Official documents show troops who reported abuse in Vietnam were discredited even as the military was finding evidence of worse.
Now, declassified records show that while the Army was working energetically to discredit Herbert, a US soldier who had exposed war crimes, military investigators were uncovering torture and mistreatment that went well beyond what he had described.
The abuses were not made public, and few of the wrongdoers were punished.
Investigators identified 29 members of the 173rd Airborne as suspects in confirmed cases of torture. Fifteen of them admitted the acts. Yet only three were punished, records show. They received fines or reductions in rank. None served any prison time.
The accounts of torture and the Army's effort to discredit Herbert emerged from a review of a once-secret Pentagon archive.
The collection — about 9,000 pages — was compiled in the early 1970s by an Army task force that monitored war crimes investigations. The files, examined recently by the Los Angeles Times, include memos, case summaries, investigative reports and sworn witness statements.
Those and related records detail 141 instances of detainee and prisoner abuse in Vietnam, including 127 involving the 173rd Airborne.
The Army task force, created after journalist Seymour Hersh exposed the 1968 My Lai massacre, served to give military brass and the White House early warning about potentially damaging revelations.
The war crimes records were declassified in 1994 and moved to the National Archives in College Park, Md., where they went largely unnoticed.
The Times examined most of the files before officials removed them from the public shelves, saying they contained personal information that was exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.
Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, 78, a Vietnam veteran who served on the task force, said the files provided important lessons for dealing with the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq:
"If we rationalize it as isolated acts, as we did in Vietnam and as we're doing with Abu Ghraib and similar atrocities, we'll never correct the problem."
Read the full story!Los Angeles Times
Sunday August 20, 2006.
A Tortured Past (and the sidebar article by Nick Turse.)
These are explosive pieces!