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Winter Soldier

Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, February 1 and 2, 1971

Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.

Part V

MODERATOR. Relating directly to the concern of the American military and the American government to the release of prisoners, at the time George Smith was captured, three other American Special Forces people were captured in Vietnam in November 1963. Steve has a leaflet, part of an after action report, relating to those three people, Sergeants, Versage, Rowe, and Pittser. Rowe, I think, was a lieutenant.

NOETZEL. This is a copy I showed you before of an after action report. It's an official report which was forwarded to the Pentagon which included every major piece of civic action that was accomplished by this particular Psy war team. I had an extra copy. I brought it home with me. Before I explain the leaflet, I want to give an example of the kinds of leaflets we did use in a leafleting campaign all through the IV Corps or the Mekong Delta, then I'll show you the leaflet that relates to a ransom for the three sergeants. One is in Vietnamese and there's a translation with it. I'll read it quickly to you.

To the people in the VC-controlled area. On 3 February 1964 government military units on the way to liberate the village of Can Chu engaged in a battle with the VC unit. The battle was very furiously fought and both sides suffered casualties. As a result four of our members and Mr. Nyguyen Van Do, an innocent civilian, were killed. We confirmed the exact figure in order that we might be able to keep a record of soldiers killed and their families. The bodies of these brave men killed by VC were removed from the battlefield by the comrades and taken by helicopter back to Camp Long Kanh where their leaders and comrades helped their families and shared their grief. After their bodies were washed and prepared for burial, in accordance with their particular religious customs at the camp dispensary, all expenditures of burial, including coffin and incense stick, were beyond the families' concern.

We also provided transportation by helicopter to those families who wished the bodies of beloved soldiers to rest in their home towns and substantial payment was made to the survivors of each soldier killed by VC. Dear Countryman, it is evident that the government of the Republic of Vietnam always cares for each and every brave soldier sacrificed for his nation. How about you? Have you ever thought of your life? You have already witnessed that when your comrades die, their bodies will be hidden beneath the mud or thrown into the river. Their families will never get neither gratuity nor the least of condolence. On the contrary, they will starve and peril will be brought down on them.

From the miserable life of present time to the shameful deaths sooner or later and a stormy outlook for such beloved people, have you ever thought about it? Be sincere and answer the question by yourself and bravely change sides which are integral to your life. We are always delighted to welcome your return to the nation and to your families.

This leaflet was used. The leaflet that I will read now was not used. Never dropped. Communique of IV Corps Tactical Zone Leaflet. There's the leaflet in Vietnamese. It says:

1. Commanding General of IV Corps Tactical Zone will have a reward of 300,000 Vietnamese piasters to the one soldier or civilian who releases or helps release the three Americans Versage, Rowe and Pittser.

2. Pro-communist members are able to benefit from this reward too and when they return they will also benefit from the government's clemency in the surrender inducement campaign, now known as Chieu Hoi.

3. Inform or conduct the three Americans to the nearest strategic hamlet or military post. 4. Procedure of collecting reward will be simplified and prompt. Reward will be drawn within 48 hours after the release of the three Americans.

Signed Phong Dinh, 27 November 1963 by General Nyuen Hu Ko, Commanding General IV Corps, the ARVN Army.

Special Forces commanders in Trang Nha, Vietnam, saw this leaflet, read it and decided that they were not going to ransom, not going to pay any money to communists whether civilian or VC, to release American prisoners. This amounted to a total of $3,000 or $1,000 apiece because they didn't want to contribute that to the war effort of the Viet Cong. That's how interested they were in the release of these three Americans.

MODERATOR. The testimony we've heard so far, of course, continues to relate between Americans and Vietnamese. Much of it, I hope at least, is not very pleasant to listen to. Much of it must seem rather incredible. Is this what we can do to people? Other people? Vietnamese? I have two people who I'm going to bring on very briefly to show you we are capable of it. We do it to ourselves. Denny Leonard and Thomas Carroll come forward, please. We've talked of prisoners of war and we think of it usually in the classical sense of being captured by an unfriendly power or hostile power. Denny Leonard was a member of the United States Army, an American Indian. He was in basic training and as part of the command information classes there, to show the elitism and the esprit de corps and the buildup of esprit de corps, they were shown the proud tradition of the 1st Cavalry, which included, of course, the massacre of his people and this was considered the way to build esprit with the troops. Denny left. Subsequently, he did return and was confined to the stockade at Presidio, California, United States Army stockade. Denny, would you just very briefly talk about, first of all, your briefing on entry and maybe one or two other little incidents?

