Thursday, March 19, 2009

#54 - "The Pinochet File" by Peter Kornbluh

As far as I can remember, my history classes always seemed to miss anything that occurred south of the United States. I probably should have taken U.S. Foreign Policy in college, and then I would have had a better idea of how the United States and its misguided policies and leaders have screwed around with so many different countries, but I missed out somehow. Anyway, The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability (2003) by Peter Kornbluh was an effort on my part to remedy some of my ignorance. I had, of course, heard of Pinochet and the tortured and disappeared, but I didn't really know any specifics. My first foray into South American history was reading a massive biography of Che Guevara after watching The Motorcycle Diaries. The book was incredibly informative but only made a small dent in the huge chasm of things I did not know about South America.

The Pinochet File focuses on the United States' role in Chile and Pinochet's dictatorship, from 1970 when the left-wing President Allende was elected President, to September 11, 1973 when Pinochet gained power through a military coup, to the new millenium where some families are still fighting for some kind of accounting and accountability--both from the United States as well as Chile. A lot of the information in the book stems from over 24,000 never-before-seen U.S. government documents that President Clinton had released to the public in 2000, showing more clearly than ever before how much the United States knew and was involved with the Pinochet regime. Kornbluh ends each chapter with selected copies of the recently released documents, so after gaining some perspective and basis of what occurred, you can see and read the pretty damning evidence for yourself.

The United States' role in the government of Chile throughout the years is shameful, but the most maddening and fascinating parts for me to read about were Nixon's and Kissinger's attitudes. The myopic, amoral arrogance of their attitudes was astounding. They didn't see anything wrong with undermining a democratically elected government; with giving machine guns to radical groups so generals who support the Chilean Constitution can be killed to make a coup successful; for human beings--even American citizens--being tortured and disappeared in the thousands. Kissinger later defnded himself in 2001 on Crossfire by saying, "Human rights were not an international issue at the time, the way they have become since." Seriously, Kissinger? You couldn't figure out for yourself that it was wrong? (Granted, the entire Bush administration has a problem with this, too, but I think you're smarter than him.) And even if you couldn't figure out for yourself that torturing is bad, maybe you should have looked to the Geneva Convention or the United States Constitution as guidelines for proper behavior. And if you were really acting in the right, why keep everything such a secret from the public? Hypocrisy and dishonesty make me more angry than probably anything else and this book shows both in abundance coming from both the United States' and Pinochet's Government.

This book also made me wonder why we bother with the CIA at all. Most of the papers I saw that had been previously kept from the public and were only declassified in 2000 didn't harbor some secret necessary for the security of the United States, but was merely embarassing and damning of the CIA. I know I'm something of an idealist, but this is a democracy, if we can't do something openly and with knowledge and approval of the public, then maybe we shouldn't be doing it. The CIA was fucking around with a democratically elected government and then lying to Congress about it. And even in 2000, the director of the CIA was mucking around with not releasing the papers. I think they have proven themselves unreliable and undemocratic and unnecessary. To hell with them.

No comments: