Invoking Viet Nam to cover up Iraq abuses
The Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal calls forth questions over the American War in Viet Nam: "How were captured US troops treated?" and "How did the Americans treat the Vietnamese?"
The Voice of America has attempted to deflect criticism of American soldiers’ treatment of Iraqi prisoners by claiming recently that captured US troops were treated worse in Viet Nam.
Besides begging the fundamental question "what were the Americans doing in Viet Nam in the first place?" the claim is also patently false.
In fact, like in any of the dozens of countries they invaded, it was the Americans who perpetrated well-documented atrocities in Viet Nam, both at the individual and mass levels.
American POWs treat themselves to a refreshing game of volleyball.
My Lai is a byword for callous mass murder while the Bach Mai hospital and Kham Thien street bombings, though less well-known outside Viet Nam, were no less brutal for their manner of execution. As if to show they were not merely capable of ‘impersonal’ atrocities (by dropping bombs), the Americans helped run the notorious Con Dao prison with its ‘tiger cages’. In each of these 3m by 1.5m cages, they held five Vietnamese prisoners.
Conditions at the prison prompted a visiting US legislator, William R Anderson, to write to then-president Richard Nixon slamming the human rights violations and asking him to reconsider American involvement in the south of Viet Nam.
Candidate in this year’s American presidential elections, John Kerry, who fought in the war, went further in his criticism. In a statement to the US’ Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 1971, he said the war crimes committed by US soldiers in Southeast Asia "were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
But despite these abuses, the Vietnamese did not reciprocate in kind; instead, they treated captured US troops humanely.
A letter written to his family by the US navy’s Lt Stephen Anthony Rudloff shows a glimpse of the treatment received by American troops in captivity. He wrote, "Since my capture, I have been treated very well by the people of the DRVN [Democratic Republic of Viet Nam]. I am well fed, have had my injuries tended to by a doctor, and am in excellent condition."
Another navy man, Lt Albert Molinare, wrote home, "my treatment and the treatment of all the others I’ve talked to has been very fair. I feel we’re eating and living better than many Vietnamese outside the walls. I live with a group of other prisoners and we pass the time playing bridge and pingpong and doing some gardening. It’s nothing like home of course but the treatment has been a pleasant surprise."
Molinare was right that the detainees were living better than most Vietnamese who were subsisting on food rations and under extremely tough conditions.
It was also true that except for their incarceration, the American soldiers lived normal lives in prison though many of them had been caught red-handed committing crimes against humanity. They got fairly good food, exercised, played on the guitar and read books, received letters from home and celebrated Christmas with trees just like they would have at home.
They received periodic medical checks and treatment for injuries and illnesses.
In the three decades since the war, the Americans have used their hegemony over the world media – including films – and short public memory to gloss over their atrocities and to demonise Viet Nam.
The VOA report is merely another such attempt. — VNS
kerry, what a lame duck, he really has done damage to the military