A nation betrayed

In his explosive new book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens argues that the former US secretary of state should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Here, in our second exclusive extract, he explains why Kissinger should be held responsible for the bloody invasion of Cyprus

By Christopher Hitchens
Mon 26 Feb 2001

Part one: Why has he got away with it?

In Years of Upheaval, the second volume of his trilogy of memoirs, Henry Kissinger found the subject of the 1974 Cyprus catastrophe so awkward that he decided to postpone consideration of it: “I must leave a full discussion of the Cyprus episode to another occasion, for it stretched into the Ford presidency and its legacy exists unresolved today.”

In most of his writing about himself, Kissinger projects a strong impression of a man at home in the world and on top of his brief. But there are a number of occasions when it suits him to pose as a sort of Candide: naive, ill- prepared for and easily unhorsed by events. No doubt this pose costs him some self-esteem. It is a pose, furthermore, which he often adopts at precisely the time when the record shows him to be knowledgeable, and when knowledge or foreknowledge would confront him with charges of responsibility or complicity.

Kissinger now argues, in the long-delayed third volume of his memoirs, Years of Renewal, that he was prevented and distracted, by Watergate and the meltdown of the Nixon presidency, from taking an interest in the crucial triangle of force between Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. This is a bizarre disclaimer: the proximity of Cyprus to the Middle East was a factor never absent from US strategic thinking, and there was no reason of domestic policy to prevent the region from engaging his attention. Furthermore, the very implosion of Nixonian authority, cited as a reason for Kissinger’s absence of mind, in fact bestowed extraordinary powers upon him.

When he became secretary of state in 1973, Kissinger took care to retain his post as special assistant to the president for national security affairs, or national security adviser. This made him the first and only secretary of state to hold the chairmanship of the elite and secretive Forty Committee, which considered and approved covert actions by the CIA. Mean while, as chairman of the National Security Council, he held a position where every important intelligence plan passed across his desk. His former NSC aide, Roger Morris, was not exaggerating by much, if at all, when he said that Kissinger’s dual position, plus Nixon’s eroded status, made him “no less than acting chief of state for national security”

Kissinger gives one hostage to fortune in Years of Upheaval and another in Years of Renewal. In the former, he says plainly: “I had always taken it for granted that the next intercommunal crisis in Cyprus would provoke Turkish intervention.” That is, it would at least risk the prospect of a war within Nato between Greece and Turkey, and would certainly involve the partition of the island. That this was common knowledge may not be doubted by any person even lightly acquainted with Cypriot affairs. In the latter volume, Kissinger repeatedly asks the reader why anyone (such as himself, so burdened with Watergate) would have sought “a crisis in the eastern Mediterranean between two Nato allies”.

These two disingenuous statements need to be qualified in the light of a third, which appears on page 199 of Years of Renewal. Here, President Makarios of Cyprus is described without adornment as “the proximate cause of most of Cyprus’s tensions”. Makarios was the democratically elected leader of a virtually unarmed republic. His rule was challenged, and the independence of Cyprus was threatened, by a military dictatorship in Athens and a highly militarised government in Turkey, both of which sponsored rightwing gangster organisations on the island, and both of which had plans to annex the greater or lesser part of it. Several attempts had been made on Makarios’s life. To describe him as “the proximate cause” of the tensions is to make a wildly aberrant moral judgment.

This same judgment, however, supplies the key that unlocks the lie at the heart of Kissinger’s presentation. If the elected civilian authority (and spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox community) is the “proximate cause” of the tensions, then his removal from the scene is self-evidently the cure for them. If one can demonstrate that there was such a removal plan, and that Kissinger knew about it in advance, then it follows logically that he was not ostensibly looking for a crisis – as he self-pityingly asks us to disbelieve – but for a solution. The fact that he got a crisis, which was also a hideous calamity for the region, does not change the equation. It is attributable to the other observable fact that the scheme to remove Makarios, on which the “solution” depended, was in practice a failure. But those who willed the means and wished the ends are not absolved from guilt by the refusal of reality to match their schemes.

