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October 20, 2003
Report: Army unit massacred 100s of Vietnamese civilians in 1967

The Pentagon's investigation into Army war crimes in Vietnam in 1967 has apparently stalled out before it was made public:

An elite unit of U.S. soldiers mutilated and killed hundreds of unarmed villagers over seven months in 1967 during the Vietnam War, and an Army investigation was closed with no charges filed, the Toledo Blade reported Sunday. ... The Army's 4 1/2-year investigation, never before made public, was initiated by a soldier outraged at the killings. The investigation substantiated 20 war crimes by 18 soldiers and reached the Pentagon and White House before it was closed in 1975, the Blade said.

The Pentagon had a difficult task in trying to piece together a case from actions that took place 36 years ago, but the level of atrocity of which the volunteer Tiger Force is accused was disturbing:

Soldiers of Tiger Force, a unit of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, dropped grenades into bunkers where villagers -- including women and children -- hid, and shot farmers without warning, the newspaper reported.

Soldiers told the Blade they severed ears from the dead and strung them on shoelaces to wear around their necks. ... The Blade said it is not known how many civilians were killed. Records show at least 78 were shot or stabbed, the newspaper said. Based on interviews with former Tiger Force soldiers and Vietnamese civilians, it is estimated the unit killed hundreds of unarmed people, the Blade said.

The AP reports that the Pentagon has decided that bringing charges at this point in time would be a waste of time; anyone tried for war crimes would have to be tried in civilian court rather than a military court-martial, and the evidence and testimony would not be compelling enough to result in conviction. I think that simply closing this case is a wrong-headed notion, though. This type of allegation needs public airing, or at least independent investigation, even if individual names are withheld until a potential trial. No allegation could be more damaging to our troops in the field now than the accusation that the US military condones murder and mutilation of civilians, even if it's in the past.

UPDATE: I misread this story the first couple of times I read it through. It appears that the investigation occurred in the early to mid 70s, and was closed by 1975. It is still disturbing to me that war crimes were "substantiated" but no action was taken, although given the political climate of the mid-70s, I can understand the Army's reluctance to air more dirty laundry publicly. It begs the question as to how many more of these incidents were investigated and closed without public knowledge, though, and that's the damage that cover-ups cause.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 20, 2003 5:29 AM

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