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CBS 60 Minutes II 1 May 2001:

Articles and Interviews

 

Kerrey Raid In Question

  • Former Sen. Admits Vietnamese Civilians Killed In 1969 Raid
  • Fellow Navy SEAL Tells 60 Minutes II Victims Were Executed
  • Watch An In-Depth Report Tuesday, May 1, 9 p.m. ET/PT

    April 30, 2001
    CBS
    Vietnam veteran Bob Kerrey.
    (CBS) In a 60 Minutes II interview to air Tuesday May 1, former Sen. Bob Kerrey admits that his SEAL team unit killed civilians in a raid on a Vietnamese village in 1969.

    Kerrey, who has not ruled out a run for president in 2004, received a Bronze Star for the Feb. 25, 1969, raid. The award citation says 21 Viet Cong were killed and enemy weapons were captured or destroyed.

    But Kerrey now says women and children were killed in the raid when the SEAL team fired at a village after hearing enemy fire. He describes it as an "atrocity," but an unintentional one.

    However, a resident of the village where the killings took place and a member of Kerrey's SEAL team told 60 Minutes II Correspondent Dan Rather that the unit rounded the civilians up and then shot them. Kerrey denies that account.

    A weary and visibly strained Kerrey told an April 26 press conference in New York that "We did not go out on a mission with the intent of killing innocent people. I feel guilty because of what happened, not because eof what we intended to do."

     
    The Citation
    The Bronze Star is given to servicemembers who have "distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service Ö while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United StatesÖ"

    Click here to read the citation for the Bronze Star awarded to Bob Kerrey.

    Kerrey, who now serves as the president of the New School in New York City, also won the Purple Heart and Congressional Medal of Honor in a separate incident in which he lost part of his right leg. He does not feel the Bronze Star was awarded appropriately.

    "The citation is different than what we reported" to military superiors, he told the Omaha World-Herald in an interview published Wednesday.

    Kerrey talked about the raid publicly for the first time last week in a speech to ROTC students at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. He said he decided to give his account after hearing that another member of his squad was offering a different version.

    60 Minutes II and the New York Times Magazine have been investigating Kerrey for several months.

    The operation in question took place in the Mekong Delta, in a Communist-controlled hamlet called Thanh Phong.

    In a version of the New York Times Magazine posted on the newspaper's Web site, one account has the SEAL team visiting the village two weeks before the deadly raid. Kerrey tells the magazine he doesn't recall this.

    Kerrey says on the night of the operation his unit was looking for a pro-Communist political leader.

    "We went in at night and we found men in a hooch (hut) and the people who were running out in front of me said 'We've got people. We've found men and we're gonna take care of them,' which I understood and I would authorize without saying so meant they were going to kill them," he said.

    Kerrey tells the Times magazine he didn't order or see killings of anyone in that hut. But a member of his unit, Gerhard Klann, claims five people were killed there, including an old man, a woman and three children.

    After leaving the first hut, Kerrey says, the unit opened fire after coming under enemy gunfire. Kerrey claims he did not know his victims were women and children until the shooting had stopped.


    Sen. Kerrey, far left, watches a Vietnam
    honor guard in 1998.   (AP)
    "We stood back and we just emptied everything we could into this place and we were taking fire and we came into the village and it wasn't a big village it was, you know, four or five hooches," Kerrey said. "There was a cluster of women and children. They were all deadÖ"

    Kerrey believes Viet Cong were likely firing upon his crew from behind the civilians, which would justify the killings from a military standpoint, but said he could not be at peace with it personally.

    "To describe it as a war crime, I think, is wrong," he said. "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."
    However, Pham Tri Lanh, a woman who claims to have witnessed the raid, contradicted Kerrey's version. She says the SEAL team executed the villagers.

    "It was very crowded, so it wasn't possible for them to cut everybody's throats one by one," she said. "Two women came out and kneeled down. They shot these two old women and they fell forward and they rolled over and then they ordered everybody out from the bunker and they lined them up and they shot all of them from behind."

    Klann told 60 Minutes II, "We herded them together in a groupÖWe lined them up and we opened fire." When asked if they took gunfire of any kind coming into the village or anything even remotely sounding like gunfire, Klann said, "No."

    He described what happened next, "We gathered everybody up, searched the place, searched everything." And the make-up of the group was, "Probably a majority of 'em were kids. And women. And some younger women."

    And then, "We killed them.... 'Cause we'd already compromised ourselves by killing the other group."

    Kerrey denied that anyone was rounded or executed, and said the woman might be sympathetic to the Viet Cong. But he refused to deny Klann's version.

    "I will not contradict the memory of any of the six people that were on the operation that night," he said.

    As to why soldiers might have killed Viet Cong members instead of taking them prisoner, Kerrey said, "Because of where we're operating, our belief is that they could break free and we could be at risk."

     
    Read More
    Click here to read the New York Times Magazine story.
    Kerrey described feelings of intense guilt and loss over the incident. "If I'd lost both arms and both legs and my sight and my hearing, it wouldn't have been as much as I lost that night."

    "Let the other people judge whether or not what I did was militarily allowable or morally ethical or inside the rules of war. Let them figure that out. I mean, I can make a case that it was," he said. "It's still something dead that was formerly alive, something that I value, and I feel remorse for that."

    Kerrey ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992 and served two terms in the Senate after one term as governor. He acknowledged the possible ramifications of his revelation.

    "ÖI'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,'" he said.
 

Kerrey Raid Documents Released

  • Initial Reports Say Only VC Killed In 1969 Raid
  • Mention Of Civilian Casualties Comes Two Days Later
  • See 60 Minutes II's In-Depth Report Tuesday, May 1, 9 p.m. ET/PT

    NEW YORK, April 28, 2001
    CBS
    Kerrey told reporters that many vets have buried painful memories.
    (CBS) Two newly declassified official reports concerning a raid on a Vietnamese village by Bob Kerrey's Navy SEAL team make no mention of civilian casualties that the former senator says he included in his initial after-action report on the incident.

