Dear Mr. President,
After a historic visit to Cuba, later this month on March 24, you plan to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the 40th anniversary of a vicious military coup that resulted in the secret kidnapping, torture, and murder of more than 20,000 people, including leftist guerrillas, nonviolent dissidents, and even many uninvolved citizens caught in the web of terror.
In an October 1987 article in The Nation, I broke the story about how the murderous generals and their neo-Nazi minions received a “green light” for their clandestine repression from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Although buttressed by other sources, the Nation story was largely based on a memorandum of conversation I received from Patricia Derian, the wonderfully feisty activist and Mississippi civil-rights hero.
Appointed by President Jimmy Carter as the first assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, Patt played a key role in bringing to life Carter’s desperately needed post-Vietnam and post-Watergate Human Rights Revolution.
The “memcom” Derian gave me was based on her 1977 conversation in the Buenos Aires Embassy with then–Ambassador Robert Hill, a conservative five-time GOP ambassadorial appointee. It was Hill who had bravely waged a behind-the-scenes struggle against Kissinger’s secret stamp of approval for those who had earlier staged the coup, refusing to back off when Kissinger’s aides warned Hill he might be fired even as he sought to save lives in Argentina.
“It sickened me,” Patt told me in the home she shared in Alexandria, Virginia, with fellow Mississippi human-rights crusader Hodding Carter III, her husband and Jimmy Carter’s State Department spokesman, “that with an imperial wave of his hand, an American could sentence people to death on the basis of a cheap whim. As time went on, I saw Kissinger’s footprints in a lot of countries. It was the repression of a democratic ideal.”
Of course, the public record is now littered with even more Kissinger detritus from around the world.
Not only was there the overthrow of a left-wing, democratically elected government in Chile by Kissinger ally Augusto Pinochet, plunging one of the hemisphere’s oldest democracies into terror; the Chilean’s only mistake, his Argentine “dirty war” counterparts said privately, was that the trans-Andes self-proclaimed “Captain General” had too publicly murdered his opposition.