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It is, from Kissinger’s own record, as well as from the record of the subsequent official inquiry, easy to demonstrate that he did have advance knowledge of the plan to depose Makarios. He admits as much himself, by noting that the Greek dictator Dimitrios Ioannides, head of the secret police, was determined to mount a coup in Cyprus and bring the island under the control of Athens. This was one of the better-known facts of the situation, as was the more embarrassing fact that Brigadier Ioannides was dependent on US military aid and political sympathy. His police state had been expelled from the Council of Europe and blocked from joining the EEC, and it was largely the advantage conferred by his agreement to “home port” the US Sixth Fleet, and host a string of US air and intelligence bases, that kept him in power. This policy was highly controversial in Congress and in the American press, and the argument over it was part of Kissinger’s daily bread long before Watergate.

Thus it was understood in general that the Greek dictatorship, a US client, wished to see Makarios overthrown and had already tried to have him killed. (Overthrow and assassination, incidentally, are effectively coterminous in this account; there was no possibility of leaving such a charismatic leader alive, and those who sought his removal invariably intended his death.) This was also understood in particular . The most salient proof is this. In May 1974, two months before the coup in Nicosia, which Kissinger later claimed was a shock, he received a memorandum from the head of his state department Cyprus desk, Thomas Boyatt. Boyatt summarised the reasons for believing that a Greek junta attack on Cyprus was imminent. He further argued that, in the absence of a US representation to Athens, warning the dictators to desist, it might be assumed that the United States was indifferent to this. And he added what everybody knew – that such a coup, if it went forward, would beyond doubt trigger a Turkish invasion.

Prescient memos are a dime a dozen in Washington after a crisis; they are often then read for the first time, or leaked to the press or Congress. But Kissinger now admits that he saw this document in real time, while engaged in his shuttle between Syria and Israel (both of them within half an hour’s flying time of Cyprus). Yet no démarche bearing his name or carrying his authority was issued to the Greek junta.

A short while afterwards, Kissinger received a call from Senator J William Fulbright, the chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. Senator Fulbright had been briefed about the impending coup by a senior Greek dissident journalist in Washington named Elias P Demetracopoulos. He told Kissinger that steps should be taken to avert the planned Greek action, and he gave three reasons. The first was that it would repair some of the moral damage done by the US governments indulgence of the junta. The second was that it would head off a confrontation between Greece and Turkey in the Mediterranean. The third was that it would enhance US prestige on the island. Kissinger declined to take the recommended steps, on the bizarre grounds that he could not intervene in Greek “internal affairs” at a time when the Nixon administration was resisting pressure from Senator Henry Jackson to link US-Soviet trade to the free emigration of Russian Jewry. However odd this line of argument, it still makes it impossible for Kissinger to claim, as he still does, that he had had no warn ing.

So there was still no high-level US concern registered with Athens. The difficulty is sometimes presented as one of protocol or etiquette, as if Kissinger’s regular custom was to whisper and tread lightly. But again I remind you that Henry Kissinger, in addition to his formal diplomatic eminence, was also head of the Forty Committee, and supervisor of covert action, and was dealing in private with an Athens regime that had long-standing CIA ties. Boyatt’s memoranda, warning of what was to happen, were classified as secret and have still never been released. Asked to testify to a Congressional hearing, he was at first forbidden by Kissinger to appear. He was only finally permitted to do so in order that he might avoid a citation for contempt. His evidence was taken in “executive session”, with the hearing room cleared of staff, reporters and visitors.

Events continued to gather pace. On July 1 1974, three senior officials of the Greek foreign ministry, all known for their moderate views on the Cyprus question, publicly tendered their resignations. On July 3, President Makarios made public an open letter to the Greek junta, which made the direct accusation of foreign interference and subversion. He called for the withdrawal from Cyprus of the officers responsible.

