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Dellums Committee Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam
Congressman Ron Dellums - Opening Statement
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DELLUMS: The hearings will be in order.
I am Congressman Ron Dellums. This is the 1st day of our mornings of hearings that will be conducted in this room between the hours of 9:30 and 12:30. This is the 1st open set of hearings on war atrocities in Indochina.
We introduced back on 3-1 of this year House Joint Resolution [HJR] 409, cosponsored by 21, fellow Congressmen.
We asked for action by the Rules Committee on this resolution and none was forthcoming. All of us are very interested in full, official hearings into the potential of war atrocities in Indochina, but receiving no action from the RULES COMMITTEE or the leadership of the Congress, we proceeded to try to plan as completely and capably as we could with these ad hoc hearings.
I would like to introduce on my far left Congressman Reuss, who has joined us this morning, Congressman Riegle from Michigan, Congressman Don Edwards from California, Congressman Badillo from New York, Congressman Frank Ryan of New York; to my immediate right Cngwmn Bella Abzug of New York, Congressman Parren Mitchell from Baltimore, Congressman John Conyers from Michigan, Congressman Seiberling from Ohio.
Are there Congressmen who have any opening statements that they would like to make this morning? Congressman Mitchell.
MITCHELL: We have begun hearings today to investigate the military policy used in Vietnam which appears to us to foster war crimes. We are concerned with such schemes as free-fire zones, search and destroy missions, mass resettlement of peasantry and the so-called "bodycount mania." Since the Dept of Defense [DOD] acknowledges the use of these tactics, we wish to illustrate graphically what happens when such tactics are translated into action. Vietnam has been called the ultimate model war of attrition where civilians die by the score for every combat soldier killed. Our interest here is in the suspect military policy, not in uncovering war tames, but it is likely that we shall hear testimony as repugnant to the nat'l conscience as My Lai.
We do not do so to demean the military or to undermine the nat'l confidence, but we must bring the nature of the Vietnam war home to the American people, for it is they in the final analysis who must reject and end it.
The men who testify before us, and I know some of them personally, display great courage, and we commend them. In order to speak about these atrocities they have discarded careers and jeopardized their future security. but they speak out of a deep moral conviction that demands respect.
This nation will be shocked by what it hears, but America will be better for having heard it. We call upon our fellow Congressman to attend these sessions and to learn from what is said here. The people are war-weary and the Congress must assert its constitutional prerogative to end the longest war in history.
This Congress has had chance after chance to end the war, and we have not done it. Hopefully these hearings in combination with all the other pressures that can be exerted, hopefully, we will then force the Congress to act and to cause it to end this bloody and immoral war in which we have been so long engaged. Thank you, Mr Chairman.
CONYERS: The statement that I would have made has been ably made by my by my colleague from Maryland. So I will only make 2 points. 1st of all, I want to emphasize that this Congress has displayed a complete lack of moral responsibility and legislative integrity in not having the courage to openly look at the actions that we are forced to do as an ad hoc committee through the failure of anyone to act on the Joint Resolution 409 or to have hearings under 1 of the several committees that this could have been done under the rules of the House. 2dly, Mr Chairman, I want to personally commend you as a freshman member of this body for under taking this very, very important responsibilities.
DELLUMS: Thank you. Cngwmn Mink from Hawaii, 2d from my far right, has just joined us, and we welcome you. Congressman Seiberling.
SEIBERLING: Yes. Today we are beginning 4-day hearings of ad hoc public hearings on policy and command responsibility for war atrocities in Vietnam. I think this forum is necessary because today, despite requests by a number of members of Congress, including myself, there have been no official hearings.
The central question to which this series of hearings must address itself is simply stated by Telford Taylor, chief counsel for the prosecution at the Nuremburg Trials, in his book, "Nuremburg and Vietnam-An American Tragedy", and I would like to read a key paragraph of that book. "The 1956 Army Manual provides explicitly that a military commander is responsible not only for the criminal acts in pursuance of his orders but is also responsible if he has actual knowledge or should have knowledge that troops or other persons subject to his control are about to commit or have committed a war crime and he fails to take the necessary and reasonable steps to insure compliance with the law of war or to punish violations thereof." The purpose of these hearings is not to discredit our military services, but 1st to determine whether there were widespread violations of law by the American military with respect to the treatment of civilians and POWs and, if so, to pinpoint responsibility for such violation.
I might say parenthetically that 1 of the chief reasons so many Americans are disturbed by the decision of Lieutenant [LT] Calley's case was that it appeared that after all the terrible events and possible crimes and atrocities in Vietnam that 1 single LT was being made criminally responsible for the entire armed services and indeed for the entire country. Obviously it is vital to bring justice not to just minor officials but those responsible at whatever level of command it may be.
Neither the military services nor the nation should have to face the world under a cloud of suspicion. The best way to prevent this is to get the facts and to take what ever action is necessary to correct the deficiencies which may have led to such violations.
1 of the most shocking and depressing aspects of the disclosures of the German atrocities after World War II was the fact that so few citizens in that great nation raised their voices in protest or even took pains to learn the truth. This is understandable in a people living under the grip of a totalitarian regime; it is unthinkable in a human and civilized democracy. We must know the truth before we can deal effectively with our nations problems.
If I could borrow a single biblical phrase to cover our nation's needs in this difficult time, it would be, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
DELLUMS: This morning we will look at policy and command responsibility, and we have with us 5 West Point graduates, 4 captains and a major. We also have Capt O'mera, who is not a West Point grad, who will be a corroborating witness with 1 of our capt's, Capt Bartek. Our 1st witness this morning will be Capt Fred Laughlin.
Statement of Fred Laughlin, Capt, US Army, West Point, Class of 1965, Bethesda, MD LAUGHLIN: I graduated in 1965, spent 5 years in the service, 2 1/2 years in infantry, 1 year in Vietnam as a company commander and as a platoon leader.
I was a 1st LT.
I would like my testimony to center more on the distortions of war and my examples to be more illustrative than shocking. I would like to give 3 examples and hope that I can--I, we can--draw something from it. When I arrived in Vietnam in 1966, in October, I was sent to a jungle warfare school in Lai Khe. Lai Khe is on the northeastern tip of the eastern triangle. I spent a week in the jungle warfare school being taught the way it really was in Vietnam by non-commissioned officers [NCO's], some of whom had been in battle themselves. At the time the BODY COUNT idea pretty will hit the military in Vietnam, and we were taught at the jungle school, that it is very important to get BC. There is a big difference between BODY COUNT and so-called killed in action [KIA].
It is very important to verify some member of the body, particularly the ears.
The ears seemed to be the favorite in order to report validly a BC. This was not promulgated officially. It could not be, of course. but this was taught in the school and it was clear to a what the sergeant [Sgt] was talking about. and these people were blank pages when they came to Vietnam, They had no idea what was coming off. I did not. I was supposed to be educated. I did not know. As far as I knew, he was giving me the straight story. The 2d example that I would like to give of the distortions in Vietnam occurred during my 2d month in Vietnam as a platoon leader. VC had reportedly run into a village, a village not unlike my Lai. We surrounded the village with our platoon and began to seal it off in the typical manner. Civilians were pouring out of the village at the time. It was late in the evening. All of a sudden, with no warning, the platoon opened up on the civilians. It was their job to keep the civilians in, and God knows where they got the order.
I was in charge, completely. By the time I could get the firing stopped, which seemed like an hour--it was probably 30 seconds--1 man was shot in the back, an old Vietnamese. We picked the man up and took him back to base camp, which was not far from civilization. It was about a 2 minutes' helicopter ride from Du Lai. The man was clearly bleeding internally and didn't have long to go. I wasn't a doctor, but that was pretty clear. I reported this to my company command, said that we needed immediate evacuation, and there was none forthcoming. The man died about 5 the next morning.
