September 29, 2004
Winter Soldier Tales (2)By Steve Gilbert
This is the second of a series of excerpts from the so—called Winter Soldier Investigations held in Detroit, Michigan from January 31 through February 2, 1971.
The Winter Soldier Investigation was a project of the Vietnam Veterans Against The War. It was primarily funded by Jane Fonda and Mark Lane. John Kerry, who was soon to be a spokesman and national coordinator of the VVAW, served as one of the moderators.
The 'testimony' from the Winter Soldier Investigation was entered into the Congressional Record by Senator Mark Hatfield on April 5, 1971:
Moderator. ...[D]id you ever see the mistreatment of prisoners that we had taken? Viet Cong suspects or NVA?
Craig. Yes, I did. These people were only suspects taken from a village after we had a mine sweep team that was wiped out and I guess people more or less went out to pick up these suspects on a grudge basis. When they brought them back in they were loading them on a truck to take them to (?) and they were making a game out of it by grabbing their feet and their hands and swinging them up in the air to see how high they could throw them and land in the back of a duce—and—a—half truck which had a steel bed.
Moderator. ...[Y]ou witnessed a 70—year—old man wounded about 20 miles southwest of Da Nang. Could you elaborate on this, please?
Olimpieri. Yeah. We were in a sweep in a rice paddy and the flank man spotted somebody and told him to halt and he started running and I fired an M79 over the trees. It went off and the man went down and our Lt. told us to go over there and check and see if he had an I.D. and find out if he was dead or what was happening with him. We went over there and he was still alive. He was about 70 years old. I believe he was some sort of religious, like a monk or something like that, from his dress. He had an I.D. card and he was in pretty bad shape so they didn't want to call in a MEDIVAC Chopper so they told us to kill him. And the person who did the killing fired about six rounds in him and I had to tell him to stop. Right after that we told the Lt. what the situation was and he called in and said "Get rid of the...". He told us to get rid of the I.D. card before we killed him. He called in one V.C. body count.
Moderator. So this man who was killed wasn't even a suspect. He was civilian.
Olimpieri. Right. He didn't halt when he was told so they shot him...
Moderator. When you did take POWs were they tortured or what was the procedure or if you did take prisoners?
Nienke. We took a lot of prisoners. Some of them were suspected V.C., N.V.A., and they were usually brought to the compound, when we took prisoners, and turned over to an interpreter usually a South Vietnamese or Korean interpreter, and if the information couldn't be extracted from them they were tortured and sent back to the C.P., the Command Post.
Moderator. What type of torture was used? Would you know?
Nienke. Well, we were basically on the lines and we could hear screaming. I didn't see any torture, but we could hear screaming and somebody was being beaten.
Moderator. Mr. Sachs, you testified that there was prisoners thrown out of a helicopter. Could you elaborate upon that subject?
Sachs. This was one of the big games. Whenever any prisoners were taken, the crewmen in the helicopters were in charge also of loading, in addition to maintenance on the aircraft would blindfold the prisoners, holding the blindfold on with heavy wire, safety wire. They'd bind their hands, bind their feet and maybe bind them into a fetal position and upon landing, rather than releasing them so they could walk off the aircraft, they'd throw them out——get the grunts to mark how far they could throw them and have little contests. This was done with officers observing, at least all company grade officers. There may have been a Major present too.
The general attitude of the officers was (I was a Lt. at the time) "Well, there's somebody senior to me here and I guess if this wasn't S.O.P. he'd be doing something to stop it," and since nobody senior ever did anything to stop it, the policy was promulgated and everybody assumed that this was what was right. We'd never had any instructions in the Geneva Conventions. When we were given our Geneva Convention cards the lecture consisted of "If you're taken prisoner, all you gotta do is give 'em your name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. Here's your Geneva Convention cards. Go get 'em, Marines." We were never told anything about the way to treat prisoners if we were the capturers rather than the captee and this was very standard.
Moderator. Mr. Delay, on your testimony on the 24th of December 1969, twenty—five people were killed. Could you elaborate on this subject?
Delay. Yeah. Christmas Eve shortly before midnight, a group of Marines from India Company had set up an ambush in Arizona territory and they killed twenty—five people. To my knowledge, it was never determined whether they were civilians or were, in fact, the enemy, but in examining the bodies they discovered one weapon. It was a 9—millimeter pistol.
The next day, on Christmas Day, the battalion commander sent an order all about the battalion area, Hill 37, requesting any enemy weapons that were in the hands of individual Marines. A friend of mine from Delaware, ———————— ————————, had bought an AK47 from another Marine when he came in the country. I was ordered to take this weapon down to the command bunker and give it to Major —————————, the executive officer of Third Battalion, 1st Marines. When I gave this to him he gave it to another Marine and told him to go smear some mud on it. There were several other weapons acquired in this manner and they were all sent in to regimental headquarters as being captured Christmas Eve with those bodies to make the group of people appear to be a heavily armed enemy force.
