NEW YORK - President Bush called him ''one of our nation's most accomplished
and respected public servants,'' but the selection of Henry Kissinger to chair
the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left critics
shaking their heads in wonder.
Christopher Hitchens, author of ''The Trial of Henry Kissinger,'' a widely publicized
book that accuses Kissinger of war crimes for his role in the bombing of Cambodia
and the coup in Chile, offered a harsh appraisal.
has an intuitive feel for how foreign policy works, though not quite the same
intuitive feel for the workings of an open democracy.
Isaacson, chairman of CNN and author of a Kissinger biography
''The Bush administration did not want an objective inquiry into the disastrous
intelligence failures,'' Hitchens said yesterday, `'and having an inquiry chaired
by Henry Kissinger is the next best thing.''
Kissinger is regarded by many as a distinguished author, academic, and statesman.
''He's also spent much of his life in New York, feels deeply the loss that came
to that city and to our country,'' Bush said. ''Dr. Kissinger will bring broad
experience, clear thinking, and careful judgment to this important task.''
But when Scott Armstrong, founder of the National Security Archive and a former
staff member of Senate Watergate committee was told of yesterday's news, he laughed
for a solid minute.
Armstrong's disbelief stemmed from two considerations. First, Kissinger, 79,
no longer commands the universal respect he enjoyed when he invented shuttle-diplomacy
in the Middle East, opened a corridor to China as President Nixon's national security
adviser, and won a Nobel Peace Prize for what seemed at the time to be achievements
toward ending the war in Vietnam.
Second, Armstrong wonders whether, as head of Kissinger Associates, an international
consulting firm, has a conflict of interest in even accepting the appointment.
Although this client list has never been made public - and an assistant for
Kissinger repeated in a phone conversation yesterday that its contents are private
- reports have widely circulated that it includes Persian Gulf states, oil companies,
and transportation firms.
''He has so many clients whose interests are so completely tied up in the
results of this investigation,'' Armstrong said. ''The minute you start talking
about clerics in Saudi Arabia, it's in no way in the interests of his clients
for the whole truth to be told.''
Speaking briefly with reporters at the White House, Kissinger said his panel
is ''under no restrictions, and we will accept no restrictions,'' in carrying
out the investigation.
He promised to meet regularly with victims' families. ''To the families concerned,
there's nothing that can be done about the losses they've suffered,'' he said.
''But everything must be done to avoid that such a tragedy can occur again.''
But Hitchens called Kissinger ''a guy who's had two careers of massive deception.
First as an official lying to Congress about Cambodia; then as the author of three
volumes of memoirs, in which he falsified major matters, including negotiations
on Vietnam, Angola, and collusion with Indonesia on East Timor - this is fact,
not assertion, as attested by recently declassified documents.
''Now to be offered a third career as a cover-up artist,'' Hitchens said,
''is truly scandalous.''
Jesse Incao, an assistant to Kissinger, said yesterday that the former diplomat
was unavailable for comments or interviews yesterday.
Kissinger has disparaged both Hitchens and his accusations on the few occasions
when he has been prompted to comment on them. Former US Ambassador Jack F. Matlock
Jr. has also attacked Hitchens's book, in the New York Times Book Review, as a
''intemperate diatribe'' and ''a propaganda screed.''
The Kissinger appointment received favorable notice from some Democrats yesterday.
Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the ranking member of the Senate Select Committee
on Intelligence, echoed Bush's statement, ''Henry Kissinger brings a great depth
of experience, wisdom, and respect to the chairmanship of the independent commission.''
Graham added, ''I have had the opportunity to know Dr. Kissinger for many years
and we have had an excellent relationship.''
Kissinger chaired a presidential commission once before, in 1984, when Ronald
Reagan appointed him to a panel on US policy toward Central America. The panel
recommended an $8 billion foreign aid program, including ''significantly increased''
military assistance to El Salvador, for helping to ward off what were then perceived
as threats from Cuba and the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
Reagan did not completely follow the urgings on economic aid, but did use
the Kissinger report as a further rationale for stepped-up arms shipments to the
''contras,'' who were waging a guerrilla war to topple the Sandanistas.
News accounts from the time report that Reagan named Kissinger to the panel
because he was the nation's most widely respected authority on foreign policy.
Although Kissinger still has his defenders and remains a sought-after figure
for television talk shows and newspaper Op-Ed pages, he is now also the object
of controversy, brought on by disclosures and lawsuits in the decades since he
was in office.
Hitchens is not the only person who has raised questions about Kissinger's
involvement with the 1973 coup in Chile. In May 2001, a French court subpoenaed
Kissinger to testify in connection with a lawsuit brought by relatives of five
French citizens who ''disappeared'' during Augusto Pinochet's coup. Kissinger,
who was in Paris at the time, had no legal obligation to respond to the subpoena,
and did not.
Armstrong raises another issue. When Kissinger left government in 1976, he
took thousands of State Department documents, to help him write his memoirs, and
has not returned many of them, despite official urgings.
''He's a man with a private sense of history,'' Armstrong said. ''He does
not have a credible approach to assuring the public that he's interested in getting
to the bottom of things or that he will do so through an open process. If he discovers
10 percent more than what we already know, people will assume there's 50 percent
more behind the scenes. If he discovers 50 percent more, people will assume the
story's completely on its head.''
Walter Isaacson, chairman of CNN and author of a Kissinger biography, told
National Public Radio yesterday that Kissinger might be inclined to go after the
CIA and FBI for faulty intelligence analysis.
''He's particularly good at wanting to make sure intelligence gets put in
an analytical framework. He got impatient with those who refused to do so.'' However,
Isaacson added, ''He has an intuitive feel for how foreign policy works, though
not quite the same intuitive feel for the workings of an open democracy.''
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company