Even as it preaches to those who will relish its witch-hunting zeal, The Trials of Henry Kissinger makes a potent assertion that the legendary diplomat and former Secretary of State is guilty of crimes against humanity. Pr... more »oduced for the BBC, seductively narrated by actor Brian Cox, and based on the scathing book by Christopher Hitchens (a Kissinger-bashing journalist featured heavily here in talking-head interviews), this film is clearly biased against its target, but there's ample documentation to support its claims that Kissinger prolonged the Vietnam war and orchestrated the illegal and indiscriminate bombing of Cambodia; supervised the 1973 coup against democratically elected Chilean president Allende; and played a role in U.S.-backed atrocities in East Timor. Expert interviews on both sides of the political fence (but mostly damning Kissinger) make this a compelling, information-packed example of situational ethics in action; additional viewings simultaneously deepen the film's conviction and reveal the weakness of its one-sided embrace of Hitchens. Either way, this is essential viewing for anyone interested in the labyrinthine machinations of international power. --Jeff Shannon« less
"When George W. Bush wanted to appoint Henry Kissinger as chairman of the 911 Whitewash comittee, a lot of people stood up and protested over this blatant and arrogant choice of the elite. After all, Henry Kissinger is the kind of guy who has to check out with his lawyers before he enters a certain country, because there are so many charges against him all over the world.
For those who wonder why, this movie could answer a lot of your questions. You will see what Henry Kissinger has done over the years, his involvement in world politics and the games he played behind the scene. "
Nichomachus | 05/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'd read Hitchens' original Harpers essay and the subsequent book, and one won't find a lot of surprises if you're familiar with those. This documentary is a BBC production, sort of triggered by Hitchens' TRIAL OF HENRY KISSINGER, but it is not necessarily a Hitchens-focused work, although he pops up in it. Thus, this is not a polemic and doesn't pretend to draw final and ultimate conclusions about Kissinger. In one of the extras, the director puts it well, saying they're "making a case for a case" against Kissinger. An indictment, if you will, but not a trial. Kissinger's early career is only very briefly covered; the producers want very quickly to get us into his machinations during the 1968 Paris peace talks, and the case for Kissinger's manipulation of said talks to affect the outcome of the 1968 election in favor of Nixon. A fascinating interview with a candid Anna Chennault is included. I wish I could have seen the entire interview (Sterling Seagrave's THE SOONG DYNASTY and LORDS OF THE RIM will help give some background on the Chinese right-wingers that ended up in the US). Nixon's backchannel to S. Vietnam's President Nguyen Van Thieu (and LBJ's knowledge of it via the FBI) is now fairly undisputed. Read Larry Berman's scathing and merciless NO PEACE, NO HONOR: NIXON, KISSINGER, AND BETRAYAL IN VIETNAM for an excellent, primary source-based study on this subject (most of the documents are from National Archive and the Ford Library, since Kissinger still has the lock on his files).The makers here focus on three of Nixon-Ford-Kissingers' Cold War foreign policies: (1) the prolongation and expansion of the Vietnam/Indochina war, (2) the murder of Chile's Gen. Schneider and the subsequent military overthrow of Allende, and (3) the green light to Indonesia's Suharto for the disgusting invasion of East Timor.Various Kissinger dissimulations on these three areas are rebutted with documentary evidence and interviews with various henchmen, many of whom look fairly haunted and uncomfortable by their roles. The dissembling Alexander Haig is Kissinger's most prominent and outspoken defender, but ends up looking like a deer in the headlights, as he simultaneously defends blatantly illegal policies (murder, congressional limitations on arms, secret bombing, that sort of thing), while attempting to deny they happened (through inept legalistic arguments). The expansion of the bombing into Cambodia, and the methods for hiding it, is well-explained. Personally, I understand and somewhat agree with Kissinger's calculation in taking the war to Cambodia. The idea of it as a "neutral" country, while the Vietnamese used it to stage attacks on Americans, is ludicrous. And the idea that it expanded the war to a place where it was already being waged from is fatuous as well. HOWEVER! Wholescale bombing of the agrarian population, Industrial Revolution warfare at its worst, is genocidal in its method (and the documentary hints at Kissinger's direct involvement in target selection, which implicates him in intent as well). The makers skillfully illustrate the effect on Cambodia (the mass refugee flight to the cities, political destablization) giving us a