There are supposed to be systems in place, at national and international levels , for exemplary punishment in the case of serious crimes against humanity. Surely if anyone who murders one person is given very strong punishment then those who are responsible for the death of thousands ( in some cases hundreds of thousands or even millions) cannot be allowed to escape punishment. But it appears that despite all the talk about justice and  democracy, this has been happening repeatedly in recent world.

To give just one example let us consider the case of Henry Kissinger who dominated USA foreign policy during 1969 to 1977 in the Presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He was appointed National Security Advisor in 1969 and Secretary of State in 1973. It has been widely documented since then that he played a very important role, likely to be a crucial and decisive role, in initiating and supporting in a big way anti-democratic, illegal,violent, catastrophic actions and activities in several  nations which resulted in deaths of a very large number of people, including democratically elected, highly popular national leaders like Allende in Chile and Mujibur in Bangladsh.

Although documentation for this is spread over hundreds of articles and declassified pieces of information, perhaps the most detailed and most discussed documentation for this is available in  a book ‘ Trial of Henry Kissinger’ written by Christopher Hitchens which is written almost as a document which can be used for trial in a court of law.

Of course there is in addition a lot of other documentation, all the more so in the specific context of the tragic events in Chile, Cambodia and Laos,  Bangladesh and several other Third World countries which suffered from the coups, killings and carpet bombings unleashed by the arbitrary, ill-reasoned decisions taken by US foreign policy under the watch of Kissinger during 1969-77.

Documentation is also available  on opposition to his policies by principled USA officials who were close to local realities and opposed the whimsical decisions of Kissinger taken in cruel violation of the advice of on-the-ground US officials. As Prof. Greg Grandin of New York University wrote, “ A back of the envelope count would attribute three, may be four million deaths  to Kissinger’s actions, but that number probably undercounts his victims.”

The reason why Prof. Grandin says this is that the tragic impacts of arbitrary and cruel actions continued long after the immediate catastrophic events. For example the overthrow of the popular, democratic government of Allende in Chile caused a large number of  killings, imprisonments and torture cases in the immediate aftermath of the coup, but in addition we cannot forget that this started the long and brutal regime of Pinochet dictatorship, with the support of US foreign policy under Kissinger, and this also led to so many avoidable deaths, imprisonments and tortures over a longer term.

Again in Cambodia and Laos over 3500 carpet bombings caused up to half a million deaths but in addition in Cambodia this indirectly helped the brutal communist regime of Pol Pot to come to power and unleash its own mass deaths. In Bangladesh the immediate results of Kissinger dominated policies led first to the killing of nearly 2.5 million persons in genocide by Pakistani forces and its collaborators in 1971 ( plus emergence of 10 million displaced refugees), and later to the killing of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the popular  President, his family members and close colleagues in a coup in 1975. In addition authoritarian military regimes installed by this coup kept their atrocities and repressions going for nearly their 21 years after  this.

What makes the conduct of Kissinger even more terrible is that he ignored repeatedly the sane and sage advice of important regional US diplomats. During the ongoing genocide in Bangladesh in 1971 for example, the Dacca based US Consul General and  the US Ambassador to India are known to have pleaded repeatedly for stopping the US support for the genocide, but Kissinger and Nixon disregarded them and their advice and went ahead with their total support for ‘good friend’ Yahya Khan, who was overseeing the genocide from  his base in Pakistan.

The repeated misdeeds reveal the working of a highly cynical , narrow and cruel mindset, insensitive to mass human suffering and guided only by perceived self-interest. This is revealed in his statements like  asking for bombing anything that moves ( in the context of Cambodia ) and saying in the context of Cyprus—the illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer. He made fun of those who expressed anguish at the massacre of ‘Bengali Hindus’.

It is also one of the biggest ironies of recent history that the same Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, resulting in a controversy which continued for a long time, involving also the resignation of two award committee members.

This is not just a matter of an individual, with the support of his powerful backers, somehow  not only escaping punishment for very destructive deeds but also winning the most prestigious award. The more worrying aspect is that when such crimes against humanity go unpunished and in fact are rewarded, then this is likely to pave the way for even worse crimes in future.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine (  Gandhian ideas for our times), Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.