Liberals Rush to Defend Democrat War Criminal

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Liberals have massed to defend Kerrey, usually by saying that he was just a grunt following orders. In the Los Angeles Times Bob Scheer announced that Kerrey is “a good man” and that the fellow who should be in the dock is Robert McNamara, who wasn’t even Secretary of Defense when Kerrey lined up those women and babies in Thanh Phong and had his unit of SEALs machine-gun them at a range of ten feet.

On Fox, Christopher Hitchens, implacable foe of the war criminal Kissinger, had similar kind words for Kerrey:

“Colmes What’s your view on Bob Kerrey?

Hitchens Of Bob Kerrey? Well, he’s my president, in fact, since I teach at the New School, and I think he wouldn’t — he wouldn’t have made that bad a president. I know him slightly. I like him very much. But look, none of the people he killed were raped. None of them were dismembered. None of them were tortured. None of
them were mutilated, had their ears cut off. He never
referred to them as gooks or slopes or afterwards. So it –con — for one day’s work in a free-fire zone in the Mekong Delta, it was nothing like as bad as most days.”

Why does Scheer say Kerrey is a “good” man and Hitchens confide to the Fox audience that “I like him very much”? There’s far more evidence to say “Bob Kerrey is an evil man.” His political career offers meager evidence to back any plea that Kerrey improved the human condition and if we are to say that he is a good man solely because he voted against the war on Iraq, then we have to call Sam Nunn “good” too, and we doubt that even Scheer would want to do that.

It’s not as though we can’t reach back into the past, identify the suspect, put him in the dock and then convict him. That’s what a jury on a courtroom in Birmingham, Alabama, just did on on May 1 to 62-year old Tom Blanton, sentencing him to life for the church bombing that killed four little girls in 1963. No one talked about the “ambiguities of that bitter and divided time”, or the “fog” of the fight over segregation in the South. No one said that Blanton was just a compliant footsoldier in a struggle for which the commanding officers in Dixie ?- Strom Thurmond and the others ? bear responsibility.

It’s a class thing. Blanton was a southern cracker, dressed all wrong. He never dated Debra Winger.

Hitchens isn’t ill-attuned to the idea of war crimes. He has, after all, just published a long indictment of Henry Kissinger, one of McNamara’s successors in administering the Vietnam strategy that put young Kerrey and his fellow SEALs in that tiny Vietnamese village the night of February 24, 1969, set to kill anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.

Now we can see that Hitchens was maybe trying to hit a vein of Swiftian irony in his remarks on that Fox show, trying to say that by the standards of what US forces were doing in Vietnam at that time, Kerrey’s unit was as well mannered as a dinner party designed by Martha Stewart. He only killed the women, he didn’t rape them first. But Hitchens should know that irony doesn’t work on tv, and there’s no palatable Martha Stewart-like comportment when you’re cutting throats and shooting babies at a range of ten feet.

Why did Hitchens have to insist he likes Kerrey “very much” Well, Hitchens has a taste for creeps, but usually they’re a little more off-beat than the president of the New School. Maybe Hitchens wants tenure at the New School. So instead of urging the New School students and faculty to demonstrate outside Kerrey’s office and demand he be sent to the International Court at the Hague to stand trial, and his salary be sent to Thanh Phong as reparations, he’s kissing Kerrey’s ass. People will do anything for tenure.

What happened to Scheer and Hitchens? “Is your hate pure,” our old friend the late James Goode used to ask of us. What happened to the cold steel of their hate? Actually, Scheer never had the cold steel of pure hate. He wanted comfort too much and now he’s got it. Long since, he’s gone soft in Santa Monica, going to parties with Oliver Stone and Barbra Streisand. Hitchens is a hater, but too obsessively. Just because Clinton put his hand up the skirt of some woman Hitchens cared for (though he’s never named her), he confused him with Pol Pot. Perhaps he can only get mad about one person at a time: Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, Paul Johnson, Bill Clinton, Kissinger.

