WASHINGTON — American foreign policy titan Henry Kissinger came to Capitol Hill Thursday to discuss global security challenges, but received a rude welcome from protesters who demanded his arrest for war crimes.
Protesters from the Code Pink rights group stood up shouting out at the beginning of the hearing, startling senators as well as Kissinger and two other former secretaries of state, Madeleine Albright and George Shultz, who were also testifying.
One man held up a banner bearing the words “Arrest Kissinger for War Crimes.”
When the man neared Kissinger, who served as secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, Shultz stood up to push him away.
It all proved too much for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, who bridled at the incident.
“I’ve been a member of this committee for many years, and I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place,” McCain fumed.
When one of the protesters kept shouting, McCain grew angrier.
“You’re going to have to shut up or I’ll have you arrested,” he said. “Get out of here, you low-life scum.”
After order was restored, and as Kissinger began speaking, a woman demanded the former top diplomat’s arrest, noting how he “oversaw the slaughter in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.”
Kissinger, 91, remains a target of protesters, who accuse him of a litany of crimes, including involvement in the secret bombing of Cambodia during the Nixon administration.
McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, has long-standing personal ties with Kissinger and apologized “profusely” for the protesters’ outburst.
He recalled how Kissinger refused an offer to take him home with him from Hanoi, where Kissinger was in negotiations to end the war.
According to McCain, Kissinger demanded the prisoners be released in the order they were captured, to prevent the image of favoritism to McCain, whose father was a US Navy admiral.
After the hearing, McCain blasted Code Pink for having “physically threatened” the witnesses and demanded those responsible be held accountable.
He said protesters converged on Kissinger, “waving handcuffs within inches of his head,” and with no US Capitol Police immediately on hand to intervene.
In their testimony, the diplomatic trio urged Washington to beef up its anti-jihadist efforts and keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check as part of its broader counterterrorism strategy.
The extremist group known as the Islamic State “challenges all established institutions,” said Kissinger.
“The old order is in flux, while its replacement is uncertain. The role of the United States is indispensable in a time of upheaval,” he added.
“The consequences of American disengagement, it magnifies turmoil and requires larger intervention later.”
Albright, top diplomat under Democratic president Bill Clinton, also warned against disengagement.
“The American people may be tired, but we must avoid… in this new era, the temptation to turn inward,” she said.
“In the Middle East, we must continue working with European and regional allies to apply direct military pressure against the Islamic State.”