Published January 13, 2015
Atrocities against civilians and prisoners by Army soldiers during the Vietnam War were more common than originally disclosed to the public, according to a Los Angeles Times review of recently unsealed government files.
Some 9,000 pages of records — the largest collection of documented war crimes in Vietnam — include sworn witness testimony, investigative files and status reports for top military brass that detail 320 wartime atrocities substantiated by the Army.
Still, few soldiers were held accountable for the war crimes, according to the newspaper's findings which appeared in Sunday's edition.
The abuse was not restricted to one rogue Army division, but was committed by every Army division operating in Vietnam, the Times review found.
Among the incidents documented in the files:
— Seven civilian massacres from 1967 to 1971 that left at least 137 dead.
— Seventy-eight additional attacks on unarmed civilians that left at least 57 dead, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted.
— 141 incidents in which U.S. soldiers tortured civilian detainees and prisoners of war.
In one incident detailed in the report, members of the B Company in February 1968 rounded up and gunned down a group of villagers that included women and children after being ordered by a lieutenant to "kill anything that moves."
The files, collected by a Pentagon task force in the 1970s, do not include the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre. The incident, which left some 500 Vietnamese villagers dead, was exposed by reporter Seymour Hersh the following year.
Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, who was part of the task force that gathered the files, said he no longer thought the atrocities should remain in the dark.
"We can't change current practices unless we acknowledge the past," said Johns, 78.
The files show investigators found enough evidence to charge 203 soldiers with crimes related to the mistreatment of Vietnamese civilians and prisoners. But only 57 soldiers were court-martialed and 23 convicted, the Times reported.
Fourteen soldiers received prison sentences ranging from six months to 20 years, but most served much less time.
A former legal adviser to the Army's Criminal Investigation Division said there was scarce interest in prosecuting Vietnam war crimes after the war.
"Everyone wanted Vietnam to go away," said Steven Chucala, now a civilian attorney for the Army in Virginia.