LEONARD. When I entered the stockade in San Francisco, they made you go through a process, a special processing detachment--they called it a black cell. It was downstairs and they used all black soldiers there. These soldiers were returning AWOLs and they promised them that they would be set free or not be court-martialed if they would teach the new people that were coming down there that going AWOL or defying the army was a very bad thing. And so, all the black soldiers that were in this black hole would counsel new people that were coming in. That was GIs that were being returned by the armed forces patrol from AWOL, or those people that were transferred to the Presidio from other stockades. When I was down there, there was two prisoners that were beaten. They were both white. I wasn't bothered because I was an Indian and the black GIs dug Indian people, but the whites were treated pretty badly. That's how the army was utilizing racism when I first went into the stockade.

MODERATOR. The man sitting next to Denny is Thomas Carroll, formerly of the United States Marine Corps, who went AWOL and was subsequently court-martialed for that, is that correct? We don't have time to go into the whole story, Tom, but perhaps the press can ask you questions about it later, if they want. I have on your sheet here that you were held in stockade for nine months, four months in solitary. Would you just relate some of the conditions under which you were confined?

CARROLL. Well, I was in solitary confinement for 120 days for not going along with the brig program. I was confined at 3rd MAF, outside Da Nang, first if you didn't go along in your cell, then you were put on diminished rations which was bread and water three times a day and dehydrated vegetables. But, you never got the vegetables and they'd spit in the water and step on the bread. Charges were written up against you for talking in your cell. You weren't allowed to do anything.

MODERATOR. How much did you weigh when you went in there?

CARROLL. About 170 pounds.

MODERATOR. How much did you weigh when you got out of there?

CARROLL. Ninety-eight pounds. I had malaria when I got out that was why they let me out. But they'd spit in the water and step on the bread and most of the time in my cell there were handcuffs and leg irons. They'd come down and give you injections of thorazine to immobilize you.

MODERATOR. Can you explain what thorazine is used for? Or do you know?

CARROLL. Well, the only thing that I knew it was used for was an antidote to bring someone down that was on LSD or to quiet someone down. They'd do this about three times a day and then they'd come in and throw water in your cell and kick the door and once they sprayed five gallons of DDT to kill a spider while I was still in there.

MODERATOR. Would you briefly go through the routine that you went through to go to the latrine?

CARROLL. Well, when you were in solitary you didn't go to it. There was a bucket in there with you.

MODERATOR. This was in medium compound?

CARROLL. Right. But when I was in maximum compound, first you'd have to request permission to speak to Sally Quarter NCO who's the guard walking the aisle. To do this you'd say, "Sir, prisoner so-and-so requests permission to speak to the Sally Quarter NCO," and he'd make you say it four or five times and then he'd give you permission to speak. And you'd say, "Sir, prisoner so-and-so requests permission to make a head call." You'd go through the whole thing again and he'd keep you standing there. He'd give you permission and then you'd have to ask permission to leave where you're standing and step over into the aisle and go through the same routine to first to speak, and then to get permission to do this, and then once you got that far, he'd tell you whether or not he was going to let you go all the way. Then you'd request permission again to do it, and he'd march you down there and you had a limited amount of time. You had to go through the same procedure to get back. And all during this time, after you requested permission to speak, then you had to ask permission to ask whatever question it was that you were going to ask him.

MODERATOR. How did they usually address you when they responded to your questions?

CARROLL. "Turd" or "Scum" or a few other choice names. And while you were standing there, they'd go over all the things that was wrong with you. If your boots weren't shined or you didn't have shoe polish or your uniform was dirty (you had no place to wash it) and then if you'd talk back, they'd mark it down in the book.

MODERATOR. Would you consider this type of training demeaning? Did it make you a better Marine?

CARROLL. No, that's what the worst part of it was. That was the purpose for it; it was for discipline so they got you completely disciplined to kill without question. You weren't allowed to question orders and this was the reason and they told us they did this. We had to go through all this stuff to learn not to question an order and to do exactly what you're told, when you're told, and how to do it, how you were told to do it.

MODERATOR. Thank you, Tom. I have one more question. Let the press have their licks at it, I'd like to ask Dr. Zinn about the treatment of the prisoners in North Vietnam again, and specifically, can you relate what George was saying about food and starvation and so on to anything in the North?

