Should retired U.S. Army Lt. General Robert G. Gard, chairman of the Steering Committee of Vets for Obama, be investigated for allegedly helping suppress more than 300 cases of substantiated Vietnam-era atrocities?
One military blogger suggests that he should. In a blog post entitled Pandora’s Box published July 10 at Mudville Gazette, deployed military blogger “Greyhawk” noted that a Pentagon task force that met in the early 1970s confirmed extensive atrocities committed by U.S. military forces in Vietnam, as noted in a 2006 investigative report published in the Los Angeles Times:
The documents detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators — not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.
Though not a complete accounting of Vietnam war crimes, the archive is the largest such collection to surface to date. About 9,000 pages, it includes investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.
The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese – families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers, in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders, described a violent minority who murdered, raped and tortured with impunity.
The incidents involved more than 200 servicemen. Many of that “violent minority” — suspected war criminals — were allowed to remain in service without charges ever being filed. Once discharged from the military, these men were deemed “out of military jurisdiction.” The military also declined federal prosecution through civilian authorities.
It was an apparent whitewash of what the task force defined as substantiated offenses, including:
- Seven massacres from 1967 through 1971 in which at least 137 civilians died.
- Seventy-eight other attacks on noncombatants in which at least 57 were killed, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted.
- One hundred forty-one instances in which U.S. soldiers tortured civilian detainees or prisoners of war with fists, sticks, bats, water or electric shock.
The Pentagon task force in charge of compiling the 9,000 pages of testimony hidden in a classified archive for decades was not powerless to act against this barbaric behavior even if the men involved were no longer in the military. Army general counsel Robert E. Jordan III noted in 1969 that “ex-soldiers could be prosecuted through courts-martial, military commissions or tribunals.”
Retired U.S. Army Lt. General Robert G. Gard oversaw the task force as a brigadier general in the 1970s. The Pentagon had the option of pursuing these war crimes, but Gard said his commanders did not want to seek prosecution.
“We could have court-martialed them but didn’t,” Gard says of soldiers accused of war crimes. “The whole thing is terribly disturbing.”
The military had the legal option to pursue all 203 suspects even after they were discharged (just as military investigators helped federal prosecutors bring murder charges against Steven Dale Green for the rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family near Mahmudiya, Iraq in March of 2006.) But none of these men were ever charged.
Gard defended himself against the charges leveled against him in Pandora’ Box exclusively to Pajamas Media.
The Army’s inter-agency task force, at the colonel/lieutenant colonel level, to which he [Greyhawk] refers, was operating at the time of my appointment (as a new brigadier) as the Director of Discipline and Drug Policies in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel in 1971.
The task force had been established by the office of the Chief of Staff of the Army to examine reports of investigation by the CID, the Criminal Investgation Division, of war crime allegations. My office was assigned responsibility for administrative oversight of the task force process, and my deputy, a colonel, chaired the task force.
The results of the task force reviews were forwarded over my signature through the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, my three star boss, to the Chief of Staff of the Army. Decisions on prosecution were made by the Chief and the Secretary of the Army, the senior civilian official. Neither I, nor anyone in my office, nor my boss, had court martial authority.
A senior career officer reached for comment stated that “if he [Gard] was not a ‘commander’ then he would not have had USMJ (court-martial) authority,” but “if he felt that there was something criminal or very wrong… I would assume he could have gone to the Inspector General.”
A second officer reached for comment, while noting that he is not a lawyer, stated that, “I think that if anyone knew of potential crimes and abuses being committed and took no action or worse–deliberately tried to cover it up–then they should be held accountable regardless of when the abuses took place.”
On June 30, Lt. General Gard defended Wesley Clark’s controversial statements regarding John McCain’s suitability to be President:
So I too honor John McCain. And, like General Clark, I acknowledge his sacrifice for his country. But being a prisoner of the Vietnamese and serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee does not automatically qualify one for the position of Commander-in-Chief — understanding risks, gauging your opponents and being held accountable does. We must end this glib obeisance to sacrifice and ask deeper questions: is a man who sings “bomb, bomb, bomb … bomb, bomb Iran” a man who understands risks? Is a man who says that we must keep our troops in Iraq until we achieve an ill-defined “victory” really know how to gauge America’s opponents. If we want to hold people accountable, then let’s stand behind my friend Wes Clark — and hold John McCain accountable for what he’s said.
Gard has stated that in order to gauge the character of men, that men need to be held accountable for their actions. One may wonder, then, how Lt. General Gard has been able to sit on evidence of rape, murder, and other war crimes for over three decades without attempting to bring any of the men he knew to be war crimes suspects to justice.
(The Obama Campaign declined an invitation to respond to these allegations.)
A second retired General, Retired Brigadier Gen. John H. Johns, also served on the task force in the 1970s and admitted he once wanted to keep the record of atrocities hidden, but said in the 2006 L.A. Times article that he “now believes they deserve wide attention in light of alleged attacks on civilians and abuse of prisoners in Iraq.”
Generals Johns’ and Gard’s comments regarding the revealing of these atrocities of war occurred just months after both retired Generals accompanied Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to a news conference calling for “a change of course in Iraq,” in a pledge to abandon the “surge” of military forces in Iraq, a tactical shift that Reid had already declared “lost” before it was even fully manned.
General Gard has made clear that he holds “accountability” to be vital. General Johns claims these Vietnam-era atrocities “deserve wide attention.”
Empowering a military prosecutor to investigate why senior military officials of their era refused to prosecute substantiated war crimes charges for almost four decades should provide both men with precisely what they desire.