The 3d example I would like to give has to do with the distortions of a different type. It occurred late in my Vietnam tour when I was company commander, just south of the Cambodian border, about 25 miles north of Tay Ninh. It was called the battle of Prec Loc. the battle of Prec Loc is probably the only claim to fame that the 2d Battalion [Bn], 2d Infantry, had at the time, and, of course, these are things that people like to cherish: battles.
The battle of Prec Loc occurred late in the summer of 1967. The perimeter that we had, and it was 2 companies, was attacked by supposedly a regmt of enemy troops. The battle waged throughout the thing. The brigade [Bgd] commander was over my head, and over his head was a helicopter, over his head was the asst division [div] commander, the div commander was over his head and God knows who was over his head, and it was really terrific. It was just the thing you want when you are in battle.
During the night in radio conversation after the battle lulled, there was a wager made by 1 of the company commanders, the A Company commander to the C Company commander, as to who would find the most bodies out in front of their positions, a case of beer, as a matter of fact. The next morning they went out to police up the bodies. The A Company commander had 8 and the C Company commander had 5, for a total of 13, as I recall. The asst div commander landed his helicopter, surveyed the situation. It was clear to him there were 13 bodies in front of the position. He proclaimed by some strange way that I will never be able to figure out that there were 197 bodies, and that is what was printed in the paper the next day.
Now, the distortions that I described here, and I think it is pretty clear what they are, run across the board, and are a result of some type of immoral template that seems to be superimposed on the whole world in Vietnam--the whole horror, aberration, aspect, concept. These same distortions caused the general, 1 of the members of my platoon, and a Sgt at the general school, the same distortions that seem to be causing Americans to shrug now, and perhaps this is the greatest price for America.
The way I feel about it is the term "war crimes" is a bit of a misnomer itself, in that war seems to be a repudiation of all laws except those that are sanctioned by bodies. I think that America needs to undergo a bout with reality, which I hope you people can do during these hearings, for in the long run America is the one, not the people who fought in Vietnam, not the Calley's, not the Westmorelands, but America is the 1 in the long run who bas to carry this stigma. Thank you for your time. If you have any questions, I would be glad to answer them.
DELLUMS: Thank you, Capt Laughlin. I appreciate your testimony. I have 1 question I would like to ask. From where do you understand the policies that you have enumerated to come?
LAUGHLIN: I don't know. They seem to permeate throughout Vietnam, and I could not associate them with any particular source. I think they seem to be a major component of war. You are going to have these policies if you are going to have war.
DELLUMS: We will be operating under the 5-minute rule. Congressman Ryan?
RYAN: I was gratified by everything you said, Capt, and I think you have very well stated the necessity for the American people to examine themselves and the role it plays in Vietnam by representatives of the American people.
1 thing that struck me, and that was your reference to the wounded villager, that you asked he be evacuated and wasn't evacuated. Did you find or do you believe on the basis of your experience that we in Vietnam value less the lives of the Vietnamese than other lives? Did you find there was a certain amount of waste implicit in the attitude stated toward the Vietnamese?
LAUGHLIN: I would have to say we certainly valued American lives over Vietnamese.
However, I could certainly not go so far as to say the Vietnamese lives were valueless. I am afraid I can't answer it any further than that.
RYAN: How prevalent was the practice of measure the BODY COUNT by the evidence of an ear? Was that a prevalent practice? As you went from the jungle school into the field, did you find that practice prevailing?
LAUGHLIN: My units never took up this practice, and I don't now how many did.
The fact that it was promulgated in jungle warfare school I think is indicative of the feeling at the time: Okay, yes, we can't put out official policy to cut off people's ears. Our unit was guilty of throwing dead bodies on our APCs until it came down as a policy that we couldn't throw dead bodies under the APCs and parade them through town any more. That was a policy that was stopped about 3/4's through my tour. But the severing of members, I never saw it, but I heard it. It was a definite, informal, unwritten policy.
RYAN: Was the BODY COUNT exaggeration of finding 197 when there was actually 13, was that typical of the way the count was reported in your experience?
LAUGHLIN: In my opinion it was. I think the body count was used as a measure of success in Vietnam, a measure of a general's, a commander's success. They made every opportunity to get the BC.
