Last Thursday, following the death of Nixon-era secretary of state Henry Kissinger at the age of 100, I posted a long essay I’d written in 2001 for The Boston Phoenix about the late journalist Christopher Hitchens’ claims that Kissinger was a war criminal, stemming from his nefarious activities in Cambodia, Chile and elsewhere. As I noted, that idea wasn’t novel, but Hitchens did a superb job of pulling it all together. I also wrote in that 2001 piece:
In what is the [Hitchens] essay’s only completely new and perhaps most dubious charge, Hitchens writes that Kissinger was involved in the attempted assassination of a Greek journalist named Elias Demetracopoulos, a Washington-based foe of the military junta that ruled Greece in the late 1960s and early ’70s. The documentary evidence is intriguing (the Greek government had apparently prepared a statement saying Demetracopoulos had died in an Athens prison, should he have been so foolish as to have returned home), but on this count, at least, Kissinger seems to be in the clear — or, to use a phrase forever linked to his sleazy boss, to have “plausible deniability.”
Or not. As I also noted, in 2020 I interviewed James H. Barron about his Demetracopoulos biography, “The Greek Connection,” focusing on attempts by the Greek junta to tilt the 1968 election to Richard Nixon through a secret $549,000 payoff. (I know; it sounds like Dr. Evil threatening to destroy the world unless he was paid $1 million.) In fact, Barron speculated that the Watergate break-in may have been motivated by the Nixon gang’s fears that the Democrats had evidence of the payoff and were going to use it to attack Nixon during the 1972 presidential campaign. So, what role may Kissinger have played in all of this?
“Greece was one of the countries that Henry Kissinger treated as a minor piece on the global chessboard and supported the military dictatorship that had overthrown its democratic government in 1967 as part of America’s Cold War strategy,” Barron told me by email. “Elias Demetracopoulos was a fiercely independent journalist who escaped the junta to become the leading activist in Washington fighting to change U.S. policy, overthrow the dictatorship, and restore democracy in his homeland. During its years in power 1967-1974 the junta stripped him of his citizenship and organized various plots to kidnap and kill him.”
Barron gave me permission to reproduce this except from “The Greek Connection,” which describes events from 1975.
From “The Greek Connection: The Life of Elias Demetracopoulos and the Untold Story of Watergate,” by James H. Barron. Melville House, 2020. Copyright © by James H. Barron and used by permission.
After the dictatorship’s implosion, the Greek government had embarked on a “de-juntification” process, dismissing or replacing some military personnel and bureaucrats. There were promises that junta leaders would be put on trial for their crimes. Hearing that KYP chief Michail Roufogalis was to be deposed, Demetracopoulos hoped that secrets from the seven-year reign might come to light. Maybe he could find out the details behind his near miss of an escape, his blocked return to visit his dying father, and the intermittent warnings he had heard since 1967 that the colonels were out to “get” him and interrogate him. He did not yet know the full scope and intensity of their plots and the names of those involved.
But after the government announced it would limit its investigation and trials to those responsible for the most egregious tortures, Elias assumed that his concerns for justice were unlikely to be vindicated. After all, Greece had no laws providing a right of access to government records. Getting answers would take hard digging, and relevant files might have already been destroyed.