    In a 60 Minutes II interview to air next Tuesday, Kerrey admits that his unit killed women and children when they returned enemy fire at Thanh Phong village on Feb. 25, 1969. Kerrey, who has not ruled out a run for president in 2004, received a Bronze Star for the raid.

    Kerrey disclosed the incident earlier this week. After stints as Nebraska's governor and U.S. senator, and a bid for the presidency in 1992, he is currently the president of the New School in New York City.

    The reports, both dated Feb. 25, 1969 were released Friday by the Naval Historical Center in Washington.

    They are not signed, but military address codings suggest they are a message from Kerrey's immediate superior officer to the commander of SEAL Task Force 115 and that officer's reply.


    Click here for more on the Vietnam War.

    Both refer only to "21 VC KIA (BC)," meaning "21 Viet Cong killed in action (body count)."

    The language is similar to that in a later citation awarding then-Lt. (jg) Kerrey, 25, the Bronze Star, the nation's fourth-highest award for valor.

    At a news conference Thursday, Kerrey said that, "For more than three decades, I have carried this deeply personal memory with a sense of anguish."

    Kerrey said he had not thought about returning the Bronze Star, stating that "the medal meant nothing to me," and insisting he "never asserted I was a hero in the war."

     
    Feb. 25, 1969
    Click here to read more about the conflicting accounts of the raid by Kerrey's SEAL team on the village of Thanh Phong.
    The Pentagon said Thursday that if the truth about what actually happened was concealed, Kerrey's Bronze star could be rescinded, but defense officials say as of now they have no plans to investigate.

    The incident took place in a communist controlled hamlet along the Mekong River. Kerrey was leading his unit on a search for Viet Cong leaders.

    Kerry insisted that the area where the shooting took place was a free-fire zone and that reliable intelligence had indicated there was a Viet Cong political meeting taking place there with no civilians present. He insisted his unit was fired upon before it shot at the villagers.

    The first teletype message, labeled a "spot report," says Kerrey's team "received fire from hooches (huts)" and returned fire. Then: "Observed several personnel running from hooches. Took under fire," it said.

    Civilian casualties were mentioned two days later, Feb. 27, in a radio log obtained by The Associated Press.

    A resident of the village where the killings took place and a member of Kerrey's SEAL team told 60 Minutes II Correspondent Dan Rather that the unit rounded the civilians up and then shot them. Kerrey denies that account.

    "We did not go out on a mission with the intent of killing innocent people. I feel guilty because of what happened, not because of what we intended to do," Kerrey said.

     
    The Citation
    The Bronze Star is given to servicemembers who have "distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service Ö while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United StatesÖ"

    Click here to read the citation for the Bronze Star awarded to Bob Kerrey.



    The Vietnamese government offered conciliatory words for Kerrey on Thursday. "Mr. Kerrey has shown in his statements about what happened in the past in Vietnam that he was remorseful about his behavior," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh said in Hanoi.

    "We think the best way for Mr. Kerrey and other Americans who fought in Vietnam to achieve peace of mind is to contribute to healing the wounds from the war through concrete and realistic actions," she said.

    Experts on military law say that while Kerrey's actions might have breached codes of conduct, he cannot be prosecuted now that he has left the military.

    "If his account were taken as true, if it were proved to be true, it would indeed be a violation of war," said Gary Solis, a military law professor, but adds, "If one receives fire, one is not only entitled to but should return fire to protect one's own men and women."

    Other Vietnam vets, including Sens. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and John Kerry, D.-Mass., have signaled support for Kerrey.

    "Those of us who have served in combat recognize that there are some things you are proud of and some things that you are not so proud of," McCain said. "And that's why war is so terrible."

Kerrey On Defensive

  • Accuses CBS News And New York Times Of Collaborating
  • Denies Allegations Former Comrade Makes In '60 Minutes II' Interview
  • See '60 Minutes II's In-Depth Report Tuesday, May 1, 9 p.m. ET/PT

    NEW YORK and WASHINGTON, April 29, 2001
    AP
    (CBS) Five members of former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey's Navy commando team joined him in denying that they wantonly killed Vietnamese civilians during a wartime raid more than 30 years ago.

    "No order was given or received to execute innocent women, old men and children as has been described by some," said a statement signed by Kerrey and five Navy SEAL mates published in Sunday's Washington Post. "We took fire and we returned fire. Our actions were in response to a dangerous situation that we know for certain could have resulted in our deaths."

    In a telephone interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Kerrey said it reflects the position of him and the five others that there is no truth to the allegations that they gunned down civilians or killed them with knives.

    The statement was signed by Kerrey and former SEALs Rick Knepper, Mike Ambrose, Lloyd Schrier, Gene Peterson and William H. Tucker III. The other five had not spoken publicly on the issue before Saturday.

     
    Hill Reaction

    Some of Bob Kerrey's former Senate colleagues who served in Vietnam said Sunday they have little desire for a Pentagon investigation into his recent admission that civilians were killed during a mission for which he won the Bronze Star.

    "To now talk about an investigation, it seems to me, is just the wrong way to go," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told ABC's "This Week." "If the Pentagon asked me, I'd say no."

    Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a member of the Armed Services Committee, told ABC he does not think an investigation is warranted, as did Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. "There's no point in it, I don't believe...Let it play out, but I don't think we need an investigation here," Hagel said.

    In an editorial in Sunday's Washington Post, Kerry, Cleland and Hagel said Kerrey's admission "demonstrates the courage we all have known in him for years."

    "Many people have been forced to do things in war that they are deeply ashamed of later. Yet for our country to blame the warrior instead of the war is among the worst, and, regrettably, most frequent mistakes we as a country can make," they wrote.

    Asked if Kerrey should give back his medal, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war for more than five years, said that would be "a decision that Bob would make." (AP)
    The seventh member of the unit known as Delta team, Gerhard Klann, claims in interviews published in Sunday's New York Times Magazine and to be broadcast on CBS News' 60 Minutes II on Tuesday that civilians were herded into a group and killed.

