Transcript: Should Bob Kerrey Return his Vietnam Medals?

This partial transcript from The Edge with Paula Zahn, April 26, 2001 was provided by the Federal Document Clearing House. Click here to order the complete transcript.


KERREY: The medal has meant nothing to me. I came back in 1969. I was in a hospital in Philadelphia when I received notice of this award I put it along with other memories as far behind me as I possibly could and went back to try to live a private life.


ZAHN: On the Controversial EDGE tonight, is decorated veteran Bob Kerrey now a fallen war hero as America learns more about a mission he led in Vietnam that left innocent women and children dead? And if so, should the former senator give back his Medal of Honor and Bronze Star?

Joining me now from Washington is retired colonel Bob Maginnis, who has led a distinguished career in the U.S. Army. Colonel Maginnis is now vice president for national security and foreign policy at the Family Research Council.

Welcome back.


ZAHN: Based on the reporting you've been exposed to so far, do you believe that former senator Bob Kerrey will be forced to return his Medals of Honor?

I really don't think so, Paula. You know, it's a tragic situation, but keep in mind, you know, Bob Kerrey was in a SEAL team in the Mekong Delta. You know, they were out in a moonless night in enemy terrain. They were going after probably some fairly senior Viet Cong. They received fire. Rules of engagement at that time were, you get fired on, you fire back with everything you have. Now that's his story. Now if there's a contrary story that's verified and the casualties are, in fact, verified as well, then we need to re-examine that. But given that scenario, I can understand perhaps how that happened.

ZAHN: All right, well, here's Mr. Kerrey's account. He said when they came across the first thatched hut, several people were killed inside and two other members of his unit say he actually, Mr. Kerrey, helped kill one of them. Now where the story gets more murky is where they come upon the second thatched hut. And this is the point at where Gerhard Klann, who was a member of his Navy SEAL squad, said that the SEALs actually rounded up women and children from the edges of the village and then debated what to do. And, quote, "Feeling they could no longer safely escape if they released them or took them prisoner, they opened fire on them after Lieutenant Kerrey gave the order." Once again, that's according to Mr. Klann.

MAGINNIS: If that turns out to be true, Paula, then yes, we have a very different scenario here. But keep in mind the Viet Cong did have women that were fighters. A lot of the men may have departed knowing that we were on our way. You couldn't identify who the enemy was in many cases, so I'm not justifying by any stretch of the imagination perhaps if Mr. Klann is telling the truth and Mr. Kerrey isn't. But, you know, we need to take account we've got a bunch of young kids, mostly in the early 20s -- Kerrey himself was 24 or 25 -- frightened to death. Just been in country about a month and a half. Has had his taste of blood already. Very vicious situation. They're out to kill him. And that at the same time, of course, does not justify atrocities.

You know, it was only the year before that we experienced in the Americal Division the My Lai disaster where 504 Vietnamese were murdered viciously by Lieutenant Calley and his people. But the word wasn't out yet. And, unfortunate, these types of operations, whether they involved the Phoenix operations, which were part of the CIA or some of the field team operations, which General Westmoreland thought were very critical to success in Vietnam, you know, that's a different story. Some of the parameters and maybe the CIA file would provide more information than we currently have.

ZAHN: Well, we should say that Mr. Klann's story has now been corroborated not only by a "Times" reporter but by a team from CBS. And they interviewed a Vietnamese woman from the village who said she witnessed the killings that night, and two other people said they were relatives of the civilians killed, and they also corroborated that story.

MAGINNIS: I understand that, Paula. And if that is corroborated even further through our own forensic and other investigations, then perhaps we really need to look at this in a serious way. This was one of a number of very serious incidents that are only beginning to come to light. It's unfortunate that it came 32 years after the fact, because we've lost a lot of the evidence. But, you know, if in fact happened as described by Mr. Klann and others, then obviously action needs to be taken. And I think, you know, Senator Kerrey need to confess.

ZAHN: Well, Senator Kerrey today ruled out running for president in 2004. I'm just curious what your insights are into the timing of this and why Mr. Klann perhaps didn't even tell this story earlier. Why now?

MAGINNIS: Well, apparently Mr. Klann was a 20-year veteran of SEALs and had done something in Iran that he thought warranted the Medal of Honor and apparently went to Senator Kerrey when he was office saying, "Can you help me get the medal?" And apparently he didn't get the medal and there may be some jealousies here. I don't have firsthand knowledge of that, but that's what I understand. And so, you know, there may be a lot more to the story than meets the eye.

ZAHN: Well, we'd love to have you back when more of the details become clear. Colonel Maginnis, thank you for your insights tonight.

MAGINNIS: Thank you, Paula.

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