Kerrey’s an admitted war criminal. “Following orders” is no defense. There was a man who tried to stop the massacre at My Lai, at great personnel risk. The late Ron Ridenhour, also at personal risk, worked to expose My Lai even when he was still a soldier in Vietnam.

Just listen to Kerrey’s disgusting disclosures to Dan Rather in 60 Minutes 11, Monday night.

“Rather: If in fact it did happen. If there was an old
man, an old woman and three children being killed. Was it or was it not within the rules of engagement for you and your men as you understood it, if necessary, to kill those

Kerrey Yes, Again, I don’t know how you’re gonna cut this tape, but I don’t have any doubt that the people that we killed were at the very least sympathetic to the Viet Cong. And at the very most, were supporting their efforts to kill us. (edit)

Rather Old men, women and children

Kerrey Yes, I mean, the Viet Cong, in a guerrilla war, the
people that get caught in the middle are the civilians. And
the Viet Cong were a thousand per cent more ruthless than any standard operating procedure that any American GI or Navy SEAL had. (edit)”

Here’s Scheer’s “good man” STILL saying that the babies he killed “were a thousand per cent more ruthless” than any US force or procedure.

A slice of Rather’s CBS interview with Kerrey’s fellow SEAL, Gerhard Klann:

“Narration: This is also where Bob Kerrey says his unit came under attack.

Rather: Did you take fire coming in?

Klann No.

Rather Gunfire of any kind?

Klann No.

Rather Anything even remotely sounding like gunfire?

Klann No, not that I can recall. No.

Rather What’d you do this time?

Klann We gathered everybody up, searched the place, searched everything.

Rather What was the make-up of this group?

Klann Probably a majority of em were kids. And women. And some younger women.

Rather So you got all the people out of there.

Klann We herded them together and in a group.

Rather Were any of these people armed?

Klann I don’t believe so.

Rather Fair to say you didn’t see any weapons?

Klann I didn’t see any.

Rather Did you decide pretty quickly or not that the target of your mission, the Viet Cong leader, was not among them?

Klann Yeah we got together and we were, hey the guy
ain’t here. Now we got these people, what do we do now?

Rather What did you do then?

Klann We killed em.

Rather What do you mean, you killed em?

Klann We shot em all.

Rather Was an order given for that or was it more
or less spontaneous?

Klann I don’t think we would have acted spontaneously on something like that. There was an order given.

Rather What was the order?

Klann To kill em.

Rather Why?

Klann Cause we’d already compromised ourselves by killing the other group.

Rather Whose responsibility, whose obligation was
it to say that?

Klann The ultimate responsibility fell on Bob Kerrey.

Rather Do you remember him saying that?

Klann I don’t remember his exact words, but he was the
officer in charge. The call was his.

Rather And then what happened?

Klann We lined up, and we opened fire.

Rather Individually or raked them with automatic weapons

Klann No. We, we just slaughtered them. It was automatic weapons fire. Rifle fire.

Rather At roughly what range?

Klann Six feet, ten feet, very close.

Rather Then did the shooting stop?

Klann Yeah, for a little bit.

Rather Was it quiet?

Klann It was dead quiet. It was dead quiet. Then you could just hear certain people, hear their moaning. So we would just fire into that area until it was silent there. And that was it. And, and until, we were sure that everybody was dead.

Rather You said certain people were moaning or making
noises. Were all those adults?

Klann A few. I remember one baby still crying. That baby was probably the last one alive.

Rather What happened to that baby?

Klann Shot like the rest of em.

Rather On Camera We told Bob Kerrey about Gerhard Klann’s account of the events at Thanh Phong, and also revealed to him that much of Klann’s story is supported by a woman who says she was an eyewitness in the village. Senator Kerrey seemed stunned, but then conceded that what happened at Thanh Phong may have been worse than he remembers.

As Chris Caldwell wrote in New York Press, Kerrey maybe didn’t remember too clearly what happened at Thanh Phong because his unit was doing the same thing every night.

