Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Report stirs memories of US atrocities

Stories by `The Toledo Blade' have triggered a steady flow of recriminations and finger-pointing over atrocities committed by American soldiers throughout the Vietnam war that were never prosecuted

By John Kifner  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The tactics -- particularly in "free-fire zones," where anyone was regarded as fair game -- arose from the frustrating nature of the guerrilla war and, above all, from the military's reliance on the body count as a measure of success and a reason officers were promoted, according to many accounts.

Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities.

"I stumbled across the incidents the Blade reported," Turse said by telephone. "I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds."

Yet there were few prosecutions.

Besides the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians in 1968, only 36 cases involving possible war crimes from Vietnam went to Army court-martial proceedings, with 20 convictions, according to the Army judge advocate general's office.

Guenter Lewy, who cited the Army figures in his 1978 book, America in Vietnam, wrote that if a soldier killed a civilian, the incident was unlikely to be reported as a war crime: "It was far more likely that the platoon leader, under pressure for body count and not anxious to demonstrate the absence of good fire discipline in his unit, would report the incident as `1 VC suspect shot while evading.'"

Causey, now a nuclear engineer in California, said: "It wasn't like it was hidden. This was open and public behavior. A lot of guys in the 101st were cutting ears. It was a unique time period."

Kerney, now a firefighter in California, agreed that the responsibility went higher.

"I'm talking about the guys with the eagles," he said, referring to the rank insignia of a full colonel. "It was always about the body count. They were saying, `You guys have the green light to do what's right.'"

While Causey and Kerney became deeply troubled after they returned from Vietnam, Doyle, a sergeant who was a section leader in the unit, seemed unrepentant in a long, profanity-laced telephone conversation.

"I've seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school," said Doyle, who joined the Army at 17 when a judge gave him, a young street gang leader, a chance to escape punishment.

"If you're walking down a jungle trail, those that hesitate die," said Doyle, who lives in Missouri. "Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that's almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I've seen."

The American public was shocked in November 1969 when the reporter Seymour M. Hersh broke the news of the My Lai massacre. Years later, it was revealed that a Navy Seal team led by Bob Kerrey, who would go on to become a US senator and is now president of New School University in New York, had killed 21 women, children and old men during a raid on the village Thanh Phong in 1969.

"My Lai was a shock to everyone except people in Vietnam," recalled Kevin Buckley, who covered the war for Newsweek from 1968 to 1972 and reported on an operation called Speedy Express, in which nearly 11,000 were killed but only 748 weapons were recovered.

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