RYAN: Thank you.
DELLUMS: Congressman Badillo?
BADILLO: The 2d incident that you mentioned where there was unauthorized firing upon the villagers, were you the platoon leader at that time?
BADILLO: Did you stress afterwards as to why there was an unauthorized firing on these villagers?
LAUGHLIN: No. I did not.
BADILLO: Why not?
LAUGHLIN: I don't know.
RYAN: Did it happen again?
LAUGHLIN: It did not.
REUSS: When did this incident with respect to the enemy BODY COUNT of the Able and Charlie companies occur?
LAUGHLIN: I think it was Junction City II, up Route 4 in later summer 1967.
I don't know the exact dates. I am sure the annals of the 2d Bn, 2d Infantry, will give the exact date. I would have to guess maybe the middle of September or late August.
REUSS: and these were companies A and C of the 2d Bn of the 2d Infantry regiment?
REUSS: and what Bgd and corps were they?
LAUGHLIN: I don't remember the Bgd that handled the operation. It was a multi-Bn operation where they are put under operational control of a Bgd commander. I don't remember which Bgd had operational control at that time.
REUSS: and you were a platoon leader in what company?
LAUGHLIN: I was the B company commander.
REUSS: and did you have an opportunity to observe personally the incident you described?
LAUGHLIN: I was commanding the fire base which was about a 1/2 mile from the incident and attended a staff meeting the next morning where the weapons and all the spoils were displayed from the battle. I did not participate directly in the battle that night, although there were minor skirmishes around our perimeter as a result of the battle.
REUSS: Who was the asst div commander who made the enlarged BODY COUNT that you described?
LAUGHLIN: It was a man by the name of General Hollingsworth.
REUSS: What is your source for saying he made this high BC?
LAUGHLIN: During the staff meeting the Bn commander told us at the time that it was the asst div commander's feeling that there were at least 197 bodies or 197 people killed. At that time it became very clear that was the number of people that were killed. Part of the reason I think was the Vietnamese supposedly have a habit of dragging away their dead bodies, and they found so much blood on the perimeters and somehow that gets translated into bodies. It was all quite creditable at the time.
REUSS: That is your source for saying that in fact body a total of 13 bodies were found in front of companies A and C?
LAUGHLIN: That again was a staff meeting. It was put out that 13 bodies were found. The case of beer was delivered by the man who lost the bet, and the score was tallied, and at that time even though the score had been tallied 8 to 5, the Bn commander said well, it is 197 because the asst div commander had proclaimed so.
REUSS: I am not sure I understand it. Did the Bn commander say at the Bn officer's staff meeting, 1, that the actual count was 8 and 5 or 13; and, 2, that the asst div'nal commander is claiming a count of more than 100?
LAUGHLIN: Yes, sir, to both questions.
REUSS: Did he by word or facial indication give any impression of what he thought of the discrepancy between those 2 figures?
LAUGHLIN: At the time, as I said, it was quite creditable. We all longed for success, and people in that type of situation, I would say, would tend to believe anything like that. It made us look good, and we were very happy to say 197 members were killed and somehow managed to forget there were only 13 bodies lying in front of the perimeter. There seemed to be no tongue in cheek, no raised eyebrows.
REUSS: Thank you, Mr Chairman.
DELLUMS: Cngwmn Abzug?
ABZUG: I was interested in your statement that you reported to the commanding officer [CO] the existence of this wounded Vietnamese and there was no attention paid to it. What steps did you take with respect to that? Laughlin: I reported to him personally. I reported to him over the telephone that the man needed attention. I reported later that the man needed more than just attention, that he needed to be evacuated. The commander said that they couldn't get a chopper in to evacuate a Vietnamese. So, my medic and myself stayed up with the man and did what we could for him and he lost consciousness early in the morning and died shortly thereafter.
ABZUG: Did you have obvious experiences or other experiences with respect to the handling of wounded civilians or Vietnamese? If you did, would you describe what practice was with respect to there treatment and handling?