    "One of the men in our squad remembers that we rounded up women and children and shot them at point-blank range in order to cover our extraction," the SEAL team members' statement said. "That simply is not true."

    Kerrey has said he does not know Klann's "motivation" for making the charge, but he insists that the former colleagues remain on good terms.

    Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator, meanwhile, accused The New York Times and CBS News of "collaborating" in a propaganda campaign to discredit Americans in the war.

    "It's disgraceful," Kerrey told the AP. "The Vietnamese government likes to routinely say how terrible Americans were. The Times and CBS are now collaborating in that effort."

    He continued: "What happened that night is bad enough...It is a disgrace that just brings back the memory of the war."

    "I think he knows better," said Joseph Lelyveld, executive editor of the Times, when asked for comment on Kerrey's statement about alleged collaboration with the Vietnamese government.

    "After many months of in-depth reporting, during which time the principals involved agreed, independently, to tell their accounts to 60 Minutes II, we believe we have produced a fair and balanced report of what happened at Thanh Phong," said CBS News President Andrew Heyward in a statement. "On Tuesday night, viewers will have the opportunity to hear these first-hand accounts of the events and draw their own conclusions. As with every report, our only interest is good journalism."

    Kerrey, in speaking publicly last week about the raid, said that about 13 civilians were killed "by mistake" after his SEAL team was fired on and returned fire during a nighttime raid to capture or kill Viet Cong officials believed to be meeting in Thanh Phong on Feb. 25, 1969.

    Kerrey was awarded the Bronze Star for leading the Thanh Phong raid and later received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military commendation, for an unrelated action in Vietnam.

    The declaration of solidarity among SEAL team members came as a second witness in Vietnam told the AP the commando team had intentionally killed civilians during the attack.

    Two Vietnamese women told reporters Saturday that they witnessed the killings in Thanh Phong, and their accounts closely echo Klann's account.

    Bui Thi Luom, 44, said that women and children were rounded up and shot and that about 20 died. She recalled being told that one girl was "disemboweled," although she did not see it.

    Pham Thi Lanh, 62, elaborated on her earlier account to CBS, describing how the intruders killed an elderly couple and their three grandchildren with knives. In her latest account, Lanh said the grandparents were decapitated.

    Kerrey denied the Vietnamese women's allegations in the AP interview.

    "They (the SEALs) received fire, and on returning fire, some innocent civilians were killed," he said. "Not once was an order given to round people up and execute them. They didn't disembowel anyone, and they didn't cut off heads."

    Kerrey also said Lanh's assertion that the raiders wore "helmets" was untrue, and showed the "lack of credibility" in her statement.

    Memories Of A Massacre: Part I

    • Varying Accounts Of A Night In 1969

      May 1, 2001
      CBS
      Kerrey as a SEAL
      (CBS) For more than 30 years, Bob Kerrey - a former Senator, governor and Presidential candidate Ė kept a terrible secret, a secret that by now, many Americans have heard.
      Itís about a night when Kerrey, a Navy lieutenant in the Vietnam War, led a SEAL team that killed more than 20 unarmed civilians, almost all of them women and children, in a single operation in 1969.

      It was an operation that had never been discussed publicly, until former Senator Kerrey agreed to talk to usÖ and to the New York Times Magazine. In recent days, in anticipation of THIS story, Senator Kerrey - who was awarded the Medal of Honor for another operation in Vietnam -- has gone before cameras to describe what happened in the village of Thanh Phong as a horrible accident of war.

      But tonight, for the first time, you will hear a different memory of what happened that nightÖ from another Navy SEAL who was at Kerreyís side He says it was no accident. He says women and children were rounded up and shot at point-blank range. Two men with contradicting memoriesÖ both haunted by the events of a single night. We begin with Bob Kerreyís memories of a massacre.

      Rather
      You gave the order to fire?

      Kerrey
      Oh, absolutely.

      Rather
      You let Ďem have it?

      Kerrey
      Well a bit more than let them have it, I mean (edit) we fired in lavs, we fired in M-79ís, M-60ís, we stood back and we just emptied everything we could into this place and we were taking fire. And we came into the village and it wasnít a big village, it was, you know, four or five hooches. There was a cluster of women and children, they were all dead. So thatís the outcome.

      Rather
      Was this the worst thing that you ever did in your life?

      Kerrey
      Oh, nothing, there is no second place. Yes, yeah. I mean, this is where, I mean, I lost something more important than losing, if Iíd lost both arms and both legs and my sight and my hearing (edit) it wouldnít have been as much as I lost that night.

      Narration
      It was early in 1969 when Lieutenant Kerrey arrived in Vietnam. The Communists were intensifying their attacks against U-S forces and their South Vietnamese allies. Thirty thousand Americans had already died in the war. Nearly ten thousand more would be killed by the end of the year . Kerrey was a highly skilled Navy SEAL leader, trained in demolition, infiltration and the arts of assassination and kidnapping behind enemy lines. Trained to go to places like THIS, the Mekong Delta, a place infested with the Viet Cong. Kerrey was eager to serve, as he put it, ďwith a knife in my teeth.Ē

      Kerrey
      Youíre trained to kill somebody with a knife, youíre trained to kill somebody with small arms, youíre trained to kill somebody in tight.

      Rather
      You were team leader in Delta Platoon.

      Kerrey
      Mm-hm.

      Rather
      Fair or unfair to say they were young and green?

      Kerrey
      Fair to say that we are young and green, right. Yeah.

      Rather
      Including yourself?

      Kerrey
      Oh, I would say most especially myself, yeah.

      Narration
      Kerreyís first big missionÖ on the night of February 25th, 1969 -- just a few weeks after his green platoon arrived in Vietnam Ė was to kidnap a local political chief in his hoochÖ or thatch-roofed houseÖ in a tiny Mekong Delta hamlet called Thanh Phong.

