On Atrocities & Vietnam: The Winter Soldier Investigation
August 30, 2004 8:42 PM   Subscribe

My name is Scott Camile. I was a Sgt. attached to Charley 1/1. I was a forward observer in Vietnam. I went in right after high school and I'm a student now. My testimony involves burning of villages with civilians in them, the cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, torturing of prisoners, calling in of artillery on villages for games, corpsmen killing wounded prisoners, napalm dropped on villages, women being raped, women and children being massacred, CS gas used on people, animals slaughtered, Chieu Hoi passes rejected and the people holding them shot, bodies shoved out of helicopters, tear-gassing people for fun and running civilian vehicles off the road.   Here is the Swift Boat related back story from The Sixties Project: Winter Soldier Investigation - Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, February 1 and 2, 1971. Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. This testimony was published in the Congressional Record, "Extensions and Remarks," April 7, 1971: 2825-2900, 2903-2936. (Much More Inside)
posted by y2karl (17 comments total)
See also:

Elite unit savaged civilians in Vietnam

Ex-G.I.'s tell of Vietnam brutality

"Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground
bunkers," The Blade said. "Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings."

In 1971, the newspaper said, the army began a criminal investigation that lasted four and a half years, "the longest-known war-crime investigation of the Vietnam conflict." Ultimately, the investigators forwarded conclusions that 18 men might face charges, but no courts-martial were brought.

In recent telephone interviews with The New York Times, three of the former soldiers quoted by The Blade confirmed that the articles had accurately described their unit's actions.

But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a "rogue" unit. Its members had done only what they were told to do and their superiors knew what they were doing.

"The story that I'm not sure is getting out," said Causey, then a medic with the unit, "is that while they're saying this was a ruthless band ravaging the countryside, we were under orders to do it."

Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for U.S. ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops.

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."

The Doctrine of Atrocity

The Toledo Blade articles, some of the best reporting on a Vietnam War crime during or since that war, tell only a small part of the story. As a historian writing a dissertation at Columbia University on U.S. war crimes and atrocities during the Vietnam War, I have been immersed in just the sort of archival materials the Blade used to flesh out one series of incidents. My research into U.S. military records has revealed that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of analogous violations of the laws of war.

The Blade said the Tiger Force's seven months of brutality was "the longest series of atrocities in the Vietnam War." Unfortunately, this was not true. According to formerly classified army documents, for instance, a military investigation disclosed that from at least March 1968 through October 1969, "Vietnamese [civilian] detainees were subjected to maltreatment" by no fewer than 21 separate interrogators of the 172nd Military Intelligence Detachment. The inquiry found that, in addition to using "electrical shock by means of a field telephone," the MI personnel also struck detainees with their fists, sticks, and boards, and employed water torture. The documents indicate that no disciplinary actions were taken against anyone implicated in that long-running series of atrocities.

The declassified documents reveal that the Tiger Force atrocities--and the resulting lack of punishment, which amounted to tacit approvalppwere merely the tip of the iceberg. In September 1967, for instance, an American sergeant killed two Vietnamese children, executing one at point-blank range with a bullet to the head. Court-martialed in 1970, the sergeant pleaded guilty to, and was found guilty of, unpremeditated murder. According to military documents, "he was sentenced by the court to no punishment."...

The My Lai Massacre: A Case Study.

Consider the Army of the time as well:

''The Collapse of the Armed Forces,'' Col. Robert D. Heinl, Jr., Armed Forces Journal, June 1971

To understand the military consequences of what is happening to the U.S. Armed Forces, Vietnam is a good place to start. It is in Vietnam that the rearguard of a 500,000 man army, in its day and in the observation of the writer the best army the United States ever put into the field, is numbly extricating itself from a nightmare war the Armed Forces feel they had foisted on them by bright civilians who are now back on campus writing books about the folly of it all.

"They have set up separate companies," writes an American soldier from Cu Chi, quoted in the New York Times, "for men who refuse to go into the field. Is no big thing to refuse to go. If a man is ordered to go to such and such a place he no longer goes through the hassle of refusing; he just packs his shirt and goes to visit some buddies at another base camp. Operations have become incredibly ragtag. Many guys don't even put on their uniforms any more... The American garrison on the larger bases are virtually disarmed. The lifers have taken our weapons from us and put them under lock and key...There have also been quite a few frag incidents in the battalion."

