The late Christopher Hitchens penned an exceptionally important book in 2001 titled The Trial of Henry Kissinger.
In it, Hitchens argued that the former national security adviser and secretary of state for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford should be prosecuted “for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture.”
Hitchens was a brilliant polemicist who loved to stir controversy (and who fell out with The Nation during post-9/11 debates about George W. Bush’s “war on terror” and defending civil liberties). But The Trials of Henry Kissinger was more than an argument; it was a detailed indictment (“using only what would hold up in international courts of law”) of an official who Hitchens accused of authorizing atrocities against Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, East Timor, Indochina, and the Kurds of Iraq. It was well reviewed, with the San Francisco Chronicle hailing Hitchens for presenting “damning documentary evidence against Kissinger in case after case,” and London’s Sunday Times describing the book as “a disturbing glimpse into the dark side of American power, whose consequences in remote corners of the globe are all too often ignored. Its countless victims have found an impassioned and skillful advocate in Christopher Hitchens.”
Despite the attention it received, the book did not lead to the prosecution of Kissinger. Nor did it spark all of the formal and official debates that Hitchens invited.
On Thursday night, however, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders did debate Kissinger’s legacy in one of the most remarkable exchanges of modern presidential politics.
It was an exchange Hitchens would have relished.
In the foreign-policy section of the debate, after the candidates had clashed over a number of issues, Sanders asked if he might add a brief final word of to explain “where the secretary and I have a very profound difference.”
“[In] the last debate and I believe in her book—very good book, by the way…she talked about getting the approval or the support or the mentoring of Henry Kissinger. Now, I find it rather amazing, because I happen to believe that Henry Kissinger was one of the most destructive secretaries of state in the modern history of this country,” said the senator, to loud applause.