The U.S. carpet bombing of Cambodia between 1969 and 1973 has been well documented, but its architect, former national security adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who will turn 100 on Saturday, bears responsibility for more violence than has been previously reported. An investigation by The Intercept provides evidence of previously unreported attacks that killed or wounded hundreds of Cambodian civilians during Kissinger’s tenure in the White House. When questioned about his culpability for these deaths, Kissinger responded with sarcasm and refused to provide answers.
An exclusive archive of formerly classified U.S. military documents — assembled from the files of a secret Pentagon task force that investigated war crimes during the 1970s, inspector generals’ inquiries buried amid thousands of pages of unrelated documents, and other materials discovered during hundreds of hours of research at the U.S. National Archives — offers previously unpublished, unreported, and underappreciated evidence of civilian deaths that were kept secret during the war and remain almost entirely unknown to the American people. The documents also provided a rudimentary road map for on-the-ground reporting in Southeast Asia that yielded evidence of scores of additional bombings and ground raids that have never been reported to the outside world.
Survivors from 13 Cambodian villages along the Vietnamese border told The Intercept about attacks that killed hundreds of their relatives and neighbors during Kissinger’s tenure in President Richard Nixon’s White House. The interviews with more than 75 Cambodian witnesses and survivors, published here for the first time, reveal in new detail the long-term trauma borne by survivors of the American war. These attacks were far more intimate and perhaps even more horrific than the violence already attributed to Kissinger’s policies, because the villages were not just bombed, but also strafed by helicopter gunships and burned and looted by U.S. and allied troops.
The incidents detailed in the files and the testimony of survivors include accounts of both deliberate attacks inside Cambodia and accidental or careless strikes by U.S. forces operating on the border with South Vietnam. These latter attacks were infrequently reported through military channels, covered only sparingly by the press at the time, and have mostly been lost to history. Together, they increase an already sizable number of Cambodian deaths for which Kissinger bears responsibility and raise questions among experts about whether long-dormant efforts to hold him accountable for war crimes might be renewed.
The Army files and interviews with Cambodian survivors, American military personnel, Kissinger confidants, and experts demonstrate that impunity extended from the White House to American soldiers in the field. The records show that U.S. troops implicated in killing and maiming civilians received no meaningful punishments.