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Paul Martin   Letter 02   14-Mar-2004   American war crimes
"Some people think that the Japanese committed atrocities, that the Germans committed atrocities, that the Russians committed atrocities, but that the Americans don't commit atrocities," Colonel Robert Rheault, a former commander of the United States Special Forces in Vietnam, said just after My Lai. "Well, this just isn't so. American troops are as capable as any other of committing atrocities." Phillip Knightley

14-Mar-2004

The Right Honourable Paul Martin
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON    K1A 0A2


Mr Prime Minister:


I draw to your attention the following four excerpts, dealing with the question of American war crimes in Vietnam, taken from successive pages of Phillip Knightley's The First Casualty:

Suddenly, nearly every war correspondent who had been in Vietnam had an atrocity story to tell.  Time's correspondent Frank McCulloch had written a farewell assessment of Vietnam after covering the war for four years.  Now, McCulloch recalled having seen men pushed from aeroplanes, shot with their hands tied behind their backs, and drowned because they refused to answer questions.  He recalled having seen Americal Division troops unleash a Doberman pinscher dog on an old man suspected of being a Vietcong and watch it tear the man from head to belly.  Time's correspondent Burt Pines related the case of a sergeant on patrol who shouted, "A three day pass for whoever gets that gook."  After a moment's hesitation, most of the patrol opened up with their M-16s, ripping an old man, as well as the child he was carrying, into pieces."
Phillip Knightley The First Casualty, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and London, 1975, p. 393.

With no moral restraints against "wasting" Vietnamese, in fact with incentives to do so, and with the understandable desire, above all, to stay alive, the American soldier in Vietnam ended up committing acts that the nation believed impossible.  "Some people think that the Japanese committed atrocities, that the Germans committed atrocities, that the Russians committed atrocities, but that the Americans don't commit atrocities," Colonel Robert Rheault, a former commander of the United States Special Forces in Vietnam, said just after My Lai.  "Well, this just isn't so.  American troops are as capable as any other of committing atrocities."

My Lai removed inhibitions on talking about the nature of the Vietnam War.  Ex-soldiers appeared on television to confess to having shot children.  Others, in hearings conducted by the National Committee for a Citizens Commission of Inquiry on United States War Crimes in Vietnam, told of rape, the machine-gunning of women and children in fields, torture, and murder.  Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Herbert, the most-decorated Americal soldier of the Korean War, a battalion commander of the elite 173rd Airborne Brigade, claimed he had reported seeing a United States Lieutenant allow a South Vietnamese soldier to slit a woman's throat while her child clung screaming to her leg.  Colonel Herbert alleged that when he made his report, his superiors told him to mind his own business.
Phillip Knightley The First Casualty, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and London, 1975, p. 394.

But, before My Lai, anyone seeking evidence of the nature of the Vietnam War need only have consulted official records.  The writer Norman Poirier used the files of the judge-advocate-general of the navy, in Washington, to compile a story of how a squad of nine Marines gang-raped a young Vietnamese mother at Xuan Ngoc on the night of September 23, 1966, and gunned down her entire family herself, her husband, her two children, and her sister.  When the Marines returned in the morning to make the carnage look like an engagement with the Vietcong, they found that one of the children, a five-year-old girl, was still alive, and so one of the Marines stood over the child "and with his M14 rifle bashed its brains in."  They were exposed by the recovery of the mother, who had been left for dead, were arrested and tried, and six of them were convicted.  Poirier's account of the incident appeared in Esquire in August 1969 three months before the story of My Lai broke.  Despite the fact that Esquire sent proofs to the major American newspapers, to promote the article, it created hardly a ripple of interest.

Daniel Lang, in his book Casualties of War, which was based on court files, tells of a patrol of five United States soldiers, operating in the Central Highlands, who abducted a young Vietnamese girl.  Four of them raped her, and then ripped her belly open and blew her head off.  The fifth soldier reported the incident, and proceedings were initiated against the others, who, after some reluctance on the part of the army, were brought to trial, then retried, and sentenced to rather light terms of imprisonment.  Lang's book was reviewed in Newsweek in the very issue that was devoted to the My Lai story.  The reviewer wrote: "The brutal killing of a Vietnamese civilian ... should not of itself surprise us ... after all, no one seriously informed about the war in Vietnam believes that U.S. body counts have not included a number of civilians all along."
Phillip Knightley The First Casualty, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and London, 1975, p. 395.

