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Published: Friday, 4/2/2004

3 Blade staffers honored for investigation of Vietnam atrocities

Three Blade reporters received the highest honor from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., for their 2003 series uncovering atrocities by an elite U.S. fighting force during the Vietnam War.

Michael Sallah, Mitch Weiss, and Joe Mahr received the IRE medal for their series - "Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths'' - which detailed the savage sweep by the 101st Airborne Division's Tiger Force platoon through 40 villages in Vietnam in 1967. The newspaper found that civilians and prisoners were tortured and killed and that field commanders knew of the violence and in some cases encouraged it.

Even though the Army investigated the actions of Tiger Force for 4 1/2 years, finding that 18 soldiers committed war crimes ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty, the case never reached a military court and no one was ever charged.

Judges called the series "an astonishing story of brutal war crimes that stayed hidden for more than 35 years." They noted that The Blade's reporters talked to 43 former Tiger Force soldiers about their time in Vietnam.

The medal awarded to The Blade team is a "best of show" award that is given to investigative work that stands out even among the IRE award winners in the 15 categories judged each year, according to Contest Committee Chairman Steve Doig.

"We only want to give medals, awards, and declare as finalists really the best investigative work," he said.

"Recognition by IRE is a great honor for any newspaper," said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade. "We are pleased that The Blade's Tiger Force series was singled out for distinction."

IRE, a 5,000-member organization based at the University of Missouri school of journalism, honors outstanding investigative work.

A medal was also given to David Cay Johnston, a reporter at The New York Times, for his book Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else.

The Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, S.D., won the IRE's Freedom of Information Award for detailing pardons granted by former Gov. Bill Janklow.

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