Some days after the coup, which eventually occurred on July 15 1974, when challenged at a press conference about his apparent failure to foresee or avert it, Kissinger replied that “the information was not lying around in the streets”. Actually, it almost was in the streets. But more importantly, it had been available to him round the clock, in both his diplomatic and his intelligence capacities. His decision to do nothing was therefore a direct decision to do something, or to let something be done.

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To the rest of the world, two things were obvious about the coup. The first was that it had been instigated from Athens and carried out with the help of regular Greek forces, and was thus a direct intervention in the internal affairs of one country by another. The second was that it violated all the existing treaties governing the status of Cyprus. The obvious and unsavoury illegality was luridly emphasised by the junta itself, which chose a notorious chauvinist gunman named Nicos Sampson to be its proxy “president”. Sampson must have been well known to the chairman of the Forty Committee as a long-standing recipient of financial support from the CIA; he also received money for his fanatical Nicosia newspaper Makhi (Combat) from a pro-junta CIA proxy in Athens, Savvas Constantopoulos, the publisher of the pro-junta organ Eleftheros Kosmos (Free World). No European government treated Sampson as anything but a pariah, for the brief nine days in which he held power and launched a campaign of murder against his democratic Greek opponents. But Kissinger told the US envoy in Nicosia to receive Sampson’s “foreign minister” as foreign minister, thus making the United States the first and only government to extend de facto recognition. (At this point, it might be emphasised, the whereabouts of Makarios were unknown. His palace had been shelled and his death announced on the junta’s radio. He had in fact made his escape, and was able to broadcast the fact a few days afterwards – to the irritation of certain well-placed persons.) In his 1986 memoir The Truth, published in Athens in 1986, the then head of the Greek armed forces, General Grigorios Bonanos, records that the junta’s attack on Cyprus brought a message of approval and support, delivered to its intelligence service by no less a man than Thomas A Pappas – the chosen intermediary between the junta and the Nixon-Kissinger administration.

In Washington, Kissinger’s press spokesman Robert Anderson flatly denied that the coup – later described by Makarios from the podium of the United Nations as “an invasion” – constituted foreign intervention. “No,” he replied to a direct question on this point. “In our view there has been no outside intervention.” This surreal position was not contradicted by Kissinger when he met with the ambassador of Cyprus and failed to offer the customary condolences on the reported death of his president – the “proximate cause”, we now learn from him, of all the unpleasantness. When asked if he still recognised the elected Makarios government as the legal one, Kissinger doggedly and astonishingly refused to answer. When asked if the United States was moving towards recognition of the Sampson regime, his spokesman declined to deny it. When Makarios came to Washington on July 22, the state department was asked whether he would be received by Kissinger “as a private citizen, as Archbishop, or as President of Cyprus?” The answer? “He [Kissinger] is meeting with Archbishop Makarios on Monday.” Every other government in the world, save the collapsing Greek dictatorship, recognised Makarios as the legitimate head of the Cyprus republic. Kissinger’s unilateralism on the point is without diplomatic precedent, and argues strongly for his collusion and sympathy with the armed handful of thugs who felt the same way.

It is worth emphasising that Makarios was invited to Washington in the first place, as elected and legal president of Cyprus, by Senator J William Fulbright of the Senate foreign relations committee, and by his counterpart Congressman Thomas Morgan, chairman of the house foreign affairs committee. Credit for this invitation belongs to Elias Demetracopoulos, the Washington-based dissident journalist, who had long warned of the coup. He it was who conveyed the invitation to Makarios, who was then in London meeting the British foreign secretary. This initiative crowned a series of anti-junta activities by this journalist, who had already profoundly irritated Kissinger and become a special object of his spite. At the very last moment, and with very poor grace, Kissinger was compelled to announce that he was receiving Makarios in his presidential and not his episcopal capacity.

