Kissinger and the 'Dirty War.' (Henry Kissinger's Human Rights Stance regarding Argentina's Extermination of Political Dissidents in 1976-77)

By Anderson, Martin Edwin | The Nation, October 31, 1987 | Go to article overview

Kissinger and the 'Dirty War.' (Henry Kissinger's Human Rights Stance regarding Argentina's Extermination of Political Dissidents in 1976-77)


Anderson, Martin Edwin, The Nation


Kissinger and The "Dirty War'

Just three months after Argentina's generals took power in 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave that country's military a green light to continue its "dirty war,' according to a State Department memorandum obtained by InterNation. This document shows that in early 1977 Robert Hill, then the U.S. Ambassador to Buenos Aires, told a top Carter Administration official that Kissinger had given his approval to the repression in which at least 9,000 people were kidnapped and secretly murdered. Kissinger, he charged, put his imprimatur on the massive disappearances in a June 10, 1976, meeting in Santiago, Chile, with Argentina's Foreign Minister, Adm. Cesar Guzzetti. Both men were attending the Sixth General Assembly of the Organization of American States, whose agenda, ironically, had been dominated by the human rights issue.

Guzzetti was one of the most outspoken advocates of the dirty war. In August 1976 he told the United Nations: "My idea of subversion is that of the left-wing terrorist organizations. Subversion or terrorism of the right is not the same thing. When the social body of the country has been contaminated by a disease that eats away at its entrails, it forms antibodies. These antibodies cannot be considered in the same way as the microbes.'

The ninety-minute early morning meeting, at Santiago's Hotel Carrera, across from the Moneda Palace, came just three weeks after Hill had urgently warned Kissinger of the worsening Argentine rights record. A word from the Secretary of State would have helped rein in the generals. Although a secret analysis by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, dated April 5, 1976, noted that "human rights could become a problem area as the military clamps down on terrorism,' it went on: "To date, however, the junta has followed a reasonable, prudent line in an obvious attempt to avoid being tagged with a "Made in Chile' label.' According to the records of the Center for Legal and Social Studies, Argentina's foremost human rights group, by the time Kissinger and Guzzetti met, 1,022 people had been "disappeared' forever. At least another, 7,938 met the same fate afterward.

When Kissinger arrived at the Santiago conference, Hill said, the Argentine generals were nervous about the prospect of being called on the carpet by the United States for their human rights record. But Kissinger merely told Guzzetti the regime should solve the problem before the U.S. Congress reconvened in 1977. A buen entendedor, pocas palabras ("To those quick to understand, few words are needed'). Within three weeks of the meeting a wave of wholesale executions began, and hundreds of detainees were killed in reprisal for attacks by leftist guerrillas. The memorandum shows that Hill believed the responsibility for this ballooning state terrorism to be Kissinger's.

Hill is dead; Guzzetti suffered lasting brain damage in a 1977 attack. Kissinger referred inquiries to former Secretary of State William Rogers, who was with him in Santiago. Rogers did "not specifically remember' a meeting with Guzzetti, but added: "What Henry would have said if he had had such a meeting was that human rights were embedded in our policy, for better or worse. He'd have said sympathetic things about the need for effective methods against terrorism, but without abandoning the rule of law.' But Patricia Derian, Carter's Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, confirmed the account of Hill's charges and was "nauseated' to learn of Kissinger's role. Two former U.S. diplomats also corroborate Hill's story.

Hill's own past appears to put him above suspicion that his charges against Kissinger were politically motivated. "Hill's biography reads like a satirical left-wing caricature of a "yanqui imperialist,'' noted the authoritative newsletter "Latin America.' He was a former vice president of W.R. Grace and a former director of the United Fruit Company. …

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