Documents show troops who reported abuse in Vietnam were discredited even as the military was finding evidence of worse
In early 1973, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams received some bad news from the service's chief of criminal investigations.
An internal inquiry had confirmed an officer's widely publicized charge that members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade had tortured detainees in Vietnam.
But there was a silver lining: Investigators had also compiled a 53-page catalog of alleged discrepancies in retired Lt. Col. Anthony B. Herbert's public accounts of his war experiences.
"This package … provides sufficient material to impeach this man's credibility; should this need arise, I volunteer for the task," wrote Col. Henry H. Tufts, commander of the Army's Criminal Investigation Division.
Now, declassified records show that while the Army was working energetically to discredit Herbert, 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.
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.
Other records were taken by Tufts in the 1970s and donated after his death to the University of Michigan. Related Links
comments powered by Disqus
- Five Things You Need to Know to be a Better Digital Preservationist
- Book on Losing British Generals Wins American History Prize
- Stanford scholar explores civil rights revolution's positive impact on the South's economy
- Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn on Amazon's Tentacular Reach
- Q&A with historian and author Nick Turse