The Guardian June 9, 2004


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.

Back to index page