The US Defense Department on Sunday refused to reopen an investigation into suspected atrocities committed in Vietnam by a special US Army reconnaissance unit, despite new allegations of war crimes, including ghastly killings and torture of Vietnamese civilians.
"Absent new and compelling evidence, there are no plans to reopen the case," a Pentagon spokesman said. "The case is more than 30 years old."
The statement came in response to an independent probe of the activities of so-called Tiger Force undertaken by The Toledo Blade newspaper both in the US and Vietnam over the past eight months.
The investigation, which included more than 100 interviews, has concluded that the highly decorated platoon that operated in South Vietnam's central highlands as part of the 101st Airborne Division was possibly responsible for the murder of several hundred Vietnamese civilians in 1967.
Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers and were practically buried alive in mass graves, said the midwestern daily, which began publishing its account of the probe Sunday. Elderly farmers were shot as they worked in their fields.
Prisoners were tortured and executed while their ears and scalps were severed for souvenirs, the report said. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.
"We would go into villages and just shoot everybody," a former Tiger Force medic, Harold Fischer, is quoted as saying. "We didn't need an excuse. If they were there, they were dead. It just made me sick."
According to The Blade, commanders knew about the platoon's atrocities and in some cases encouraged them.
Faced with mounting allegations against members of the unit, the army in 1971 launched an investigation into 30 of them. It dragged on for four and a half years before finding 18 Tiger Force members may have committed war crimes.
But no charges have ever been brought against any of the suspects, although the case was closely monitored by the Department of Defense and senior White House officials, including president Richard Nixon's former chief counsel, John Dean, the report said.
More than a quarter-century after the investigation was closed, the Pentagon indicated its position had hardly changed.
The department spokesman, who wished to remain unidentified, said the Criminal Investigation Command had conducted "a lengthy investigation when allegations surfaced four years after they reportedly occurred.
"The ... findings were submitted to proper authorities, the suspects' commanders," he continued. "Those commanders considered the ... findings and acted within their authority in deciding that there was insufficient evidence of alleged crimes to successfully prosecute in a court-martial trial."
But Rion Causey, who served with Tiger Force as a medic, said he believed a new probe was necessary, particularly one targeting a battalion commander nicknamed Ghostrider, who he said was the chief instigator of the atrocities.
"We felt that he should be brought up on charges. I still do," said Causey, who now works as a nuclear scientist in California. "I think it's his fault. I think he needs to pay for it."
Causey, who could not remember the commander's real name, said reports of US soldiers cutting off ears and scalps from freshly killed Vietnamese and decorating necklaces with them were "all true.
"I personally watched at least 120 people die," Causey said, his voice audibly shaking. "Yes, I know it was bad."
Far from shying away from their past, veterans of Tiger Force maintain a website in the US at www.tigerforcerecon.com that features stories of war heroism, tributes to the most highly decorated soldiers and numerous photographs.
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