ZINN. I don't want to take too long with this but the point about the food given to the prisoners of the North Vietnamese, but when Father Berrigan and I were in Hanoi to pick up the first three of the nine pilots who were released by the North, we met them for the first time in the prison compound inside the building in the outskirts of Hanoi. We were introduced to them and we wondered what condition they were in. We wanted to see if they had been well fed or ill fed and they looked as if they'd been well fed, that is they looked pretty good. To put it another way, they looked better than we did, which may not have been saying very much. But when we talked to them later, they said they'd been given adequate food; in fact, they'd been given double the ration that the Vietnamese themselves were getting because the Vietnamese assumed that the Americans were big, which was true. They needed more food. They gave them more food. They also told us that they had plenty of French bread all the time--all the French bread apparently that they wanted, more than they could eat. We wondered if they, these three particularly, because they'd been selected for departure from North Vietnam, had been given special treatment in the way of food and we asked them about that.

They said they were quite sure that all the prisoners in the camp were getting the same food because, although they didn't see the other prisoners very often, when they would go out to pick up their particular tray of food, they saw all the other trays of food, and all the other trays of food looked the same. So it seems that the prisoners were being adequately fed. Just let me make one point to reinforce what has been said several times about the fact that the American government, despite all its heart-rending pleas about doing something for the POWs, and deluging the North with letters and so on, has never cared for the fate of the American POWs. It has taken us a while to realize.

We also knew that the American government didn't care what happened to the Vietnamese but it was assumed that they cared something about what happened to Americans. It turns out that that's not so either, and I suppose it should occur to anybody who thinks about it that if the American government were concerned about the treatment of POWs in the North, the first thing they would do is not to add to the number of POWs in the North by more bombing raids. And the second thing they would do is not intensify the bombing raids in order possibly to provoke the North Vietnamese into worse treatment of the prisoners that they hold.

Of course, this hasn't happened. Father Berrigan and I had one graphic and close at home illustration of this. When we were talking to the Prison Camp Commandant in Hanoi about the release of the three pilots, he said to us, almost offhandedly at one point in the conversation, he said, "Of course, you realize, that if your government bombs Hanoi while you are here and while we are talking about the release of these three pilots, we may not release them." And we thought about this. It seemed on the one hand cruel and upon second thought, understandable. That was a Wednesday, I remember, and we were to leave Hanoi on Friday with the three men.

The next day was Thursday and we were having a conversation with several North Vietnamese and the air raid alert sounded. There had been several days of no bombing. Later the American government claimed that they hadn't bombed in deference to the POWs and the fact that we were bringing them home. By a remarkable coincidence those were days of bad weather. It wasn't easy to bomb on those days. Thursday was the first clear day, on Thursday the bombers came, and they bombed Hanoi. And, as Dan Berrigan and I were sitting there in the shelter listening to the bombs fall on Hanoi, we wondered about what was going on in the minds of the people in Washington and the generals in the Air Force and whether they really gave a _____ about the American prisoners or about anybody else.

Just one more point, before I conclude, and that is that Mrs. Warner said at the very outset of her remarks that she wanted to make it clear she wasn't a revolutionary, she was an American. Of course, I suppose you can be an American revolutionary. But, I think, she was concerned to make it clear that there is something about America which she cherished and which she cared about and which was inside her. I was thinking as people were talking here, as ex-GIs were talking about their experiences and listening to Randy Floyd talk about a bombing (I was a bombardier once)--I remember how we just dropped bombs and everybody claimed we were doing pinpoint bombing. We never knew where the bombs were falling.

But I thought those were crude times. We're in sophisticated times and technology has improved. Johnson and Nixon said we were doing pinpoint bombing; maybe it was true, of course. Technology is secondary to human will and the fact is, we don't have the will not to bomb civilians. That's the crucial thing. But listening to all this testimony and thinking about what Mrs. Warner said about America, it occurred to me that what is happening in this country now is something very special and that is that we were all brought up to really believe that there is something about America that is great. We were different from other countries. We were different from tyrannies; we were different from totalitarian states.

These other countries were cruel; they were brutal; they invaded countries. They sent armies across borders; they bombed; they bombed civilians; they destroyed cities; they lied also to their people--these other countries did; they tortured. America was different and what's happening now in the United States is that all the things that we believed about America and which were part of the American tradition-- our ideals, turn out, well, not to be true, if they were ever true, and certainly not to be true now.

