Pacific News Service, February 14, 2002
When HBO airs "Lumumba" starting this Saturday, viewers won't get the whole story. That's because former U.S. Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci has succeeded in getting the film's distributor to bleep out his character's identity from the film. But hiding the U.S. role in the popular African leader's assassination, writes PNS contributor Lucy Komisar, won't be so simple.
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's Church committee on assassinations, the United States plotted with the incipient dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and the Belgians to bring down Patrice Lumumba, 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 United Nations would help him against Belgian-organized plots to destabilize his government, he turned to the Russians.
After an extensive parliamentary investigation, the Belgian prime minister earlier this month apologized to the Lumumba family for his country'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 Clare Timberlake and an American that the uncensored film identifies as Carlucci in a meeting plotting Lumumba's murder. The Carlucci character is an oily fellow who makes a clearly disingenuous comment about how the U.S. doesn't "meddle" in other countries' affairs.
Carlucci claims he wasn't at that meeting. "The scene in which they portrayed me was totally inaccurate," he said. Neither, he said, was Timberlake accurately portrayed. "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 says, repeating that the United States had "no role whatsoever" in plotting Lumumba's death. He also said he'd had "no knowledge of the Belgian" role.
Timberlake is dead. Filmmaker Raoul Peck says he had reasons to believe that what he portrayed in the film was accurate. A Haitian, Peck spent 25 years in the Congo/Zaire after his father fled there as an exile from Haitian dictator Francois 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." 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 the secret of spurring Kasavubu to action.'"
Of course you won't find a document from Timberlake saying, "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 at 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 of Lumumba" -- 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."The Eisenhower "green light" is in testimony by NSC staff member Robert Johnson to the Church committee hearings of 1975-1976. Johnson said he was astonished to hear that Eisenhower 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 the president.
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 they were waiting for 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.
Emily Russo, co-president of distributor Zeitgeist Films in New York, said the small company couldn't afford to go to court to defend its right to tell the story. Curiously, Carlucci sought to alter only the mass-market version shown on television or sold on videotapes and DVDs. Screenings at theaters around the United States and the rest of the world keep the original French track. HBO is showing two versions. One is an HBO dub in English: no "Carlucci" there. The other, an English-subtitled version, does not mention Carlucci in the subtitles, and replaces his name on the French soundtrack with a "bleep."
PNS contributor Lucy Komisar (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a New York journalist who visited Zaire in the early 1990s to study the impact of U.S. policy there.