Samantha Power built her journalistic and academic career around human rights, criticizing powerful nations for their complicity in abuses and failure to stop acts of genocide.
Then she joined the Obama administration, where she currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Early next month, Power will be receiving an award named for a man she used to criticize quite harshly: former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has been implicated in a significant number of war crimes across the globe.
And she’ll be getting it from Kissinger himself.
The American Academy of Berlin’s Henry A. Kissinger Prize is awarded annually to a European or American diplomat.
Power can’t claim ignorance of Kissinger’s bloody, anti-human rights record.
In her book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which documented the lack of response to global genocides, Power complained that President Gerald Ford’s administration — where Kissinger served as secretary of state — had “little credibility” to report to the public on the genocide happening in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime because Kissinger “had bloodied Cambodia and blackened his own reputation.” Under Kissinger’s watch, the United States dropped nearly half a million tons of explosives on Cambodia, resulting in the deaths of thousands of noncombatants.
In the same book, she wrote of how Kissinger encouraged Iraq’s Kurds to engage in an armed revolt in the mid 1970s, only to withdraw support to build rapport with the country’s government — leading Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to brutally uproot them in revenge. Power dryly notes Kissinger’s justification for these events, writing: “Henry Kissinger, U.S. secretary of state at the time, said of the American reversal of policy and the Kurds’ reversal of fortune, ‘Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.’”
Finally, in her book Sergio: One Man’s Fight to Save the World, she documented how Kissinger greenlighted the brutal Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, which led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Power writes that Ford and Kissinger visited the Indonesian leader the day before the invasion: “Kissinger expressed some misgivings about the possible U.S. public reaction and cautioned: ‘We understand your problems and the need to move quickly, but I am only saying that it would be better if it were done after we returned [to the United States].’”
Power did not respond to a request for comment. However, a 2014 profile in the New Yorker may provide some insight into how Power’s worldview on human rights abusers has changed. “As time wears on, I find myself gravitating more and more to the G.S.D. [Get-Shit-Done] people,” she told the magazine. “We’re racing against the clock here to get as much done as we can. So when you run across people who know how to be bureaucratic samurais, or are especially persuasive in their diplomacy internationally, spend more time on those relationships, and on brainstorming with those individuals, to achieve a common purpose. Principles and positions only take you so far.”