view of the Khmer Rouge's rise that has long been obscured by the self-indulgent ravings of Noam Chomsky. Kissinger's power, in effect, was in riding the top of the vast bureaucratically-minded war machine, from where he was able to unleash massive quantities of power, with no qualitative standards to measure or guage it, and to hold it to account of course (see the excellent recent DVD documentary on Robert S. McNamara, THE FOG OF WAR). Thus, he had the power of a gigantic machine, and no perspective of the nature of the power he wielded beyond the nineteenth century politics he was enamored with. To understand his public ethics, read his first book, A WORLD RESTORED: METTERNICH, CATSTERLEAGH AND THE PROBLEMS OF PEACE 1812-1822, I believe it explains a worldview he's held consistently for decades.The great problem of Kissinger, though, was his inability to distinguish raison d'etat from his own ambition. That's partailly what leads to the trite formulation that Kissinger sought power for the sake of power. It's a bit more complex than that. Ultimately, at the height of his power, it was not realpolitik that drove his decision-making, but rather narcissism. I think focusing on the difference there is essential to any attempt to make a case for war crimes. While I often agree with the political realist that the capacity to be cruel is often a political necessity to fulfill one's role, there is always a crucial point in time where the despotic character takes over, and its cruelty itself finds itself needing to be sustained, rather than the "legitimate" political goals that cruelty is supposed to serve."
The cynicism of power
Steven Hellerstedt | 09/25/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Inspired by Christopher Hitchens' magazine articles and book, THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER is a fascinating indictment of its title character. It's a fairly traditional documentary, following a rough chronology of events and employing a voice over narrator (Brian Cox.) Understandably enough, Kissinger wanted no part of this project. His chief accusers are a pair of pit bull investigative journalists, Hitchens and Seymour Hersh. To their credit, the filmmakers follow each accusation with either an archived taped response of Kissinger answering the charge in another forum and/or a rebuttal by former aides and associates, including Alexander Haig, Brent Scowcroft, William Safire and Kissinger biographer Walter Isaacson. Indeed, given the high powered wordsmiths in this one it's Haig who delivers the best line when at one point he leans forward in his chair and calls Hitchens a "sewer pipe sucker." Kissinger's major crimes, the actionable and the other, are all treated here. Included is his duplicitous behavior while negotiating a peace agreement with North Vietnam while a member of President Johnson's negotiating team - Kissinger funneled information to the Nixon campaign, which may well have tipped the close election to our last Quaker president. The complex story of Kissinger's involvement in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia are treated, as is his decision to wiretap his aides, the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and finally his involvement in events leading up to overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende. I wouldn't say THE TRIALS OF HENRY KISSINGER is balanced (as director Eugene Jarecki and writer/producer Alex Gibney rightly claim in the "Making Of" special, Kissinger has had 25 years to burnish his image and bury the evidence; this is the other side of the story) nor is it entirely convincing. It deals with issues much too complex to develop in a mere 80 minutes. I was a little surprised to note that this traditional documentary comes with a commentary track. It's already filled with talking heads and archive images, but I found the commentary just as interesting as the movie. Jarecki and Gibney know their subject and provide many insights into not only the issues involved, but background on material used and rejected. "
Fine Line Between Greatness and Criminality
Jeremy Raymondjack | Roslindale, MA USA | 01/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I remember growing up and having no qualms whatsoever about the greatness of Henry Kissinger. I mean, that's the popular mythology: a brilliant man devotes his life to public service, and helps to forge the tough, realist diplomacy that helped America win the Cold War. But as one gets older, and learns how to learn, the facade of many national myths slides to the floor, and what's left is often cruel and ugly. This film lays bare the disparity between what we want to believe about ourselves, and what is actually true. The brilliant German expatriate diplomat is actually a deluded, homicidal madman, drunk on the hooch of power. Kissinger is the perfect illustration of how secrecy and centralized power are the ultimate evils of a democracy, no matter how sincere the original intent. Buy this DVD, then share it with your friends."