      Rather
      Take your time, take me to the start, tell me what happened.

      Kerrey
      We went in at night. (edit to 3:19:36) And we found men in a hooch and the people who were running out in front of me said weíve got people, weíve found men and weíre gonna take care of them. Which I understood and I would authorize without saying so meant they were going to kill them.

      Narration
      Kerrey says his squad used their knives to kill all five men.

      Rather
      Did you personally kill any of them?

      Kerrey
      No, I did not, but in my mind, I personally killed all of them, I take full responsibility for them, so, and then Iím in charge of this platoon, Iím in charge of the squad, actually.

      Rather
      Why not take them prisoner?

      Kerrey
      Because of where weíre operating, our belief is that they could break free and we could be at risk.

      Rather
      They could compromise the mission?

      Kerrey
      Compromise the mission, we end up being dead.

      Narration
      Then, shortly after Kerrey says five men were killedÖ the mission spiraled out of control.

      Kerrey
      We moved out to the right and we started moving probably down, you know, criss-crossing a little bit along canals on the rice paddy on the dikes of these rice paddies. And we took fire and we returned the fire from an area that we were going.

      Rather
      Small arms fire?

      Kerrey
      Small arms fire. (edit) It was a fair distance away. (edit to 3:27:16) I mean we just put down a field of fire and moved in on those hooches and stayed firing all the way through.

      Narration
      And when the firing stopped, Kerrey says he was stunned when he walked up to his victims.

      Rather
      How many were women and children?

      Kerrey
      All.

      Rather 3:29:13
      About how many were dead?

      Kerrey
      15, 12

      Rather
      At that moment, what did you think to yourself at that time?

      Kerrey
      I just killed my own family. I just did something really bad. I mean, I thought, this shouldnít have happened.

      Narration
      Kerrey says he and his men did not find any weapons. The unit was evacuated quickly by boat, and apparently the men did not talk much that nightÖ or in the 30 years sinceÖ about what had happened. But one member of the unit did file a battle report the next morning Ė a report we managed to unearthÖ and we read it to Kerrey.

      Rather
      It says, quote, two hooches destroyed, 14 V-C K-I-A. Translation: 14 Viet Cong killed in action. (edit) No mention of women and children.

      Kerrey
      No, we would not have separated out and mentioned them as women and children.

      Rather
      Why not?

      Kerrey
      It just didnít. We, sex, age, nothing would have been reported on in that fashion. We considered everybody in that area to be V-C and thatís how we would report it.

      Rather
      I think this is gonna surprise a lot of people. But thatís the way it was.

      Kerrey
      Thatís the way it was.

      Narration
      For more than thirty years, Kerrey talked about Thanh Phong only with family members and his minister. He agreed to talk to us and the New York Times Magazine only after Gregory Vistica, an author and journalist, discovered previously classified military documents which suggested that women and children had been killed at Thanh Phong.

      Kerrey
      For a long time, I felt guilty. Guilty is to me a more trivial and also more destructive feeling. (edit) Remorse is what I feel today. (edit) And the difference is very, very important. I mean, let the other people judge whether or not what I did was militarily allowable or morally ethical or inside the rules of war. Let them figure that out. I mean, I can make a case that it was. But itís still a dead woman, itís still a dead child. Itís still a dead man. Itís still a dead person. Itís still death.

      Narration
      After we interviewed Bob Kerrey, we wanted to find out more about what happened in Thanh Phong, so we sent a team to Vietnam. They drove six hours south of Saigon, now officially called Ho Chi Minh CityÖ crossed the mighty Mekong River by ferry boat, and then took two more ferries to Than Phu province. Government officials told us this may be the poorest district in Vietnam, and Thanh Phong may be the poorest village,.lying at the end of a 15-kilometer-long dirt road. The villagers eke out a subsistence living, fishing, crabbing and growing water coconuts, and some say they have a lasting memory of the night in 1969 when the Americans attacked their hamlet. They remember it in horrifying detail. This man, the grandson of two of the people who died that night, showed us where the attack began.

      Nat sot Vietnamese

      Rather Translation
      Where the sugar cane is growing, he said. Thatís where they died.

      Narration
      We were told members of the American unit came down this river to get to the village, and are believed to have gone ashore here. There was more jungle back then, and the hooches they attacked have disappeared. But 62-year-old Pham Tri Lanh is still here. And she says she was watching as the Americans attacked the first hooch.

      Mrs. Lanh 11:27:58
      I was hiding behind the banana tree and I saw them cut the manís neck, first here and then there. His head was still just barely attacked at the back.

      Narration
      The Americans killed everyone in the first hooch, Mrs. Lanh said. And contrary to what Bob Kerrey told us, Mrs. Lanh says, the five victims were not all men.

      Sot Mrs. Lanh 11:17:55
      No, that is not true. There was an old woman, an old man , two girls and a boy and they were all young. They were the grandchildren.

      Narration
      Anyone who says there were five men there is lying, Mrs. Lanh told 60 Minutes II producer Tom Anderson and a translator. More than 30 years later, Mrs. Lanh said she is certain of what she saw.

      Mrs. Lanh 11:23:34
      The three children were scared and they crawled into a ditch. The old man and the old woman were lying down inside a house like the houses here. There was a water pump. He was sleeping inside the house and they went in and grabbed him and dragged him out to the water pump and that is where they cut his throat. Then they stabbed the three children.

      Q: 12:03:01 Did you see the Americans kill the children?
      A: (nods head yes) After they cut the throat of the old man, they went out and stabbed the three children.

      Narration
      Mrs. Lanh, the only person we found who claims to be an eyewitness to the attack, said the soldiers also stabbed the woman in the hooch to death. Nearby, villagers showed us the grave of the old man, named Bui Van Vat. Next to him is the grave of the woman -- his wife, Luu Thi Canh. Next to them are their three grandchildren, buried without headstones under mounds of cement -- a boy who was eight or nine, and two girls, one of them about ten, the other a year or two older. After killing the children and their grandparents, Mrs. Lanh told us, the Americans walked further into the hamlet and discovered several more hooches, and more villagers.