I guess it's very important for us to hold on to this original notion about what America stands for because what's happening now as more and more Americans become aware of the gap between what America is supposed to stand for and what we are really doing, not only to other people but to ourselves, we are going to see a Mrs. Warner multiply a thousand times. We're going to see these GIs, veterans, multiply a thousand times. We're going to see the people in this room multiply by thousands of times and when that happens, things are going to change in this country. At that point, maybe we'll begin to match the traditions that we always claimed we stood for.

MODERATOR. We'll take questions from the press now.

QUESTION. I'd like to ask the former interrogators to comment further on the American forces' attitude toward and treatment specifically of women, female prisoners of war.

PANELIST. The interrogating I did was basically with the men. That's all we did. With the pacification, we used to round up a lot of women; we would separate families, when we brought them in from the field. We put the children in an area away from their parents and take the women away from their husbands and just totally separate the whole family. We wouldn't let them know what was coming off. I never worked with any torture against women, but we did mess up their minds by taking them away from their children and the rest of the family.

PANELIST. None of my experiences in interrogating women had any sensationalism, if that's what you're seeking.

QUESTION. I wasn't really asking for sensationalism. I was, more than specific incidents of treatment, asking you to talk about the general attitude toward women.

PANELIST. Oh. Most of our prisoners were women and they were treated basically like a Viet Cong soldier was. They weren't taken advantage of in any way. Only if they had a child or something, we would separate them from their child-- try to use that to make them talk. Our basic job was to get information. That was our basic mission and if the situation was that we could exploit a woman, a woman with a child, we would do it. Other than that, women were treated no differently than the men prisoners. They were treated the same way, they were kept in the same areas. They weren't segregated or anything. They were all kept together with the men.

PANELIST. I'd like to add to that. I tried to make obvious the fact that of all the people that I had encountered in military intelligence, this guy was the only black man that I had encountered. I can't attribute it to official Army policy, but to me it seems that the ratio of blacks in military intelligence would have been more than one out of maybe five hundred people that I had seen. I tried to bring that point out. That this was the only black man that I had encountered in military intelligence in two years in the Army.

QUESTION. In a discussion with black GIs yesterday, I was informed that, especially in the 3rd Marine Division, black GIs were always given the dirty work in torturing villagers, slapping around villagers. They always made the black GIs look like devils to the villagers to strike terror into their hearts. Perhaps this is related to the theory that the villagers had about blacks interrogating.

PANELIST. Well, I'd like to make a comment on that statement. In my experiences in Vietnam, the blacks were more apt to identify with the Vietnamese than the white GI was because, they, the blacks, are suffering from racism as the war in Vietnam is a racist war against the Vietnam people. Therefore, they can identify with them in my estimation. I believe that black GIs were less apt to be sadistic and violent with Vietnamese people. The black interrogator that we had refused to interrogate people. Any classification that he put on the prisoner would intensify. If he found the prisoner to be guilty of any of the numerous crimes that they can be guilty of, you know, belonging to Viet Cong organization, they would go to the National Police and he wanted no part of it. He tried to remove himself from it completely.

QUESTION. Was there a difference in attitude between the heads and the alcoholics?

PANELIST. Well, generally, the alcoholics were the career types and their attitude was body counts. Killing people was what they were after, but they didn't have to do it so they were really anxious to send people out into the field to do it. I imagine if they had gone out into the field, they may have tried grass, but seeing as they were in rear areas they had alcohol. It was readily available. But had they gone out and had they experienced some of the combat conditions, which they expected other people under their command to go through, I imagine maybe they would have tried other things.

QUESTION. I was wondering if drug abuse...

PANELIST. I never saw anyone interrogate anyone under the influence of any drugs, other than maybe alcohol. But, I think that had anyone been stoned during an interrogation, they would be less apt to use torture than somebody who was straight or especially drunk.

QUESTION. Earlier, when you testified, you referred to the Viet Cong forcing people to join them. How did you get this information? Was that information extracted from them under duress or force?

PANELIST. Normally they'd volunteer the information. Saying that the Viet Cong had forced them was probably a bad statement to make because to them, especially in the northern part of Vietnam, the government of Saigon is a remote intangible entity. The only government that they've known and they identify with is the Viet Cong. Because the Viet Cong don't own the land that they're farming. The Viet Cong don't tax the land that they're farming. The people in Saigon own the land and it's the constant struggle between the poor and the rich. They give their allegiance to the Viet Cong because Viet Cong are the people they encounter in their daily lives; the people that live in the same way that they do. The people who are fighting for them, as opposed to the government of Vietnam, the official government of Vietnam, the American- sanctioned government of Vietnam, which has nothing to do with the people except levy taxes and kill them.

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