Moderator. Do you remember if there was a Christmas truce announced at that time?
Delay. Yes, there was...
Moderator. All right. Mr. Camil, you were in Artillery, F.O. You were attached to the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines.
Camil. I was in the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, attached to the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.
Moderator. You have some testimony here on the burning of villages, cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, calling in artillery on villages for games, women raped, napalm on villages, all sorts of testimony of crimes against the civilians. Could you go into just a few of these to let the people know how you treat the Vietnamese civilian?
Camil. All right. The calling in of artillery for games, the way it was worked would be the mortar forward observers would pick out certain houses in villages, friendly villages, and the mortar forward observers would call in mortars until they destroyed that house and then the artillery forward observer would call in artillery until he destroyed another house and whoever used the least amount of artillery, they won. And when we got back someone would have to buy someone else beers.
The cutting off of heads——on Operation Stone——there was a Lt. Colonel there and two people had their heads cut off and put on stakes and stuck in the middle of the field. And we were notified that there was press covering the Operation and that we couldn't do that anymore. Before we went out on the Operation we were told not to waste our heat tablets on food but to save them for the villages because we were going to destroy all the villages and we didn't give the people any time to get out of the villages. We just went in and burned them and if people were in the villages yelling and screaming, we didn't help them. We just burned the houses as we went.
Moderator. Why did you use the heat tabs? Did you just light off the villages with matches or just throw the heat tabs in so it would keep burning?
Camil. We'd throw the heat tabs in because it was quicker and they'd keep burning. They couldn't put the heat tabs out. We'd throw them on top of the houses. People cut off ears and when they'd come back in off of an operation you'd make deals before you'd go out and like for every ear you cut off someone would buy you two beers, so people cut off ears.
The torturing of prisoners was done with beatings and I saw one case where there were two prisoners. One prisoner was staked out on the ground and he was cut open while he was alive and part of his insides were cut out and they told the other prisoner if he didn't tell them what they wanted to know they would kill him. And I don't know what he said because he spoke in Vietnamese but then they killed him after that anyway.
Moderator. Were these primarily civilians or do you believe that they were, or do you know that they were actual NVA?
Camil. The way that we distinguished between civilians and VC, VC had weapons and civilians didn't and anybody that was dead was considered a VC. If you killed someone they said, "How do you know he's a VC?" and the general reply would be, "He's dead," and that was sufficient.
When we went through the villages and searched people the women would have all their clothes taken off and the men would use their penises to probe them to make sure they didn't have anything hidden anywhere and this was raping but it was done as searching.
Moderator. As searching. Were there officers present there?
Camil. Yes, there were...
Moderator. The company commander was around when this happened?
Moderator. Did he approve of it or did he look the other way or —
Camil. He never said not to or never said anything about it. The main thing was that if an operation was covered by the press there were certain things we weren't supposed to do, but if there was no press there, it was okay.
I saw one case where a woman was shot by a sniper, one of our snipers. When we got up to her she was asking for water. And the Lt. said to kill her. So he ripped off her clothes, they stabbed her in both breasts, they spread—eagled her and shoved an E—tool up her vagina, an entrenching tool, and she was still asking for water. And then they took that out and they used a tree limb and then she was shot.
Moderator. Did the men in your outfit, or when you witnessed these things, did they seem to think that it was all right to do anything to the Vietnamese?
Camil. It wasn't like they were humans. We were conditioned to believe that this was for the good of the nation, the good of our country, and anything we did was okay. And when you shot someone you didn't think you were shooting at a human. They were a gook or a Commie and it was okay. And anything you did to them was okay because, like, they would tell you they'd do it to you if they had the chance.
Moderator. This was told you all through your training, then, in boot camp, in advanced training, and so forth and it was followed on then, right on through it?
[To be continued...]
Note: the last speaker is the same Scott Camil who later proposed assassinating top US governmental leaders. The plan was discussed at least twice by Kerry's group, the Vietnam Veterans Against The War——in April 1971 and again in November of that same year. Kerry was aware of and probably present for both discussions.
Camil went on to be indicted as the leader of the so—called 'Gainesville Eight,' for their conspiracy to violently disrupt the 1972 Republican Convention.
A close friend of John Kerry's since the WSI, Scott Camil has campaigned heavily for him this year. Camil co—founded the group, 'All Veterans For Kerry,' (allveteransforkerry.org), which has recently gone off—line.