As Arthur Silber pointed out so ably the other day, the high and horrendous crimes that the world's governments will openly commit -- and admit to, if not brag about -- in their push for loot and power are by no means the full record of their depredations. This is, as Silber rightly says, "an absolute certainty given the testimony of history." Indeed. For while we look on, shocked and awed, at the public parade of horrors rolling by each day, there are foul deeds afoot which will only come to light -- in dribs and drabs, in shards and splinters --after many decades. (And of course this does not include the countless crimes of elitist power that will never surface, that lie forever buried and rotting with their victims.)
One such crime -- oh, just a minor one, just the murder of one man; hardly worth mentioning, really -- came bobbing up from the fetid depths of history just the other day. It surfaced on a sliver of tape released from that endless, ever-gushing fountain of state crime and folly: the Nixon tapes. As Gore Vidal once noted: "Where Kennedy never forgot that he was being recorded, Nixon seems never to have remembered ... Despite intermittent political skills, Nixon seems, on the evidence of the tapes, to have had no conscious mind. He is all flowing unconscious." Crimes, slurs, wild hairs, flaming bigotry and galloping anxiety -- all have come tumbling out over the years from the taped trove of the jowl-quivering figure whose closest, most loyal apparatchik, Bob Haldeman, once called "the weirdest man ever to live in the White House."
But the latest revelation involves no choice Nixonian weirdness; on the contrary. It is simply the record of two of the highest officials of the American republic sharing a hearty, manly joke about a foreign official they have had assassinated. As Jeff Stein reports on his Washington Post blog:
President Richard M. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, joked that an “incompetent” CIA had struggled to successfully carry out an assassination in Chile, newly available Oval Office tapes reveal. At the time, in 1971, Nixon and Kissinger were working to undermine the socialist administration of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who would die during a U.S.-backed military coup two years later. One of the key figures to stand in the way of Chilean generals plotting to overthrow Allende was the Chilean army commander-in-chief, Rene Schneider, who was killed during a botched kidnapping attempt by military right-wingers in 1970.
As Stein puts it, rather demurely, the CIA's role in Schneider's killing has been "disputed" for decades. But the newly released tape nails the case as solidly as it can be in the murky machinations of power. Nixon and Kissinger are discussing the murder of a right-wing Chilean politician; a killing that some had blamed on the CIA. This Socratic dialogue followed:
Kissinger: They’re blaming the CIA.
Nixon: Why the hell would we assassinate him?
Kissinger: Well, a) we couldn’t. We’re—
Kissinger: CIA’s too incompetent to do it. You remember—
Nixon: Sure, but that’s the best thing. [Unclear].
Kissinger: —when they did try to assassinate somebody, it took three attempts—
Kissinger: —and he lived for three weeks afterwards.
Stein quotes historians who note that this perfectly fits the circumstances of Schneider's death:
"Two Chilean groups, both with ties to the CIA, carried out three attempts to kidnap the general, and on the third attempt shot him. He languished for three days (not three weeks) before dying on October 22, 1970,” [said John] Dinges, [author of two books on Chilean history of the period.] "Kissinger’s denial, in his book and in statements to Congress, alleges that the CIA had broken off contact with the group before it carried out the third and successful attempt against the general. The clear language of Kissinger’s remarks to Nixon, and Nixon’s affirmation of his comments, is that the assassination-kidnapping was a CIA operation."
Naturally, the CIA denied that the tapes proved -- or even suggested -- anything untoward in the operations of the drug-running, death-squadding, torture-inflicting, coup-throwing agency of professional liars and covert operators:
"This incident from October 1970 -- almost 40 years ago -- has been, as I understand it, thoroughly dissected, examined, and investigated," said [CIA spokesman Paul] Gimigilano. "And now, based on someone’s interpretation of part of a conversation, it’s time for a completely different conclusion? Give me a break."
I totally agree. I think we should give Mr. Gimigilano a break. How about, oh, two to five years in a minimum security prison for his active association with a criminal organization? That would give him an ample period of reflection in which to thoroughly dissect, examine and investigate the poisonous, soul-killing equivocations and rationalizations of evil that are the daily meat and drink of any mouthpiece for the CIA.
But of course there will be no charges -- not for small fry like Mr. Gimigilano, and certainly not for the big fish at the top, whose head-rot has spread throughout American society. Although the worms have long since finished with Nixon's corpse, he went to his grave as a "rehabilitated" and honored "elder statesman." Henry Kissinger is still among us, still doling out counsel, publicly and privately, to our rulers -- and still lying every inch of the way to his own impending worm encounter about the many crimes of his past. From unleashing genocidal hell on Cambodia to helping guide the Bush Regime in its machinations for aggressive war on Iraq -- via such blood-soaked way stations as East Timor and the covert killing fields of Latin America -- Kissinger has been an instrumental accomplice in the murder of hundreds of thousands of human beings. [For just a few examples, see here, here, here, and here.]
But it doesn't matter. And Kissinger knows it. This latest revelation will produce not the slightest ripple of discomfort for this "elder statesman." It did not even make the news pages of the Post, or any other paper. Just a passing notice on a blog. This is not surprising, of course. Just a few months ago, in April, yet another shard of ancient evil slipped out: more confirmation of Kissinger's acquiescence in a "targeted assassination" carried out by foreign power on American soil: the infamous murder of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier and an American colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, on the very streets of Washington D.C. in 1976. The car-bombing was carried out by agents of America's staunch ally, mass-murdering Chilean tyrant Augusto Pinochet. Kissinger spent decades furiously spinning away his complicity. But as I noted here in April:
Poor old Henry Kissinger. All that botheration, all those lies, all the years of gut-churning anxiety about scandal, even prosecution -- and for what? Mere complicity in state murder of foreigners carried out by a foreign government? Why, nowadays, we have U.S. presidents openly ordering the murder of American citizens, and nobody bats an eye. There is no scandal, no prosecution -- there is not even any debate. It's just a fact of life, ordinary, normal, unchangeable: the sun rises in the east, cows eat grass, rain is wet, American presidents murder people. What's the big deal?
Yes, we've come a long way since those bad old days of weird old Nixon. He and Super K had to skulk around, straining to swathe their crimes in clouds of misdirection, implication and winking allusion. Now we have, as Silber aptly puts it in another recent essay, "evil in broad daylight": state murder on tap, cheery admissions of death squads and secret armies operating in 75 countries, free passes for torturers, indefinite detention championed by "progressives," and the bipartisan, widespread, institutional acceptance of Nixon's own pernicious doctrine: "If the president does it, that means it's legal."
So who cares if the American president and his minions ordered the murder of Rene Schneider almost 40 years ago because he tried to defend the democratic system of his country? Who cares if this murder helped pave the way to mass butchery and repression under an American-backed dictator? Who cares if this kind of moral rot is now accepted as normal, even praiseworthy, by the entire American establishment? Who cares if it has led us to a place where a Nobel Peace Prize laureate can order the murder of his own citizens without charges, trial or evidence, while killing multitudes of innocent foreigners each year with drones, with bombs, with midnight raids?
Who cares? Look around you. Look at the news. Look at our politics. Look at our leaders. Look at our culture. Look at our people. What is the answer to the question?
That's right. No one. No one cares.
Keep laughing, Tricky Dick, down there with the worms. The joke is on us.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on July 8, 2010.