Klaus Barbie: Nazi butcher and CIA agent

Klaus Barbie, the Nazi of many guises or

How the US secret services recycled the butcher of Lyon

For an hour and a half, the film director Kevin MacDonald gives voice to former CIA agents, to retired Bolivian generals, to former French resistance fighters who had undergone torture, and, finally, to Klaus Barbie himself.  In this whole scenario fact was stranger by far than fiction.  If you want to know more about democracy and human rights as they are understood by Barbie and the CIA, hurry to see this film, or get in the DVD.

In 1933, when he was 20, Klaus Barbie joined the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the intelligence wing of the German SS.  His task was to spy and gather information.  That is what he was to do for the rest of his life.

In 1942, when he was 29, he arrived in Lyon, which was at that time under Nazi occupation.  He was soon in charge of the IV sector of the Gestapo, which dealt with ‘political crimes’.  At that time, Lyon was a centre of the French Resistance against the Nazis “I came to Lyon to fight the Resistance.  To kill them.  That was my mission,” says Barbie in the film – and it was a mission at which he excelled.

He tormented members of the Resistance, Jews, partisans, communists – men, women and children.  He specialised in interrogatory techniques.  Barbie himself wielded the pliers with which he broke and tore out teeth.  He invented a hot water torture bath.  He hung people up by their thumbs until they died.  He was soon dubbed ‘the Butcher of Lyon’.

‘Barbie is of greater use to us as one of ours than he would be in prison’

Klaus Barbie became a macabre expert in harassing and destroying individuals.  This is what drew him to the attention, in 1946, of the US Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC).

In accordance with the maxim ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’, the US took Barbie under its wing.  He had fought the communists and that was good enough to make him a friend of America.  “Barbie’s value as an informer is incomparably greater than any value he could have if he were in prison”, says Robert Taylor, who recruited Barbie to the CIC.  From that time on, Barbie was in charge of organising an espionage network in Germany, France and Romania.  He organised infiltration into the Communist Parties of Germany and France.  For four years, living like a prince in a luxury villa, he figured prominently in the US programme for peace in Europe.

Klaus Barbie, the military junta and the assassination of Che Guevara

Towards the end of the 1940’s, Europe was beginning to get a bit too hot for Barbie.  Members of the Resistance and communists had had wind of the fact that Barbie was working for the Americans.  They demanded his arrest.  In the film, CIC agent Earl Brown explains why the Americans would not do that.  His testimony is a model of honesty and simplicity: “He was still extremely valuable to us.  He knew how to go about things and he had taught the CIC his methods.  He had a wealth of experience in France”.  Barbie knew who to harass, interrogate and torture.  His experience had been acquired in the Gestapo at Lyon.  And the CIC needed his methods!  Thus it was that in December 1950, the CIC helped him to acquire a new identity as Klaus Altmann, and to transfer to Buenos Aires via the ‘ratlines’, i.e., the escape network set up by the Vatican for the benefit of the Nazis.

On 23 April 1951, Barbie arrived in La Paz where he soon acquired Bolivian nationality, making himself quite a few friends in the top ranks of the Bolivian army.  In 1964, General Barrientos carried out a coup d’état and a military junta took power.  In 1967, Barrientos’ troops ambushed Che Guevara and killed him.  Klaus Barbie let it be known that it was he who had taught the Bolivian army the tactics they needed to track down Che Guevara.

“You all needed me but now I stand alone before this court”

On 17 July 1980, Klaus Barbie was involved in yet another coup d’état in Bolivia.  This time he played a much more important role because, in the company of extreme right wing elements of the army (the so-called fiancés of death), along with his international anti-communist network, he was closely involved in planning the coup, thanks to money provided by the drugs baron Luís Arce Gómez.  The CIA was in the loop and supported the whole enterprise “in order at last to be able to instal a powerful anti-communist Bolivia next door to Chile”.  In his first address to the country, Gómez, the head of the junta, said without batting an eyelid:   “All trade union leaders, militants and communists had better get out of the country”.  The US saw no problem with that!

However, the military was involved in cocaine trafficking and the US washed its hands of them.  That was the end for Klaus Barbie.  In 1983 he was extradited to France and on 3 July 1987 he was condemned to life imprisonment.  “You all needed me, but now I am alone before this court”.  End of story for Klaus Barbie.

“With us or with the terrorists

Everyone has a choice: you’re either with us or with the terrorists”, said George W Bush a few years ago.  Since 1944, the Americans have themselves gathered up and brought to the US Nazi experts in biological warfare and WMD.  The experts working against communism were kept in place, on active service in Europe.  When they were found out, the Vatican helped them to get away to South America.  Several of them were given important posts there and played an active role in the right-wing military regimes of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.  “They exported to Latin America their extremely cruel methods of interrogation, repression and torture.  They collaborated in the disappearance of thousands of people”, said the researcher, Christopher Simpson, in the film.  “They were the entrepreneurs of terrorism”.  “Against teachers, trade union leaders, anybody who took any kind of left-wing stand”.

Kevin  MacDonald says of his film: “I wanted to show that fascism was used by the victors to create the world in which we live today.  I think this film is important for understanding the situation in which we find ourselves today.”  Without doubt  Kevin MacDonald has achieved his aim.

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