Excerpts from Harper's magazine, Feb 2001
The Case Against Henry Kissinger, Part 1: The Making of a War Criminal
by Christopher Hitchens.

pg. 40


In these pages, I've found it essential to allude frequently to the "40 Committee," the semi-clandestine body of which Henry Kissinger was the chairman between 1969 and 1976. One does not need to picture some giant, octopus-like organization at the center of the web of conspiracy; however it is important to know that there was a committee that maintained ultimate supervision over United States covert actions overseas (and possibly, at home) during this period.

The CIA was originally set up by President Harry Truman at the beginning of the Cold War. In the first Eisenhower Administration, it was felt necessary to establish a monitoring or watch-dog body to oversee covert operations. This panel was known as the Special Group, and somtimes also referred to as the 54/12 Group, after the number of the National Security Council directive that set it up. By the time of President Johnson it was called the 303 Committee, and during the Nixon and Ford administrations it was called the 40 Committee. Some believe that these changes of name reflect the numbers of later NSC directives; others, the successive room numbers in the handsome Old Executive Office Building, now annexed to the neighboring White House, in which it met. In fact, NSC Memorandum 40 was named after the room in which the committee met. No mystery there.

If any fantastic rumors shroud the work of the committee, this may be the outcome of the absurd cult of secrecy that at one point surrounded it. At Senate hearings in 1973, Senator Stuart Symington was questioned by William Colby, then director of central intelligence, about the origins and evolution of the supervisory group:

SYMINGTON: Very well. What is the latest committee of this character?

COLBY: 40 Committee

SYMINGTON: Who is the chairman?

COLBY: Well, again, I would prefer to go into executive session on the description of the 40 Committee, Mr. Chairman.

SYMINGTON: As to who is the chairman, you would prefer and executive session?

COLBY: The chairman--all right, Mr. Chairman--Dr. Kissinger is the chairman, as the assistant to the president for national security affairs.

Kissinger held this position ex officio, in other words. His colleagues at the time were Air Force General George Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; William P. Clements Jr., the deputy secretary of defense; Joseph Sisco, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, and the director of central intelligence, William Colby.

With slight variations, those holding these positions have been the permanent members of the 40 Committee that, as President Ford phrased it in a rare public reference by a president to the group's existence, "reviews every covert operation undertaken by our government." An important variation was added by President Nixon, who appointed his former campaign manager and attorney general, John Mitchell, to sit on the committee, the only attorney general to have done so. The founding charter of the CIA prohibits it from taking any part in domestic operations: in January 1975, Attorney General Mitchell was convicted of numerous counts of perjury, obstruction, and conspiracy to cover up the Watergate burglary, which was carried out in part by former CIA operatives. He became the first attorney general to serve time in prison.

We have met Mr. Mitchell in concert with Mr. Kissinger, before. The usefulness of this note, I hope and believe, is that it supplies a thread that will be found in this narrative. Whenever any major U.S. covert undertaking occurred, between the years of 1969 and 1976, Henry Kissinger may be at least presumed to have had direct knowledge of, and responsibility for, it. If he claims that he did not, then he is claiming not to have been doing a job to which he clung with great bureaucratic tenacity. And whether or not he cares to accept the responsibility, the accountability is inescapably, his.

pg. 42

Even while compelled to concentrate on brute realities, one must never lose sight of that element of surreal that surrounds Henry Kissinger. Paying a visit to Vietnam in the middle 1960s, when many technocratic opportunists were still convinced that the war was worth fighting and could be won, the young Henry reserved judgment on the first point but developed considerable private doubts on the second. He had gone so far as to involve himself with an initiative that extended to direct personal contact with Hanoi. He became friendly with two Frenchmen who had a direct line to the Communist leadership in North Vietnam's capital. Raymond Aubrac, a French civil servant who was a friend of Ho Chi Minh, and Herbert Marcovich, a French microbiologist, began a series of trips to North Vietnam. On their return they briefed Kissinger in Paris. He in his turn parlayed their information into high-level conversations in Washington, relaying the actual or potential negotiating positions of Pham Van Dong and other Communist statesmen to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

This weightless mid-position, which ultimately helped to enable his double act in 1968, allowed Kissinger to ventriloquize Governor Rockefeller and to propose, by indirect means, a future detente with America's chief rivals. In his first major address as a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1968, Rockefeller spoke ringingly of how "in a subtle triangle with Communist China and the Soviet Union, we can ultimately improve our relations with each--as we test the will for peace of both."

