Tuesday, October 12, 2004

My Lai You Long Time


Before getting too deep into this piece, it is clear that even stepping into this turf leaves sanity on the doorstep. If Hell is the impossibility of reason, as was penned by Oliver Stone in his archetypical Vietnam movie, "Platoon," the War in Iraq has surely reached that slippery slope toward the darkened abyss in hyperspeed. The events over the last few days - with US military forces pushing the battle clock against the upcoming Muslim holidays - are beginning to reveal how disjointed this war has become. It is also a microcosm of the entire Bush presidency - always done on the cheap, based on distortions, put into play before the strategy is determined, at the behest of multi-national conglomerates, by leveraging the poor and middle class as easy-to-use gears in a harsh geopolitical machine.

And just when it was clear that the war was evolving into a second dip toward Vietnam territory, accounts are beginning to surface that call into question real atrocities reminiscient of the My Lai Massacre of 1968.

On March 16, 1968 the angry and frustrated men of Charlie Company, 11th Brigade, Americal Division entered the village of My Lai. "This is what you've been waiting for -- search and destroy -- and you've got it," said their superior officers. A short time later the killing began. When news of the atrocities surfaced, it sent shockwaves through the US political establishment, the military's chain of command, and an already divided American public.

My Lai lay in the South Vietnamese district of Son My, a heavily mined area of Vietcong entrenchment. Numerous members of Charlie Company had been maimed or killed in the area during the preceding weeks. The agitated troops, under the command of Lt. William Calley, entered the village poised for engagement with the elusive Vietcong.

As the "search and destroy" mission unfolded it soon degenerated into the massacre of over 300 apparently unarmed civilians including women, children, and the elderly. Calley ordered his men to enter the village firing, though there had been no report of opposing fire. According to eyewitness reports offered after the event, several old men were bayoneted, praying women and children were shot in the back of the head, and at least one girl was raped, and then killed. For his part, Calley was said to have rounded up a group of the villagers, ordered them into a ditch, and mowed them down in a fury of machine gun fire.

Word of the massacre did not reach the American public until November of 1969, when journalist Seymour Hersh published a story detailing his conversations with ex-GI and Vietnam veteran, Ron Ridenhour. Ridenhour learned of the events at My Lai from members of Charlie Company who had been there. Before speaking with Hersh, he had appealed to Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon to investigate the matter. The military investigation resulted in Calley's being charged with murder in September 1969 -- a full two months before the Hersh story hit the streets.

And now this in Iraq, as explained by Seymour Hersh, once again, by both video (click here) and transcription below. For readers wishing to review the story on RealMedia, the story begins at about 41:45. Hersh spoke at Berkeley last Friday, October 8th. He explains how he received a call from an American lieutenant in Iraq who had just witnessed other American soldiers massacring Iraqis.

HERSH: I got a call last week from a soldier -- it's different now, a lot of communication, 800 numbers. He's an American officer and he was in a unit halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. It's a place where we claim we've done great work at cleaning out the insurgency. He was a platoon commander. First lieutenant, ROTC guy.

It was a call about this. He had been bivouacing outside of town with his platoon. It was near, it was an agricultural area, and there was a granary around. And the guys that owned the granary, the Iraqis that owned the granary... It was an area that the insurgency had some control, but it was very quiet, it was not Fallujah. It was a town that was off the mainstream. Not much violence there. And his guys, the guys that owned the granary, had hired, my guess is from his language, I wasn't explicit -- we're talking not more than three dozen, thirty or so guards. Any kind of work people were dying to do. So Iraqis were guarding the granary. His troops were bivouaced, they were stationed there, they got to know everybody...

They were a couple weeks together, they knew each other. So orders came down from the generals in Baghdad, we want to clear the village, like in Samarra. And as he told the story, another platoon from his company came and executed all the guards, as his people were screaming, stop. And he said they just shot them one by one. He went nuts, and his soldiers went nuts. And he's hysterical. He's totally hysterical. And he went to the captain. He was a lieutenant, he went to the company captain. And the company captain said, "No, you don't understand. That's a kill. We got thirty-six insurgents."

You read those stories where the Americans, we take a city, we had a combat, a hundred and fifteen insurgents are killed. You read those stories. It's shades of Vietnam again, folks, body counts...

You know what I told him? I said, fella, I said: you've complained to the captain. He knows you think they committed murder. Your troops know their fellow soldiers committed murder. Shut up. Just shut up. Get through your tour and just shut up. You're going to get a bullet in the back. You don't need that. And that's where we are with this war.

Initial "investigations" of My Lai which had been done by the 11th Brigade's CO, Col Oran Henderson, under orders from Americal's Ass't CO, BG Young.

Six months later a young soldier of the 11th Light Infantry (The Butcher's Brigade) named Tom Glen, wrote a letter accusing the Americal division (and other entire units of the US military, not just individuals) of routine brutality against Vietnamese civilians; the letter was detailed, its allegations horrifying, and its contents echoed complaints received from other soldiers.

Colin Powell white-washed the letter, and questions continued to remain un-answered.

During the Vietnam War, Powell, as deputy assistant chief of staff at the Americal (the 23rd Infantry Division) with the rank of Major, was charged with investigating a detailed letter by Tom Glen (a soldier from the 11th Light Infantry Brigade), which backed up rumored allegations of the My Lai massacre. Powell's response was largely seen as a cover-up; he wrote: "In direct refutation of this portrayal is the fact that relations between American soldiers and the Vietnamese people are excellent."

Very little information about the "real" body count in Iraq has been made public. Obviously there is the military KIA figures, the count of Iraqi civilians killed, and now an increasing number of "insurgents" killed as pockets of resistance are battled back in preparation for the Iraqi elections in January.

For the third debate: "There are now reports of Iraqi massacres by coalition troops. Mr. President, what are the rules of engagement for free-fire zones in Iraq and are civilian deaths being included in the officially reported insurgent body counts from Fallujah and Najaf?"

History is repeating itself again.


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