      Mrs. Lanh (12:06:17:14)
      It was very crowded so it wasnít possible for them to cut everybodyís throats one by one. (edit) Two women came out and kneeled down. (edit) They shot these two old women and they fell forward and they rolled over. And then they ordered everybody out from the bunker and they lined them up and they shot all of them from behind.

      Q and A with Mrs. Lanh
      Q: Were there any men in the second bunker?
      A: Just three little boys
      Mrs. Thanh (wide) 12:24:47
      Q: How big were the boys?
      A: Little, like that. They were about eight, nine, ten years old.

      Narration
      Mrs. Lanh says five or six girls were also gunned down, and five women, one of them pregnant. She says SHE managed to escape by hiding in an underground bunker. The story Mrs. Lanh lived to tell is very different from Bob Kerreyís. Keep in mind, however, that Mrs. Lanh was a Communist revolutionary during the war. But her story is remarkably similar to what another eyewitness later told us. His name is Gerhard Klann. He was also in Thanh Phong that night, as the most experienced member of Lieutenant Kerreyís unit. We asked Klann about the first hooch, the hooch Kerrey says was filled with men.

      Rather
      Do you remember how many there were?

      Klann
      Five or six that I recall. Five I think.

      Rather
      All males or a mixture of males and females?

      Klann
      No it was a mixture.

      Rather
      When you say a mixture, were there children?

      Klann
      Yeah, three.

      Rather
      Any of them small children?

      Klann
      Iíd say I donít think any of them coulda been older than twelve years old.

      Narration
      That is precisely what Mrs. Lanh told us in Vietnam. Journalists who went to the village more recently reported that Mrs. Lanh now says she heard rather than saw some of the killings. They also reported that another self-described eyewitness supports what Mrs. Lanh told us. We never told Gerhard Klann about Mrs. Lanh. But his recollection also matches hers, and contradicts Bob Kerrey, about what happened at the second set of hooches. Klann says the unit knew there were women and children before they opened fire.

      Rather
      As best as you can remember, describe that scene for me.

      Klann
      Thatís, I can see it. I relive it often enough but I canít describe it.. It was, it was carnage. It was, we just virtually slaughtered those people. I mean, there was blood flying up, bits and pieces of flesh hitting us.

      Studio Close
      Outside of family and friends, Gerhard Klann, like Bob Kerrey, did not talk about that night for more than 30 years. When we come back, you will hear for the first time his troubling story - a story which directly contradicts Bob Kerrey about what happened in Thanh Phong in 1969.

      Part I || Part II || Part III
Memories Of A Massacre: Part II
  • Klann Tells His Version Of The Story
  • And Kerrey Responds


    CBS
    Gerhard Klann
    (CBS) Studio Open

    Bob Kerrey says the pressure was on in Vietnam from his superior officers: destroy as many hooches and bunkers as possibleÖ and keep the body count up.

    Donít come back from an operation, his commanding officer said, and tell me there were men there and you didnít capture or kill them.

    And it was some times difficult, Senator Kerrey points out, to tell the difference between civilians and soldiers. Even so, Kerrey says, the killing of civilians in Thanh Phong was an accident... a mistake.

    As we reported, however, the people who live in the hamlet sat they have different memories about what happened that night. And so does Gerhard Klann, who served in the SEALs for nearly 19 years, and was hand-picked for an elite counter-terrorism team, Seal Team Six, after the Vietnam War. Klann is currently a steel worker in Pennsylvania. In 1969, he was one of the seven SEALS in Lieutenant Kerrey's unit in Thanh Phong.

    Klann
    It was completely a free-fire zone. Total free fire zone.

    Rather
    Which means, anything moves, you can shoot it?

    Klann
    Anything. At our discretion. We had the right to choose to let em live or die. That was up to us.

    Narration b rollThanh Phong and graphic with highlight.
    The SEAL unit was working in the Thanh Phong area with a Vietnamese district chief, whoís mentioned in a 1969 naval communiquť we managed to uncover. According to the document, ďThe District chief.. said that if people werenít GVN (meaning supporters of the American-backed South Vietnamese government) he didnít want them alive.Ē Days before the main operation, Klann says the SEALs went into Thanh Phong and found only women and children in the hamlet. They let them go and returned to base. Klann says the district chief pressured them to return with these instructions.

    Klann
    No matter who you came across, bring back anybody if you think theyíre gonna be of any intelligence worth or eliminate Ďem.

    Rather
    Was it or was it not also part of the mission to try to capture the Viet Cong chief of the district?

    Klann
    It was.

    Narration
    When the squad learned that the Viet Cong chief was expected back in Thanh Phong on February 25th, Gerhard Klann says the decision was made to return. That night, he says, he and the others approached the FIRST hooch - the hooch Kerrey says was filled with men. Klann disagrees, and his story matches what we heard in the eyewitness account in Vietnam --- that there was an old man, a woman, and three young children.

    Klann 10:27:45
    We were virtually standing inside the door before they even knew that we were there. And there was a few, a few of them were in a bunker.

    Rather
    And then what happened?

    Klann
    Well the decision was made and we dispatched of those people.

    Rather 11:01:31
    Three of whom were children?

    Klann
    Yes.

    Rather 11:04:38
    Who was in command?

    Klann
    Bob Kerrey

    Rather
    Did he give the order?

    Klann
    Yes.

    Rather
    And what was the order?


    Klann
    Kill em.

    Rather
    Because?

    Klann
    We were gonna continue on with the op and head toward the main village.

    Rather
    And the concern was that they might sound an alarm?

    Klann
    Absolutely.

    Narration
    Klann says his job was to kill the old man.

    Klann 11:02:47
    He put up a fight and I called over one of the guys to hold him down there.

    Rather 11:03:04
    Do you remember who came over to help you?