Kerrey’s been claiming that he’s felt anguish and remorse down the years. Nothing he’s said in recent weeks supports this claim. Mostly he’s been saying that it was all an honest mistake, perpetrated under orders that permitted him to kill anything in Thanh Phong that moved.

“Rather All but one of the victims were women and
children. There was one man described as an older man. That being the case, why shouldn’t it be considered a war crime? Or an atrocity? Or be an investigation?

Kerrey To describe it as a war crime, I think is wrong. Or to describe it as an atrocity, I would say, is pretty close to being right. Because that’s how it felt and that’s why I feel guilt and shame for it.

Rather Are you concerned at all about the consequences of this becoming public?

Kerrey Well am I, certainly, I’m that’s a possibility. I’ve
got to be prepared to tolerate any consequences of this.
I understand that that are all kinds of potential consequences, up to and including somebody saying, this is a war crime. And let’s investigate and charge him and put him in prison.”

That’s reasonable. Let’s push for a trial of Kerrey, and of his commanding officers. Let Kofi Annan send a UN unit down Fifth Avenue to the Village, to seize Kerrey. If Blanton can get put in the dock for what he did in the Sixties, so can the former Senator, now running the New School where fugitive scholars from Hitler’s Germany were given shelter, and where Hannah Arendt taught. When Kerrey was confronted by the reporter Gregory Vistica in 1998 he knew the secret was out, and though Newsweek suppressed the story then, Kerrey must have known it was come out one day. He decided not to run for the Democratic presidential nomination and in 2000 he quit the Senate, using the New School as a sanctuary and as cover.

In the preface to her book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” Arendt wrote, “We can no longer afford to take that which was good in the past and simply call it our heritage, to discard the bad and simply think of it as a dead load which by itself time will bury in oblivion. The subterranean stream of Western history has finally come to the surface and usurped the dignity of our tradition. This is the reality in which we live. And this is why all efforts to escape from the grimness of the present into nostalgia for a still intact past, or into the anticipated oblivion of a better future, are vain.” CP

CounterPunch has received a call from Hitchens. He is eager to stress that at the time he made those comments on Fox he was not up to speed on Kerrey’s account of his actions at Thanh Phong. (We should note that Hitchens appeared on Fox on Monday, April 30, by which time the Kerrey affair had been headline material across the weekend.) In his call to us Hitchens was at particular pains to stress his disgust at the New School’s board members who have issued a statement asserting that it is improper to attribute specific blame for war crimes, which as we have noted above has been a standard liberal line.

He said he was forwarding the text of an open letter to his colleagues at the New School. We have received portions of this, though a middle section is lacking, and in its place, possibly owing to Hitchens’ declared distaste for e-mail there is what appears to be the email address of the NYU faculty. However, we do have the creditable final section, which runs as follows:

“It [the statement] also – but this is only a detail – takes at face value the sleazy and evasive and self-pitying utterances made by our new President and my former friend. That passive acceptance might just have passed muster if Kerrey had said ONE WORD about the Vietnamese civilians he admits to having killed. (Let’s pass over the ones he isn’t so sure he killed.) But examine the remarks issued under his name and under the names of Tishman and Scaturro [NYU trustees]. There isn’t even a polite nod in the direction of the victims. This is a scandal pure and simple. Should I dilate on the supposed principles of the School? Why embarrass myself, or you? Last month you didn’t know that Kerrey had left a ditchful of civilians behind him and accepted a medal for an action that read – officially phrased – 21 VC KIA (BC). That means twenty-one Vietcong, killed in action (body count). So – a liar as well as a killer, since he knew the figures were falsified. This month you do know. So perhaps by the watercooler or in the corridor we hear: ‘Oh hi Bob! Shit happens, right?’

“One or the other thing, but not both. He may have been a victim himself but he must be honest about what he did and he must say a word or two about the people he slaughtered. The board and the trustees, meanwhile, have no right to defend him in the terms they outline, which are terms that would exculpate any Nazi or any stressed-out ethnic cleanser.” CP

Read the real story of the CIA’s assassination program in Vietnam in Doug Valentine’s groundbreaking book The Phoenix Program.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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