Foreign policy’s dark past
From Iran to Chile, our hands are dirty
Editor’s note: Carl Doerner has been writing a series of My Turn submissions examining the assassinations of the 1960s and the dark shadow they have cast on our nation.
What I’ve experienced through decades of work and travel abroad is that ordinary people are the same everywhere.
I would be pleased to have those I’ve encountered: the Russian shopkeeper, the Chinese farmer, the Chilean book dealer, the Iranian students — as my friends or neighbors. It is the machinations of the powerful, here and abroad, that lead our nations into conflict. It has particularly been the economic and military meddling of the U.S., in such places as Iran, which has fostered emergence of leadership hostile to the West.
Among the signed photographs I saw displayed on the desk of Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in his former palace in Tehran are those of his pals Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. During my visit there, however, what spoke to me most directly about this former king’s extraordinary wealth and privilege was a room in the palace fully furnished for his personal dental care.
Most feared and despised, as a result of the 1953 U.S. government-engineered coup that placed him in power, was his secret police organization Savak. Created by the CIA, Savak tortured and killed any who threatened the shah’s reign. In “Oil Kings,” Andrew Scott Cooper describes the secret dealings Kissinger and Nixon had with the Shah, selling weapons and boosting the price of oil. The “Nixon Doctrine” was designed to prop up anticommunist strong men in other countries as “gladiators” working for U.S. military and economic interests. Step by step, these policies eventually led to revolution in Iran, blowback or retaliation against the West, finally leading to our so-called “war on terror.”
While 700 hours of his White House tapes remain secret, newly declassified items reveal that in 1968, Nixon deliberately undermined Vietnam peace talks in order to campaign for the presidency as an opponent of that ongoing war. Not long after, like some other undeserving recipients, his secretary of state, Kissinger, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for resuming those same Vietnam peace talks Nixon had interrupted.
Such are the secret dealings of our powerful.
In terms of breaking the silence about government intrigue, Europeans have a clearer perception of American political life; like George W. Bush, Kissinger cannot travel in Europe for fear of being arrested as a war criminal.
Nixon’s Watergate scandal was about the hiring of “mechanics,” in this case, not to assassinate, but to burgle the Democrats offices.
But it was in Latin America where Nixon and Kissinger fomented perhaps their most evil deeds. Sept. 11 — 40 years ago this month — they engineered overthrow of the democratically elected Marxist government of Chile.
In “The Price of Power,” famed investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes the step-by-step process in which they aided Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s removal of President Salvador Allende from office.
Nixon’s directive to the CIA was “to make the Chilean economy scream.” Disruptive strikes were funded to carry out his order. And there were assassinations, including one carried out on a main intersection in Washington, D.C.
In the months that followed, Pinochet initiated first a reign of terror against Allende supporters, then led development of what came to be known as Operation Condor, a coordinated action by dictators in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay to round up, torture and dispose of Marxists, political dissidents and social activists in those countries.
Through the CIA and other government agencies, Presidents Nixon, Ford and later Reagan actively supported Operation Condor. Ft. Benning Georgia’s School of the Americas is where these country’s officers were trained. The U.S. provided technical and military aid and Israel sold them billions in American weapons.
In 1992, the so-called “terror archives” of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay were unearthed, documenting the fate of the thousands who were arrested and tortured. Estimates are that 50,000 were killed, another 30,000 disappeared and are not accounted for, while 400,000 more were imprisoned. The most horrific method of disappearing a victim was to throw that person from a plane over the ocean.
Masking their actions as defense against communism, in support of U.S. corporate interests our presidents and their agencies have carried out similar atrocities in many other countries in Latin America.
My own interviews with organized mothers of the disappeared in Latin America reveal women courageously refusing to be silent in face of such outrages. At the same time, I have observed in post-Pinochet Chile a disturbing amnesia about the thousands who were tortured and murdered in that country. Few I spoke with could identify the well-known sites where these crimes were carried out. Is this not analogous to our own failure to break the silence about a coup that occurred in this country on Nov. 22, 1963, and our consequential profit-making permanent war economy?
Conway resident Carl Doerner is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker.