War Crimes: Who Is Responsible?
by Mark Lane
Internet permission B.R.P.F. 1998
Summary: Atrocities by Americans in Vietnam; report by one witness, prefaced here by Mark Lane on supposed legal controls on the C.I.A., Army and so on - Rae West
Mark Lane is the New York attorney whose best-selling book "Rush to Judgment" is the definitive destruction of the credibility of the Warren Commission's report on the assassination of President Kennedy.
Introduction by Mark Lane: The monumental work of the Russell International War Crimes Tribunal rested primarily upon the testimony of the victims and of observers.
In the last several months I have travelled to Army bases throughout the United States and West Germany. I have interviewed members of the Armed Forces there, as well as deserters from the services who have fled to France, Canada or Sweden.
In the course of my work, the preparation of a film and a book on the subject of the response to the military by draft-age Americans, I have met many veterans of combat in Vietnam. The charges made by the Tribunal have now been corroborated and confirmed many times over, through the admissions of those who participated.
In a short while, a collection of interviews with servicemen will be published, under the title Conversations with Americans. Printed below is one such interview.
After reading it one is compelled to ask: who is responsible? After I had met several Vietnam veterans in Stockholm I arranged for a press conference so that they could speak directly to the press. C.B.S. Television declined to cover the conference, explaining that "atrocity stories are a glut on the market", a conclusion at which an avid watcher of C.B.S. television might have had difficulty in arriving.
At the Conference a radio reporter demanded of a former Marine who had described a massacre in which he played a part "the name of the Captain". The Marine was reluctant to reveal the name. He later explained: "This operation was standard Marine procedure. Why should they hang it all on one scapegoat?" The reporter persisted: "I must know the name. We are entitled to know who was responsible ". The massacre had taken place during1967. I explained to the reporter that the man responsible held the rank of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and that his name was Lyndon Baines Johnson. I noticed that the reporter failed to jot the name down on his pad.
Not long before the Song My massacre was revealed in the American press, several members of the Green Berets or Special Forces Service, including the colonel who commanded the outfit in Vietnam, had been arrested and charged with the murder of a man suspected to be a double agent. It was apparent that the Central Intelligence Agency, old hands at assassination, had played a part, although it never did become clear as to what their role was. The case against the Green Berets seemed to be dependant upon testimony to be adduced from C.I.A. operatives. Suddenly the press announced that the C.I.A. had decided not to co-operate with the prosecuting authority, that the case had been abandoned, and the men previously charged with murder, freed.
The C.I.A. is a branch of the executive. No employee of that organisation, not even its director, may decide to refrain from testifying about information that he possesses.
Under American law only the Chief Executive, the President of the United States, may plead executive privilege and thus prevent one of his employees from testifying.
The massacre of 526 civilians is a crime so odious that it will mark each American who did not denounce it, each supporter who shrugged it off as an isolated, unfortunate, but expected act of war. The thought of mothers clutching babies as the automatic weapons opened fire is too horrifying to contemplate. Yet, on the scale of morality, where does one place it in relation to the condonation by President Nixon of the murder of a suspected double agent? Was not the President's act in so highly publicised a case a licence to kill? Who is responsible?
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Q: What is your name?
A: Jimmy Robertson
Q: And you are from where?
A: Washington, D.C.
Q: How old were you when you entered the army?
A: I was nineteen when I enlisted
Q: Did you attend high school?
A: Yes. I didn't finish it, though, I quit. And then I went to night school. I was going to night school when I went into the Army. I'd almost finished enough credits for my last year. then when I came into the Army I took some tests that they said, if you pass them you get your diploma. So they said I'd passed them. I took these five G.3 tests, and I came out with good scores.
Q: When did you enlist?
A: It was the 1st April, '66.
Q: And where did you take your basic?
A: I went to do basic at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Q: And where did you get A.I.T.?
A: In Fort Jackson.
Q: South Carolina?
A: Yes. I was sent to a unit that was preparing to leave for Vietnam. It was building up a battalion. And I was there a couple of months, and then we all moved down on a boat with a couple of other battalions.
Q: A boat for Vietnam? you went by boat?
A: Yeah. Twenty-one days.
Q: And where did you arrive in Vietnam?
A: Oh, we arrived in Fung Tao. It's on the coast. And we got in at night. We couldn't get off, so we had to dock out till morning before we boarded these things to land on the shore. You know, landing craft.
Q: How long were you in Vietnam?
A: For a year.
Q: Did you see combat?
A: Well, not all the time. You see, I was on a kind of unit of support to the First Infantry. My unit was the 36th Signal Combat Support Unit. We went over there, and they told us that we would be in the field half the year, with communications, and there was a lot of drivers in the company, a lot of truck drivers, and we'd be doing things that we were not necessarily trained in. We'd have to do things, you know, whether we wanted to or not.
Q: When did you see action?
A: Oh, right at the beginning. It was just mortarattacks and things like this. A few mortar attacks.
Q: On your unit?
A: On the compound I was in. And there were not many attacks, maybe once in a while a few cats would get killed, but not that many. And then, like after a month we were attached to the First Infantry and they moved us to a place by where they'd got a big infantry base. And we came there, we came under their jurisdiction, so they told us that we'd be doing what they said, and that just because we were in a signal unit that didn't mean nothing. We'd have to pull patrols and things like that.
I mean, you can't fight the Army, not one man. About this type of thing, you know. We were going out on day patrols with, you know, infantry cats that had been doing it for a long time and they were teaching us several things. And then we had to pull night patrols, I mean the day patrols weren't bad, and then we had to pull night patrols and to pull guard on ammunition dumps and things like this. It was after a couple of months that, you know, things started getting hot like. We had to go out on a big operation, and it was a big operation called Cedar Falls. And this was about forty miles north of Saigon. They got a big woods up there called Huan San Wood where there was a big enemy concentration. And like we pulled the operation -- first I was just pulling convoys and we get hit a few times, and then like I was getting into a little trouble because I was gettinginvolved in things. Smoking.
Q: What percentage of the guys would you say "smoke"?
A: I'd say at least 75%. Then I was told that I had to pull back and pull guard. And then like everything got kind of mixed up with me because I was getting involved, I was really hitting things heavy, and I was getting my mind really . . . it was really getting on my nerves the whole thing. I wanted to just drop out of everything. And I told them I was sick of it, you know, pulling these convoys, and I wanted, I mean, I didn't even know why the hell I was there. And like . . . but I did, I went ahead and pulled my guard and things, but I stayed pretty stoned, well, like after pulling guard -- a little while -- then I was thrown in with these infantry cats and like we had -- it was like the end of the operation -- they were making a big sweep and we had to go -- I had to go out with them on search and destroy. I didn't want to go, but like I had to go anyway and like we were all pretty, pretty high. I mean, I'd say, like I said 75% of the cats on the whole operation were just gone completely.
Q: What where they smoking?
A: Mostly grass. A few opium. But we were making a big sweep and like, everything is a little hazy. Certain things you get yourself pretty messed up. I don't know, we were coming to . . . I don't even know the name of the place, just a little, little place. But anyway we got into some . . . we got ambushed and a few people got killed.
A: A few G.I's got killed and a few people from the village, you know, accidentally got into the way of things, of the fire, then they got killed. A few women. And old men. And like there was a big squabble, you know, and like the next thing I know they told me, some cat told me, that we best go out and smoke, because we might have to be doing something. And, I don't know, I didn't understand quite what was happening. And like the next thing I know we got the word down from the sergeant that we had to, like there was about fifteen or twenty people I'd say, at the most.
Q: In the village?
A: Yeah, that were left. But there wasn't too many to begin with. Some were already evacuated. They weren't supposed to be there. They were told, I mean, there were V.C. in the area, and they'd been warned, I mean, they weren't supposed to be there. The officers on our base were pretty pissed off because some cats got killed that wouldn't have gotten killed, if they'd been warned by the people in the village. So, I don't know, next thing I know a sergeant he just said, "We're going to get them, we've got to finish all of them." And like, I don't know, I didn't really understand what he meant. I mean, I don't think he was right or anything. But I didn't, I don't know, I was pretty stoned. The next think I know it was a few people, there was about a platoon of us with them M-16s, and I don't know who started it off, somebody started firing, so I started firing, and . . .
Q: How many people were killed?
A: All of them. Around about fifteen or twenty.
Q: Who were they ?
A: It was like, mostly it was all what we would say old people. And a few women.
Q: Any children ?
A: I think there was a couple. Maybe. They were pretty big. But like we were told to be hush up about it. We were told it was nothing would be said about it afterwards. And like, nobody even knew where we were at. And we didn't know the name of the place we were at. Some of the cats cracked up afterwards. I even cracked up afterwards, like ...
Q: What do you mean -- they cracked up?
A: Mostly cats were stoned. Like, you know, as far as myself you know, I happened to look into somebody's eyes, a woman's eyes, and she .... I don't know, I looked, I mean, just before we started firing, I mean. You know, I didn't want to. I wanted to turn around and walk away. It was something telling me not to do it. Something told me not, you know, just turn around and not be part of it, but -- when everybody else started firing, I started firing, and then they came in, some other cats after we left, and they came in with bulldozers. Just destroyed the whole village. Half of it was destroyed anyway, and it was like it was never there. I mean, there was a big hole dug and all these bodies were thrown in it and then, pst, we moved on.
Q: All was covered up ?
A: Yeah. Like nobody knew the name of the place, and when the people asked questions, you know, we asked questions, we were told that if we said anything, we'd be severely punished.
Q: Who said that?
A: Some sergeant. He told me he was just taking orders, though. So like having nothing said about it, but like afterwards, the operation ended, then we came back to base camp. Some of the cats were still living it in their head and like they were really cracking up. They were getting some guy to a hospital.
Q: How many guys went to hospital?
A: I don't know. Just a few cats cracked up. Some of them liked it. Like this guy Sanders. He was a big guy, over six foot. Everybody called him "Comanchee". He was known in the First Division for being a good soldier. He never talked back and he did everything they told him. His specialty was long range reconnaissance patrol. This is a special thing they make up of guys to be specially trained. And they drop them out of helicopters in a certain area, and each one has a certain job. And they are supposed to take prisoners and then bring them back. And then they radio in for a helicopter. And then they come and pick them up. And this guy was completely gone. He used to carry a hatchet, and he had it sharpened like a razor, and he'd sneak up on people that were coming up the bushes, and instead of taking them alive he'd just cut their heads off, he'd put the heads in a bag and bring them back. It was in the First Division, and if you killed a certain number of the enemy you got a three-day pass, but you had to bring back their ears. Comanchee would bring back their heads. They would send you to a place where there wasn't too much fighting, like on the beach where you just would get mortar attacks. It's a recreational centre there. They kept on giving him medals.
Q: Did you actually see him with a bag full ofheads?
A: I was in my tent, at the base camp. He'd come back in. He was always laughing strangely. And he would say things like: "I got me another one. I got me another little slant-eye." The whole war was crazy, but having him around was too much. I was sitting in my tent, like this, just thinking, and he came in, back from one of his patrols, he had a burlap bag. He sat beside me on my bed. Next thing I know, he opens up the bag and three or four heads fall out on the bed, they were cut off at the neck. When he did that I just started screaming. He was laughing while he was pulling the heads out on the bed. I wondered why they didn't send him to a hospital. But the Army liked this guy. He did what they told him. And he enjoyed it, he actually enjoyed
Q: Did you ever hear of torture of prisoners?
A: I've seen a few beat up. One time the Tiger Division of the South Korean Army, they don't play around, they are trained to kill, they took this prisoner and they hung him up by a tree, and the guy comes up with a knife and says: "I'm going to slice on you". And he cut him up, and then the man started to talk.
Q: Did you ever hear about prisoners thrown out of helicopters?
A: I never saw it, because I wasn't in a helicopter, but I heard about it. They said that when they get prisoners they take them up in a helicopter and "you talk or we'll push you out". If you've got five prisoners, you push the first one out, and the second one is going to get the message.
Q: Did you ever see a village burned down besides the one you made reference to?
A: Yes. Sometimes the sergeants would say, especially if some of the guys had been wounded or killed," We don't care what you do, do what you want, we don't care. You can rape the women or whatever you want."
