October 9, 2007
Investigate the Winter Soldier InvestigationBy Denis Keohane
It's being called ‘Winter Soldier Syndrome.' The phrase refers to slanders of American soldiers and Marines made by people who also make fraudulent claims about their own military experiences. Michelle Malkin writes:
She is right up to a point, but it is more serious than that. It is not just the perpetrators who are causing the problem. A large and sometimes influential part of our society has been enabling and protecting these attacks on those who risk their lives to defend ours. This has been going on for almost four decades.
Winter Soldier Syndrome uses the same mechanism as racial and ethnic bigotry: tarring an entire group because of the misbehavior of a few. To understand why this is happening today, we have to understand how this came about, and why.
On April 5, 1971, Republican Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, an outspoken opponent of the War in Vietnam, issued a statement calling for Congressional investigation of the claims made at the Winter Soldiers Investigation (WSI). The WSI was an event arranged by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Over three days, from January 31 through February 2, 1971, depending upon sources, between 106 and 200 men who claimed to be Vietnam Veterans delivered testimony about widespread and horrific atrocities committed by themselves and other American troops in Vietnam. Hatfield had been given a complete text of those testimonies and requested that it be placed in the Congressional Record, which it was. Hatfield said:
If not in the details, the overall theme of the charges made at Winter Soldiers have become part of the fabric of our history for a great many, due in considerable part to young John Kerry. Kerry was a leader of VVAW at the time. On April 22nd, representing VVAW, Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Sen. Fulbright. Kerry infamously spoke of "over 150" Vietnam Vets who:
Kerry testified that these were "not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
In the question and answer period that followed Kerry's prepared remarks, Kerry claimed that 200,000 Vietnamese a year had been "murdered by the United States of America."
It has been over thirty six years since, but there is no record that any committee of the Senate or House ever held public hearings to either investigate or to receive reports from military or other investigators of the numerous claims in the testimony taken at WSI. Members of Congress no doubt received reports, but if so, they never got the attention that Kerry's sensational charges did. Acceptance of the general theme of WSI, that American soldiers committed atrocities systematically and on a grand scale in Vietnam, has been allowed to stand unchallenged by the Congress that provided Kerry and the VVAW the platform to spread and solidify that claim.
There are records that some follow-up investigations were conducted. However, there has never been anything like a complete report addressing the numerous and specific WSI claims in detail. Of the incomplete records that have been found, different people see different things in the same data. Scott Swett of WinterSoldier.com has debunked many of the broad claims made from such data, while supporter of WSI Nicolas Turse, writing in the Village Voice, sees confirmation in what is essentially the same data:
Historian Guenter Lewy's ‘American in Vietnam' (1980) claimed that a Naval Investigative Services (NIS) report showed that many of those who testified at Winter Soldier refused to cooperate with military investigators, could or would not provide details, and were in some cases fakes who used the names of real veterans who were not at WSI.
In February 2004, when Kerry was seeking the Democratic nomination and a quarter century after Lewy's book was published, the Chicago Tribune tried to locate that NIS report and was told by an NIS public affairs specialist that:
Several months before WSI, Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorist Mark Lane published 'Conversations with Americans'. That book claimed to tell the stories of Vietnam atrocities from the accounts of 32 veterans. That book was debunked as irresponsible by anti-war reporter Neil Sheehan in a review in the New York Times Book Review, December 27, 1970. Sheehan found both stories and storytellers that were fakes, and that Lane had not exerted any effort to verify any of the claims as long as it fit his anti-war goals. Mark Lane was on the initial steering committe of the VVAW setting up the WSI. After Sheehan and the New York Times exposed his book as a fraud, Lane was dropped from the steering committee but worked with VVAW behind the scenes, according to the Wikipedia entry for WSI. That Wikipedia article is favorable to the WSI, even linking to a John Kerry for President (2004) site as a source. On the vetting of those who would testify at WSI, the entry reads:
The executive director of VVAW and one of the leaders we can assume guaranteed the validity of the participants was Al Hubbard, pictured here with Kerry when they appeared together on Meet the Press on April 18, 1971, shortly before Kerry testified to Fulbright's Committee. Hubbard had claimed to have been an Air Force captain who had flown cargo flights in Vietnam for two years and had been injured by shrapnel near Danang in 1966. It was later learned that he was never either a captain or a pilot, was never awarded a Purple Heart for a combat injury and there was no record of his service in Vietnam. As a flight engineer E5 enlisted, he could have flown on flights that entered Vietnam, but if he had done so he was entitled to the Vietnam Service Ribbon, which he never received. Shortly after NBC News broke the story on April 22 that Hubbard had lied, Hubbard was no longer associated publicly with the VVAW. He ended his affiliation with the group in the Spring of 1972.*
Even though it was NBC News that exposed Hubbard's fraudulent claims in April of 1971, the VVAW's own site falsely claims he was exposed by Nixon's "plumbers" in July and calls the exposure the "attack on Al Hubbard".
There were atrocities committed in Vietnam by American troops. Of course there was My Lai, but there were others. One veteran who testified as WSI was former Army medic Jamie Henry. The atrocities he testified to were confirmed, but his charges were already being investigated by the Army before WSI.
There has never been dispute over whether such crimes were committed. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Turse points out:
Those are terrible indications of serious crimes having been committed. However, two and one half million veterans served in Vietnam. In 2004, the city of Detroit, with a population of about one million (which includes infants, children and the elderly), experienced 354 murders, 589 rapes, 6,820 robberies and 13,477 aggravated assaults. Nothing has ever verified Kerry's 1971 claim that atrocities committed by Americans in Vietnam were "not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command." Yet the belief that this was the case, aided and abetted by enablers in the film industry among others has brought us to the point where a significant portion of our public, including political leaders of Congress and the Senate, Presidential candidates, media commentators and an unknown number of members of the public will look at our soldiers and Marines with a bigoted presumption of guilt.
When Senator Hatfield had testimony from WSI entered into the Congressional Record, it was a travesty that granted legitimacy to WSI. The testimonies made claims of serious crimes having been committed by the testifiers and others, and yet not one of those testifying signed a legally binding deposition or affidavit. The WSI testimony could have claimed any crime whatsoever, with no penalty to anyone making a false claim, whereas legal depositions or affidavits, witnessed, open the purveyor of false charges to perjury. Congress will routinely have people testifying before committees swear a binding oath to tell the truth, subjecting that person to legal penalty for giving false information. The WSI testimony was spared that.
After WSI and Kerry's testimony, the question of signing depositions and/or affidavits came up, including during the June 1971 Dick Cavett Show debate between Kerry and another Swift Boat veteran from the same unit, John O'Neill. O'Neill challenged Kerry on the deposition/affidavit question. Kerry replied:
That was a form of blackmail, and it worked. It was Kerry and the VVAW stating that they would not cooperate in criminal investigations for crimes they participated in or witnessed unless they were assured beforehand of where the investigations would lead! No one is entitled to such a position under our laws. If a person claims to have been a witness to a murder, and refuses to cooperate with a legal investigation on the claim that he will not do so unless the investigation pursues a party he concludes bears a burden of guilty not established by the particular events he witnessed, that person could and whould face the legal penalty for obstruction.
The only legally binding affidavit signed by any of the WSI testifiers was one done by Steven J. Pitkin in September of 2004. Pitkin, an actual veteran of combat in Vietnam, claimed in the affidavit that the organizers of WSI, including Kerry, pressured him and others to testify to witnessing atrocities that he and they had never seen, and he did so.
Following Kerry's testimony before Fulbright's Committee and the sensational media reporting, both the Congress and the media did not adequately follow up on the WSI claims in detail or to establish context. It can be supposed that some in Congress who either supported the war or Nixon's proposed disengagement, or were even anti-war, may have wanted to let the atrocity claims fade, as the war was most likely coming to an end and the nation had wounds to heal. Yet in 1971-1972, the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and their party, with the selection of Senator McGovern, made the Vietnam War the centerpiece of the 1972 Presidential campaign. McGovern was running on a platform of withdrawing all American forces from Vietnam within 90 days of his assuming office. In his acceptance speech before the Democratic Convention in 1972, McGovern invoked the image of Vietnam atrocities, saying "There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools."
The movie 'Winter Soldier', filmed at the WSI, was released in the fall of 1972, timed to coincide with the election. It is inconceivable that if members of the Democratic Congress and even anti-war Republicans like Hatfield were receiving verification of the widespread and systematic atrocity charges from Defense Department investigations they would not have made them public.
Societies and segments of societies reward certain individual actions by granting approval, stature and reward. At the time of the Fulbright hearings, young John Kerry was a decorated war hero, with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Yet for the social circle in which Kerry then traveled, which was the anti-war left, and with those he hoped to impress and be accepted by, leftist and liberal politicians, it was not Kerry's battlefield activities that made him a hero. Kerry was a hero to those he wanted to be approved by and impress because he was instrumental and effective in placing America and its soldiers in a very bad light. Kerry broke into the world of Democratic politics not because he aggressively turned his Swift Boat into an enemy ambush, or exposed himself to a hail of gunfire to save another soldier, but because he validated anti-military prejudice.
To many in this country, Kerry and other veterans, real or presumed, who ‘came clean' about the evils of the American military's actions, even if they were that individuals own actions, were worthy of respect and praise. To many of those same folks, though, any person who had served in Vietnam and did not come clean was therefore guilty of either horrid crimes or not coming clean about having witnessed them, since it was confirmed that these were everyday and systematic occurences throughout our forces in that war. That is why such men could be called baby killers and spat upon. Only those like Kerry and the WSI testifiers had been granted acceptance.
