What Was John Kerry's Role in the Winter Soldier Investigation?

Roundup: Media's Take

Craig Gordon, in Newsday (Feb. 22, 2004):

They gathered in a Detroit motor lodge in early 1971, veterans calling on brother veterans to speak of the unspeakable - war crimes and atrocities they had committed in Vietnam in the name of America .

The so-called Winter Soldier meetings were controversial even then, and a young John Kerry made their most horrific testimony the opening paragraphs of his own address to a Senate panel three months later, an appearance that catapulted him to a leading role in the anti-war movement.

Kerry told senators that more than 150 veterans testified in Detroit that they or fellow soldiers had raped Vietnamese women, cut off ears and heads, used electrical torture, cut off limbs, "razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam . . ."

Since then, Kerry has sought to downplay his own involvement with the three-day Winter Soldier meetings. His campaign said Friday that Kerry "did not speak" at the event - and that he did not testify to his own personal experiences in Vietnam - but was there only as an observer and to record what was happening.

Yet a transcript of the meetings in the Congressional Record shows Kerry did have a role at Winter Soldier that he has not generally acknowledged - that of a "moderator" on one of the panels of veterans who testified, a role organizers now say was to question the veterans and draw out the most remarkable aspects of their testimony.

Douglas Brinkley, a historian who wrote a book on Kerry's experiences in Vietnam and in the anti-war movement, said his research also showed that Kerry had acted as a moderator.

"Kerry participated in Winter Soldier in the sense that for the Vietnam veterans that came there, there were moderators, and there were eyewitnesses. And Kerry was a moderator or questioner. He was there asking questions of all these guys - without revealing what he did over there," Brinkley said in an interview.

Brinkley sees Kerry's role in observing the testimony in Detroit as similar to what he did while tape-recording oral histories while in Vietnam . "He was really trying to get an indictment going against the U.S. government - for misadventures in Vietnam , or, one might say, war crimes."

Brinkley agrees that Kerry did not play a central role in Winter Soldier, but said, "I don't think that's fair to say, he didn't speak at all, that he was mute in the corner. . . [he was] playing more a reporter role than a spokesperson, more of a questioner, questioning these guys."

Late yesterday, Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade acknowledged that Kerry did play a role in the Winter Soldier hearings but said it was far less formalized than the title of "moderator" would suggest - because, Wade said, the event itself was relatively informal, with small groups of veterans gathering throughout the day to offer their stories. Kerry did not know he was listed as a "moderator" in the Congressional Record but viewed his role as a "quasi-journalist" gathering information he later compiled into a book....

The historical record shows that atrocities did occur in Vietnam, as in the My Lai massacre or the so-called Tiger Force activities that were recently uncovered, but Kerry's emphasis on them in 1971 infuriated many veterans, even some of his former crewmates.

Republicans already have signaled that they plan to use the other part of Kerry's Vietnam experience against him as fodder for television ads, including his decision to speak at an anti-war rally with Jane Fonda, who bankrolled the Winter Soldier meetings.

Fonda later became a deeply divisive figure for her 1972 trips to North Vietnam . An anti-Kerry veterans site has posted a photo of the two in the audience at a September 1970 rally at Valley Forge , Pa. , with Kerry several rows behind Fonda. A flier on the rally also lists Kerry and Fonda as speakers, but Fonda recently said, "I don't even think we shook hands."
Kerry's testimony before the Senate panel in April 1971 wasn't the only time he had addressed the question of atrocities. On "Meet the Press" in 1971, Kerry said he believes he himself had committed "atrocities" simply by engaging in some of the tactics common among U.S. forces in Vietnam - firing into free-fire zones, where anything that moved was a target.

Yet on the campaign trail now, Kerry offers a somewhat selective recitation of his post-war days. He rarely mentions the most dramatic moment of a weeklong protest he organized in Washington - when hundreds of veterans tossed away medals, ribbons and other items in protest. It was revealed years later that he had thrown his ribbons but not his own medals, instead tossing the medals two veterans who couldn't attend had given him.

Kerry's campaign has not highlighted the Winter Soldier part of his Senate testimony, but instead has noted another famous line from the speech - "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Kerry denies charges that his Senate testimony insulted veterans. "If you read what I said, it is very clearly an indictment of leadership. ... And it's the leaders who are responsible, not the soldiers," Kerry said last week. "The fact is if we want to re-debate the war on Vietnam in 2004, I'm ready for that. It was a mistake, and I'm proud of having stood up and shared with America my perceptions of what was happening."

Wade said Kerry has chosen to highlight his other anti-war activities instead of Winter Soldier because he had a much greater role in those - conceiving and organizing the Dewey Canyon event, giving speeches and publishing a book.

In the Congressional Record, the transcript does not delineate between what Kerry and fellow moderator Jan Crumb said on the panel that day, attributing all quotes simply to "moderator." Crumb, who now goes by the name Jan Barry, said in an interview he couldn't recall but concurred that Kerry did not play a central role in the event.

Yet the three days of gripping testimony made a deep impression on Kerry, who said the Winter Soldiers described not "isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."

Even among some who testified at Winter Soldier, there was a bit of surprise that Kerry chose to highlight the most graphic charges made during the three-day hearing - charges they feared would cement the image of Vietnam vets as "baby killers."

"I was surprised when he gave his speech in Washington that he referred to the things like raping women, shooting dogs," said Dennis McQuade, a Wisconsin social worker who said he testified at Winter Soldier under his former name, Dennis Butts. "It grabs attention, but again, not all the testimony was about that kind of thing."

Kerry critics, like Mackubin Thomas Owens, a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam who now teaches at the Naval War College , accused Kerry of helping "slander a generation of soldiers who had done their duty with honor and restraint." One professor, Guenter Lewy, wrote a 1978 book that attacked the credibility of the Winter Soldier hearings, saying a Navy investigation found some coached or bogus testimony.

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phil martel - 10/9/2004

Setting the record straight - John Kerry's Involvement at the Winter Soldier Investigation

My name is Phil Martel. I covered the Winter Solider Investigation as a student journalist on a local college newspaper in Detroit Michigan in January 1971. I was 19 years old at the time. I believe John Kerry was 27 years old at the time. I attended the Winter Soldier Investigation for the entire opening day of testimony.

John Kerry was sitting at the center of several white tablecloth covered banquet tables pushed together to look like one long table, elevated on a platform stage at the front of medium sized banquet room, with veterans sitting left and right of John Kerry, all of whom looked fairly enthusiastic considering what they were about to do, namely give testimony concerning alleged war crimes in Vietnam. John Kerry was the first to speak.

I distinctly remember John Kerry saying "My comments right now should be kept off the record." John Kerry went on to say "It would not be good for history" that he "was seen as running the investigation or being filmed sitting at the center of the table asking questions like a moderator" or "seen as a figure head". John Kerry then said "I am going to get up and move down to the end of the table."

John Kerry stood up and slowly moved to his left working his way behind the veterans who were still sitting, working his way to the end of the tables, out of view of the camera and sat down to the far right of the audience. The veterans could still see Kerry but the audience view of Kerry was obscured by the camera crew who had set up next to the end of the table where Kerry was now sitting. It now looked like Kerry was a member of the camera crew and not the panel of veterans.

As Kerry was moving down to the end of tables , most of the veterans sitting on the panel looked shocked as if somehow John Kerry was abandoning his post and bailing out of the Investigation.

Then when John Kerry sat down again, he looked back at the panel of veterans and said "I will sit down here and listen to the testimony and I will listen to everything that is said, giving you moral support. I'll be right here the entire time".

John Kerry went on to say "There is a good reason for me doing this and you will understand later, as something is going to happen in Washington after the Investigation that I can not talk about."

As a witness to this bizarre opening "off the record" statement, I was left with the immediate impression that John Kerry was attempting to tell the camera crew,
who had set up after the veterans had sat down, not to record Kerry or to reveal on film that he was even at the investigation. Maybe somehow this might wreck the format Kerry originally had planned for the show?

