In the Press


John Dinges letter to The Nation

"Washington's knowledge about the Condor system and its
activities during this period has been cautiously and carefully
documented in John Dinges's book The Condor Years, especially
chapters 7-10, and in chapter 6 of Kornbluh's Pinochet File."

--From Kenneth Maxwell's suppressed commentary to Foreign Affairs

John Dinges
4208 45th St. NW
Washington, DC 20016
202 362-9226

June 11, 2004

The Nation

To the editor,

The flap at Foreign Affairs magazine (The Nation June 23 issue) has rekindled the historical debate over U.S. government actions regarding Operation Condor, the 1970s alliance of Chile’s General Pinochet and five other military dictatorships to assassinate dissidents. I hope the renewed attention will allow us to focus on the substance of the matter, which involves evidence that U.S. officials, in particular Henry Kissinger and his subordinates at the State Department and the CIA, had advance intelligence about Condor assassination plans abroad, including information about missions heading to the United States and a threat to kill US congressman Edward Koch.

I argue in my book, The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents (The New Press 2004), which is mentioned in the story and in Foreign Affairs, that Kissinger initiated actions to stop the Condor assassination plans, by warning Chile and the governments involved of US knowledge and disapproval, but that those actions were aborted just before the September 21, 1976, assassination in Washington DC of Orlando Letelier, Chile’s former foreign minister and ambassador to the United States. An American citizen, Ronni Moffitt, was also killed in the car bombing.

My conclusion, backed by statements from other former State Department officials, is that while no one can know for sure what would have happened if the United States had delivered the warning on Condor, it is reasonable to believe Chile would have called off the Letelier assassination and a major act of international terrorism in our nation’s capital would have been averted. As one State Department official, Hewson Ryan, commented, “Whether if we had gone in, we might have prevented this, I don’t know. But we didn’t.”

It is that substantive discussion of the historical record that Kissinger’s aide, William D. Rogers, sought to avoid by pressuring Foreign Affairs to publish without response his letter dismissing those charges as “mischievous nonsense” and labeling those who make them “leftist.” Foreign Affairs Latin America expert Kenneth Maxwell, who has resigned over the affaire, proposed an orderly, objective way to conduct such an investigation: to convene the kind of “truth commissions” that have cleared the air in other countries facing historic human rights controversies. It is a suggestion I think all of us should get behind-- human rights advocates and investigative reporters alike. An officially sanctioned investigative body is the only way to pry out the remaining secret documents from those, like Rogers, who are determined to obfuscate their complicity in the collateral damage of the Cold War in countries like Chile.

Please allow me to add to Scott Sherman’s reporting another incident, involving The Nation, in which Rogers acted in a similarly misleading way in defense of Kissinger. That case centers on an October 31, 1987 piece in The Nation by Martin E. Andersen saying the US ambassador to Argentina Robert Hill complained bitterly that Kissinger had undercut him on human rights just as the mass killings in Argentina’s “dirty war” were at their height in 1976. Andersen reported that Kissinger had a secret meeting with the Argentine foreign minister, Admiral Cesar Guzzetti, in which Kissinger told Guzzetti not to worry about getting US human rights criticism as long as Argentina got the repression over with as soon as possible--by the end of 1976. This was a green light to the massive killing underway, Andersen wrote. Ambassador Hill was furious and told his story later to another State Department officer, who gave Andersen a memo of the conversation. (Hill died in 1980).

Rogers wrote to The Nation on behalf of Kissinger, denying any such thing had happened. He claimed the ambassador never wrote to Kissinger complaining about the Guzzetti meeting. "Hill never told us [the State Department Latin America bureau, which Rogers headed at the time] during the last six months of 1976, … that you [Kissinger] had misled Guzzetti, or that the junta was under a dangerously misguided impression about your attitude." That was a strong rebuttal of Andersen's article, which was based in large part on a memorandum of conversation from almost a year later between the ambassador and the other State Department officer.

Rogers' letter was seriously misleading, not to say outright false. Andersen's piece was accurate and solid. The cables did exist, and I now have them and write about the whole incident in Chapter 12 of my book and in a long note on p. 291-292. There were two meetings between Kissinger and Guzzetti, and a series of cables from Ambassador Hill to Kissinger complaining bitterly about them.

Rogers letter now appears as a clear factual distortion of the cable record that existed in State Department files, and which he had every reason to know existed. The parallels to the Maxwell flap are obvious. Rogers is a highly respected and credible former State Department official (with a reputation as a liberal going back to the 80s when I first got to know him) who has taken on the role of Henry Kissinger's spin doctor.

In both of these examples, Rogers' rebuttal of Maxwell and of Andersen, it is appalling to me that Rogers' defense of Kissinger extends to the distortion of the historical record as reflected in now declassified cables. That is an editorial comment of the kind I try to avoid making but is appropriate in this case.

Best regards,

John Dinges


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