As I noted earlier, Christopher Hitchens’s two-part 2001 article, “The Case Against Kissinger,” built a strong though circumstantial case connecting Henry Kissinger to a series of assassinations in Chile around the time of the overthrow and killing of President Salvador Allende. The evidence has continued to grow since Hitchens’s arguments appeared. On Friday, the release of a taped conversation between Kissinger and President Richard M. Nixon added more. Jeff Stein reports in the Washington Post’s Spytalk blog:
President Richard M. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, joked that an “incompetent” CIA had struggled to successfully carry out an assassination in Chile, newly available Oval Office tapes reveal. At the time, in 1971, Nixon and Kissinger were working to undermine the socialist administration of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who would die during a U.S.-backed military coup two years later. One of the key figures to stand in the way of Chilean generals plotting to overthrow Allende was the Chilean army commander-in-chief, Rene Schneider, who was killed during a botched kidnapping attempt by military right-wingers in 1970.
The new tapes won’t end the argument, but they add persuasive evidence that the CIA was at least trying to eliminate Schneider, and perhaps with the connivance of Nixon and Kissinger. The key exchange between the president and his national security adviser occurred on June 11, 1971. They were discussing another assassination in Chile, this time of one of Allende’s political adversaries, former Christian Democratic party interior minister Edmundo Pérez Zujovic, who was murdered on June 8, 1971, by an extreme leftist group.
Here’s a transcript of the tape:
Kissinger: They’re blaming the CIA.
Nixon: Why the hell would we assassinate him?
Kissinger: Well, (a) we couldn’t. We’re—
Kissinger: CIA’s too incompetent to do it. You remember—
Nixon: Sure, but that’s the best thing. [Unclear].
Kissinger: —when they did try to assassinate somebody, it took three attempts—
Kissinger: —and he lived for three weeks afterwards.
The comments plainly revolve around the death of Chilean General René Schneider, who was the commander-in-chief of Chile’s armed forces around the time of the 1970 presidential election that brought Allende to power. Within the Chilean military, Schneider resolutely opposed any coup d’état and insisted that the democratic process be respected. The CIA and Kissinger apparently concluded that he had to be eliminated so that the Allende government could be removed.
Among the CIA “family jewels” documents released in 2007 was a memorandum recording a briefing (PDF) that CIA Director Colby gave to President Gerald Ford on January 3, 1975. In it Colby advises Ford that “we have run operations to assassinate foreign leaders,” and he cites Gen. Schneider. This tape adds to the evidence that the assassination of Chile’s senior military commander resulted from a decision involving Kissinger and Nixon. Kissinger is reported to continue to have great difficulties traveling because he faces arrest warrants issued abroad. This tape shows why those warrants are hardly frivolous.