A leader of unrivalled stature?

The more you go into Kissinger's record, the stronger the case for a prosecution. So why is he feted

I have debated with members of the Institute of Directors a couple of times and, although we disagree on the basics - they view my ideas as a danger to enterprise, I view theirs as an assault on the power of voters to regulate - I would never have dreamed that they would be capable of inviting among them a mass murderer.

Yet there he is on the guest list for the institute's annual conference, "the most prestigious event in the UK corporate calendar". On 24 April, "senior business decision-makers" will go to the Royal Albert Hall, London, to be instructed by "business and political leaders of unrivalled stature on the real nature of globalisation". The main attraction is the chance "to enjoy the rare opportunity to learn from, and be inspired by, Dr Henry Kissinger - one of the world's most respected individuals".

Outside the Albert Hall, Globalise Resistance will picket from 7.30am until lunch. (You're welcome to join them, the organisers say.) The demonstrators will point out that only psycopaths can be inspired by Kissinger, a man spattered with the blood of millions.

If you think this is hyperbole, put Kissinger's crimes together, as Christopher Hitchens does in The Trial of Henry Kissinger (Verso, £15), and you find that the total number of innocent dead runs into seven figures without breaking sweat.

The bleak accounting should be well known, even to blockhead business dynamos. Kissinger conspired with Richard Nixon to promise South Vietnam, in secret, better terms under a Republican presidency if it wrecked the 1968 Paris peace talks. The plot destroyed Lyndon Johnson's attempts to end the war, and, without a peace treaty, the Democrats lost the election.

Kissinger and Nixon carried on fighting for four years before accepting the terms proposed by Johnson, a ferocious cold warrior who had compromised only out of necessity. About 600,000 Cambodians and 350,000 Laotians were slaughtered between 1968 and 1972, according to conservative estimates. Half of the American military's fatalities in Indochina were taken out in the same period. The US army estimates that about 500,000 Vietnamese were also killed. Given that twice the tonnage of bombs that fell in the whole of the Second World War was dropped on Indochina between 1968 and 1972, most authorities consider that last figure to be self-serving spin.

In 1971, General Yahya Khan of Pakistan overthrew the elected government of Bangladesh and murdered at least 500,000 civilians (the highest estimates say three million) with weapons supplied by the US. Kissinger and Nixon might have stopped the killings, but they loathed democratic India's support for the non-aligned movement and liked the Pakistani military's style. Kissinger thanked Khan for "his delicacy and tact".

Bangladesh was a country with no strategic significance in the cold war, so the mitigating plea of realpolitik is again invalid. In 1973, Kissinger organised the overthrow of Salvador Allende's democratic socialist government in Chile. A mere 3,000 were murdered by his protege General Pinochet.

Kissinger hit his old form in 1975. With Nixon disgraced, Kissinger and the new president, Gerald Ford, visited Jakarta and authorised the Indonesian dictatorship to invade East Timor. The death toll: 100,000 or one-sixth of the population.

Even using the lowest estimates, the combined Kissinger-Nixon and Kissinger-Ford body count matches the 1.7 million (according to the highest estimates) that Pol Pot eliminated in the Cambodian killing fields. As it is inconceivable that the Khmer Rouge would have seized power had Kissinger not smashed Cambodia to smithereens in an undeclared and illegal war, it's better to see the two as collaborators passing a baton in a relay, rather than as competitors for the prize of the greater criminal.

CEOs are not the only moral cretins to ignore Kissinger's record and press his flesh. After Tony Blair had welcomed Rupert Murdoch and Margaret Thatcher to Downing Street after his 1997 victory, it was inevitable that he should go for the treble and invite Kissinger to his new home. "He and Tony Blair are friends," noted the Press Association. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said that the pair spent half an hour "looking across the spectrum of international relations".

That luckless schmuck Iain Duncan Smith tried to raise himself from obscurity by posing in Washington with the American vice-president, Dick Cheney, and other friends on the American right, including Kissinger. His attempt at statesmanship coincided with the death of George Harrison, and the promised reports disappeared from the schedules - if, that is, pictures of an invisible man can be said to disappear.

Nevertheless, Kissinger can count on the friendship of business leaders, the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, and much of the press. He can also count on a safe haven in Britain, despite the House of Lords ruling in the 1999 Pinochet case that every country has a duty to prosecute the organisers of torture.

The law lords inspired judges around the world, and Kissinger's global village is shrinking. He left Paris in May 2001, never to return, after he refused to accept a summons from a judge asking him to give evidence on the fate of French citizens who disappeared in Pinochet's terror. (I imagined him flitting through Charles de Gaulle Airport in shades and a false beard. Given the speed and nervousness of his exit, the truth wasn't too different.)

