If President Bush had set out to undermine the credibility of the commission charged with probing the intelligence and security flaws that allowed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to succeed, he would have begun by naming as the chair someone with a track record of secrecy, double-dealing and bartering himself off to the highest bidder.
And so the president, who has resisted the investigation for more than a year, did just that.
With the selection of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to head the 10-member commission, Bush has signaled that he is more interested in covering for the intelligence establishment – and the administration's allies in corrupt oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia -- than in getting to the truth.
Even by the relatively low standards that one must apply when dealing with former Nixon administration insiders, Kissinger is a reprehensible figure. As Britain's Guardian newspaper put it: "This man is regarded by many outside the US as a war criminal."
Guardian writer Julian Borger summed up a rather common reaction to the Kissinger selection in a column titled "Henry's Revenge," which opened with the observation that: "Those Europeans who were aware that the old cold warrior was still alive could be forgiven for assuming he was in a cell somewhere awaiting war crimes charges, or living the life of a fugitive, never sleeping in the same bed twice lest human rights investigators track him down."
It is not just a European reaction. In the US Christopher Hitchens' fine book "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" -- which details the former Nixon and Ford adminsitration aide's responsibility for mass killings of civilians, genocide and coups -- remains a best-selling title.
"The Bush administration did not want an objective inquiry into the disastrous intelligence failures," Hitchens said after Kissinger's selection was announced, "and having an inquiry chaired by Henry Kissinger is the next best thing."
Kissinger's role in perpetuating the war in Vietnam, as well as the illegal attacks on Cambodia and Laos during the Nixon years is well documented. So too is his involvement with the murderous coup that overthrew the elected government of Chilean President Salvador Allende and installed the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Kissinger was, as well, involved in the dirty dealing that encouraged Indonesia's military to invade East Timor and oppress the people of that island nation for a quarter century. And, as chair of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (1983-84), Kissinger helped the Reagan administration provide cover for the illegal war in Central America.
More recently, Kissinger has been a paid apologist for the Chinese government and a consistent defender of dictatorships around the world. While Kissinger refuses to release the names of his clients -- and client states, it is widely believed that, in addition to his Chinese paymasters, Kissinger is collecting hefty sums of money from interests in the Persian Gulf. National Security Archive founder Scott Anderson, a former staff member of Senate Watergate Committee, is of the view that Kissinger's sordid past -- and compromised present -- will make it impossible for him to lead a credible investigation.
"He has so many clients whose interests are so completely tied up in the results of this investigation," Armstrong says of Kissinger. "The minute you start talking about clerics in Saudi Arabia, it's in no way in the interests of his clients for the whole truth to be told."
About the best that can be said of the selection of Kissinger is this: At 79, he may be inclined to try and finally do something useful for America and the world – in hopes of earning a measure of redemption for an ill-spent life. But no one who cared to find out what really led up to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington would gamble an investigation so important as this on so remote a prospect.