Manhattan’s Milosevic

How You Can Do What the Government Won’t: Arrest Henry Kissinger

Don't think you can just hang around and wait for him to show up. A citizen's arrest is not so easy. While the laws differ from state to state, they generally allow for anyone who witnesses a felony, or knows which person committed one, to make an immediate arrest. That can include a "reasonable" amount of physical force. It would also normally involve some participation from the cops.

Back down on Park Avenue, across from Kissinger's office, police officer John Vanasco explains the procedure. "We take the person and process the paperwork," he says. "If it is a crime, we take the person in custody, but we need probable cause proving that the crime was committed."

In the case of someone accused of being a war criminal, Vanasco says, city cops refer the matter to federal agencies, then hold the suspect for them.

A spokesperson for the NYPD puts it slightly differently. "Citizen's arrest has nothing to do with us," he says. "You make the arrest on your own. We do nothing more than transport the person. We are not making the arrest. We are not involved in this."

Kissinger also keeps a home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, where state police say citizen's arrests are not allowed. If you tried to capture him en route, you'd get to deal with the New York State police. "It's all based on what the citizen says," a spokesperson reports. "They may sign paperwork, but they don't go out and physically arrest someone. It's not like it is in the movies. It doesn't happen a lot."

The legal details of a citizen's arrest are downright confusing. "It's a tricky issue," says Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and current candidate for public advocate. For misdemeanors, he says, cops usually just write the accused a ticket. Felonies are another matter. When approaching a person you intend to pick up, you're supposed to explain that you're about to make an arrest, and tell the suspect why. That's when the situation can turn ugly. What if the person tries to run away while you're calling the cops from your cell phone? "Do you tackle them?" asks Siegel. "Cuff them?" The tables could quickly turn, and you'd be the one violating the law.

And if cops have reason to doubt the merit of accusations, they don't have to follow through with the arrest. "A citizen's arrest doesn't really work," says attorney Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has tried to nail various war criminals, from the contras to Haiti's Tonton Macoutes. "They have to be committing a felony in front of you."

Still, despite all the hassles, citizen's arrests are used in New York City. The unarmed New York Guardian Angels make about two a year. "Basically every citizen has the right to make a citizen's arrest," says Mark Moore. "You physically restrain a person and hold them until the local cops come. We're trained in restraint holds, arm bars, and different locks."


Since Hitchens and others go after Kissinger for war crimes against civilian populations—like killing 200,000 Timorese, one third of the population—one might think the big human rights organizations would weigh in on this subject. But when it comes to Dr. K., these groups tread lightly.

Alistair Hodgett, Amnesty International's American media director, says his agency can do little until the government declassifies reams of information. Even then, Amnesty wouldn't necessarily take aim at Kissinger. "We would put the emphasis with the U.S. government to look at significant information," Hodgett says. "I don't believe or suggest that that's likely to occur."

The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights likewise barely dips a toe in the water. "The international justice system shouldn't be about any one case," says Raj Purohit. "If there is someone who has solid evidence, then he [Kissinger] should be held accountable."

As for a citizen's arrest of Kissinger, Purohit says, "That's not something we would support. When it comes to these most serious crimes there has got to be a proper [order] from a tribunal or indictment. I think under any of these tribunals none of these would apply to Kissinger."

Human Rights Watch is similarly reluctant to style Kissinger in prison stripes. "If Henry Kissinger signed off on bombing targets in Cambodia and Laos knowing that they included civilian areas, as accounts have suggested, then he could be charged with war crimes, by his victims or by the victims' families," says Reed Brody, an attorney who has gone around the world prosecuting human rights crimes. "But I think that it's difficult not to confuse legal, political, moral, historical responsibility on the one hand, and criminal liability on another."

Despite such gloomy prognoses, there are other hopes. Ratner thinks you could bring a civil action in Washington against Kissinger on behalf of the children of General René Schneider, the Chilean general who was shot during the Pinochet coup. And it might be possible to file a racketeering complaint in New York arguing that Kissinger and others conspired using the interstate communications—i.e, phones, faxes, etc.—to murder American citizens.

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