Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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2 Tiger Force vets urge Army inquiry

For Rion Causey, it has been 37 years since he watched soldiers herd Vietnamese families against thatched huts before opening fire.

Thirty seven years since he saw soldiers lob grenades into a bunker where women and children hid for safety.

Thirty seven years since he counted the corpses.

After reading The Blade s series last year of the Tiger Force s rampage across the Central Highlands, he did something he debated for years: call the Pentagon.

But three months after offering his testimony to the Army about the war crimes he saw as a medic in 1967, he s still waiting to talk to investigators.

The 56-year-old nuclear engineer is one of two witnesses to contact the Army since The Blade s series, “Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths,” revealed the platoon s actions - the longest series of atrocities by a fighting unit in the Vietnam War.

Now, a leading human rights group and an Ohio congressman are urging the Army to interview the former soldiers.

Amnesty International will ask the Defense Department to meet with the witnesses, saying the atrocities are among the worst to emerge from reports about the Vietnam War in years.

Last week, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) wrote acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee, urging the Army to talk to the witnesses and conduct an investigation.

“Two veterans, both witnesses to atrocities, simply want to have their stories investigated by the Army and to find out why the Army failed to take action,” Mr. Kucinich said.

The effort to bring the witnesses forward is the latest development in a case that has gained international attention since the newspaper series was published between Oct. 19 and 22.

A Vietnamese provincial official is tracing the movements of Tiger Force through the Central Highlands in 1967 to determine the whereabouts of thousands of civilians missing since the war.

The U.S. Army agreed to review the case in late October, but has yet to interview witnesses.

The Blade series showed at least 81 unarmed civilians - men, women and children - were killed by platoon members between May and November, in some cases as villagers prayed for their lives. But based on interviews with former soldiers and civilians, the platoon is estimated to have slain hundreds of unarmed villagers.

The newspaper found the Army conducted a 41/2 -year investigation beginning in 1971 - the longest war crimes inquiry of the Vietnam conflict - substantiating 20 atrocities involving 18 soldiers. But after reaching the Nixon White House, the case was quietly dropped in 1975 with no one charged.

A member of the platoon for six months in Vietnam, Mr. Causey said he watched as the unit broke the rules of war.

He contends that commanders who oversaw the unit - part of the 101st Airborne Division - knew of the atrocities, and, in some cases, encouraged the attacks to help boost what was known as “body count,” the term used to count dead enemy soldiers.

“It was out of control,” said Mr. Causey, who now resides in California. “You don t tolerate things like that.

“I still want to see those officers called on the carpet. They have yet to answer to what happened, and that s wrong.”

Another witness who has stepped forward since The Blade series said he has written to the Army s Criminal Investigation Command to talk about the executions of civilians by Tiger Force.

“I saw it with my own eyes,” said Dennis Stout, a former Army journalist, 58, who was assigned to cover Tiger Force in July, 1967, for the military newspaper, The Screaming Eagle. “I ll never forget what I saw. I ve lived with this for a long time.”

He and Mr. Causey describe a platoon that was systematically targeting unarmed villagers in the Quang Ngai and Quang Nam provinces - some of the soldiers severing ears and scalps for souvenirs.

Mr. Stout, now a Phoenix contractor, said he watched Tiger Force soldiers round up 35 women and children and execute them in a rice paddy in the Song Ve Valley in July.

Mr. Causey said he counted as many as 120 civilians killed during a bloody, 33-day stretch in October and November northwest of Chu Lai.

“We would call on the radio to say that we found nine people in a hootch, and we would ask what we were supposed to do with them, and word would come back, Kill them. So, we lined them up against the hootch, and shot them.

After the war, records show Army agents searched unsuccessfully for Mr. Causey in 1973 during the military investigation of Tiger Force.

Mr. Causey said he still struggles with the memories of the massacres 37 years ago - one of the reasons he wants to talk to investigators.

“I called them twice after reading the series before I got a call back from a colonel, who told me they were going to send a warrant officer to talk to me. That was three months ago.”

Mr. Stout said he wrote the Army s Criminal Investigation Command Jan. 23, but has not yet been interviewed.

“I m here to tell them what went wrong,” said Mr. Stout. “I m here to tell them how things went out of control. I saw it from the ground.

“I ll bet there are hundreds if not thousands of papers written by captains and colonels on how we can avoid military atrocities and what we can do to keep civilians from being killed. But there s probably very little from enlisted people - privates and sergeants - and, unfortunately, that s where it all starts.”

Forty-three former Tiger Force soldiers were interviewed by The Blade as part of the series, with 10 admitting to killing unarmed women and children in what were clear violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and U.S. military law. Several said they regretted their actions.

Curt Goering, senior deputy executive director of Amnesty International, said last week his organization, which monitors human-rights violations, will raise the Tiger Force case with U.S. Defense Department officials later this year.

“It s important that the government take this seriously, and if it doesn t, it s a great dereliction of duty,” he said. “The last thing you want to do in light of these revelations - and these are serious - is to sweep them under the rug.”

He said representatives of the human rights organization will ask the military to expand its review of the Tiger Force case by interviewing witnesses. “This is absolutely appropriate.”

He said the case is one of many issues Amnesty International will bring to the government s attention at a series of meetings later this year.

The Army s Criminal Investigation Command has repeatedly refused to comment on the review, which consists of comparing The Blade s series with the records of the investigation from three decades ago.

In previous interviews, Joe Burlas, an Army spokesman, said some former soldiers could still be charged since there s no statute of limitations for murder.

William Eckhardt, the prosecutor in the My Lai massacre case in which Army soldiers were accused of slaughtering 504 Vietnamese villagers in 1968, said the military should talk to the former soldiers.

“We can learn from My Lai and Tiger Force,” said Mr. Eckhardt, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

“They serve a purpose. It s important to examine what happened so the Army doesn t make the same mistakes - especially with our forces in Iraq. What Tiger Force did was inexcusable. You can t kill civilians. That s just wrong.”

Mr. Kucinich said the Army needs to take the case more seriously and move beyond a “paper review.” He said he will press for hearings on the Tiger Force case before the House s national security, emerging threats, and international relations subcommittee, on which he is the ranking Democrat.

“These individuals are in the right, since there is no statute of limitations for the war crimes of torturing and murdering civilians,” he said. “The Army s refusal to speak with them is regrettable. I am hopeful that public attention will help persuade the Army to improve its conduct in this case."

Dr. Joseph Nevins, a Vassar College professor who studies international atrocities, said the American military has tried in the past “to bury these kinds of cases,” but that there is a “danger in doing so.”

“What Tiger Force shows is that these atrocities did happen, and it wasn t just My Lai. What we ve tried to do is to forget that this happened in Vietnam, and to say My Lai was [the exception]. We need to learn from this. We definitely don t need to just move on.”

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