By Albert Samaha
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You might have to be crazy. Or at least foolhardy. But you could try to bring Henry Kissinger to justice for crimes against humanity. Consider, though, what happened to the last people to talk even jokingly about plans for a citizen's arrest of the real-life model for Dr. Strangelove.
It happened 30 years ago, when Kissinger was at his Strangelovian heights. A group of anti-war protesters sought to raise the spirits of that estimable Catholic priest Phil Berrigan, then in prison for destroying draft records. The group got drunk one night, as Daniel Ellsberg recalls, and dashed off a letter to Berrigan humorously suggesting they nab Kissinger for war crimes in Vietnam. Prison authorities intercepted the mail and the FBI swooped down, charging the writers with conspiracy to kidnap the secretary of state. Dubbed the Harrisburg 6, the friends soon found themselves in a knock-down drag-out to stay out of jail.
Fast-forward to this year, when Christopher Hitchens's compact indictment, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, flares across the front cover of Harper's and clings to a lower-tier spot among Amazon.com's top-100 books. Hitchens builds a case against Nixon's man for atrocities around the globe, from East Timor and Cambodia to South America and Washington, D.C. He shows just how frighteningly small the world of Kissinger has become, as one foreign government after another tries to get its hands on him, in the same way world courts have tracked down Augusto Pinochet and Slobodan Milosevic. Chile. France. Argentina. Slowly, they're closing in.
Suddenly, the Harrisburg 6 seem less like relics of a forgotten era and more like prophets of an age to come. Here in the U.S., where the official response has been cold silence, there is renewed behind-the-scenes preparation for legal action against Kissinger. And some are again calling for a citizen's arrest, lobbying for the public to do what the government won't.
But could an average person really collar Manhattan's Milosevic? "It would surely be possible to do so, and to end up quickly in jail or a mental institution," says the noted linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky. "A 17th-century English popular poet wrote that laws are like spider webs: 'Lesser flies are quickly ta'en, while the great break out again.' Not 100 percent true, of course, but a strong tendency, for reasons too obvious to discuss."
Some suggest Kissinger, now an aging Manhattanite, is just too cuddly. "After all, he's the darling of the establishment," says the historian Howard Zinn. "These are all people who have had dinner with him. They don't want to say they've had a war criminal for dinner."
Others question why Hitchensor his readerswould bother with busting Kissinger. "He was very much a No. 2 man, subordinate to Richard Nixon," recalls Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papersfame. "It's absurd to say he's the principal architect. Of course he's deserving of trial. But some people imagine that Nixon didn't have the wit to think up those crimes on his own, and that's quite mistaken. Kissinger was simply a very loyal, opportunist subordinate."
Nonetheless, there is a growing movement to put him in the dock as the perpor at least a witnessin crimes against humanity. The old Harvard professor has to watch his step. Though he still moves freely about the streets of New York, this "war criminal" had to slip out of Paris in May when French police tried to serve him with a court summons. Activists from the East Timor Action Network have repeatedly sought to question Kissinger during his book tours, but again the former secretary of state either didn't answer or disappeared. Demonstrators have also hounded him at speeches around the country. This month, an Argentine judge ordered Kissinger to testify in a human rights trial concerning a plan by Latin American governments to kidnap and kill leftists during the 1970s.
And in July, a judge in Chile sent questions to Kissinger as a witness in a suit brought by Joyce Horman, the widow of Charles Horman, a young journalist killed during the Pinochet coup. Not amused, an administration source told the London Telegraph, "It is unjust and ridiculous that a distinguished servant of this country should be harassed by foreign courts in this way."
Kissinger, who didn't respond to Voice questions, shows some signs of knowing the heat is on. In his mounting campaign to protect his image, he recently agreed to release 10,000 pages of his papers kept under seal at the Library of Congress. Such goodwill gestures may not be enough to save the self-styled Dr. K. from a citizen's arrest, in which he could legally be plucked off the sidewalk and deposited at a nearby precinct station for booking.
He keeps a fairly low profile these days, but he's hardly invisible. Though it's not listed on the midtown building's marquee, the office for Kissinger Associates is located at 350 Park Avenue, on the 26th floor. Anyone can enter the lobby, passing a security guard and concierge unchallenged. Kissinger's own receptionist sits behind a glass window. The spartan room contains a dark wooden table, upon which rest a white phone and an ashtray, a single couch and two armchairs, and a security camera mounted in one corner. The receptionist politely tells a visitor Kissinger is not in. Not expected. Who knows when he might drop in.