Declassified truth is necessary

Full disclosure requires me to say that Seymour Hersh is a friend of mine, Richard Nixon wasn't, and Henry Kissinger has been sometimes, sometimes not.

This is all to discuss the latest Freedom of Information Act release of part of the 20,000 pages of what William Safire has called the "Dead Key Scrolls," the secretly recorded telephone conversations that Nixon's national security adviser, Dr. Kissinger, fought tooth and nail to avoid releasing. And reading the transcripts, it's easy to understand why.

Mr. Hersh figured in the conversations, as he figures in any discussion of the Iraqi prison scandal today. It was Hersh who broke the story of the American Army massacre of more than 300 Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai in November 1969. In a recorded conversation, Kissinger asked Defense Secretary Melvin Laird whether there was any way of sweeping the massacre under the rug. And in words that could be used for the Abu Ghraib scandal today, Laird said the photographs prevented that. "There are so many kids just laying there," he said.

In December 1970, Kissinger talked to an angry Nixon, who demanded a bombing campaign against targets in neutral Cambodia. Nixon said, "Right now, there is a chance to win [this war]." Immediately, Kissinger relayed the order to the Pentagon, saying he wanted a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia, anything that flies on anything that moves.

In the spring of 1972, Kissinger elatedly reported to the president that the Soviets had engineered a negotiating breakthrough with the Vietnamese. He said, "We've got some pretty quick action out of our Soviet friends. [Soviet] Ambassador Dobrynin was in, slobbering over me."

It is not an exhilarating experience to learn from declassified records some of the unpleasant ways our leaders have conducted themselves. But it is necessary to know the truth.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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