    Klann
    Bob Kerrey. (edit) I think he kneeled on his chest and so I put his head back and cut this throat.

    Rather
    At the time, did you think it was the thing to do?

    Klann
    I did.

    Rather
    Because?

    Klann
    I didnít question it.

    Rather
    Didnít question it?

    Klann
    It was war, we were in a war zone. And thatís not a time to question orders. (edit) We got a chain of command, he gave the order and we obeyed.

    Rather 11:07:56
    And what happened to the others in the hooch?

    Klann
    They all met a similar fate right about the same time.

    Rather
    And in much the same way?

    Klann
    Much the same.

    Rather 11:11:57
    So these people are now dead in the first hooch. Did you immediately move on toward what we call the main hamlet area?

    Klann
    Yes.

    Rather
    This is where you think the Viet Cong chief might be?

    Klann
    Yes.

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

    Rather 11:14:10
    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
    Whatíd you do this time?

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

    Rather12:00:38
    What was the make-up of this group? (edit)

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

    Rather 11:14:57
    So you got all the people out of there.

    Klann
    We herded them together and in a group.

    Rather 11:22:12
    Were any of these people armed?

    Klann
    I donít believe so.

    Rather
    Fair to say you didnít see any weapons?

    Klann
    I didnít 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 (edit) we got together and we were, hey the guy ainít 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 11;16:06
    Was an order given for that or was it more or less spontaneous?

    Klann
    I donít 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 weíd already compromised ourselves by killing the other group.

    Rather 11:23:45
    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 donít remember his exact words, but he was the officer in charge. (edit) The call was his. (edit)

    Rather
    And then what happened?


    Klann
    We lined up, and we opened fire.

    Rather
    Individually or raked them with automatic weapons fire?

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

    Rather 11:24:26
    At roughly what range?

    Klann
    Six feet, ten feet, very close.

    Rather 11:25:52
    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.

    On Camera
    We told Bob Kerrey about Gerhard Klannís account of the events at Thanh Phong, and also revealed to him that much of Klannís 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. Gerhard Klannís story of a massacre there is so radically different from Kerreyís story that we asked Kerrey to do a SECOND interview with us. (vo) He agreed and we started our second interview by asking him again about the very beginning of the operation.

    Rather 2:04:31
    There was a hut, a hooch (edit) and you said people were killed there. (Kerrey nods) You said you thought it was, that they were all adults. Now Gerhard Klann says and a person who says that they were there at the time in Vietnam, they say that it was in fact an elderly man, an elderly woman and three children. Is that true?

    Kerrey
    Thatís not my memory of it.

    Rather
    We have a discrepancy. Youíve given us your memory and said, look, maybe my memory is faulty. But my memory is this way.

    Kerrey 2:07:10
    Gerhard I will not contradict. I will not contradict the memory of any of the six people that were on the operation that night. So if thatís his view, I donít contradict it, itís not my memory of it. And as to the eyewitness is at the very least, sympathetic to the Viet Cong. At the absolute very least.

    Rather
    And at most might be what?

    Kerrey
    Might be Viet Cong themselves. Might have been an eyewitness, yes, but might have participated enough as to kill Americans who were operating in that area.

    Narration
    Kerreyís unit had been warned that a lot of the enemy in this guerrilla war didnít wear uniforms and that other Americans had been attacked by women and, yes, children. Thanh Phong and the area around the hamlet were controlled by the Communists. But the eyewitness account we heard in Vietnam is supported to a remarkable degree by Gerhard Klann. And Klann says Lieutenant Kerrey helped him kill an old man at the first hooch.

    Rather 2:13:35
    Did you or did you not come over and help him kill this older man?

    Kerrey
    That is not my memory of it. But thatís as far as I will go, Dan. Iím just, Iím not gonna get into a Gerhard for 30 years has been living with this memory as well. (edit) And so part of what weíre gonna have to do is not just reconcile the memory. Reconciling the memory is just the smallest part of it. But reconciling the pain that is felt. Reconciling the guilt that is still there. The feeling that somehow we did something horrible and how do you go on living? What would we do now?

    Rather 2:19:55
    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 people?

    Kerrey
    Yes, Again, I donít know how youíre gonna cut this tape, but I donít 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)

    Rather
    Letís move from the first hooch. The hut on what weíll call the outer edge of the main section.

    Kerrey
    Mmm-hmm. (edit)

    Rather
    You told me that you and your men shot from a distance that you estimated at maybe 100 yards. (edit) And you did not know until you stopped shooting that all of the people shotwere women and children.

    Kerrey
    Thatís correct, that is my memory.

    Rather 2:25:03
    Gerhard Klann told me that you and your men rounded them up and shot them at close range. His story is that you shot them at very close range. He estimated at five to ten feet. (edit)

    Kerrey
    I donít have any doubt about it, this part. We engaged from a distance. We fired light anti-tank weapons, into this area. We fired M79s into this area, we fired automatic weapons into this area, and we advanced on the area to finish the job.

    Narration
    The official battle report on Thanh Phong says Lieutenant Kerreyís unit came under attack and returned fire up to 12-hundred rounds and used some heavy weapons, including M-79ís, grenades, and LAWs, or armor-piercing rockets.

    Kerrey (continuing)
    Now it may be that there were people still alive as we came up close, but we didnít go into a village and round people up and shoot them in cold blood.

    Rather
    That is exactly Gerhard Klannís story.

    Kerrey
    That is not what happened that night. And I love Gerhard Klann dearly and I do not want anything in this story to hurt him, but that is not what happened that night.

    Rather
    No doubt about that.

    Kerrey
    No doubt about it. (edit) I mean it, it is certainly possible that some of Gerhardís memory, memory happened towards the end, I donít, I donít want to go down that road.

    Rather
    You have no memory of the inhabitants of the main part of the village being lined up.

    Kerrey
    No.

    Rather
    And being shot at point blank range.

    Kerrey
    No.

