Vietnam Veterans say torture policy not an aberration
As the scandal of abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners continues to intensify, the US organisation Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) has called on policy makers to hold the real decision makers responsible for these crimes rather than scape-goating the individual GIs. VVAW has documented the torture and abuse of prisoners dating back to the Vietnam War and has seen how the military is constructed to confuse and instruct individual soldiers to conduct these horrendous actions. While many have expressed surprise at these recent revelations of torture, VVAW members have witnessed the American military's systematic pattern of prisoner mistreatment since the Vietnam War. Of the 109 Vietnam Veterans who testified at the Winter Soldier Investigations in January 1971, more than a third (39) testified to observing and having first-hand knowledge of the mistreatment of prisoners of war. Incidents described in detail included beating of prisoners, throwing prisoners from helicopters, requiring POWs to kneel beside piles of dead comrades sometimes for hours, attaching electric wires to body parts, interrogation with attack dogs, interrogation with snakes, water torture, and burning skin with heated pieces of metal. Even back then some graphic evidence was available in photos and slides of specific incidents. The accused enlisted personnel at Abu Ghraib say that their actions were directed by Military Intelligence (MI) agents. While GIs were able to identify the MI agents in selected photographs of abuses in Abu Ghraib, the accused enlisted personnel may not be able to identify agents efficiently enough to build their legal cases. GIs were often unable to report whether the MI agents guiding them were military personnel or private contractors. VVAW members know that the vagueness in the identity of the MI agents is intentional. VVAW National Staff member and former military intelligence officer Dave Curry said, "Military intelligence practice in the field involves layers of illusion and deceit. Ostensibly the layers of identity protect intelligence operations from the enemy. At the same time, these levels of identity fool "ordinary GIs and make it difficult for them to know who has done what or who has asked them to do what. GIs may assume that they are working with a Military Intelligence civilian when they are in fact dealing with a regular army officer or enlisted man or woman. Such a set up can leave the GI with all of the blame and no evidence who these MI contractors were." "In Vietnam as part of my assigned duties, I dressed in civilian clothes. Other MI agents wore combat fatigues with no insignia or rank. In Vietnam, I at times was required to carry phoney identification", he continued. Curry graduated from the 16-week Army interrogation training program (featured on NBC News on May 13) in 1971, when the program was still located at Ft Holabird, Maryland. (The training program is now located at Ft Huachuca, Arizona.) Curry served from April 1971 to March 1972 in Vietnam in the 55th MI Detachment in II Corps and in the 525th MI Group. He is now a professor at University of Missouri-St Louis and the St Louis contact for VVAW. Vietnam Veterans Against the War has more than 1000 members throughout the country and includes veterans since World War II. It currently organises for better benefits for all American vets and has become one of the most outspoken and respected peace organisations in the country. The first group to organise Vietnam veterans in 1967, it was founded to voice returning service-men's and women's growing opposition to the Vietnam War and grew to include more than 30,000 members. The group started the first rap groups to deal with the war's traumatic after effects on GIs, helped make known negative health effects of exposure to chemical defoliants and exposed the Department of Veteran's Affairs attempts to cover up Agent- Orange-induced illnesses.