Philip Jones Griffiths, the British photo-journalist, accompanied a unit of the Americal Division on a mission in Quang Ngai in September 1967.  The Americans approached a fortified village called Red Mountain, not far from Mo Duc, and lost two men in a grenade exchange.  Several armed Vietcong were killed, the village occupied, and about fifteen women and children rounded up and herded together.  The Americans withdrew, and the captain called in an artillery strike.  As Jones Griffiths remembers: "I said to the captain, 'Hey, what about those civilians?  They'll be killed.'  The captain looked straight at me and said, 'What civilians?'"  If one asks Jones Griffiths why he did not write about this incident he had photographed the women and children huddled together, just before they were killed by the artillery strike he replies: "If I had gone back to Saigon and into one of the agencies and had said, 'I've got a story about Americans killing Vietnamese civilians,' they would have said, 'So what's new?'  It was horrible, but certainly not exceptional, and it just wasn't news."

Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, a fine political reporter and military analyst, defended the correspondents' attitude in his newspaper in 1971.  "I had never read the laws governing the conduct of war, although I had watched the war for three years in Vietnam and had written about it for five....  The Army Field Manual says that it is illegal to attack hospitals.  We routinely bombed and shelled them.  The destruction of Vietcong and North Vietnamese army hospitals in the South Vietnamese countryside was announced at the daily press briefings, the Five o'Clock Follies, by American military spokesmen in Saigon....  Looking back, one realises that the war crimes issue was always present."  Sheehan described the ravaging of five fishing hamlets on the coast of Quang Ngai by United States destroyers and bombers, which killed, he estimated, as many as 600 Vietnamese civilians.  "Making peasants pay so dearly for the presence of guerrillas in their hamlets, regardless of whether they sympathised with the Vietcong, seemed unnecessarily brutal and politically counter-productive to me.  When I wrote my story, however, it did not occur to me that I had discovered a possible war crime."
Phillip Knightley The First Casualty, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and London, 1975, p. 396.

Such American war crimes as the above seem more worthy of Canadian prosecution than Ukrainian war crimes because:
  1. The American war crimes are forty years old, whereas any Ukrainian war crimes would be sixty years old.

  2. Demonstrable American war crimes are innumerable whereas demonstrable Ukrainian war crimes do not exist, and alleged Ukrainian war crimes are rare.  The American war criminals aren't even in hiding they fall all over themselves in their eagerness to confess, as for example in the CBC documentary already mentioned on the Ukrainian Archive at www.ukar.org/mclell16.html#American in which US serviceman confessed to killing a number of unarmed Vietnamese villagers, and afterward scalping them, and cutting off their ears and hands.  Compared to such a bounty flowing from the American direction, Ukrainians offer slim pickings.

  3. The American war crimes are described in many newspaper and magazine articles, books, and court depositions, and can be substantiated by reliable eyewitnesses examined under Western standards of freedom of the questioner to explore or cross-examine and protection of the witness from duress.  In comparison, any Ukrainian war crimes must be inferred from fragmentary and equivocal evidence, and in the rare case that witnesses might be available, their credibility is questionable and their circumstances of examination do not meet Western standards.

Despite these three weighty reasons, the Canadian government has never prosecuted Americans living in Canada for war crimes, whether committed in Vietnam or elsewhere, but expresses a strong preference for prosecuting non-Jewish Europeans, among whom Ukrainians have been strongly represented.  However, the point made in my letter to you of 10-Mar-2004 concerning Israeli war crimes applies equally to American war crimes which is that if Canadian prosecutors impartially ranked all American and Ukrainian war-crimes suspects according to the magnitude of their alleged crimes together with the persuasiveness of the inculpatory evidence, the 100 most prosecutable spots would be swept by Americans.  All Ukrainian war crimes alleged in all Canadian government prosecutions do not come close to matching in horror and credibility the American war crimes glimpsed in the excerpts above, and which it must be kept in mind were written to be illustrative and not comprehensive.

The appearance is, then, that the Chretien government's war crimes policy has been in violation of Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms § 15(1) in that prosecution has been contingent upon the nationality of the accused.  Specifically, Jean Chretien's war crimes prosecutions demonstrate that the Canadian Department of Justice targets Ukrainians but not Americans, and typically Ukrainians against whom no personal participation in war crimes can be proven or is even alleged, rather than Americans whom credible eyewitnesses might place ripping open the bellies of women they have raped, or scalping and cutting the ears off villagers they have massacred.  The Chretien government's maltreatment of Ukrainians flaunts its power to regard them as the disenfranchised untouchables of Canadian society, and by this demonstration sends all other minority groups the warning that the Government has it within its power to treat them with the same vicious contempt.

However, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms § 15(1) does not permit you to single out any national, ethnic, or religious group for prosecution, nor does it permit you to grant any national, ethnic, or religious group immunity from prosecution.  If you prosecute Ukrainians, then you must prosecute Americans according to the same criteria of culpability; if you refuse to prosecute Americans, then you are obligated to stop prosecuting Ukrainians.  The Ukrainian community and the many Canadians who see reason for concern in any corruption of the justice system, and who stand against the violation of fundamental Charter guarantees wait to see whether your administration intends to perpetuate Jean Chretien's loathsome tradition, or to abandon it.




Lubomyr Prytulak


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