Monday, August 07, 2006

Past and Present War Crimes

In 1994, the records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group were declassified after the 20 year period required by law and moved to the National Archives. They sat unnoticed until now.

The LA Time was examining the files and obtained copies of about 1/3 of the report (3,000 pages) before government officials removed them from the public shelves stating they contained personal information and were "exempt" from the Freedom of Information Act.

One Vietnam Vet who served on the task force believes these secret records deserve to be made public. He believes they should be made public due to civilian and prisoner abuses occurring in Iraq. This vet, Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, said, "We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past."

Most of the suspects were allowed to leave the service and were never charged despite a 1969 written opion by the Army General Counsel, Robert El. Jordan III, that ex-soldiers could be prosecuted through courts-martial, tribunals, or military commissions.

Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard, a task force member in the '70's, believes that the top Army brass should have demanded a tougher response.

"We could have court-martialed them [soldiers accused of war crimes] but didn't," Gard said, "The whole thing is terribly disturbing." ...

Among the substantiated cases in the archived reports:
• Seven massacres from 1967 through 1971 in which at least 137 civilians died.

• Seventy-eight other attacks on noncombatants in which at least 57 were killed, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted.

• One hundred forty-one instances in which U.S. soldiers tortured civilian detainees or prisoners of war with fists, sticks, bats, water or electric shock.
According to the LA Times:
...many war crimes did not make it into the archive. Some were prosecuted without being identified as war crimes, as required by military regulations. Others were never reported.

In a letter to Westmoreland in 1970, an anonymous sergeant described widespread, unreported killings of civilians by members of the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta — and blamed pressure from superiors to generate high body counts.

"A batalion [sic] would kill maybe 15 to 20 [civilians] a day. With 4 batalions in the brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 to 1500 a month, easy," the unnamed sergeant wrote. "If I am only 10% right, and believe me it's lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [sic] each month for over a year."

A high-level Army review of the letter cited its "forcefulness," "sincerity" and "inescapable logic," and urged then-Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor to make sure the push for verifiable body counts did not "encourage the human tendency to inflate the count by violating established rules of engagement."

Investigators tried to find the letter writer and "prevent his complaints from reaching" then-Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Oakland), according to an August 1971 memo to Westmoreland.

The records do not say whether the writer was located, and there is no evidence in the files that his complaint was investigated further.
It was determined that evidence against 203 soldiers was strong enough to warrant charges. These "founded cases" were referred to the soldiers' superiors. Action was taken on only 57 cases. Only 23 convistions were obtained in the 57 court martials.

The initial prison sentences ranged from 6 months to 20 years, but appeals granted reductions in the sentences. The stiffest sentence a 20 year term only resulted in seven months of confinement. This was for the crime of committing indecent acts on a 13-year-old girl in an interrogation hut in 1967.

In more than half the cases no punishment was given. Many only received a letter of reprimand or a fine

Our military had little interest in prosecuting Vietnam war crimes. This historic pattern repeats itself in Iraq today.

I know too many soldiers that are proud of their service and they do not deserve to have their military service tarnised by the current system which allows war crimes to become standard operating procedure and go unpunished.

There is evidence suggesting that the war crimes occurred in Vietnam because of orders from those in command. There are allegations that the orders for Iraqi war crimes come from the White House, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and top Pentagon brass.

We need an accountable military system with leadership that prevents war crimes instead of encouraging them.

The L A Times article can be found here


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