Monday, February 16, 2004

TNR Is Still Annoying Me



I never intended this blog to be a press-watch, but another TNR correction is in order, because, like Noam Scheiber's blog, TNR's unsigned "Notebook" has also decided to start telling half the story.

Today, the Notebook is picking on the National Review and Washinton Times for criticizing Kerry's 1971 Congressional Testimony.

Specifically, in 1971, Kerry testified that "over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated [Vietnam] veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.... They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country."

TNR criticizes the Washington Times for Dowdifying the statement above to make it appear that Kerry was personally accusing US troops of committing widespread war crimes, rather than republishing the testimony of the "Winter Soldiers." It also criticizes the National Review for printing a similarly Dowdified quote on its cover, although accurately reporting the issue in the accompanying article.

That's fine, and TNR is right that the Times and Review should report the Kerry story accurately. Still, it would be nice if TNR itself hadn't left out a crucial detail.

TNR states that "Months before Kerry's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, [Vietnam Veterans Against the War] had held what it called the "Winter Soldier Investigation" in Detroit, at which more than 100 Vietnam veterans testified to war crimes they themselves committed while serving in Vietnam."

What TNR didn't bother to mention is that the Winter Soldier Investigation has been discredited. The Naval Investigative Service was unable to verify even one of the Winter Soldier witness's testimony. Some of the "honorably discharged . . . veterans" turned out never to have served in Vietnam; others were unwilling to repeat their testimony under oath even when offered immunity. One admitted that his testimony was coached by the Nation of Islam, and that he could not remember the details of the atrocity he had allegedly witnesses. Several veterans who had supposedly testified told the NIS that they had never been to the Winter Soldier Investigation, suggesting that their identities were used by others. See, e.g., here and here.

Kerry rode to fame by republishing the Winter Soldier testimony, and repeated accusations by "veterans" that the American soldiers were committing daily atrocities with full knowledge of "officers at all levels of command." I would be interested to know whether he, as an officer, knew about daily atrocities, and whether he feels today that his testimony was right or wrong.

I wasn't there, and it may well be that Kerry had reason to believe the Winter Soldier testimony. (Kerry's Vietnam experience sounds like it was fairly awful, and he deserves a fair amount of slack as a result, although I haven't heard too many accusations that he was exposed to atrocities.) It might even be the case that the Winter Soldier testimony was correct in substance even if otherwise deliberately fraudulent. Still, it would be nice if TNR, as well as its conservative opposites, reported the whole story.