Directly after John Kerry made these mysterious comments, Kerry asked one of the veterans to start testifying "tell us your story" and the veteran did. As the day went on Kerry would motion either with his arm and pointed to a veteran to speak, or sometimes he would asked a veteran on the panel to start talking and the veteran would. Kerry would also ask questions relating to their testimony and veterans would answer. It went on like this the rest of the day.

John Kerry was now the director and "moderator" at the unseen and remote end of table, behind the camera crew directing the day's event but not participating? and not the figure head? and not the moderator? - safely out of view of the camera and possibly out of the public eye?

This event did not have major news coverage. I personally saw just a few reporters in the room. So what was this phantom moderator game that John Kerry was playing all about? Why did John Kerry suddenly disappear when the camera showed up and no longer out in front with the other veterans? The whole thing was bizarre to say the least!

It was only a few months later, when John Kerry appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, that his "off the record" comments / antics at the Winter Soldier Investigation revealed what John Kerry really had planned all along. This well spoken, ivy league, and decorated Navy war veteran now was in the national spotlight exactly where he wanted to be. Emerging as the spokesmen of a small anti war group of veterans, who were claiming that American Soldiers were committing war crimes on a day to day basis in Vietnam, and that the war had to be stopped immediately because of it.

The following is an excerpt from John Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April of 1971 that wholly or in part seems very appropriate when considering John Kerry's bizarre behavior on the first day of The Winter Soldier Investigation.

"It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit, the emotions in the room, the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam, but they did. They relived the absolute horror of
what this country, in a sense, made them do."

In his testimony, John Kerry implies or infers that he was an observer at the Winter Soldier Investigation and not the self appointed leader of the proceedings, telling everyone what to do and when to do it.

The truth is that John Kerry knew what the speakers at the Winter Soldier Investigation were going to say before they said it and he clearly took advantage of this. Kerry was planning all along to take it to "Washington" where he would get the national coverage he needed.

When John Kerry quoted the Winter Soldier Investigation in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he was selling something. Namely, attention to himself at the cost of dishonor to millions of American Soldiers who had so honorably served and fought in Vietnam. Unequivocally dragging their good names through the streets labeling them as baby killers, rapist, and murderers like no one has ever done before, or since. And while many of these brave Soldiers were still fighting and dieing, labeled by Kerry as dirt, John Kerry was sitting comfortably back at home in the directors chair, getting the press and attention he so desperately needed to further his political career.

As far as history is concerned John Kerry has never been up front and honest about his direct involvement at the Winter Soldier Investigation. And all these years Kerry has tried to hide it. Just as he did at the Winter Soldier Investigation back in 1971. Contrary to what many people believe, John Kerry ran the show as only a Hollywood film director could have. But at what cost to American Soldiers who fought with honor as only brave and courageous men can do?

In the public eye of many, John Kerry has no place among men of honor.

I ask you this John Kerry, was it worth it?


On a slightly different note: John Kerry after being asked a question from someone in the audience during the proceedings, responded that he had "talked to Jane Fonda earlier that day for the first time and thought she was a very nice person"

Richard K. Hertz - 3/23/2004

Oy vey! Where to start? Anyone who served in Vietnam (any many who didn't) is familiar with the name of William "Rusty" Calley who helped rape, torture and murder over 500 helpless women, children and elderly at My Lai.

One doesn't have to witness something first hand to have known about it. I wasn't at the World Trade Center when it was knocked down, but I know what happened even if I didn't witness it first hand. According to the one member of Kerry's crew who has not endorsed him for President, Kerry severely reprimanded him for machinegunning a little boy and in the heat of the moment, threatened him with a court martial. As it turned out, the shooting wasn't deliberate (the boy was below deck and couldn't be seen), so Kerry didn't charge him.