Since Kissinger himself tells us that he had always known or assumed that another outbreak of violence in Cyprus would trigger a Turkish military intervention, we can assume in our turn that he was not surprised when such an intervention came. Nor does he seem to have been very much disconcerted. While the Greek junta remained in power, his efforts were principally directed to shielding it from retaliation. He was opposed to the return of Makarios to the island, and strongly opposed to Turkish or British use of force (Britain being a guarantor power with a treaty obligation and troops in place on Cyprus) to undo the Greek coup. This same counsel of inertia or inaction – amply testified to in his own memoirs – translated later into strict and repeated admonitions against any measures to block a Turkish invasion. Sir Tom McNally, then the chief political adviser to Britain’s then foreign secretary and future prime minister, James Callaghan, has since disclosed that Kissinger “vetoed” at least one British military action to pre-empt a Turkish landing.

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This may seem paradoxical, but the long-standing sympathy for a partition of Cyprus, repeatedly expressed by the state and defence departments, makes it seem much less so. The demographic composition of the island (82% Greek to 18% Turkish) made it more logical for the partition to be imposed by Greece. But a second-best was to have it imposed by Turkey. And, once Turkey had conducted two brutal invasions and occupied almost 40% of Cypriot territory, Kissinger exerted himself very strongly to protect Ankara from any congressional reprisal for this outright violation of international law, and promiscuous and illegal misuse of US weaponry. He became so pro-Turkish, indeed, that it was as if he had never heard of the Greek colonels. (Though his expressed dislike of the returned Greek democratic leaders supplied an occasional reminder.)

Not all the elements of this partitionist policy can be charged to Kissinger personally; he inherited the Greek junta and the official dislike of Makarios. However, even in the dank obfuscatory prose of his own memoirs, he does admit what can otherwise be concluded from independent sources. Using covert channels, and short-circuiting the democratic process in his own country, he made himself an accomplice in a plan of political assassination which, when it went awry, led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, the violent uprooting of almost 200,000 refugees, and the creation of an unjust and unstable amputation of Cyprus which constitutes a serious threat to peace a full quarter-century later. On July 10 1976, the European Commission on Human Rights adopted a report, prepared by 18 distinguished jurists and chaired by Professor JES Fawcett, resulting from a year’s research into the consequences of the Turkish invasion. It found that the Turkish army had engaged in the deliberate killing of civilians, in the execution of prisoners, in the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, in the arbitrary punishment and detention of civilians, and in systematic acts of rape, torture, and looting. A large number of “disappeared” persons, both prisoners of war and civilians, are still “missing” from this period. They include a dozen holders of US passports, which is evidence in itself of an indiscriminate strategy, when conducted by an army dependent on US aid and matériel.

Perhaps it was a reluctance to accept his responsibility for these outrages, as well as his responsibility for the original coup, that led Kissinger to tell a bizarre sequence of lies to his new friends the Chinese. On October 2 1974, he held a high-level meeting in New York with Qiao Guanhua, vice-foreign minister of the People’s Republic. It was the first substantive Sino-American meeting since the visit of Deng Xiaoping, and the first order of business was Cyprus. The memorandum, which is headed “Top secret/sensitive/exclusively eyes only”, has Kissinger first rejecting China’s public claim that he had helped engineer the removal of Makarios. “We did not. We did not oppose Makarios.” (This claim is directly belied by his own memoirs.) He says: “When the coup occurred I was in Moscow”, which he was not. He says: “My people did not take these intelligence reports [concerning an impending coup] seriously,” even though they had. He says that neither did Makarios take them seriously, even though Makarios had publicly denounced the Athens junta for its coup plans. Kissinger then makes the amazing claim: “We knew the Soviets had told the Turks to invade”, which would make this the first Soviet-instigated invasion to be conducted by a Nato army and paid for with US aid.

A good liar must have a good memory: Kissinger is a stupendous liar with a remarkable memory. So perhaps some of this hysterical lying is explained by its context – by the need to enlist China’s anti-Soviet instincts. But the total of falsity is so impressive that it suggests something additional, something more like denial or delusion, or even a confession by other means.

Also read

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A Belated Memorial- Philip Deane (Philippe Deane Gigantes),1923-2004

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