There are few countries in the West where anti-Americanism is as vociferously expressed as in Argentina, where a highly politicized culture of grievance has evolved in which many of the country’s problems are blamed on the United States.
.. The documents revealed that White House and U.S. State Department officials were intimately aware of the Argentine military’s bloody nature, and that some were horrified by what they knew. Others, most notably Henry Kissinger, were not.
.. The latest revelations compound a portrait of Kissinger as the ruthless cheerleader, if not the active co-conspirator, of Latin American military regimes engaged in war crimes. In evidence that emerged from previous declassifications of documents during the Clinton Administration, Kissinger was shown not only to have been aware of what the military was doing but to have actively encouraged it.
.. During the Dirty War, as it became known, as many as thirty thousand people were secretly abducted, tortured, and executed by the security forces. Hundreds of suspects were buried in anonymous mass graves, while thousands more were stripped naked, drugged, loaded onto military aircraft, and hurled into the sea from the air while they were still alive. The term “los desaparecidos”—“the disappeared”—became one of Argentina’s contributions to the global lexicon.
.. Immediately after the Argentine coup, on Kissinger’s recommendations, the U.S. Congress approved a request for fifty million dollars in security assistance to the junta; this was topped off by another thirty million before the end of the year. Military-training programs and aircraft sales worth hundreds of millions of dollars were also approved. In 1978, a year into Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, mounting concerns about human-rights violations brought an end to U.S. aid. Thereafter, the new Administration sought to cut the junta off from international financial assistance. In early 1981, with Reagan coming into the White House, however, the restrictions were lifted.
.. One of his foremost critics was the late Christopher Hitchens, who in 2001 wrote a book-length indictment entitled “The Trial of Henry Kissinger.” Hitchens called for Kissinger’s prosecution “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.”
.. generals habitually denied that anything untoward was occurring. Questioned about los desaparecidos, the coup leader, General Videla, explained with chilling vagueness, “The disappeared are just that: disappeared. They are neither alive nor dead. They are disappeared.” Other officers suggested that missing people were probably in hiding, carrying out terrorist actions against the fatherland. In fact, the vast majority were being brutalized in secret prisons by government-salaried employees, and then, more often than not, executed. As happened in Germany during the Holocaust, most Argentines understood what was really going on, but kept silent out of a spirit of complicity, or fear. A see-no-evil national refrain was adopted by those Argentines who witnessed neighbors being dragged from their homes by plainclothes men, never to return: “Algo habrán hecho”—“they must have done something.”
.. Kissinger, the longest-lasting and most iconic pariah figure in modern American history, is but one of a line of men held in fear and contempt for the immorality of their services rendered and yet protected by the political establishment in recognition of those same services. William Tecumseh Sherman, Curtis LeMay, Robert McNamara, and, more recently, Donald Rumsfeld all come to mind.
.. Unlike McNamara, however, whose attempt to find a moral reckoning Kissinger held in such scorn, Kissinger has shown little in the way of a conscience. And because of that, it seems highly likely, history will not easily absolve him.