Members of the radical group Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) are busy preparing to host a new "war crimes" conference next month in Washington. The event, billed as Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan, takes its title from the IVAW's namesake and mentor, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). However, information has now come to light that profoundly undermines the VVAW's original atrocity claims.
Recently discovered US Army documents offer a much clearer picture of the military's investigations of the VVAW's lurid allegations. Of 76 Army witnesses who appeared at the group's 1971 "Winter Soldier" conference, summary reports of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) investigations are available for 48. Three witnesses were not identified. The rest failed to allege criminal acts and were apparently not interviewed.
The Los Angeles Times had access to these records more than a year ago. In a long 2006 article on war crimes in Vietnam, reporters Nick Turse and Deborah Nelson reported:
The Times examined most of the [Vietnam War Crimes Working Group] files and obtained copies of about 3,000 pages -- about a third of the total -- before government officials removed them from the public shelves, saying they contained personal information that was exempt [sic] from the Freedom of Information Act.
(Note: In fact, the collection is not exempt from the FOIA but subject to its
provisions, which is why the raw documents were removed from public
access once the National Archives realized its mistake in having
previously made them available.)
After the high-profile national debate during the 2004 campaign over John Kerry's 1971 recital of the VVAW's atrocity allegations before a Senate committee, it is difficult to imagine that the LA Times failed to carefully examine the Army's VVAW case reports. They must not have pleased the paper's editors, for the only report concerning a Winter Soldier allegation the article cited was that for James Henry -- the one and only VVAW witness whose charges were found to merit additional investigation by the CID.
Instead, the LA Times merely noted:
In 1971, Henry joined more than 100 other veterans at the Winter Soldier Investigation, a forum on war crimes sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
The FBI put the three-day gathering at a Detroit hotel under surveillance, records show, and Nixon administration officials worked behind the scenes to discredit the speakers as impostors and fabricators.
Co-author Turse was clearly well aware of the contents of the CID reports. In a 2004 Village Voice article in which he attacked the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, he wrote:
The [National 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.
Turse provided details of the CID investigations into the Winter Soldier allegations:
Moreover, according to official records, CID investigators attempted to contact 41 people who testified at the Detroit session, which occurred between January 31 and February 2, 1971. Five couldn't be located, according to records. Of the remaining 36, 31 submitted to interviews...
Later in the article, Turse observed:
...some veterans told investigators after the WSI that they would not offer any further testimony or would only speak before Congress or a congressional committee.
However, Turse omitted the most basic fact about the CID's VVAW investigations -- the fact that all but one case was closed as unsubstantiated, demonstrably untrue, or for lack of evidence.
Instead, he listed examples of other crimes that were similar to those alleged at WSI for which the CID had filed charges, implying that therefore the VVAW's claims must also be valid. What this little exercise in innuendo really demonstrated was that military judicial authorities took such allegations seriously and generally obtained indictments when the evidence warranted -- just the opposite of Turse's conclusion:
But in fact -- and despite later claims to the contrary by their pro-war critics -- most of the Winter Soldier participants had publicly given accounts with their own names, unit identifications, dates of service, and sometimes rather detailed descriptions of locations -- namely, all the information needed to proceed with investigations. In practically all the specific Winter Soldier cases, such probes were never done.
The Army summary reports clearly show that this is untrue. When information was available, the CID conducted investigations. However, the most damning indictment of Turse's reporting is his complete failure to mention that at least ten VVAW activists repudiated some or all of their testimony when interviewed by military authorities.
Turse and the LA Times had good reason to believe that this information would remain hidden. The War Crimes Working Group records at the National Archives are no longer available to the public. Freedom of Information requests made several years ago have not been filled, due to an immense backlog in the process of redacting personal information.
Accurately reporting the results of the Army's VVAW investigations would significantly damage the longstanding leftist myth that we were the bad guys in Vietnam: that the Americans, rather than the Vietnamese communists, employed terror tactics against civilians as a standard policy -- a myth to which Turse and the LA Times are profoundly committed. They evidently did not foresee the possibility that other researchers lacking their bias might have also copied these documents while they were publicly available.
The LA Times article also makes full use of another tactic favored by anti-military writers: dwelling at length upon a small number of crimes without providing any statistical context, to leave the impression that such events are widespread and routine:
In addition to the 320 substantiated incidents, the records contain material related to more than 500 alleged atrocities that Army investigators could not prove or that they discounted.
In reality, significant numbers of crimes occur in every group with a large population. For example, Detroit, population 1.5 million, recorded more than 700 murders in 1971, the year the Winter Soldiers gathered there to make their unsubstantiated atrocity claims.
In January of this year, the New York Times published a long article detailing violent crimes that veterans committed after returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Times carefully avoided pointing out that civilians actually commit such crimes at a significantly higher rate. In 2004, the newspaper treated its readers to more than 50 front page stories on a minor prison abuse scandal in Iraq that military officials had uncovered and were already handling. The purpose of such slanted reporting is obvious: to persuade the public to view the US military with distrust and contempt.
As the LA Times prepares for its next round of layoffs, polls indicate that the number of news consumers who do not trust the old media is still rising. One reason for this is the steady increase in public awareness of how these news organizations systematically distort and conceal any information that contradicts their political agenda.