Can all this really be typical or even truthful?

Unfortunately the answer is yes.

"Frag incidents" or just "fragging" is current soldier slang in Vietnam for the murder or attempted murder of strict, unpopular, or just aggressive officers and NCOs. With extreme reluctance (after a young West Pointer from Senator Mike Mansfield's Montana was fragged in his sleep) the Pentagon has now disclosed that fraggings in 1970(109) have more than doubled those of the previous year (96).

Word of the deaths of officers will bring cheers at troop movies or in bivouacs of certain units.

In one such division -- the morale plagued Americal -- fraggings during 1971 have been authoritatively estimated to be running about one a week.

CIA and Operation Phoenix in Vietnam

Distorting History by Gareth Porter Transaction/SOCIETY, November-December 1983, pp.18-22 (pdf)

Much of this comes from Grover Furr's Vietnam War Page

Response to Swift Boat Vets claim that Kerry falsely accused himself and them of war crimes

For context, see--

From the Dick Cavett show in 1971:

Mr. Kerry: Did you serve in a free fire zone?

Mr. O'Neill: I certainly did serve in a free fire zone.

Mr. Kerry: [Reading] "Free fire zone, in which we kill anything that moves--man, woman or child. This practice suspends the distinction between combatant and non-combatant and contravenes Geneva Convention Article 3.1."

Mr. O'Neill: Where is that from, John?

Mr. Kerry: Geneva Conventions. You've heard about the Geneva Conventions...

posted by y2karl at 8:45 PM on August 30, 2004

Note that the Toldeo Blade series was first reported here by digaman on October 27, 2003.
posted by y2karl at 8:49 PM on August 30, 2004

well done. : >
posted by amberglow at 8:53 PM on August 30, 2004

posted by cell divide at 9:05 PM on August 30, 2004

OK, but I was under the impression that the Vietnamese were communists, hence it was OK to barbecue them a little.
posted by matteo at 9:29 PM on August 30, 2004

(Much More Inside)

Well, yeah, you can say that again. No wait...

Seriously, good work, karl. I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to get to all this stuff, and I probably wouldn't have tripped across it on my own. But there is still a certain formidable GYOBFW element in play when you go to these lengths.
posted by soyjoy at 9:35 PM on August 30, 2004

y2karl, unlike many, I find this incredibly link-rich post to be perfect Mefi fodder ... but, it should be crossposted at Devoter. I'm just trying to promote such that we won't have to put up with mewlings from Seth et al.

And to the post itself, I'm simply tired of the whole Vietnam focus. My uncle, having returned with life threatening wounds from that debacle, has already told me what I need to know. Kerry told the truth. Vietnam was a rodent extermination project, not a war ... except that the rodents walked upright and had lives. My uncle witnessed the lies, and witnessed the destruction of humans that we "real" humans could sleep better at night. I know who he's voting for; and I know who I'm thinking are lying right now. None of this matters. Lets get on to the future, shall we?
posted by Wulfgar! at 10:17 PM on August 30, 2004

Ditto on the thanks y2karl.
This is what bugged me most about the Swift boat people from the start. I was under the impression that it was common knowledge American military had committed what amounts to crimes against humanity in Vietnam. But nobody (including Kerry) seems to have the nerve to say it now. Does talking about atrocities in Vietnam somehow translate into a betrayal of the troops in Iraq? It seems like that's the pit the Swift Boat veterans have Kerry over.
posted by MetalDog at 4:26 AM on August 31, 2004

Great work y2karl!

Let's get this straight and keep it very, very simple for those who have difficulty keeping up.

1)These atrocities actually happened.

2)They were done by US GIs, with tacit permission their leadership.

3)Many Vietnam veterans told lots of these stories at the Winter Soldiers meeting.

4)John Kerry repeated what these soldiers shared to a Congressional committee.

5)Thus Kerry hates America, is a traitor and got band-aids and purple hearts for nothing.

6)George W. Bush is a courageous war hero.


