by John Dinges (Lea el artículo original en español aquí)
April 10, 2010
Kissinger gave order not to warn Pinochet that U.S. knew about Operation Condor assassination plan
- READ MORE: Declassified Documents Obtained by National Security Archive
- DOWNLOAD: US State Department cables and memos related to the Letelier assassination
The National Security Archive, a U.S. organization associated with ArchivosChile, today released declassified documents with important revelations about the U.S. role in the assassination of former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier.
Kissinger gave the order to take no further action on September 16, 1976, just five days before the car bomb explosion that killed Letelier and his American secretary while they were on their way to his office in Washington, D.C. Kissinger’s order rendered ineffective an earlier order asking U.S. ambassadors to present a “demarche” –a formal warning–to the highest officials of those countries about the U.S. government’s “deep concern” about the possibility that Operation Condor might come to fruition.
Two investigators into the Letelier case have concluded that the Pinochet government would certainly have aborted the operation to assassinate Letelier if it had received the warning that its main ally, the United States, knew of and opposed Condor’s plans. This judgment – which implies that the information the U.S. State Department had was sufficient to “prevent the assassination” – is contained in books by John Dinges, The Condor Years: How Pinochet and His Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents, and by Peter Kornbluh, The Pinochet File.
A U.S. diplomat at the time expressed a nuanced judgment about U.S. responsibility, but pointed to the same conclusion. “We knew well in advance that the governments of the Southern Cone countries were planning some assassinations abroad [in] 1976… Whether there was a direct relationship or not, I don’t know. I don’t know if we could have prevented this [Letelier’s assassination] if we had intervened. But we didn’t,” said Assistant Secretary for Latin America Hewson Ryan, in an interview quoted in a press release in The Condor Years.
The mystery, now solved with the declassification of these documents, has been why officials did not comply with Kissinger’s first order to present the formal warning to Pinochet or at least to DINA chief Manuel Contreras. Over the years, a close associate of Kissinger’s, former Assistant Secretary for Latin America William D. Rogers, stated flatly that the former Secretary of State had “nothing to do” with the cancellation of the order. Kissinger himself has made statements of pride in having ordered the warning and for having “opposed” Operation Condor.
The evidence that contradicts the versions of Rogers and Kissinger is in the documents obtained by National Security Archive recently published in a report by analyst Peter Kornbluh: the order to cancel the warning came from Kissinger personally.
May-June 1976: Former Bolivian president Juan José Torres and two prominent Uruguayan politicians, Zelmar Michelini and Héctor Gutiérrez, are assassinated in Argentina. The CIA informs Washington that these attacks are part of a new alliance of Southern Cone countries called “Operation Condor,” led by Chile. He also reports that Chile, Uruguay and Argentina have launched assassination operations outside Latin America, detecting concrete plans against exiles in France and Portugal.
August 23, 1976: Based on the above information, Henry Kissinger sends a cable entitled “Operation Condor” to all U.S. ambassadors of the member countries (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay). He states: “The assassinations planned and directed by Condor member governments, inside and outside the territory, have extremely serious consequences that we must deal with swiftly and bluntly. Kissinger orders the ambassadors of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay to “meet as soon as possible with the highest ranking official – preferably the Head of State – to issue a formal warning”.
Last week of August: U.S. ambassadors in Chile and Uruguay request instructions on how to deliver the warning, known in diplomatic parlance by the French term “demarche”.
August 30, 1976: Assistant Secretary for Latin America Harry Schlaudeman dispatches a memo to Kissinger awaiting the choice and approval of the various alternatives proposed by the Uruguayan ambassador to comply with Kissinger’s order. Schlaudeman underscores the urgency of the matter, noting that “What we are trying to head off is a series of international murders that could do serious damage to the international status and reputation of the countries involved”. (Document obtained by Kornbluh through the Freedom of Information Act).
September 16,1976: Kissinger, while on a trip to Africa, answers Schlaudeman’s memo, denying permission to all alternatives of presentation of the “demarche”. Textually he says: “Memo August 30, “Operation Condor.” Secretary declined to approve message to montevideo and has instructed that no further action be taken on this matter.” (“Confidential” document, declassified for being more than 25 years old, obtained from the National Archives by the analyst Carlos Osorio).
September 20, 1976: Schlaudeman arranged to pass on Kissinger’s order to all ambassadors, repeating the phrase that we now know is Kissinger’s own: “take no further action, noting that there have been no reports in some weeks indicating an intention to activate the Condor scheme.”
September 21,1976: Less than 24 hours after the cable was dispatched, Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit were killed as their car was driving down Massachusetts Avenue in Washington D.C., less than two miles from the White House. One week later FBI investigators received information that the attack was the work of Chile using the international mechanisms of Operation Condor.
Once democratic governments were installed in Chile, General Manuel Contreras, head of DINA, mastermind of Operation Condor and architect of the attack against Letelier, was convicted for the former foreign minister’s crime and other actions of Operation Condor and is serving his sentence in a Chilean prison.
Henry Kissinger and his close collaborators in the State Department at the time have issued various versions of their actions with respect to the Letelier case. For many years it was denied that the United States knew of the Operation Condor assassination plans prior to Letelier’s death. Documents declassified by President Bill Clinton in 1999 clearly contradict that version, proving the existence of more than 30 CIA and State Department documents describing the Condor plans, all before September 1976. (See Dinges, Operation Condor 334-336).
After General Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, Kissinger changed his tune and made it known that he was proud of his actions in “opposing the activities of Operation Condor.” In a statement made through a spokesman as written testimony in a human rights trial in Rome, Kissinger mentions his order to hand over the “demarche.”
“Dr. Kissinger became aware of the existence of Operation Condor in 1976. August 23, 1976 instructed U.S. ambassadors in the region to make clear to the highest government officials the ‘deep concern’ of the United States about rumors of coordinated assassination plans…”
Kissinger omitted the fact that his instructions were never carried out, Pinochet never received the warning that the U.S. knew of Condor’s plans, and that it was Kissinger himself who ordered the cancelation of the action that could possibly have prevented the assassination in the U.S. capital.
“The September 16 cable is the missing piece in the historical puzzle of Kissinger’s role in the U.S. government’s action and inaction after learning of the Operation Condor assassination plans. We now know how it happened. The State Department initiated a timely effort to thwart “Homicide Incorporated” in the Southern Cone and Kissinger, without explanation, aborted it.” —Peter Kornbluh
“The mystery of this tragic case has always centered on Kissinger. We know that he put in place a strong warning to Chile that, had it been delivered, would almost certainly have stopped the assassination operation already underway against Letelier. Why was the warning not delivered? Disobeying Kissinger was clearly not an option. We now know that Kissinger himself was responsible. He cancelled his own order and Chile went ahead with the assassination in Washington.” —John Dinges
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