pg. 50 & 51 -- In his White House Years Kissinger claims that he usurped the customary chain of command whereby commanders in the field receive, or believe they receive, their orders from the president and then the secretary of defense. He boasts the he, together with Halderman, Alexander Haig, and Colonel Ray Sitton, evolved 'both a military and diplomatic schedule' for the secret bombing of Cambodia. On board Air Force One, which was on the tarmac at Brussels airport on February 24, 1969, he writes, 'we worked out the guidelines for bombing the enemy's sanctuaries.' A few weeks later, Halderman Diaries for March 17 record:

Historic day, K[issinger]'s "Operation Breakfast" finally came off at 2:00 PM our time. K[issinger] really excited, as was P[resident].

The next day's entry:

K[issinger]'s "Operation Breakfast" a great success. He came beaming in with report, very productive.

It only got better. On April 22, 1970, Halderman reports that Nixon, following Kissinger into a National Security Council meeting on Cambodia, "turned back to me with a big smile and said, 'K[issinger]'s really having fun today, he's playing Bismarck.' "

The above is a insult to the Iron Chancellor. When Kissinger was finally exposed in Congress and the press for conducting unauthorized bombings, he weakly pleaded that the raids were not all that secret, really, because Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia had known of them. He had to be reminded that a foreign princeling cannot give permission to an American bureaucrat to violate the United States Consititution. Nor, for that matter, can he give permission to an American bureaucrat to slaughter large numbers of his "own" civilians. It's difficult to imagine Bismarck cowering behind such a contemptible excuse. (Prince Sihanouk, it is worth remembering, later became an abject puppet of the Khmer Rouge.)

Colonel Sitton, the reigning expert on B-52 tactics at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began to notice that by late 1969 his own office was being regularly overruled in the matter of selecting targets. "Not only was Henry carefully screening the raids," said Sitton, "he was reading the raw intelligence" and fiddling with the mission patterns and bombing runs. In other departments of Washington insiderdom, it was also noticed that Kissinger was becoming a Stakhanovite committeeman. Aside from the crucial 40 Committee, which planned and oversaw all foreign covert actions, he chaired the Washington Special Action Group (WSAG), which dealt with breaking crises; the Verification Panel, concerned with arms control; the Vietnam Special Studies Group, which oversaw the day-to-day conduct of the war; and the Defense Program Review Committee, which supervised the budget of the Defense Department.

It is therefore impossible for him to claim that he was unaware of the consequences of the bombings of Cambodia and Laos; he knew more about them, and in more intimate detail, than any other individual. Nor was he imprisoned in a culture of obedience that gave him no alternative, or nor rival arguments. Several senior members of his own staff, most notably Anthony Lake and Roger Morris, resigned over the invasion of Cambodia, and more than two hundred State Department employees signed a protest addressed to Secretary of State William Rogers. Indeed, both Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird were opposed to the secret bombing policy, as Kissinger himself records with disgust in his memoirs.

Hitchens On the Cambodia Bombings:

pg. 51 & 52

Having done what he could to bring the Laotian nightmare to the attention of those whose constitutional job it was to supervise such questions, [independent investigator] Branfman went back to Thailand and from there to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Having gained access to a pilot's radio, he tape-recorded the conversations between pilots on bombing missions over the Cambodian interior. On no occasion did they run any checks designed to reassure themselves and others that they were not bombing civilian targets. It had been definitely asserted, by named U.S. government spokesmen, that such checks were run. Branfman handed tapes to Sydney Schanberg, whose New York Times report on them was printed just before the Senate met to prohibit further blitzing of Cambodia (the very resolution that was flouted by Kissinger the following month).

From there Branfman went back to Thailand and traveled north to Nakhorn Phanom, the new headquarters of the U.S. Seventh Air Force. Here, a war room code-named Blue Chip served as the command and control center of the bombing campaign. Branfman was able to pose as a new recruit just up from Saigon and ultimately gained access to the war room itself. Consoles and maps and screens plotted the progress of the bombardment. In coversation with the "bombing officer" on duty, he asked if pilots ever made contact before dropping their enormous loads of ordinance. Oh yes, he was assured, they did. Were they worried about hitting the innocent? Oh, no--merely concerned about the whereabouts of CIA "ground teams" infiltrated into the area. Branfman's report on this, which was carried by Jack Anderson's syndicated column, was uncontroverted by an official denial.