Henry Kissinger came to the National Press Club here in Washington, D.C.
last night to give a talk, sell his latest book, Does America Need a
Foreign Policy? and take questions from an audience of about 300 people.
We weren't as interested in the talk or the book as much as the question
period. We figured, correctly as it turned out, that Henry hadn't change
over the years -- his unspoken theory of foreign policy was still the
same: the corporate state -- including his client corporations -- should
dictate the country's foreign policy. As usual, his words barely masked
But scattered throughout the ballroom at the Press Club were little white
note cards for questions, and it appeared that perhaps 100 questions were
scribbled and sent up to the moderator, Richard Koonce, a member of the
Press Club's book and author committee.
It was Koonce's job to sift through the questions, pick out some
interesting ones, and ask Henry some probing questions. This system seemed
to work well at luncheon talks, where the past three presidents of the
Press Club -- Doug Harbrecht of Business Week, John Cushman of the New
York Times and Dick Ryan of the Detroit News -- would ask speakers some
pretty tough and newsworthy questions. We never got the sense that Press
Club moderators were pulling punches.
Last night, things changed.
Earlier this year, Harper's magazine published a two-part series of
articles by British journalist Christopher Hitchens, "The Case Against
Henry Kissinger that has since been published as a book, The Trial of
Henry Kissinger (Verso).
Hitchens has drawn up an indictment, charged Kissinger with war crimes,
and is begging some government to go after the former Secretary of State
under Richard Nixon for the killings of innocents in Laos, Cambodia, South
America, East Timor and elsewhere.
Magistrates in three countries -- Chile, Argentina, and France -- have
responded and summoned Kissinger to answer questions.
Le Monde reported earlier this month that when French Judge Roger Le Loire
had a summons served on Kissinger on May 31 at the Ritz Hotel in Paris,
Kissinger promptly left the hotel, and then left town. The judge wanted to
ask Kissinger about his knowledge of Operation Condor, an effort by the
dictators of South America to kill or "disappear" dissidents.
The fact that Kissinger was being sought for questioning didn't make the
mainstream media here in the United States, until yesterday's New York
Times reported that the Chilean judge wanted Kissinger to "testify about
the disappearance of an American in Chile when the dictator Augusto
Pinochet seized power in the 1970s."
Kissinger began lashing back at Hitchens last week, not by answering the
substance of Hitchen's argument, but by smearing the journalist.
Kissinger told Detroit radio talk show host Mitch Albom that Hitchens had
"denied the Holocaust ever took place."
In response, Hitchens, who says both and he his wife are Jewish, told the
New York Post: "Mr. Kissinger will be hearing from my attorney, who will
tell him two things he already knows -- what he said is false, malicious
and defamatory, and if he says it again, we will proceed against him in
So, you can imagine that the Press Club audience had questions. And so did
We wrote down six questions -- about the report in the Times, Kissinger's
interview with Albom, the incident at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, Hitchen's
articles in Harper's, about the three magistrates and simply this one: "If
you are indicted for war crimes, will you defend yourself in court?"
We met a friend there who told us that in the 1970s, when Kissinger was
asked about the bombing of Laos and Cambodia, he responded this way:
"sometimes we have to operate outside the law."
Her question to Kissinger: "How do you square that with our Constitutional
Koonce had other ideas. He lofted six or seven puff balls about Kissinger
in China, about Kissinger on Nixon, about his generic views of foreign
policy. Nothing about war crimes, nothing about operating outside the law,
nothing about Hitchens.
After the event, we sought out Koonce.
"Was there an agreement with Dr. Kissinger not to ask questions related to
Christopher Hitchens and allegations of war crimes?"
To our surprise, Koonce did not deny it.
"There was a definite sensitivity to that," Koonce said. "He [Kissinger]
was afraid that if we got into a discussion of that, for the vast majority
of people that, it would take so much time to explain all of the context,
that you know, he preferred to avoid that, and so . . ."
And so Kissinger's wishes were accommodated and the questions were
We asked Koonce how many written questions dealt with Hitchens or war
crimes? Two or three, Koonce said.
We knew this not to be true. We handed up six ourselves. And we suspect
that there were many more. (Only Kissinger knows for sure, since it's
Press Club policy to deliver the written questions to the guest after the
According to Press Club standards, these book events must be held in
accordance with the Club's "Code of Ethics."
So, we want to know -- how can it be ethical to agree secretly with an
author before hand not to ask a certain set of questions?
We're tracking down the Code of Ethics. Stay tuned.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman