The alleged abuse, rape and murder of Iraqi civilians at the hands of U.S. servicemen, and attempts to cover up those actions, are making headlines at home and abroad. But on Sunday, the LA Times published two more must read articles in a series detailing war crimes that allegedly took place in the late 1960’s during the Vietnam War.

Based on the declassified reports of an Army task force established after the 1968 My Lai massacre to investigate reported abuses, the LA Times‘ investigation focuses on allegations of torture and maltreatment surrounding Army interrogators in the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the role military officials played in covering up those alleged crimes while at the same time unearthing evidence of further atrocities.

Investigators identified 29 suspects in confirmed cases of torture, 15 of whom admitted to the acts, according to those reports. But only three were ever punished and only received fines or reductions in rank instead of prison time, the LA Times reported.

Military interrogators in the 173rd Airborne repeatedly beat prisoners, tortured them with electric shocks and forced water down their throats to simulate the sensation of drowning, the records show.

Soldiers in one unit told investigators that their captain approved of such methods and was sometimes present during torture sessions.

In one case, a detainee who had been beaten by interrogators suffered convulsions, lost consciousness and later died in his confinement cage.

On several occasions members of the 173rd Airborne, including an officer, reported the abuses to their superiors but Army officials actively worked to discredit and ostracize them.

An accompanying story chronicles the gruesome tale of Roy E. Bumgarner Jr, a Platoon Sergeant with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Bumgarner was convicted of manslaughter after killing an unarmed Vietnamese man and two boys, mutilating their bodies, staging the scene to look like a legitimate use of force and lying to military investigators.

Bumgarner’s pay and rank were reduced but he never served any prison time, the LA Times reported.

While the articles never mention similar charges currently pending against Camp Pendleton based Marines and other members of the military, one of the investigators who probed the allegations nearly 40 years ago offered up this nugget.

Retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a Vietnam veteran who served on the task force, said the files provided important lessons for dealing with the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq.

“If we rationalize it as isolated acts, as we did in Vietnam and as we’re doing with Abu Ghraib and similar atrocities, we’ll never correct the problem,” said Johns, 78.

DANIEL STRUMPF

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