He looked older than he did when he was arguably the most powerful man in the world, and there was more of a shuffle in his gait than a swagger. But the most striking thing about Henry Kissinger yesterday was the way he had begun to stoop, as if there were a great weight on his shoulders.
Only two hours earlier, a judge had rejected an application for him to be arrested and charged with war crimes but there was no sign of relief on his face. The old fox knew it would not be the last such application while the scent of blood was in the air.
The former US secretary of state was at the Albert Hall in London to deliver a speech to the Institute of Directors on globalisation. But all eyes had been on Bow Street magistrates' court, where the human rights activist Peter Tatchell had made an application to have Dr Kissinger arrested under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 for the "killing, injuring and displacement" of three million people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War.
Outside the hall, demonstrators screamed at Dr Kissinger, 78, branding him an "evil war criminal" for overseeing American operations in South-east Asia and South America, where the CIA's dirty tricks operation, Condor, had shored up right-wing dictators, including General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, through a campaign of kidnapping, bombing and murder.
To imagine Dr Kissinger being arrested was impossible, but such a move had seemed just as unlikely in 1998 with General Pinochet. The district judge hearing the Tatchell application, Nicholas Evans, was, however, the one who had authorised General Pinochet's detention. Hopes among the protesters were as high as the levels of trepidation inside Dr Kissinger's dressing room, but Judge Evans did not order an arrest. He rejected Mr Tatch-ell's application but, importantly, appeared to leave the door open for another.
The judge said: "The material provided by Mr Tatchell makes generalised allegations and suggests possible sources of potentially admissible evidence. I have serious misgivings concerning Mr Tatchell's ability to actually obtain such admissible evidence.
"I ought not to issue any summons or warrant unless I can draft a suitably precise charge. I cannot presently do this on the information provided. Mr Tatchell has made this application courteously and with obvious sincerity. I do not doubt the strength of feeling in him and many others that justice requires that Mr Kissinger should face the allegations made against him in a court of law."
Mr Tatchell was anything but deflated by the ruling. "The judge said that he could not 'presently' issue a warrant," he said. "That leaves open the possibility that at some point in the future he might give me a warrant if I come back with more detailed evidence. I am now going to liaise with human rights lawyers and other campaign groups to get this evidence and make another application."
Back at the Albert Hall, Dr Kissinger drawled through an unremarkable speech before joining the event's chairman, Alastair Stewart, for a brief question-and-answer session.
Mr Stewart, a former ITN anchorman, did not give the old statesman an easy ride, immediately asking him whether he had made mistakes during his tenure. Dr Kissinger replied: "No one can say that he served in an administration that did not make mistakes. The decisions made in high office are usually 51-49 decisions so it is quite possible that mistakes were made. The issue is whether 30 years after the event courts are the appropriate means by which determination is made."
He said he thought the principle of international jurisdiction represented progress in the search for justice, but he argued that the process would be undermined if decisions were left to individual judges who were being given information by individual groups. "The issue on which my testimony is being sought concerns matters 30 years ago," he added. "Some of it relies on the misapprehension of the judges that every cable that leaves the State Department is personally signed by the Secretary of State. But there are around 4,000 going out every day, many of which are simply administrative, and they all have the Secretary of State's name on them."
That excuse is unlikely to deter Baltazar Garzon, the Spanish judge who applied for the extradition of General Pinochet, or Sophie-Helene Chateau, a French magistrate investigating the deaths of French citizens in Chile under General Pinochet. They are both now gunning for Dr Kissinger and intend to compel him to give evidence in court.
After his appearance yesterday, for which he is thought to have been paid £17,000, Richard Nixon's former right-hand man, the orchestrator of detente, the maker of the only Middle East peace deal to last any length of time, the man who played off Russia and China during the Cold War was in no mood to talk further.
Surrounded by bodyguards in the bowels of the old auditorium, he was asked if he would like to discuss the allegations being made against him. His answer was barked out unequivocally: "No!", and, seeming shorter than he used to be, he shuffled off out of sight around the circular corridors of the Albert Hall.Reuse content