By: E&P Staff
A study of declassified Army documents by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday found that the killings of civilians by U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam war were far more numerous than previously known — and went largely unpunished. In total, 320 incidents of abuse by U.S. soldiers are substantiated.
“Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units,” the Times reported. “They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.”
Atrociities by U.S. troops in Iraq are currently gaining wide attention.
A Pentagon task force in the early 1970s compiled a file with 9000 documents. Records reveal seven massacres in Vietnam from 1967 through 1971 in which at least 137 civilians died, excluding the 1968 massacre in My Lai.
There were 78 other attacks on non-combatants in which at least 57 people were killed, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted.
The Times report includes, available online (at www.latimes.com), sworn statements by witnesses, investigators’ reports, a list of “verified civilian slayings,” and a memo by John Dean, President Nixon’s counsel, among other material.
One-fourth of the 203 soldiers accused of harming Vietnamese civilians or prisoners were court-martialed, but only 23 were convicted, according to the Times.
Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran who served on the task force, told the Times he once supported keeping the records secret but now believes they deserve wide attention in light of alleged attacks on civilians and abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
“We can’t change current practices unless we acknowledge the past,” said Johns.
Records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group were held at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, first released in 1994 and then forgotten. The Times said that a freelance journalist from New Jersey, Nick Turse, “came across the collection in 2002 while researching his doctoral dissertation for the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University.”