They paid no penalty for refusing to do what is legally and morally obligated when one is participant or witness to a serious crime. They garnered approval and acceptance, not criticism or condemnation even for heinous acts they claimed to have personally performed. Guilt and condemnation for those crimes was transferred to others, not because they had necessarilly committed them, but because they wore a uniform.
That brings us to today. We can easily understand the individual or politician who embellishes or fabricates military service to enhance a career. What explains a Jesse MacBeth, who doesn't claim sacrifice or heroics but claims to have committed brutal crimes he never actually committed? What makes a Scott Thomas Beauchamp claim to have engaged in despicable behavior, like sexually mocking a woman disfigured by an IED, when it appears that never happened?
In various ways, what they claimed garnered them approval without penalty. The approval and acceptance they receive, that comes to them because they validate the bigotry and prejudice of those who want to believe the worst about our military personnel. They received individual reward and no condemnation or criticism from those who mattered to them. They did not even consider that in claiming crimes had been committed in war by soldiers there was a burden on them to make those charges official, by deposition, affidavit or otherwise.
The failure to pursue the Winter Soldier Charges three and a half decades ago enabled the phony soldiers of today to believe they could slander away without consequence.
Jesse MacBeth was a member of the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) for six months, appearing at IVAW marches and rallies. MacBeth had claimed to have been an Army Ranger who had engaged in and witnessed atrocities in Iraq. When his claims made in the now unavailable video "Confessions Of An Iraqi War Veteran" were challenged and debunked by Milbloggers, IVAW replied with this statement:
Remember that the VVAW, upon which the IVAW is fashioned and with which it cooperates, claimed to have verified the veteran status of all those testifying at WSI. Granting to IVAW that every other member of that organization is indeed an Iraq War veteran, why didn't they spot MacBeth as a phony? While IVAW apparently had nothing to do with MacBeth's video nor recognized him as any kind of IVAW spokesman, according to Milblogger Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette:
MacBeth had doctored his DD 214 discharge, and again when Milbloggers saw it they easily spotted the fraud. Did MacBeth even have to show a record of his service in Iraq to have joined IVAW? If so, how was that fraud not noticed?
The MacBeth movie and charges hit the web at about the same time that Congressman Murtha had elevated the now debunked Haditha charges of cold blooded execution style murders by Marines to prominence.
The Washington Post came clean in 2004 about a Style section profile the previous summer of author Micah Ian Wright, a former Army Ranger. Wright was supposed to have "had a moment of clarity in 1989 after witnessing the effects of stray American bombs on a poor residential neighborhood during the invasion of Panama." According to WaPo:
Marine Jim Massey returned from Iraq in 2003 and made a series of charges about atrocities committed by the Marines there. He was quoted five times on the subject in AP reports between May and October of 2004 and picked up widely by AP subscribers. Finally St. Louis Dispatch embedded reporter Ron Harris put the lie to Massey's widely distributed claims. Eventually the AP itself had to admit the fraud:
In other words, the AP had a reporter on the payroll who knew the stories were false, and yet AP went with them! Massey however still continued to work for and with the IVAW after his stories were found to have been fabricated:
Jesse MacBeth has been convicted and sentenced, not for the smearing of the military, but for falsifying records and fraudulently applying for VA benefits. There has been and is no real penalty that these frauds face for their salnders. Yet, making them pay a price for such is probably not the answer. I believe that lies in withdrawing the net of social approval and enhanced stature that comes with such fraud.
Social approval is a powerful incentive, but social disapproval can be a powerful disincentive. The willingness to accept the worst about any group of people because of who they are without regard to normal and required standards of proof is simply bigotry. When Murtha accused the Marines of cold blooded murder, it was bigotry. When the editors of The New Republic accepted Scott Thomas Beauchamp's fantasies without verification, it was because the claims fit their bigotry. When the AP published Massey's fraudulent claims even when their own embedded reporter could have debunked them it was bigotry. When three decades and more ago people spat on our veterans and called them babykillers, just as today when others call them killbots and terrorists, it is bigotry.
And because this is bigotry enabled by even the most powerful and influential in our society, it needs to be investigated at it root. That means Congress has to revisit that WSI testimony in their Congressional Record and find out the truth, the whole truth and make it public. That's what was called for at the time, and that is what needs still to be done.
While it would seem unlikely that a Democratic Congress would do so, there are those Democrats who do care about the military, including Senators Lieberman and Webb. It would be most interesting to see the reaction of Senator Kerry to opening an investigation on that front.
Its past due, and we owe it now to two generations of soldiers and veterans.
*My thanks to Scott Swett for this information