg trials and the Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda tribunals all required a bit of a shift in the balance of power before they could occur. Nonetheless, here might have been the first opportunity in history for an American administration to say, in advance of any meditated action, that it would attempt to bring the common enemies of humanity before a properly constituted tribunal. And the chance was thrown away in advance.

The most vocal public opponent of the principles of "universal jurisdiction" is Henry Kissinger, who has a laughably self-interested chapter on the subject in his turgid new book Does America Need a Foreign Policy? (a volume, incidentally, that if it had any other merit might be considered as a candidate for title of the year). This chapter was also solemnly recycled by the establishment's house organ, Foreign Affairs. It was utterly nauseating to see Kissinger re-enthroned as a pundit in the aftermath of September 11, talking his usual "windy, militant trash," to borrow Auden's phrase for it. I caught him talking to John McLaughlin and looking on the bright side by saying that the mass murder had strengthened something called the Western alliance. Say what you will about our Henry, he can find the joy in any nightmare.

He may also have had a personal reason to take comfort from the hideous events of that day. On September 10, he was hit with a lawsuit that was filed in federal court in Washington, DC. The suit, which is brought by members of the family of the late Rene Schneider, accuses him and his co-defendant former CIA chief Richard Helms, and some other members of the Nixon Administration, of "summary execution"--in other words, of murder and, by implication, international terrorism. (Gen. Rene Schneider, head of the Chilean General Staff in 1970, was resolutely opposed to any military intervention against the elected government of Salvador Allende. He was therefore marked for death by Kissinger and others. A fairly full account of the background to the case, and of the newly declassified documents that support and underpin it, can be found in chapters five and six of my book The Trial of Henry Kissinger.) To summarize the story briefly, Richard Nixon told Kissinger and Helms to commence the destabilization of Chile before Allende had even become President. …