Did I miss anything?
posted by nofundy at 4:46 AM on August 31, 2004

nofundy - no, but Vietnam was not an anomaly - there's also compelling Congressional testimony from the period, from the late 1890's through the early 20th Century, when the US was fighting insurgents in the Phillipines : large numbers of civilians, in some provinces, were slaughtered and whole regions depopulated :

"During the war, 4,234 American soldiers were killed and 2,818 were wounded. Philippine military deaths are estimated at 20,000 while civilian deaths numbered in 250,000 to 1,000,000 Filipinos. U.S. attacks into the countryside often included scorched earth campaigns where entire villages were burned and destroyed, torture (water cure[?]) and the concentration of civilians into "protected zones". Many of these civilian casualties resulted from disease and famine. Reports of the execution of U.S. soldiers taken prisoner by the Filipinos led to disproportionate reprisals by American forces. Many American officers and soldiers called war a "nigger killing business".......
n 1914, Dean C. Worcester, U.S. Secretary of the Interior for the Philippines (1901-1913) described "the regime of civilization and improvement which started with American occupation and resulted in developing naked savages into cultivated and educated men."

But, you knew that already.
posted by troutfishing at 5:58 AM on August 31, 2004

Just to add outrage to outrage, the brilliant, courageous Toledo Blade story, which should have brought public life in America to a halt, came and went in a single news cycle (yeah, I know, it won the Pulitzer Prize, big deal). The reason for this, I suspect, is not that the major media wanted to cover up the atrocities, but that the major media wanted to cover up the fact that anything good could come out of Toledo. These people on the coasts are incredible snobs, you know.

In any case, as long as Vietnam is going to be the centerpiece of the Kerry campaign, why isn't he addressing this? I'd love to be able to vote for the guy, but why is he so mealy mouthed on the subject of Vietnam atrocities? Why doesn't he hold a press conference and repeat the sort of things he used to say in the 1970s? I'll vote for a war president or an anti-war president, but I won't vote for some guy who once took a stand, but is now evasive.
posted by Faze at 6:33 AM on August 31, 2004

I've seen some conservatives try and denouce the winter soldier investigations as being composed of lies backed by communist dollars.

here's a livejournal link to somebody listing some bullet points about this

what does everybody think? was winter soldier bankrolled by communists and populated with imposters?
posted by taumeson at 6:34 AM on August 31, 2004

The Swift Boat Liars, as well as war apologists in general, must do everything possible to revise the well-known, sordid history of America's involvement in Vietnam. Without such a history rewrite, their positions become even more untenable. Vietnam was one long atrocity committed by American troops (and Viet Cong and NVA troops....although in their case, it was against the last in a long line of occupation armies).

Kerry could undoubtedly have gotten the same kind of rich-man's son deferments from Vietnam that Cheney and Bush received (along with a whole raft of contemporary chickenhawks). Instead, Kerry went to Vietnam. Despite what he experienced there, he could have wrapped himself in the flag and played the role of dutiful, obedient, unquestioning veteran and ignored the wrong that was America in Vietnam. Instead, he chose to speak out against a war that was a crime in itself.

Principles? Kerry unquestionably wins that contest over AWOL Bush.

I'll vote for a war president or an anti-war president, but I won't vote for some guy who once took a stand, but is now evasive.

Bush September 12, 2001:
"This battle will take time and resolve. But make no mistake about it: we will win."

Bush in 2002:
"We will win, because of what we love. We will win because we're determined and strong. We will win because we're a nation which holds values dear to our heart. And we refuse to be intimidated by anybody, at any place, at any time. We will win because we want to uphold our duty and obligation to leave America intact and free, so future generations of people, Hispanic or otherwise, can realize dreams, can succeed, can realize their God-given talents. That's what this is all about."

Bush in 2003:
"We will prevail. We will win because our cause is just. We will win because we will stay on the offensive. And we will win because you're part of the finest military ever assembled. And we will prevail because the Iraqis want their freedom."

Bush 8/30/2004
"Can we win?" the war on terror, Bush said, "I don't think you can win it."
[via Kos]
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 7:14 AM on August 31, 2004

what does everybody think? was winter soldier bankrolled by communists and populated with imposters?

