Mary Mostert
May 18, 2004
Ignored heroes at Mai Lai and Abu Ghraib who stopped atrocities
By Mary Mostert

Seymour Hersh, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his "exposé" of the Mai Lai massacre of March 1968, is at it again. His most recent article "The Gray Zone" published in the New Yorker Magazine reads like a rerun of some of his Vietnam War era "exposé" articles, such as the one on the Mai Lai massacre. That article led the American People to demand an end to American military efforts in Vietnam and turned the nation over to the North Vietnamese communists. This time Hersh claims that "according to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials," the misbehavior of the picture-taking US Army MPS at Abu Ghraib prison was "approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."

And, just how does he know that? Because, he says so, that's how. Hersh wants us to take his word for those unnamed and possibly imaginary intelligence officials to undermine the Secretary of Defense and the President and convince us we need to, again, cut and run away.

As I have already said, if a bit of humiliation worked to get information out of terrorists planning on slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands of other people, it would not really upset me unduly. However, in this case there is an entirely different issue here. The real issue is Hersh's inability to tell both sides of the story.

That, after all, is exactly what he did with the Mai Lai massacre. What was NOT reported by Hersh at that time, and is again NOT being reported, is the heroism of soldiers who tried to stop both events. It was not the media that uncovered either story. In both cases ordinary soldiers who were witnesses to those events stopped the actions and alerted their commanding officers. Then the Army took action.

While even today nearly everyone knows the name of Lt. William Calley, who was court-martialed for the Mai Lai massacre, few today know the name of Hugh Thompson, the helicopter pilot who stopped the massacre and promptly reported it to his commander. According to Chief My Lai prosecutor William Eckhardt, when Thompson realized what was happening "He put his helicopter down, put his guns on Americans, and said he would shoot them if they shot another Vietnamese. He then had his people wade in the ditch in gore to their knees, to their hips, took out children, took them to the hospital...flew back [to headquarters], standing in front of people, tears rolling down his cheeks, pounding on the table saying, 'Notice, notice, notice'...then had the courage to testify time after time after time."

Hugh Thompson's heroism was not considered news during the Vietnam War by the American media and today the heroism of another young soldier who reported the abuse to his commanding officer is not being reported. In fact, the very detailed report issued by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba notes that "Numerous witnesses stated that the 800th MP Brigade S-1, MAJ Hinzman and S-4, MAJ Green, were essentially dysfunctional, but that despite numerous complaints, these officers were not replaced." You can also read, that in spite of the really bad leadership the unit had from its female Brigadier General and a couple of other officers, that Taguba reported there were many in the unit who refused to follow orders they knew were not right. Some of them were mentioned by name:

  1. Master-at-Arms First Class William J. Kimbro, US Navy Dog Handler, knew his duties and refused to participate in improper interrogations despite significant pressure from the MI personnel at Abu Ghraib.

  2. SPC Joseph M. Darby, 372nd MP Company discovered evidence of abuse and turned it over to military law enforcement.

  3. 1LT David O. Sutton, 229th MP Company, took immediate action and stopped an abuse, then reported the incident to the chain of command.

The issue isn't that bad things have happened in both wars. After all, bad things happen in all wars. It is the propaganda spin put on the events that is the issue here. It is the fact that the media simply will not report both sides of the Abu Ghraib story. They prefer to try to pin the responsibility on someone who was not there and who was appalled when he found out about it.

Another part of the story, which is hard to find among all the charges that only the lowly soldiers taking orders are being reprimanded is that the female commanding officer of the unit, Brigidier General Janis L. Karpinski was relieved of her duties for incompetence. Also, six other officers, a colonel, two lieutenant colonels, a major, a captain, and a lst lieutenant, plus a couple of sergeants and a couple of private contractors, were relieved of duty.

One of the reasons they were promptly removed was for lying to the investigators. Made me think of the US Senate that didn't think a president who had lied to a court of law and the American people should be removed of his duties back in 1999. Obviously, we expect more these days from sergeants and contractors than we did in '99 from a president.

But the real story here is the really remarkable change that took place when Abu Ghraib, a major torture and murder center for prisoners under Saddam Hussein, fell under the command of an obviously incompetent American female commander. Her incompetent rule of the prison was short-lived, because some under her command, being citizens of a free nation, refused to follow orders they knew were wrong and promptly reported what was happening to a higher command.

Can you imagine that happening under Saddam Hussein or, for that matter, in ANY Muslim nation in the Middle East? Neither can I and neither can the Arab media — if they were honest.

© Mary Mostert

Comments feature added August 14, 2011

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Mary Mostert

Mary Mostert is a nationally-respected political writer. She was one of the first female political commentators to be published in a major metropolitan newspaper in the 1960s... (more)


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