Did Amer­ica com­mit war crimes in Viet­nam?

Tehran Times - - INTERNATIONAL - By Cody J. Fos­ter

On De­cem­ber 1, 1967, the last day of the In­ter­na­tional War Crimes Tri­bunal’s sec­ond ses­sion, an­ti­war ac­tivists from around the world gath­ered in Roskilde, Den­mark. The panel, also known as the Russell Tri­bunal af­ter its founder, the philoso­pher Ber­trand Russell, had spent a year in­ves­ti­gat­ing Amer­ica’s in­ter­ven­tion in South­east Asia and was now ready to an­nounce its find­ings. Tri­bunal mem­bers unan­i­mously found the United States “guilty on all charges, in­clud­ing geno­cide, the use of for­bid­den weapons, mal­treat­ment and killing of pris­on­ers, vi­o­lence and force­ful move­ment of pris­on­ers” in Viet­nam and its neigh­bors Laos and Cam­bo­dia.

Russell of­ten stated that he was in­spired by the Nurem­berg tri­als. But the Russell Tri­bunal was not a govern­ment body or treaty or­ga­ni­za­tion; it had nei­ther the le­gal au­thor­ity nor the means to carry out jus­tice af­ter its find­ings. The tri­bunal’s mis­sion was to raise aware­ness about the im­pact of the war on Viet­namese civil­ians. The “Nurem­berg Tri­bunal asked for and se­cured the pun­ish­ment of in­di­vid­u­als,” Russell stated dur­ing the ses­sions. The “In­ter­na­tional War Crimes Tri­bunal is ask­ing the peo­ples of the world, the masses, to take ac­tion to stop the crimes.”

The philoso­pher Jean-Paul Sartre presided over the tri­bunal and helped to re­cruit 23 other in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized aca­demics, sci­en­tists, lawyers, former heads of state and peace ac­tivists whose self-pro­fessed moral con­scious­ness per­suaded them to ac­cept the tri­bunal’s in­vi­ta­tion. Across two sep­a­rate ses­sions, be­tween May 2 and May 10, 1967, in Stock­holm, and be­tween Nov. 20 and Dec. 1, 1967 in Roskilde, the mem­bers weighed the ev­i­dence that each had found dur­ing sev­eral fact-find­ing trips to Viet­nam be­tween the two ses­sions.

Th­ese mis­sions al­lowed tri­bunal mem­bers to as­sess the dam­age the war had wrought on civil­ians and ver­ify first­hand the claims heard dur­ing the tri­bunal’s first ses­sion. One such mis­sion, which in­cluded the la­bor ac­tivist Lawrence Daly, the jour­nal­ist Tariq Ali and the writer Carol Brightman, re­turned with in­dis­putable proof that the United States Air Force had de­lib­er­ately bombed civil­ian fa­cil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing hos­pi­tals, schools, churches and vil­lages.

Drop­ping phos­pho­rus

Other mem­bers who scouted the coun­try­side en­coun­tered civil­ians who agreed to travel to Den­mark and speak be­fore the tri­bunal’s sec­ond ses­sion. The first wit­ness, a 37-year old Viet­namese farmer, ex­posed his charred body be­fore the tri­bunal and ex­plained through an in­ter­preter than an Amer­i­can plane had dropped phos­pho­rus bombs on his fam­ily farm in Quang Nam province in South Viet­nam while he plowed the field.

He wasn’t alone. Vic­tim af­ter vic­tim de­scribed how Amer­i­can in­ter­roga­tors swept through vil­lages, look­ing for the en­emy and tor­tur­ing civil­ians for in­for­ma­tion. One former Amer­i­can in­ter­roga­tor, Peter Martin­sen, con­firmed with the tri­bunal that the Army In­tel­li­gence School taught in­ter­ro­ga­tion strate­gies that vi­o­lated the Geneva Con­ven­tions. “In­ter­roga­tors par­tic­i­pated in ac­tual tor­ture,” he said, be­fore com­ment­ing on how those meth­ods oc­ca­sion­ally re­sulted in the death of Viet­namese pris­on­ers of war. Later, in 1970, ad­di­tional in­ter­roga­tors and Viet­namese peo­ple con­firmed that they had been wa­ter­boarded, shocked and burned. A few even shared how they were sex­u­ally as­saulted through the in­ser­tion of snakes and sticks into their bod­ies. “It’s so hor­ri­fy­ing to re­call an in­ter­ro­ga­tion where you beat the fel­low to get an ef­fect, and then you beat him out of anger, and then you beat him out of plea­sure,” Martin­sen added.

Such tes­ti­mony also re­vealed that the United States had force­fully re­lo­cated civil­ians to bet­ter isolate the en­emy. The strate­gic ham­let pro­gram, for ex­am­ple, forced large pop­u­la­tions of peo­ple into sanc­tioned dis­tricts in or­der to pacify ru­ral vil­lages and halt the com­mu­nist in­fil­tra­tion into the coun­try­side.

Wit­nesses tes­ti­fied that Amer­i­can sol­diers mur­dered re­sisters and burned vil­lages as they re­lo­cated Viet­namese civil­ians. Amer­i­can bombers and ar­tillery would then sub­ject the re­port­edly empty vil­lage to bombs and ar­tillery fire be­fore cover­ing the area with chem­i­cal de­fo­liants. Such tac­tics erad­i­cated count­less liveli­hoods; most survivors had lit­tle choice but to aban­don hope and move their fam­i­lies into the pre­pared ham­lets.

