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

At his court-martial in the My Lai massacre, Lieutenant William L. Calley Jr., the only person convicted in the case, said: "I felt then -- and I still do -- that I acted as directed, I carried out my orders, and I did not feel wrong in doing so." He was paroled in 1975 after serving three and a half years under house arrest.

In spring 1971, embittered veterans demonstrated against the war in Washington, many throwing away their medals.

One of their leaders, John Kerry, then a recently discharged Navy officer, now a senator and presidential candidate, delivered an impassioned speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971.

American troops in Vietnam, he said, had "raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."

Kerry's account came from his own experience, as well as from a three-day conference of the fledgling Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At the conference, he said, "over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."

A transcript of that meeting makes for hair-raising reading. The returned troops told of the slaughter of civilians; "reconnaissance by fire," or soldiers shooting blindly; "harassment and interdiction fire," with artillery being used to shell villages; captives thrown from helicopters; severed ears drying in the sun or being swapped for beers; and "Zippo inspections" of cigarette lighters in preparation for burning villages.

David H. Hackworth, a retired colonel and much-decorated veteran of the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam who later became a journalist and author, said that he created the Tiger Force unit in 1965 to fight guerrillas using guerrilla tactics. Hackworth was not in command of the unit during the period covered by the Blade articles because he had rotated out of Vietnam.

"Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go," Hackworth said in a recent telephone interview. "It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted."

Lieutentant Colonel Kevin Curry, an Army spokesman, said the Army had compared the Blade articles with the written record of the earlier investigation and did not intend to reopen the case.

"Absent any new or compelling evidence, there are no plans to reopen the case," Colonel Curry said. "The case is more than 30 years old. Criminal Investigation Command has conducted a lengthy investigation when the allegations surfaced four years after they reportedly occurred."

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