There is a long discussion of this at World On Fire, entitled Stabbed in the Back, from where, in passing, comes this quote:

So, was there any truth to the Winter Soldier testimony that the commission of war crimes was not a result of a “few bad apples”, but was in fact an outgrowth of official US. Armed Forces policy? Here’s what the U.S. Army’s own Human Rights Program analysis of the My Lai massacre concluded:
The goal of American strategy in Vietnam was to kill the Viet Cong in such large numbers that they could no longer be replaced. An author-veteran of the Vietnam conflict wrote: "General Westmoreland’s strategy of attrition also had an important effect on our behavior. Our mission was not to win terrain or seize positions, but simply to kill: to kill Communists and kill as many of them as possible. Stack ‘em up like cordwood. Victory was a high body count, defeat a low kill ratio, war a matter of arithmetic. The pressure on unit commanders to produce enemy corpses was intense, and they in turn communicated it to their troops . . . It is not surprising, therefore, that some men acquired a contempt for human life and a predilection for taking it." General Westmoreland’s war of attrition was referred to as the "meatgrinder" in the Pentagon. Given the environment of Vietnam, this often pitted the US armed forces against the Vietnamese civilians.

1LT Calley, along with every other officer, quickly grasped "the protocol of body count culture." When asked how he arrived at a body count, 1LT Calley replied: "You just make an estimate off the top of your head. There is no way to really figure out exact body count . . . As long as it was high, that was all they wanted . . . I generally knew that if I lost a troop, I’d better come back with a body count of ten, say I shot at least ten of the enemy."

Although members of the armed forces were instructed on the Law of Land Warfare, virtually no one received instruction on unlawful or illegal orders, or on when not to obey orders. The instruction on the Hague and Geneva Conventions was minimal, and was about one hour in length. Every soldier received such instruction stateside as part of basic/advanced training. This was supplemented in Vietnam through the inclusion of the more important provisions of the Geneva Conventions in the ROEs, distributed by MACV in pocket-sized cards, which the Peers Commission ruled as "nothing short of ludicrous."

Via Needlenose
posted by y2karl at 7:19 AM on August 31, 2004

Thanks so much for all this material y2karl - haven't done so yet, but I will read it all. I had seen that Winter Soldier Report once before, but lost the link before I read it and couldn't recall the name. Your efforts are appreciated.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:27 AM on August 31, 2004

From FactCheck.Org:

Swift Boat Veterans Anti-Kerry Ad: "He Betrayed Us" With 1971 Anti-War Testimony: Group quotes Kerry's descriptions of atrocities by US forces. In fact, atrocities did happen.

Some atrocities by US forces have been documented beyond question. Kerry's 1971 testimony came less than one month after Army Lt. William Calley had been convicted in a highly publicized military trial of the murder of the murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai hamlet on March 16 1968, when upwards of 300 unarmed men, women and children were killed by the inexperienced soldiers of the Americal Division's Charley Company.

And since Kerry testified, ample evidence of other atrocities has come to light:
Son Thang: In 1998, for example, Marine Corps veteran Gary D. Solis published the book Son Thang: An American War Crime describing the court-martial of four US Marines for the apparently unprovoked killing 16 women and children on the night of February 19, 1970 in a hamlet about 20 miles south of Danang. The four Marines testified that they were under orders by their patrol leader to shoot the villagers. A young Oliver North appeared as a character witness and helped acquit the leader of all charges, but three were convicted.
Tiger Force: The Toledo Blade won a Pulitzer Prize this year for a series published in October, 2003 reporting that atrocities were committed by an elite US Army "Tiger Force" unit that the Blade said killed unarmed civilians and children during a seven-month rampage in 1967. "Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings," the Blade reported. "Investigators concluded that 18 soldiers committed war crimes ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty. But no one was charged."
"Hundreds" of others: In December 2003 The New York Times quoted Nicholas Turse, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University who has been studying government archives, as saying the records are filled with accounts of atrocities similar to those described by the Toledo Blade series. "I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported," Turse was quoted as saying. "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."
"Exact Same Stories": Keith Nolan, author of 10 published books on Vietnam, says he's heard many veterans describe atrocities just like those Kerry recounted from the Winter Soldier event. Nolan told FactCheck.org that since 1978 he's interviewed roughly 1,000 veterans in depth for his books, and spoken to thousands of others. "I have heard the exact same stories dozens if not hundreds of times over," he said. "Wars produce atrocities. Frustrating guerrilla wars produce a particularly horrific number of atrocities. That some individual soldiers and certain units responded with excessive brutality in Vietnam shouldn't really surprise anyone."
posted by y2karl at 9:37 PM on August 31, 2004

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