Swift Boat Swill

From the National Archives: New proof of Vietnam War atrocities

John Kerry is being pilloried for his shocking Senate testimony 34 years ago that many U.S. soldiers—not just a few "rogues"—were committing atrocities against the Vietnamese. U.S. military records that were classified for decades but are now available in the National Archives back Kerry up and put the lie to his critics. Contrary to what those critics, including the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, have implied, Kerry was speaking on behalf of many soldiers when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, and said this:

They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam, in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

The archives have hundreds of files of official U.S. military investigations of such atrocities committed by American soldiers. I've pored over those records—which were classified for decades—for my Columbia University dissertation and, now, this Voice article. The exact number of investigated allegations of atrocities is unknown, as is the number of such barbaric incidents that occurred but weren't investigated. Some war crimes, like the Tiger Force atrocities exposed last year by The Toledo Blade, have only come to light decades later. Others never will. But there are plentiful records to back up Kerry's 1971 testimony point by point. Following (with the names removed or abbreviated) are examples, directly from the archives:

John Kerry testifies to Vietnam horrors in 1971
John Kerry testifies to Vietnam horrors in 1971


"They had personally raped"

On August 12, 1967, Specialist S., a military intelligence interrogator, "raped . . . a 13-year-old . . . female" in an interrogation hut in a P.O.W. compound. He was convicted of assault and indecent acts with a child. He served seven months and 16 days for his crimes.


"Cut off ears"

On August 9, 1968, a seven-man patrol led by First Lieutenant S. entered Dien Tien hamlet. "Shortly thereafter, Private First Class W. was heard to shout to an unidentified person to halt. W. fired his M-16 several times, and the victim was killed. W. then dragged the body to [the lieutenant's] location. . . . Staff Sergeant B. told W. to bring back an ear or finger if he wanted to prove himself a man. W. later went back to the body and removed both ears and a finger." W. was charged with assault and conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline; he was court-martialed and convicted, but he served no prison time. B. was found guilty of assault and was fined $50 a month for three months. S. was discharged from the army before action could be taken against him.


"Cut off heads"

On June 23, 1967, members of the 25th Infantry Division killed two enemy soldiers in combat in Binh Duong province. An army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe disclosed that "Staff Sergeant H. then decapitated the bodies with an axe." H. was court-martialed and found guilty of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline. His grade was reduced, but he served no prison time.


"Taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power"

On January 10, 1968, six Green Berets in Long Hai, South Vietnam, "applied electrical torture via field telephones to the sensitive areas of the bodies of three men and one woman . . . " Four received reprimands and "Article 15s"—a nonjudicial punishment meted out by a commanding officer or officer in charge for minor offenses. A fifth refused to accept his Article 15, and no other action was taken against him. No action was taken against the sixth Green Beret.


"Cut off limbs"

A CID investigation disclosed that during late February or early March 1968 near Thanh Duc, South Vietnam, First Lieutenant L. ordered soldier K. to shoot an unidentified Vietnamese civilian. "K. shot the Vietnamese civilian, leaving him with wounds in the chest and stomach. Soldier B., acting on orders from L., returned to the scene and killed the Vietnamese civilian, and an unidentified medic severed the Vietnamese civilian's left arm." No punishment was meted out because none of the "identified perpetrators" was found to be on active duty at the time of the June 1971 investigation.


"Blown up bodies"

On February 14, 1969, Platoon Sergeant B. and Specialist R., on a reconnaissance patrol in Binh Dinh province, "came upon three Vietnamese males . . . whom they detained and then shot at close range using M-16 automatic fire. B. then arranged the bodies on the ground so that their heads were close together. A fragmentation grenade was dropped next to the heads of the bodies." B. was court-martialed, convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to a reduction in grade and a fine of $97 per month for six months—after which time he re-enlisted. R. was court-martialed and found not guilty.


"Randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan"

While a U.S. "helicopter hunter-killer team . . . was on a recon mission in Cambodia," its members fired rockets at buildings and "engaged various targets [in a small village] with machine-gun fire. Gunship preparatory fire preceded the landing of a South Vietnamese army platoon, which had been diverted from another mission. A U.S. captain accompanied the platoon on the ground in violation of standing orders. The South Vietnamese troops, reconnoitering by fire, did not search bunkers for enemy forces, nor were enemy weapons found. . . . Civilian casualties were estimated at eight dead, including two children, 15 wounded, and three or four structures destroyed. There is no evidence that the wounded were provided medical treatment by either U.S. or South Vietnamese forces. . . . Members of the South Vietnamese platoon returned to the aircraft with large quantities of civilian property. . . . The incident was neither properly investigated nor reported initially." Letters of reprimand were issued to a lieutenant colonel and a major. The captain received a letter of reprimand.

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