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Published: 3/12/2004


Tiger Force answers still elusive

For 37 years former Army journalist Dennis Stout has waited for answers - and justice - after witnessing members of an elite platoon in Vietnam kill unarmed civilians.

The Army conducted a major probe in the 1970s but buried the results and did not charge anyone. After The Blade exposed the atrocities in October, the Army began reviewing its case again - even reinterviewing Mr. Stout - and told U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) that answers would be available at the end of March.

They're still waiting.

Mr. Kucinich sent a letter this week to acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee asking again why the Army did not prosecute former members of the unit known as Tiger Force and whether it plans to prosecute them now.

"I hope that the Army today is taking seriously the crimes committed by people in uniform in 1967, and the failure of the Army to prosecute even one of those cases," Mr. Kucinich wrote.

The Blade's October series, "Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths," documented the war crimes of a highly acclaimed platoon that went on long search-and-destroy missions. Facing enemy ambushes and booby traps, some soldiers turned their weapons on unarmed men, women, and children in a slaughter through two provinces in the Central Highlands from May to November, 1967, the longest-known series of atrocities by a battle unit in Vietnam, with a death toll estimated in the hundreds.

A week after the series ran, the Army opened an "active review" of the case.

Since then, the Army's public affairs office has rarely responded to requests from The Blade seeking updates on the status of the case, including one request May 3. Reached yesterday, Lt. Col. Pamela Hart said she had been too busy responding to prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers in Iraq to check on the status of the Tiger Force case.

In the Iraq case, seven military police reservists have been charged with crimes, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted to Congress Friday that he will push for justice.

"Part of what we believe in is making sure that when wrongdoing or scandal do occur, that they are not covered up, but they are exposed, they are investigated, and the guilty are brought to justice," he testified.

Still, a key question remains about Mr. Rumsfeld's role in the Tiger Force case, which was killed the same month in 1975 that Mr. Rumsfeld began his first stint as secretary of defense. Mr. Rumsfeld has said he does not remember the case despite it being the longest war-crimes investigation of Vietnam.

Mr. Kucinich said he is waiting for findings from the latest Army Tiger Force probe, under which:

w●Col. William Condron, chief of criminal law for the judge advocate general's office, would determine how the original case was dropped and who ordered it dropped. Allegations were still secret, and prosecution risked publicity.

w●Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, the Army's top law-enforcement officer, would decide whether to recommend prosecutions of anyone in the case, including any of the 18 former soldiers who originally have been found by Army investigators to have committed crimes. There is no statute of limitations on murder, and retired soldiers still could be prosecuted.

General Ryder is also a key player in the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, having issued a classified report in November that warned of problems in the Iraqi prison system. Still, Mr. Stout is skeptical the Army will follow through on its latest Tiger Force inquiry, noting how no one has been prosecuted for crimes he has long reported from the Quang Ngai province, including the execution of 35 women and children in a field in July, 1967.

"I don't think the culture has changed a bit," said Mr. Stout, now a contractor in Arizona.

Army agents this year also interviewed former medic Rion Causey, who said officers systematically ordered the platoon to kill all males in part of Quang Nam province.

The California nuclear engineer is also frustrated. "There's no sense in dragging this out," he said.

Contact Joe Mahr at:

jmahr@theblade.com

or 419-724-6180.