The Trials of Henry Kissinger




W

ar
crimes mania has reached a fever pitch. Fifty-seven years have passed
since the Nurem- berg trials, Cold War gridlock has loosened, and
the race for accountability is on.  But there is a hitch, and
Henry Kissinger is at its core.


Some
advocates of creating a viable system of international accountability
are largely concerned with specific personalities and revisiting
some of the most horrific moments of recent history—retribution,
the search for truth—which is honorable on many levels. A second
faction, as exemplified by the newly established International Criminal
Court (ICC), puts its hopes in progressive ideas, the establishment
of law, and the fight to prevent future crimes.



The
Trials of Henry Kissinger

, a documentary film directed by Eugene
Jarecki, blurs this distinction and leaves in its wake a confusion
that could prove deadly for American perceptions of international
justice. In this respect, the film is strangely counterproductive
in ways that one might expect from, say, the

New York Post

,
rather than a documentary made by supposed advocates of criminal
justice.


The
Kissinger story—in Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, and Chile
(there are more, of course, but the movie is short, 1 hour, 20 minutes)—is
one of extreme importance in terms of understanding the sort of
surreptitious activity that has defined much of 20th century American
foreign policy. In light of recent progress in international law,
these revelations should be used to build persuasive arguments that
future crimes should be, and can be, prevented.


The
main insinuation, mentioned in the final five minutes of the film
and left dangling, is that Kissinger will avoid the reach of justice
only so long as the U.S. does not join the ICC. This is patently
false. The ICC will only have prosecutorial power over crimes committed
after the date of the establishment of the Court, which was July
1, 2002.


There
would be no way to develop a new system of law if those nations
who were going to accept its jurisdiction knew their nationals might
immediately be hauled into the dock and tried. Most governments
are guilty of something in the past, and that is precisely why the
ICC has been established.  The ICC founders assumed that something
in the nature of the world had changed to make an international
court possible, and chose to look forward rather than back.


The
logic of the non-retroactivity of the ICC is simple: the crimes
of the past have already been committed and the explanations given
often range from the non-existence of codified law at the time the
crime was committed to slippery definitions of what actually constitutes
a crime, many of which are committed in the murkiness of war. The
ICC, with its extensive and detailed codification of the prose-
cutable crimes, seeks to make the law known before crimes are committed.
At the very least, criminals will not be able to claim that they
were not aware that their actions were criminal.



The
Trials of Henry Kissinger

is based on the controversial book
of the same name by Christopher Hitchens and offers a look at some
alarming moments in American foreign policy history. But those who
have little understanding of the events discussed (all of them,
the film argues, masterminded by Kissinger) should not expect to
gain a more thorough understanding of both sides and even a possible
explanation as to why Kissinger might have made the decisions he
did. The film’s only explanation, that Kissinger wanted more
power, is incomplete. A common thread of all of Kissinger’s
decisions is that they are examples of him wielding, not gaining
power, leading one to ask: power for what?


While
the film ostensibly attempts to balance Kissinger’s critics
with his supporters, we find out later that all of his “supporters”
were at one time backstabbed or let down by him. This includes William
Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter, now a

New York Times

op-ed columnist, who was wired-tapped by Kissinger, and Alexander
Haig, the senile and barely coherent former Secretary of State who
at one odd point in the film calls Hitchens a “sewer pipe sucker.”
The lack of true Kissinger advocates ring of the old adage “with
friends like these, who needs enemies” and makes it seem as
though no one truly appreciates poor old Henry. But anyone with
even a tentative understanding of American diplomacy knows that
somebody is responsible for the fact that he is still a hero to
many and is publicly considered, for better or worse, the most skillful
diplomat in American history.


Surely,
Kissinger’s actions are worth a look, and, like Augusto Pinochet,
Slobodan Milosevic, and others who have been put through some sort
of legal process of late, Kissinger is probably long overdue for
a trial. But

The Trials of Henry Kissinger

reaks of personality
fetishism and “gotcha” antics, as though the search for
war criminals is a cutting edge video game that is fun, exciting,
and educational, with all of the drama of an O.J. Simpson trial.


The
film focuses on Kissinger to the detriment of current efforts, some
of which have made great strides. Americans have been lied to about
the ICC by the Bush administration, which has set out to undermine
the court in every way possible, threatening allies and premising
aid on American immunity from the ICC. In this regard, Jarecki’s
film is irresponsible.


Although
it appears to care about preventing atrocities in its look at Kissinger,

The Trials of Henry Kissinger

adds fuel to the anti-justice
fire that Bush and company have started by insinuating that the
United States’ membership in the ICC would mean a prosecutorial
free-for-all on world leaders who are hailed by a vast majority
as heroes. For this, the filmmaker’s intentions seem questionable
and leave one to wonder if such a film were ever necessary in the
first place.