Tri­bunal mem­bers were equally wor­ried about the mil­i­tary’s use of ad­vanced weaponry in ar­eas pop­u­lated by civil­ians. One par­tic­u­lar bomb gave them pause be­cause its de­sign seemed in­tent only on in­flict­ing mass ca­su­al­ties. A weapons ex­pert, Jean-Pierre Vigier of the Uni­ver­sity of Paris, tes­ti­fied be­fore the tri­bunal that the so-called guava bomb — a type of clus­ter bomb — could send

300 iron balls of shrap­nel in ev­ery di­rec­tion upon ex­plo­sion. The bomb did lit­tle dam­age to con­crete and steel, he said; in­stead, it ap­peared as if it were cre­ated to tear through the flesh of hu­man bod­ies. “I don’t see any con­clu­sion ex­cept that bomb­ing the civil­ians is a de­lib­er­ate pol­icy of the Pen­tagon, pre­sum­ably in hopes of in­duc­ing them to bring pres­sure on their govern­ment to sur­ren­der,” Daly con­cluded upon hear­ing the tes­ti­mony.

If only for a mo­ment, the tri­bunal’s find­ings helped in­vig­o­rate the global an­ti­war move­ment to in­crease pres­sure on the John­son ad­min­is­tra­tion to bring the Viet­nam War to a close. In­flu­enced by what they had al­ready wit­nessed in Viet­nam be­tween the two ses­sions, two tri­bunal mem­bers, the an­ti­war ac­tivist Dave Dellinger and the writer Carl Oglesby, worked with an­ti­war ac­tivists to plan a peace­ful protest to oc­cur around the world in Oc­to­ber

1967. That month tens of thou­sands of an­ti­war demon­stra­tors faced off against troops out­side the Pen­tagon and in front of Amer­i­can em­bassies across West­ern Europe, in Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, and through­out Asia. Russell’s Cam­paign for Nu­clear Dis­ar­ma­ment and the Bri­tish Coun­cil for Peace in Viet­nam or­ga­nized demon­stra­tions in Wash­ing­ton and out­side 10 Down­ing Street in Lon­don. The Viet­nam Sol­i­dar­ity Cam­paign, yet another or­ga­ni­za­tion spon­sored by Russell, col­lab­o­rated with Tariq Ali to stage a march in Trafal­gar Square in ad­di­tion to pick­et­ing out­side the Aus­tralian, New Zealand and Amer­i­can em­bassies.

The tri­bunal and the marches did not bring the war to a close, but they helped en­er­gize in­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion to colo­nial­ism and im­pe­ri­al­ism: Puerto Ri­can na­tion­al­ists who sought to lib­er­ate their coun­try from Amer­i­can im­pe­ri­al­ism, for ex­am­ple, saw the Viet­namese as spir­i­tual al­lies, even as Puerto Ri­cans were drafted to fight on be­half of the United States in Viet­nam.

Racial ha­tred and vi­o­lence

The tri­bunal res­onated in the United States, too. Stokely Carmichael, a mem­ber of the tri­bunal, and other young black lead­ers joined hands with th­ese rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as they came to see Amer­i­can war crimes in Viet­nam as another prod­uct of the racially op­pres­sive na­ture of Amer­i­can im­pe­ri­al­ism. They ar­gued that the African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity ex­isted as an in­ter­nal colony dom­i­nated by racial ha­tred and vi­o­lence.

War crimes un­cov­ered by the tri­bunal and, later, the My Lai mas­sacre poi­soned Amer­i­can cred­i­bil­ity abroad and sparked a do­mes­tic na­tional iden­tity cri­sis. Such reve­la­tions forced Amer­i­can ci­ti­zens to come to terms with the mil­i­tary’s “kill any­thing that moves” ap­proach to the war. And yet that reck­on­ing didn’t last; the re­al­ity of Amer­ica’s crimes in Viet­nam has been blan­keted over by pres­i­dents, politi­cians and other lead­ers look­ing to heal the coun­try — even if that meant ig­nor­ing his­tory — to pro­mote a new pa­tri­otic na­tion­al­ism. Govern­ment-backed cor­po­rate slo­gans such as “The Pride Is Back” cam­paign in the 1980s ma­nip­u­lated col­lec­tive mem­ory by over­look­ing the war crimes and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions that the tri­bunal helped to ex­pose.

The tri­bunal’s most sig­nif­i­cant legacy was the ap­pear­ance of “peo­ple’s tri­bunals” long af­ter the Viet­nam War ended. Peo­ple’s courts, called “Russell Tri­bunals,” have in­ves­ti­gated Third World dic­ta­tor­ships, the 1973 Chilean coup, the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict and the war in East Ukraine. Most re­cently, the World Tri­bunal on Iraq opened in 2003 to charge the United States with war crimes and vi­o­lat­ing the Geneva Con­ven­tions. Once again the tri­bunal forced the world to lis­ten to new nar­ra­tives of civil­ian bomb­ing and new tor­ture tac­tics adopted by Amer­i­can armed forces.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Iran

© PressReader. All rights reserved.