A Compelling Documentary Poses Moral Questions For Americans
Jana L. Perskie | New York, NY USA | 08/27/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"About 2,500 years ago, a Scythian philosopher, Anarcharis, maintained that "laws were like cobwebs; strong enough to detain only the weak, and too weak to hold the strong."The moral question posed in this compelling 80 minute documentary is, 'Are American citizens, and US government officials in particular, exempt from prosecution and trial when charged with crimes against humanity?' The world community, represented by the International Criminal Tribunal, with its uniform definitions and international laws, is clear on what constitutes crimes against humanity. In the wake of the terrible tragedy of September 11, and the war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime, this question takes on additional importance, and new meaning for Americans. Are we to hold ourselves, and our country's leaders, to a lesser standard than we apply to all other nations? How do government leaders make decisions between power and morality; between national interests and idealism? Is there a middle ground between these choices - a possibility to act morally as a country, while protecting our own national interests? Do war criminals reside only in nations whose interests are unfavorable to our own?On September 11, 2001, mass murder was committed against innocent US civilians, by a group of terrorists, all belonging to the same organization. The US government, and the international community, has sworn to bring to justice those who conceived, organized and commanded the tragic event, and to destroy their organization. After WWII, those who committed atrocities against humanity were brought to trial, judged and punished accordingly. In our recent history, Slobodan Milosevic and Augusto Pinochet have been detained, indicted and tried for causing the slaughter of tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children in the name of their nation's welfare. Is the US exempt from investigating its own officials who are accused, with ample evidence, for committing similar acts?Director Eugene Jarecki's and Producer Alex Gibney's intense BBC production provides evidence in documents, and through expert testimony, sufficient to indict Kissinger on at least four counts of mass murder. Such notables as: Seymour Hersh, author of "The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House," William Shawcross, author of "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia," and Walter Isaacson, Kissinger biographer, provide testimony against the former Secretary of State. Defending Kissinger's actions are Alexander Haig, Brent Scowcroft, and William Safire. Mr. Kissinger comes to his own defense in newsclips and interviews. He refused to be interviewed for the documentary, however. Christopher Hitchens, a controversial journalist, and author of "The Trial of Henry Kissinger," also speaks his piece here. His book inspired the documentary. Now, I am not a fan of Mr. Hitchens. His writing is incendiary, and he is a harsh, biased critic of Henry Kissinger. However, writing style aside, his information and evidence are accurate, and damning.The evidence documents that Kissinger undermined President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnamese Paris Peace Talks, prolonging the war for seven more years, and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of US soldiers, innocent Vietnamese civilians, and Cambodian civilians, not to mention the statistics for the dead North and South Vietnamese soldiers, which are not included. He engineered the secret bombing of Cambodia, and continuously mislead and lied to the US Congress. Kissinger approved Indonesian President Suharto's use of U.S. arms to massacre 100,000 East Timorese, many of them innocent civilians. He was very instrumental in planning the military coup that murdered democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende, which lead to a reign of terror in Chile for many years. He was responsible for the murder of Rene Schneider, a Chilean military commander, who had sworn an oath to protect and support his president and refused to break it. Schneider's family has initiated a law suit against Mr. Kissinger.Jarecki had a personal interest in making this film. His father fled Nazi Germany a year after Kissinger's family left. He says, "But while my father took from his experiences in Nazi Germany the idea that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Kissinger found it necessary to find and then re-seek power."There is much biographical information included which makes this work a more balanced effort. Narrator Brian Cox does an excellent job. The only thing about the film that I object to is the musical score, which is so repetitious and annoying that it almost drove me crazy. I agree with a speaker at the movie's end who says that whether Henry Kissenger is publically tried or not, he knows what he did, and has to live with his actions, and their consequences, for the rest of his life. Below is a quote from Henry Kissinger:"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer." Henry Kissinger, commenting on the US sellout of the Kurds in Iraq in 1975