Our Opinion: Shining a light upon our own shame


Sometimes justice is at the end of a slow-burning fuse. Such is the case in Cambodia, where, nearly four decades later, two former Khmer Rouge officials were sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison for their roles in the deaths of more than 1.7 million of their fellow country men, women and children.

From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge terrorized the people of Cambodia through a combination of starvation, medical neglect, overwork and execution. Most people are familiar with the Khmer Rouge's brutality through the experiences of Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg, two journalists whose memories of that terrible time were documented in the award-winning movie "The Killing Fields."

While the pace of justice in Cambodia has been slow, at least we can say that nation has taken admirable steps in confronting its past and holding those accountable for their actions. That can also be said for a number of countries in Central and South America, where truth and reconciliation commissions have detailed the heinous actions of the murderous regimes that were empowered by the United States in its proxy wars against communism.

The same cannot be said for the United States, where the man who arguably had one of the largest roles in contributing to the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge and deaths and disappearances of thousands of Latin Americans, walks about as a free man and is, in fact, called upon when matters of great international import need weighing in on.

While Henry Kissinger has portrayed himself as a man who made the world a safer place, there are millions of people around the world who were either silenced with his complicity or lost loved ones to the West's barbarous henchmen.

"The illegal carpet-bombing of neutral Cambodia, designed to deprive North Vietnam of troops and supplies ... sowed the seeds for the murderous Pol Pot regime," wrote the BBC's Bob Chaundy.

And according to documents released by the CIA in the early 2000s, "Kissinger was actively involved in the establishment of Operation Condor, a covert plan involving six Latin American countries including Chile, to assassinate thousands of political opponents," wrote Chaundy.

Andy Piascik, writing for ZNet, noted the CIA-assisted overthrow of moderate socialist Salvador Allende in Chile, was followed by 16 years of repression, torture and death.

"Henry Kissinger was national security advisor and one of the principle architects - perhaps the principle architect - of the coup in Chile," claims Piascik.

As if that's not enough blood on his hands, in "The Trial of Henry Kissinger," the late Christopher Hitchens contended Kissinger connived with brutal regimes such as those in Pakistan, Greece and Indonesia, which utilized savagery to quell political discontent.

And as for Kissinger's apologists, who claim his actions were an example of "realpolitik" waged in defense of the American way of life against communism?

"I never quite saw how the genocide in East Timor, say, had any effect in eroding the Berlin Wall," wrote Hitchens. "But I also pointed out that Kissinger did many favors for the heirs of Stalin and Mao: telling President Gerald Ford not to invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the White House, for example, and making lavish excuses for the massacre in Tiananmen Square. He is that rare and foul beast, a man whose record shows sympathy for communism and fascism. It comes from a natural hatred of the democratic process, which he has done so much to subvert and undermine at home and abroad, and an instinctive affection for totalitarians of all stripes."

As secretary of state for Pres. Gerald Ford, noted Hitchens, Kissinger essentially told an Argentinian official "not that he should slow down the rate of kidnappings and murders and disappearances but that he should speed it up."

And writing for Vanity Fair in 2005, Hitchens contended "the death squads of Argentina and Chile were going about their busy work with the approval -- no, the encouragement -- of the secretary of state of the United States of America."

America's refusal to call to account for war crimes its politicians and policy makers is a stain on this great nation.

"While we ponder this solemn issue, the citizens of neighboring democracies petition us for simple justice and are contemptuously turned away, and we earn the distinction of harboring a man who does not travel anywhere outside the United States without legal advice, and who now fears even to set foot in the countries he so recently desolated and profaned," wrote Hitchens.

But Kissinger is not the only person in the United States who should be required to stand trial for crimes against humanity. The United States has done a great job of clamoring for human rights around the world while protecting its own war criminals.

Douglas Herman, writing for Rense, names 10 who he thinks should be made to stand trial for their crimes. They include not only Kissinger but also Robert McNamara; Bill Clinton; George HW Bush; Madeleine Albright; George W. Bush; Dick Cheney; Paul Wolfowitz; Donald Rumsfeld; and even Rupert Murdoch, who "Never met a war he didn't like. Responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and untold millions of refugees through media encouragement of harsh, U.S. foreign policy." Other critics of American foreign policy cast that net even wider to include current Pres. Barack Obama for his use of drones to kill people classified as threats to the United States. And Justin Doolittle, writing for Truthout, believes, Former Secretarys of State Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell should also be stood up in the dock for their words and actions related to the invasion of Iraq.

As a nation, we have collective responsibility for the actions of our leaders, but demanding accountability for those actions is another matter. If we are unwilling to establish our own truth and reconciliation commissions to expose and apologize for war crimes committed in our name, what right do we have to demand other nations do the same? If we are not willing to recognize our complicity in the violation of human rights around the world, what moral power do we have to insist that other nations protect the human rights of their own citizens?

We have claimed ad nauseum that the United States is a beacon of freedom, radiating hope to oppressed people around the world, but until we are willing to shine a light on our own misdeeds, our brightness truly remains under a bucket.


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