An Argentinian judge tried without success to persuade him to testify on US organisation of the kidnapping and murder of South American leftists in the 1970s. The Chilean and American courts want to hear from him. But from Britain, nothing.

It is not that those who are ashamed that Kissinger can schmooze in safety in this country haven't tried to find a way to arrest him. Geoffrey Bindman, a London solicitor and champion of human rights, was consulted as soon as the Institute of Directors announced that Kissinger would grace its horror show. The snag Bindman hit was in the detail of the law lords' final ruling. They decided that Pinochet, and by extension any other suspect, could not stand trial here or be extradited for crimes committed beyond British jurisdiction before 1988, the date when Margaret Thatcher, Pinochet's old flame, signed the International Torture Convention. Because Kissinger left office in 1976, he is beyond the reach of the British courts.

In Chile, France and Argentina, independent investigating magistrates want Kissinger to tell them what he knows about the murder of their citizens. The process of indicting suspects in Britain is controlled by the Crown Prosecution Service, an arm of the state. A further cause for shame is that the prosecutors have displayed no interest in discovering what happened to the British victims of Kissinger's statecraft.

We've been dealing with incomprehensible numbers so far - tens and hundreds of thousands. But injustice is inflicted on individuals, and just penalties are imposed on individual perpetrators. Among the British citizens who are still waiting for a day in court is Dr Sheila Cassidy. She was arrested in Santiago for honouring the Hippocratic oath and treating an injured radical leader. Pinochet's secret police interrogated her for weeks - interviews that included the pushing of electrodes into her vagina. A public outcry forced the Foreign Office, which was as eager to snuff Chilean democracy as Kissinger's State Department, to get her out.

The Cassidy case is at least well known, but the murder of William Beausire has been all but forgotten.

He was a Tory stockbroker, exactly the sort of chap who might have been at the Institute of Directors conference had he been allowed to live. The family held joint British and Chilean nationality. Beausire left Chile during the coup, but was hauled off the plane at Buenos Aires by the goons of the Argentinian junta and sent back. His sister Mary Ann was a Marxist who was on the run with Allende's nephew.

The secret police assumed he knew where they were hiding. Juana Francisca Beausire, a second sister, spoke to his fellow prisoners, who reported that her brother was treated thus: "He was beaten, kicked and regularly given electric shocks on the Parrilla, a two-tiered bed of wire mesh covered with plastic. Electrodes were connected to his nipples, genitals and eyelids. He was subjected to other techniques such as the 'dry submarine', keeping a plastic bag over a prisoner's head to within moments of suffocation." He died and his body "disappeared".

The solicitor-general told the House of Commons in 1999 that the law lords ruling prevented a prosecution in Britain, even a private prosecution.

As a result of the Lords' time limit, Kissinger faces a greater risk of punishment in Washington than in London, and there is a faint chance he may yet be dragged into court. The 1973 coup was preceded by the assassination of the commander of the Chilean armed forces, General Rene Schneider, a conservative democrat who would never have allowed the military to take over.

There is abundant evidence in documents released from the American archives in 1999 that Kissinger approved his murder and allowed diplomatic bags to be used to smuggle weapons to his assassins. The Schneider family is seeking $3m in damages from Kissinger and Richard Helms, the former head of the CIA. Meanwhile, the Chilean Supreme Court has asked Washington to compel Kissinger to help its inquiries into the murder of Charles Horman, the US journalist whose disappearance provided the plot for the 1982 movie Missing. A declassified State Department memo from August 1976 says that American intelligence played a role in Horman's death, by passing information to Pinochet's police, and may have done "nothing to discourage the logical outcome of the paranoia" of the Chilean military.

A reputable man facing such foul charges would have defended himself without waiting for his accusers to get him into the witness box. Kissinger has stayed silent. Hitchens printed the evidence of American authorisation of General Schneider's assassination and has yet to be sued. Kissinger instructed the organisers of a meeting of the National Press Club in Washington last year not to take questions on his past from journalists.

He provided no answers in his last book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? (Simon & Schuster, £20). He devotes a chapter to a rant against international attempts to make the world's greatest criminals respond to their accusers. Human rights law is a substitution of "the tyranny of judges for that of governments", he writes. "Inquisitions and even witch-hunts" are under way. At no point does he declare an interest and tell the reader that he is attacking laws that may one day put him in the dock. Like an IRA bomber, he refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the court and leaves it there.

I've always suspected that the Institute of Directors had more than its fair share of pocket-stuffing, tax-dodging, asset- stripping, half-witted braggarts among its membership. But it is still a shock to learn that you can no longer pay them the compliment of assuming that even they deserve better than Kissinger.

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