- WASHINGTON -- The U.S. military
used nerve gas on a mission to kill Americans who defected during the Vietnam
War, CNN and Time Magazine said Sunday in a joint report. It is the first
confirmed use of nerve gas by the American military.
- The so-called Operation Tailwind was approved by the
Nixon White House as well as the CIA, the report said, quoting retired
Adm. Thomas Moorer, a Vietnam-era chief of naval operations and chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Former military officials who participated in the operation
said their job was to kill defectors from the U.S. military, but it was
not known for sure whether the suspected defectors died during a preparatory
nerve gas assault or a subsequent assault with conventional weapons carried
out by Special Forces troops.
- A companion story on the eight-month investigation in
which 200 people were interviewed appears in the current edition of Time
magazine, written jointly by a CNN producer and correspondent.
- ``It was pretty well understood that if you came across
a defector, and could prove it to yourself beyond a reasonable doubt, do
it, under any circumstance, kill them,'' said 1st Lt. Robert Van Buskirk,
who was a platoon leader in the operation. ``It wasn't about bringing them
back. It was to kill them.''
- Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner declined to comment Sunday,
saying officials had not reviewed the report.
- The Time version of the joint report said a Pentagon
official, who was not named in the story, said the Army ``has found no
documentary evidence to support CNN's claims that nerve gas of any type
was used on operation Tailwind.''
- The reported use of nerve gas came after President Nixon
pledged a ``no first use'' policy on nerve gas. The U.S. had already signed
a treaty restricting chemical weapons but the Senate had not ratified it.
- The nerve gas, sarin, is the same gas used three years
ago in a deadly terrorist subway attack in Japan.
- Several officers who served in Operation Tailwind told
the premier episode of ``NewsStand: CNN & Time'' that the government
liked to call the gas ``incapacitating gas'' or ``knockout gas'' -- but
that its true makeup was widely known.
- ``Nerve gas, the government don't want it called that,''
said Mike Hagen, a platoon sergeant in Operation Tailwind. ``They want
to call it incapacitating agent or some other form but it was nerve gas.''
- The report said Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff in 1970, did not admit on camera that nerve gas was used, but
confirmed off camera that it was.
- ``I would be willing to use any weapon and any tactic
to save the lives of American soldiers,'' Moorer said, adding that he had
no figures on how often lethal gas was used during the war. ``I never made
a point of counting that up,'' he said. ``I'm sure you can find out from
those that have used them.''
- The soldiers involved in the nerve gas operations were
part of the Studies and Observations Group, or SOG, a small, elite unit
of the Special Forces. CNN quoted John Singlaub, a former SOG commander,
as saying it could be more important to the survival of U.S. troops to
kill defectors than enemy soldiers because the defectors' knowledge of
communications and tactics ``can be damaging.''
- Van Buskirk said the team attacked a village base camp
in Laos after observing American men -- believed to be defectors -- among
the people. He said he even threw a hand grenade down a hole to kill two
American men who were fleeing.
- ``We basically destroyed everything there,'' Hagen said.
- Van Buskirk described the scene as ``a mess.''
- ``It was just pieces of human beings,'' he said, adding
that among the more than 100 bodies, soldiers saw more than a dozen Americans
they believed to be defectors.
- But the gas use didn't stop there, the news show reported.
- Former military officials said the gas was used a second
time to get the team out of the area after enemy troops arrived.
- ``They were told to put on their funny faces (gas masks)
because war daddy said we are coming in with gas,'' said Capt. Eugene McCarley,
who led Operation Tailwind but says he never considered the use of lethal
- McCarley also denies that Operation Tailwind's mission
was to kill defectors. ``We weren't looking for any village. We stumbled
upon it by accident,'' he said.
- One Tailwind veteran described seeing the enemy forces
throwing up and in convulsions on the ground.
- ``I looked down into this valley. All I see is bodies,''
Van Buskirk said.
- Veterans' activist Ted Sampley of Kinston, N.C. reacted
with disbelief when contacted about the story late Sunday. He said he only
remembers being warned of deserters fighting with enemy troops and told
to kill those soldiers, if found.
- ``The United States did a lot of things. . . but the
use of nerve gas over there, I find it really hard to believe,'' said Sampley,
who did two tours of Vietnam, the last as a member of the Special Forces.