by Lucy Komisar
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
February 17, 2002
NEW YORK, Feb. 17, 2002 -- Most people would be thrilled to be a real-life character in a movie. Not Frank Carlucci. His lawyer suggested to filmmaker Raoul Peck and Zeitgeist Films that they might find it legally troublesome if they identified the former high-level U.S. official by name in a scene in Peck's film "Lumumba," which is being shown on HBO this month.
Carlucci doesn't appreciate the attention. Maybe that's understandable. In 1960, he was the second secretary in the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, the Congo. That was the time when, according to declassified U.S. State Department cables and testimony to the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the "Church committee on assassinations"), the U.S. plotted with the incipient dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the Belgians to bring down Patrice Lumumba, 35, the popular nationalist leader who'd been chosen prime minister by a Brussels "roundtable" of Congo leaders.
Lumumba's sin was that, when neither the Americans nor the U.N. would help himagainst the Belgian-organized plots to destabilize his government, heturned to the Russians.
After an extensive parliamentary investigation, the Belgian prime minister this month apologized to the Lumumba family for Belgium's role in the killing, an apology accepted by Lumumba's son. Carlucci, however, appears to have no regrets.
The scene he doesn't like shows U.S. Ambassador Claire Timberlake and an American -- Carlucci, according to Peck -- in a meeting plottingLumumba's murder. The Carlucci character is an oily fellow who makes aclearly disingenuous comment about how the U.S. doesn't "meddle" inother countries' affairs.
Carlucci claims he wasn't at that meeting. He said, "The scene in which they portrayed me was totally inaccurate." Neither, he said, was Timberlake accurately portrayed. He said, "I was quite close to Timberlake and served as his interpreter in most of his meetings."Timberlake didn't speak French. "He had no role in it," Carlucci emphasized, repeating that the U.S. had "no role whatsoever" in plotting Lumumba's death. He also said he'd had "no knowledge of the Belgian" role.
He said, "There's no substantiation to that charge in any of the reviews done on Lumumba's death by the UN or the recent Belgian book or Maddie Kalb's book." He added, "If you go through the Kalb book, you'll find no references to me." He was referring to "The Congo Cables" which was based on declassified U.S. documents.
Timberlake is dead. Peck says he had reasons to believe that what heportrayed was accurate. A Haitian, Peck spent 25 years in the Congo/Zaire after his father fled there as an exile from Duvalier. His film has won prizes at festivals in Los Angeles, Santo Domingo, Milan and Acapulco and was presented at the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival.
So let's take Carlucci's advice and look at "The Congo Cables" by Madeline Kalb. Carlucci has a bad memory. Kalb wrote about the efforts by the U.S. Embassy and the CIA to topple Lumumba: "Whenever Timberlake, accompanied by his French-speaking second secretary, Frank Carlucci, went to see Kasavubu ... to try to persuade him that Lumumba was an extremely dangerous man, Kasavubu ... would say nothing. ... As Timberlake noted in a gloomy cable to Washington, "I confess I have not yet learned secret of spurring Kasavubu to action." [cable August 19,1960].
You won't find a document from Timberlake that says "we are pressing some Congolese to kill Lumumba." Ambassadors don't write such documents. You will find documents by Timberlake and CIA chief Lawrence Devlin talking about their desires and efforts to stop Lumumba, and even Devlin's unhappiness over one leader's refusal to commit murder. The State Department's official Analytical Chronology of the Congo Crisis talks about a plan "to bring about the overthrow of Lumumba and install a pro-western government... . Operations under this plan were gradually put into effect by the CIA."
According to Kalb, Timberlake informed Washington on August 24, 1960: "If Lumumba and his wired-in communist advisers are not stopped by a policy of strength, we think this country is headed toward another China by way of technicians instead of bayonets."
On August 24, CIA chief Lawrence Devlin reported "discouraging news: anti-Lumumba leaders had approached Kasavubu with a plan to assassinate Lumumba but Kasavubu had refused, explaining that he was reluctant to resort to violence and that there was no other leader of sufficient stature [to] replace Lumumba."
Ludo De Witte, author of "the Belgian book" -- The Assassination ofLumumba -- wrote Peck that, "from mid-August (when Eisenhower gave indirectly the green light for the assassination of Lumumba) till mid-October, there was a de facto collaboration and exchange of information between all important personnel in the U.S. Embassy (that is Timberlake, Carlucci and Devlin included), including on efforts to get rid of Lumumba." He said that "on Congolese efforts to get rid ofLumumba, stirring up general political opposition to Lumumba,Timberlake, Carlucci and Devlin worked together." The Eisenhower green light is in testimony by NSC staff member Robert Johnson to the Church committee. He was astonished to hear that thepresident had given an order for the assassination of Lumumba. The Church committee concluded that testimony permitted a reasonable inference that the plot to assassinate Lumumba was authorized by Eisenhower.
De Witte wrote Peck, "There is another thing: we know that Devlin and other U.S. personnel in the capital were informed about the transfer of Lumumba to the Kasai or Katanga (testimony by Colonel Louis Marlière, active in the entourage of Mobutu). Everybody knew that there were waiting some subcontractors to do the dirty job, and, given the rank and the involvement of Carlucci in Lumumba-related activities from the U.S. Embassy, we may assume (although it's not proven) that Carlucci knew of what equaled a death sentence for Lumumba. Once again I turn to the testimony by Colonel Louis Marlière: nobody opposed the transfer."
Carlucci went on to a stellar career, including posts as ambassador to Portugal, deputy director of the CIA, assistant to the President for National Security affairs, and Secretary of Defense, the latter two positions in the Reagan administration. He is now chairman of the Carlyle Group, an investment firm. According to an article in the business magazine "Red Herring" cited by Paul Krugman in theNew York Times, Carlyle has prospered by buying badly performing defense contractors and selling them at big mark-ups after obtaining fat government contracts through the connections of such paid advisors as former President George Bush. One investor who apparently had the wrong connections and was recently asked to sell his interest in Carlyle was Yeslam bin Laden, Osama's half-brother.
Emily Russo, co-president, of Zeitgeist Films in New York said the small company can't afford to go to court to defend its right to tell thestory. Curiously, Carlucci sought to alter only the mass-market versionshown on television or sold on videotapes and dvd's. Screenings at theaters around the U.S. and the rest of the world keep the originalFrench track. HBO is showing two versions, one an HBO dub in English: no "Carlucci" there. The English-subtitled version replaces Carlucci's name on the French soundtrack with a "bleep." If you're wondering who that smarmy white man is ... .
Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist who visited Zaire in the early 90sto study the impact of U.S. policy there.