HANOI, Vietnam – Vietnam accused former Sen. Bob Kerrey of crimes during the Vietnam War, saying Friday that families of villagers killed by his Navy team experienced "incomparable suffering and losses."
It was the first time Vietnam has publicly accused Kerrey of criminal activity. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh made the accusation in reaction to a revised account of the raid in Kerrey's new memoir. Thanh did not specify what crimes Vietnam believed Kerrey had committed.
"Whatever Mr. Kerrey says cannot change the truth. Mr. Kerrey himself has admitted that he was ashamed of the crimes he committed," she said.
On Friday, Kerrey said he was disappointed by the government's comments, saying officials there have long blamed Americans for war-time atrocities.
"I pointed out then, and I'm pointing out now, both sides did a lot of damage in the Vietnam war," he said, adding the North Vietnamese used terror as one of their tools.
"You gotta get beyond it," he said at a Washington bookstore where he was doing a reading. "I'm quite certain the majority of people in Vietnam want to go on with their lives."
Kerrey currently serves as president at New York's New School University.
The incident, which Kerrey first acknowledged last year, put the former senator at the center of a national discussion about U.S. conduct during the war.
Kerrey said then that about 13 civilians were killed "by mistake" after his SEAL team was fired on and returned fire during the raid on Thanh Phong village on Feb. 25, 1969. He said he did not know of the civilian casualties until the shooting stopped.
But in his new memoir, "When I Was a Young Man," Kerrey writes that he was aware that women and children had begun to gather as his squad searched the village for enemy Viet Cong.
Shortly thereafter, Kerrey says his men were fired upon from the direction of the women and children. The Americans fired back, and the villagers were hopelessly caught in the cross fire, he says.
Kerrey acknowledged the difference in his recollection of events in an author's note, saying it changed after he met with members of his squad following news reports.
After Kerrey acknowledged the incident last year, a member of his Navy SEAL unit and two Vietnamese women who said they witnessed the raid alleged the soldiers herded the women and children together and massacred them — a charge that Kerrey and five other members of the Navy SEAL team deny. One of the women, Pham Thi Lanh, said 20 unarmed villagers, mostly women and children, were killed.
On Friday, Thanh, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, said, "Our countrymen in Thanh Phong, Ben Tre province, clearly told the truth about the massacre."
She said families in the village had experienced "incomparable suffering and losses" because of the "crimes committed by Kerrey's unit."
She said Kerrey and other Americans who fought in Vietnam now "should take specific and practical actions that contribute to the healing of the wounds of the war they caused in Vietnam."
Thanh did not specify what crimes Kerrey had committed in the raid or what actions should be taken.
Kerrey, who later served as Nebraska governor and senator, and ran for president in 1992, received a Bronze Star medal for heroism in the Thanh Phong raid.
More than 58,000 Americans and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese perished in the Vietnam War, which ended in a communist victory in 1975.