According to the Boston Globe, Kerry and more than a dozen other officers from the "Brown Water Navy" (patrol boat crews from the Mekong Delta) protested the use of the "free-fire zone" and other methods used to fight the Viet Cong to Admiral Zumwalt himself. When Zumwalt and General Creighton Abrams ordered them back to their commands, they defied orders they considered illegal by finding ways around them. Hardly the actions one would attribute to "cowards". Kerry was wounded three times fighting in Vietnam, which allowed him to leave Vietnam early.

I have a question for those who think Kerry was disloyal for protesting the Vietnam war when he came home and who think those protesting Iraq are also disloyal. When right-wingers attacked Clinton during the Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti or Iraq campaigns (which included calling him a rapist and trying to incite his assassination), were they also disloyal? Or is loyalty dependent on the party of the President who in charge at the time? I don't remember Clinton or his supporters accusing right-wingers of treason for opposing his foreign policy.

Besides, protesting the actions of a goverment is not the same thing as being against the country itself.

While it is true that some of those who testified at the Winter Soldier proceedings were lying, as it turned out, the stories fabricated were much tamer than the atrocities that actually DID take place. One unit of the 101st Airborne known as Tiger Force 3 committed every single atrocity described by John Kerry in his Senate testimony -and then some. The Toledo Blade broke this story last year, including outright confessions from some of the perpetrators. The Army refuses to prosecute.

Which leads me to a favorite canard of the Right: "Why didn't Kerry do something about it?" Well first of all, as I pointed out earlier, he did. But more important is the simple fact that the Pentagon is more interested in covering up war crimes than prosecuting them. Not only have they refused to do anything about Tiger Force 3, but they did their damndest to cover up My Lai. Major Colin Powell even claimed that relations between the Army and civillians in the area were never better. When Ron Ridenhower (sp?) reported what happened, HE was the one who was crucified by the Army and the press. Hugh Thompson, a chopper pilot who placed his chopper between some terrified civillians and several of Calley's men bent on rape and murder, and ordered his men to open fire if the thugs came any closer was pilloried in the press and by the Army and the subject of constant death threats for his heroism. William Calley was treated as a hero untill his trial.

For someone to call a man a "coward" who was wounded three times while fighting honorably in the service of this nation is disgusting. If you want to see a liar and a coward in action, take a look at George W. Bush's war record. Oh that's right! THERE ISN'T ONE! Bush is a deserter from REMF duty in the National Guard. He makes run-of-the-mill draft-dodgers like Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and the other chickenhawks look like Audie Murphy.

None of Kerry's attackers are even fit to shine his shoes.

Eric T Salas - 3/17/2004

I am in a perpetual state of disbelief. My eyes are open wide and my mouth is agape. For the life of me, I can not understand how John Kerry has become a legitimate candidate for President of the United States of America.

His actions after Viet Nam are inexcusable. They can not be "played down" or spun into something positive. He was actively campaigning against the country. "Hanoi John" was speaking in support of and rallying others to support an enemy that was still killing Americans. George S. Patton said that Kerry's actions had "given aid and comfort to the enemy."

Kerry claims that he served the country with honor, and that he is proud of the stance that he took after he returned from the war. To still be proud of those actions tells us that he has not changed.

If he was so outraged by the atrocities, that he claims so regularly took place in Viet Nam, he should have done something to stop them. In order for him to have come out of Viet Nam as a brave and honorable man, he would have had to have fought with his life to stop a beheading, or a rape, or a child’s killing, or an ear from being cut off, or a dog from being shot. Instead, he sat by as they happened and waited until he was safe back home to speak out and get tough with the issues. To sit there and allow a murder to take place, or a rape to happen will get you thrown into prison in this country, right? To allow multiple rapes and murders to happen in front of you is sickening. If what he claims is true, then he is just as guilty as the soldiers he condemned after he was safe back in the United States of America.

He is an apparent coward, has no integrity and no allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Once again, I can not believe that Kerry has advanced to where he has in the presidential race. I will do what I can with what I have and who I know, to spread the word. He can't be trusted to take actions that are in our countries best interests. He has shown his colors and they are not red, white, and blue.