Q: Were the women in the villages raped?
A: Sometimes when we were out on patrol in the field for a long time without women. Some of the cats would get real horny, and when we came to a village where they had some young girls we'd say: "We want to see some chicks. We're going to be nice, but we can be mean if we have to." One village chief said no. And we kicked a few people and knocked over a few things. Then he said: "O.K., you can have any girl you want." Then we took a few girls. The girls would be in the huts, and we would have guards posted outside, and then a few guys would go in and take the girls. Maybe a squad or two. Maybe fifteen guys. The girls were 15, 16, 17, or 18, around there. If we saw some girl who looked young we'd just say, "You! Now! Or else!"
Q: Were the girls ever killed?
A: There was one village which we were told was off limits. But one guy went down there anyway, because he got horny. He never came back. Some guys found him later with his throat cut. So some guys took it on their own to pay this place a visit. They found this chick who they thought did it. They killed her. Another time they took a flare gun and stuck it up into a girl and fired it. It blew her apart. There are so many crazy things that were done. Sometimes some of the chicks who were fighting for North Vietnam were captured. I heard they cut their fingers off. Some guys caught a girl who they said had given V.D. to one of the guys. To teach her a lesson, they poured turpentine into her vagina. These are the guys that are completely gone, they are not even humans any more. In some of the outfits there are a lot of guys like that. Like in the 1st Division, the First Cavalry, the Fourth Infantry, the 173rd Airborne. Sometimes they get drunk or they get stoned and they brag about the things that they've done.
There was one time I split, I stole a 21-ton truck. I was getting bugged, I was having nightmares, and I kept seeing the face of this lady who looked at me at this village. That was some hell of a look. It was like she was trying to say something to me. And I felt that everything was closing in on me. And so I went to see my girl friend in Saigon. I wanted to get away but I didn't know how. And every time I went to her place the M.Ps would pick me up because they would know I was there. I was talking to my girl in Saigon and she told me she had sister who lived in a village about forty miles away. And she told me it was a little village and I could split there. She said I would be treated all right. I went to the village with the 22-ton truck. And when I got there I realized that I'd been there before, on an operation.
They didn't even know I was gone the first couple of days. I had brought a lot of stuff to the village, C-rations. I went to the cat who was the head of the village. He spoke a little English, not much. And I could understand a little Vietnamese. And he told me I was welcome there. At first I felt so funny being there. It was like it wasn't really happening, it was like it was a dream. I always got along good with the Vietnamese people when I first got there. First couple of days in the village I just did what everybody else did. I helped out in the rice-paddies. The people were always pointing at me and saying, "He's Number One G.I.". I was trying to teach some of the people to speak English the best way I could. I was getting really involved in this village, and I was forgetting about everything else. And I kept thinking that I was getting content, I wasn't a soldier any more, I was part of the village. I was wearing Vietnamese clothes. I felt as if I was doing something different, I was serving a purpose there, not like the purpose I was sent to Vietnam for. I was really getting to know these people. In the village we got up pretty early. We ate some rice. There was some water buffaloes about the village. We would head out into the rice-paddies, and the women would do their little chores. I wasn't used to doing this, but I really felt that I belonged. I had got into a wholly different thing and I didn't want to be part of the war any longer. The people in the village were so friendly to me. I'd get the truck, I didn't have a hell of a lot of gas, but a lot of the kids would get on the truck, hot-road around the village. There was a girl there, I was devoting a lot of time to teaching her English. She became sort of infatuated with me, always hanging around, and looking at me really funny and all. But she was just like a little kid.