    Rather
    Repeatedly with automatic weapons?

    Kerrey
    No.

    Rather
    And forgive this reference, but it was literally blood and guts splattering all over everybody.


    Kerrey
    No

    Rather
    You have no memory of that?

    Kerrey
    I have seared into my memory the sight of the dead women and children as we came up upon them. Thatís what I have seared into my memory. And I to me itís as bad as if it had happened the way Gerhard, you see dramatic differences and I donít I mean and I just donít see dramatic differences. Because I feel no moral or military justifications for their deaths.

    Rather 3:15:21
    What do you think of Gerhard Klann?

    Kerrey
    Oh, I sought him out for the platoon. I was the administrative officer for the SEAL team and he had experience and I did not.

    Rather
    Was he a loyal, strong member of the team?

    Kerrey
    Yes.

    Rather 3:15:52
    Are you surprised by his story?

    Kerrey
    Yes, I am surprised by his story. But Iím not, Iím not angered by it.

    Rather 3:16:42
    Does he have a grudge against you as far as you know?

    Kerrey
    No.

    Narration
    And if Bob Kerrey is full of admiration for Gerhard Klann and his military experienceÖ Klann also seems to have high regard for his former unit leader.

    Rather 13:08:03
    Do you like Bob Kerrey?

    Klann
    Yeah, absolutely, Iíve been good friends with him for ever since then.

    Rather 13:08:27
    My only point here, do you have any grudge against him?

    Klann
    No, none whatsoever.

    On Camera
    There were five other SEALs with Bob Kerrey and Gerhard Klann that night in Thanh Phong. Four of them will not talk about the operation in any detail. The fifth man supports parts of both Kerrey and Klannís stories. Michael Ambrose agrees with Klann that Kerrey helped Klann kill the old man at the first hooch. But he emphatically disagrees with Klann that the other villagers were rounded up and shot. Ambrose does say, however, that they were shot at close range - 20 to 50 feet, he says- much closer than Kerrey contends.

    Narration (graphic, revealing chyron)
    This past weekend, Senator Kerrey and those five other SEALs got together to talk about Thanh Phong, apparently for the first time in 32 years. They released a statement saying ďWe received fire and we returned fire.Ē The memory ďthat we rounded up women and children and shot them at point blank range.. is simply not true.Ē

    Rather 3:07:41
    Is it possible that Gerhard Klannís version of what happened is correct and that it was so horrible that in the nightmare of memories that you have, that youíve sealed it off. Is that possible?

    Kerrey
    No.

    Rather
    Is it probable?

    Kerrey
    It is neither possible nor probable. (edit to 3:08:13) Itís not impossible that some version of what Gerhard is talking about happened. But itís not my memory. (edit)

    Narration
    But a military cable we uncovered supports a crucial part of Gerhard Klannís story - that Lieutenant Kerryís unit visited Thanh Phong two weeks before the attackÖ and found only women and children there.

    Rather 4:09:06
    Did you make such a visit? Do you remember that visit?

    Kerrey
    None of us remembers that. It would have been a violation of SEAL team procedures to go back in. It would put us at considerable risk to go back, right to the same spot.

    Rather
    Then how do you explain the cable?

    Kerrey
    I do, I cannot explain the cable. I cannot explain the cable. I mean, I donít know, youíve got a cable, I donít know.

    Rather 3:21:43
    Iíve been told that your orders, as a SEAL, and as a SEAL unit leader, was to get the job done. Forget about taking prisoners. Is that true?

    Kerrey
    Thatís true.

    Kerrey
    Those were your orders.

    Kerrey
    Those were orders.

    Rather
    Get it done.

    Kerrey
    Yeah, get it done.

    Rather
    Donít worry about taking prisoners or donít take any prisoners.

    Kerrey
    Donít take prisoners.



    Rather 3:27:09
    If and let me italicize that word, if the operation in Thanh Phong happened the way Gerhard Klann remembers it, if it happened that way, would that have been permissible under the rules of engagement, which you operate?

    Kerrey
    I canít go that far. No. I think it would not have been permissible. But itís, itís you know and the problem is, the truth of the matter is, it felt like it was permissible. (edit)

    Rather
    Within the rules of war as you understood them?

    Kerrey
    I would say yes, within the rules as I understood them.

    Narration
    Military and civilian lawyers who are war crimes specialists have told us they disagree with that interpretation. They say that any order to kill civilians or unarmed prisoners is illegal. But Lieutenant Kerreyís actions apparently were not challenged in 1969, even though according to an army radio log we foundÖ a resident of Thanh Phong did make a formal complaint about atrocities committed the night of Kerreyís operation.

    Rather 4:18:55
    To your knowledge, has this operation in Thanh Phong ever been investigated.

    Kerrey
    No.

    Rather
    As a war crime.

    Kerrey
    No.

    Rather
    Or atrocity case?

    Kerrey
    No.

    Rather
    Should it have been?

    Kerrey
    I would say no, under the circumstances of what we were doing, I would say no. (edit) I mean I certainly wouldnít have been afraid of an investigation at that time.

    Rather 4:21:10
    All but one of the victims were women and children. There was one man described as an older man. That being the case, why shouldnít it be considered a war crime? Or an atrocity? Or be an investigation?

    Kerrey
    I would not call it a war, but the people who were responsible for us at that time, if they wanted to do an investigation, they should have done an investigation. (edit) 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 thatís how it felt and thatís 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, Iím thatís a possibility. Iíve got to be prepared to tolerate any consequences of this. (edit) I understand that that are all kinds of potential consequences, up to and including somebody saying, this is a war crime. And letís investigate and charge him and put him in prison.

    Rather 4:17:53
    Are you sorry now that you agreed to talk about it?

    Kerrey
    No, not at all sorry.


    Studio Tag
    Bob Kerrey says he's lived with the shame and guilt of Thanh Phong since it happened.
    But military leaders decided to give Kerrey an award for the operation that night.
    We'll hear what Kerrey says about that when we come back.


