Monday, August 21, 2006

Torture and Coverup in Vietnam

Way back in the early 1970s a much-decorated Army light colonel named Anthony Herbert leveled charges, against officers and enlisted men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, of torture of captured Viet Cong and NVA troops.

Those charges were widely publicized, which resulted in an internal Army investigation. In early 1973, then Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams (formerly head of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, where he had replaced the discredited General William Westmoreland) received the news from the Army's chief of criminal investigations: The practice of torture and abuse went far beyond what Herbert had described.

However, there was also enough dirt on Herbert uncovered in the investigation to question his credibility, and so the Army went on the offensive against Herbert, instead of correcting the abuses. For his troubles, Herbert was savaged by, of all people, Mike Wallace on CBS's 60 Minutes -- an early example of the SCLM at work, doing the bidding of its corporate overlords who were in bed with the Nixon Administration -- and, also in typical fashion, that is what is remembered about Tony Herbert, and not the fact that he won a lawsuit against CBS.

So back to the torture: The investigators found that beatings, electric shocks and waterboarding (although it probably wasn't called that) were routine among the military interrogators in the 173rd, approved by their officers. At least one prisoner died at the hands of his interrogators.

Those abuses were never made public, and very few of the 29 suspected abusers were punished. In typical fashion, the only one who was really punished was Tony Herbert.

These facts were buried in a 9,000 page collection of documents that were once classified. However, in 1994 they were declassified and moved to the National Archives where they lay dormant until an enterprising group of reporters from the Los Angeles Times finally dug them out.

While I never witnessed prisoner abuse or torture while I was in Vietnam, there was no doubt that it took place with distressing regularity. Stories of throwing two bound prisoners out of helicopters in order to encourage the third one to talk were common, and the electric shock torture technique, usually conducted using a crank-phone electrical magneto, was widely and sardonically known as the "Bell Telephone Hour".

Anybody who tells you otherwise is either mistaken or just plain lying. We'd all like to think that we are an honorable nation who would never torture prisoners, blah blah blah, but the sad fact is that we are a warlike people whose blood lust can never truly be slaked. And it's not just the US, it's the whole human race. Among the oldest skeletons ever uncovered you can find the remains of primitive spear points that have struck bone.


billie said...

no one will get in trouble for torture in the middle east or any of the secret prisons that we have now either.

nunya said...

You know who Dan Mitrione was?
You ever read this book?

nunya said...

oh, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what the financial rewards (besides arms sales) were. Was it to keep the Asian shipping lanes open? To keep the rubber plantations going?

Dirk said...

Oh fuck it... what does it matter what happened 37 years ago? The way I saw it was how do you want your death? To be 'tortured' was a privlige, at least you had a chance of surviving the war. Nunya, FYI the U.S. paid the Michlen Rubber Company $200 for every rubber tree that we 'killed'. The widows of ARVN soldiers got about $55. Remember cannon fodder is cheap; natural rubber? Well do the math...

nunya said...

Dirk, if those people who really pull the strings in this world and make things happen had been paying attention 37 years ago, things might be different today. As it is, those same fucking "crazies" are in charge now. Does the term "blowback" ring a bell with you? What happened 37 years ago will affect my kid, and since we live in a city with a crapload of military personnel, what is going on in Iraq may affect us, thank you. I lived with a Nam vet, so yeah, I saw the effects up close and personal, of what went on 37 years ago.
Alrighty then? It's all good.

Anonymous said...

Try going back 100 years to understand what's going on today, in fact better yet, go back to the first Crusade in 1095 AD. The fact of the matter is that our Country has developed collective amnesia about it's history,and the lessons of history. To get a better understanding of our goverment, I suggest a read of Fletcher Prouty's 'Secret Team'(my second re-read). If you really want a different point of view on the current Mid East; I suggest, 'The Clash of Civilizations' by Robert Fisk.

Sorry you missed my twisted joke on's a combat thing.

While I do care about my country; I've come to realize theres not a damn thing I can do about its idiotic, short sighted, boneheaded policy's. The die has been cast... you can live in fear, you can be angry, or understand that History is cyclic and this cycle is going to be turblent at best. Hang on and make the best of it.
Dirk out...