To the Editor:
Kenneth Maxwell's bias is clear in his reply to my criticism of his review of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability ("Fleeing the Chilean Coup," January/February 2004). He finds a "cruel coincidence" between a September 20, 1976, State Department cable and Orlando Letelier's murder at the hands of Chilean intelligence agents the very next day. This "cruel coincidence" leads Maxwell to conclude that "this was a tragedy that might have been prevented."
By whom, one might ask? Who does he think could have "prevented" Letelier's killing? Secretary of State Henry Kissinger? Assistant Secretary Harry Shlaudeman? Me? The implication is outrageous, and the facts are otherwise. Maxwell misreads the cable: it was not an instruction to ambassadors in the field, but a cable from Shlaudeman, then in Costa Rica, to the State Department in Washington. And it had no consequence. The State Department sent no instruction to the field implementing it. Even if it had passed Shlaudeman's message on to Santiago, it could not conceivably have "prevented" the murder. The bomb was already strapped to Letelier's car.
Furthermore, Shlaudeman counseled "no further action," thus suggesting -- the message to which he was responding is nowhere to be found -- that the embassy in Santiago had already carried out Kissinger's order to warn the Chileans about political assassinations. And finally, the notion that an assistant secretary of state -- particularly one as distinguished and responsible as Shlaudeman -- would have had the temerity to countermand a direct, personal instruction from Kissinger, and to do it behind his back (Kissinger and I were in Africa trying to end the role of the white regime in Rhodesia) bespeaks no sense of Kissinger's stewardship at the State Department. Such are the absurdities of this myth -- but they are absurdities that strike at the heart of character and reputation.