    Part I || Part II || Part III
Memories Of A Massacre: Part III
  • What Happened In Thanh Phong?


    CBS
    (CBS) Studio Open
    For more than 30 years, Bob Kerrey says he has been tormented by what happened at Thanh Phong.

    Though he insists that what he and his men did was permissible under the rules of engagement. But back in 1969, the mission was gnawing away at him, so much so that he says he changed the way his men operated in their NEXT mission.

    Narration
    Two weeks after Thanh Phong, Bob Kerrey had another mission, on an island off the coast of Nha Trang. The target: a group of hard-core Viet Cong soldiers. Lieutenant Kerreyís unit scaled these 300-foot cliffs at night. And after what happened at Thanh Phong, Kerrey says he wanted to take the enemy soldiers prisoner. This time, he split up his unit, there was crossfire, Kerrey was wounded, and he lost his leg. After he got out of the hospital, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Nixon. Kerreyís men got together inWashington on the 30th anniversary of his receiving that Medal. They didnít talk much, if at all, about Thanh Phong, and from what weíve been told, Kerrey never told them he had received a separate award-a Bronze Star -- for the operation in Thanh Phong, the operation he now calls an atrocity.

    Rather
    Bob Kerrey later received a Congressional Medal of Honor. But for this operation, he received a Bronze Star.

    Klann
    I wasnít aware of that.

    Rather
    You didnít know that?

    Klann
    No.

    Rather
    Well, itís been a long time ago. But what do you think of that?

    Klann
    No, there was nothing warranted on that whole night that anybody should have received a decoration, let alone accepted it.

    Rather 4:15:03
    You said you feel shame and guilt. Did you feel it at the time? And if so, why accept the Bronze Star for this operation? Something completely different from the Congressional.

    Kerrey
    I didnít, I mean, I didnít send it back. But Iíve never worn it. Iíve no idea where it is. Send me a bronze, I didnít wear a Congressional medal of honor, for almost 20 years afterward. (edit) Donít presume that because Iím wearing a medal, that Iím a perfect hero. Introduce me as a hero if you want to, but understand not only am I a hero one night and a coward the next, but weíre trained to do horrible things.

    Narration
    The Bronze Star citation credits Kerrey and his men with killing 21 Viet Cong.

    Rather 4:16:10
    Did you think then, do you think now, if you give it back, the Bronze Star. ((edit)

    Kerrey
    I donít, I didnít think nor do I think now that I had to give it back, to feel like it was inappropriately awarded.

    Rather
    Do you think it was inappropriately awarded?

    Kerrey
    I think itís inappropriately awarded, yeah.

    Narration
    Bob Kerrey was obviously uncomfortable with this line of questioning and off camera he told us he thought we were cross-examining him. But we did think it was necessary to ask him once again about Gerhard Klann.

    Rather 3:13:11
    Weíve been in touch with Gerhard Klann recently and he says you were trying to convince him to change his story. Is that true?

    Kerrey
    That is not true. God bless Gerhard, that is not, if I was gonna change Gerhardís story, I would have contacted him three years ago.

    Rather 3:14:36
    Did he tell you that he thought you were trying to get him to change his story?

    Kerrey
    I donít think so. He may have.

    Narration
    But Kerrey says he wants to get together with Klann so they can reconcile their stories. They owe it to each other, he thinks.

    Kerrey 3:20:10
    We havenít been intimate for 31 years, but I mean on the night I was injured on the little island off Nha Trang and Gerhard Klann put the morphine in my thigh. Gerhard Klann held me in his arms like a baby. While I smoked a cigarette and waited for the Medivac helicopter to come and pick me up I canít presume anything bad about him. I canít anything but to do little, big, small, whatever to try to help him do what Iíve been trying to do, which is to live with this horror.

    Narration
    Living with that horror, Kerrey firmly believes, has been so difficult because Vietnam veterans have been treated differently from vets of other wars, wars that werenít questioned, wars the United States didnít lose.

    Rather. 4:27:13
    Senator, if this had happened in World War Two, would we be talking about it? Would anybody be writing about it?

    Kerrey
    Curtis Lemay said in his memoirs that if after having designed a firebombing campaign in Japan that killed 100,000 civilians in Tokyo, in a single night, he said, If we lost the war, that he would have been tried and executed as a war criminal. And that may be true. No, we would not be talking about it in the same way, had this been in World War Two.

    Narration
    For three decades now, their Vietnam experience has haunted Bob Kerrey and his men. Kerrey says he has lived and re-lived what happened on that night in February in 1969.

    Rather 4:09:06
    Did you have nightmares?

    Kerrey
    Oh, yeah. I mean, I couldnít shut my eyes without seeing red for quite a while after I got him. So yeah, I was afraid to go to sleep. It was just violent horrible things happening to me and to others I mean thatís what hell is. You know, when, when you think about hell and you imagine what hell is, you imagine horrible things happening. (edit) Well, hellís not an imaginary thing. Itís a, itís a real place and you can experience it on earth and I experienced it on that night.

    Rather
    Youíve been there?

    Kerrey
    I have been there.

    Back-up Close PROTECTIVE ONLY
    Today, Bob Kerrey announced that he plans to return the Bronze Star.

    Rather/Coda version Z Final

    What you have seen and heard tonight is some of what the Vietnam War was like, what it was REALLY like. Some of the war, but not all. Most Americans who served in Vietnam never did or saw anything remotely ressembling what Bob Kerrey and Gerard Klann went through. (TURN)

    Kerrey and Klann were young commandos, trained to do what the enemy had been doing for years: terrorize key people, kill them if necessary, in hopes of winning the war. They went into Thanh Phong that night in 1969 to do what they were ordered to do. Whatever the precise details -- which we may never know for certain -- it turned into a nightmare. Think of it what you will, but know this: it is what some of war is like, what it's really like... a nightmare of unimaginable horror and savagery... the full depths of which only those who live through it can know.

    Part I || Part II || Part III