I'd seen helicopters fly over before, and I had ducked, I'd run into a hut or something. But this one time, after I'd been in the village about two weeks, I was out in the fields with some guys, and a helicopter was flying over, it was flying low and I didn't have a chance to hide. I had this Vietnamese outfit on that I wore, with a big hat that they wear, a Vietnamese hat. And I crouched down a little when the helicopter came. But they were flying too low. They circled back around, and then they landed a little bit from where we were at. I thought of running but it was too late to do anything about it. So a couple of guys came out, one was an officer, they just laughed when they looked at me. They had a picture of me, and they looked at the picture and they looked at me. And they just started laughing and laughing and they said: "What in the hell are you supposed to be? Are you a papa-san or something? You know you're not at home." Then the officer said: "Have you had fun, playing your little games with the gooks". He said: "You really love the gooks, don't you. It seemed like you spend more time with the gooks than with the Americans". I didn't know what to do, I was standing there, and I said to the officer: "Look, man, you cats may enjoy this goddam war, but I think it sucks, and I don't want no part of it. Why don't you just let me stay here, till my time is up?" They looked at me as if I was crazy, and I said: "I'm happy here, O.K.?" But they said: "You're really funny, but you got to go back. They want you in your company. You are neglecting a few duties." So I had to go back. When they took me back all the Vietnamese people in the village got really upset. They were hollering up at the officer, "Number Ten G.I., Number Ten G.I.", which means you are really bad. That means you can't get any lower. Number Ten is the lowest. And they were hollering, "Number Ten G.I., don't take Number One G.I. away". And this little girl there she started crying. I wanted to run over there and give her a little kiss on her cheek, but the officer wouldn't let me. I had to go into one of the huts and get my uniform, which was all rolled up in a corner, and then they took me back in the helicopter.
In the helicopter on the way back they kept on calling me a gook-lover. And I kept on saying: "Look, man, they're people and they showed me more feelings than you ever have." I said: "I would rather be with them than be with you. You don't act like my people, not like the people I grew up with in the States. Something has happened to you." In a way I knew it couldn't go on for ever. I was the only American and I knew they would find me. I had my rifle there and I kept on wondering what would happen if the village got raided.
Q: What would you have done, if American soldiers came into the village firing? What would you have done if an American outfit had moved in and started shooting up the village?
A: I don't really know. That's something I thought about a lot. I don't know what I would have done. Maybe put the rifle to my head and blown my head off. I was always worried about that. That was in my mind the whole time I was there.
Q: When you got back to the States did you tell anyone about your experiences in Vietnam?
A: I didn't feel much like talking about when I first came back. But in a couple of weeks I told a few friends about it. They acted like they didn't want to hear about it. So I got the message and I didn't say anything more. The whole thing makes me feel bad when I think about it. I was having a hard time sleeping. I kept on having nightmares. I had these dreams of seeing the same people.
Q: What people ?
A: The people from the village.
Q: The village you lived in?
A: No, the village where we killed the people. Sometimes I see the same person, there will be twenty of them, but it will be the same person looking at me with these eyes. And I'll wake up screaming.
Q: Was the person a man or a woman ?
A: It was a woman. And I had only seen her for a few seconds, but I looked into her eyes, and she was looking dead at me. It was like she was saying: "Why, What have we done?" And I'll never forget that woman's look. And I have never forgotten how I felt about that woman.
Q: Was your attitude towards the Vietnamese typical of a sizeable number of G.I.s?
A: No. I got into a little trouble in Vietnam. They said I was too nice to the Vietnamese people. They said I wanted to be around them too much. Even one time they started to call me gook, and they said: "if you like the gooks so much, why don't you fight for them?" When they brought me back from the village they thought I was crazy, and I had to go and see my commanding officer. He said I was making a lot of problems. They sent me to the medical ward in a hospital in Saigon. There are different parts of the hospital but they have one block blocked off, where they keep the real severe cases. They threw me in there. They said I was completely gone. I talked to the so-called army psychiatrist they had there. I told him I wasn't able to go back to the war. So they kept me there for a while. Some of the guys are really crazy there. Some guys woke up in the middle of the night and start screaming. Another guy kept singing "I am a tin soldier." One guy kept on calling me Bill. I kept on trying to tell him my name was Jim. Then he kept on saying: "I'm sorry I killed you, Jim." I was really going crazy then.
They let me have a little freedom, so I split and went to see this Vietnamese girl I knew in Saigon. But the M.P.s came and took me. After my tour over in Vietnam, they sent me to Germany, to Mannheim. I know a lot of guys who were nice guys back in the States, but after two or three months in Vietnam they were just killers. They didn't even know who they were. They were completely different people.
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