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That's not our word . . . ATROCITY . . . it's Bob Kerrey's, describing the slaughter that took place the night of Feb. 25, 1969 in the village of Thanh Phong, Vietnam.

When you have a pile of dead bodies, women, children and at least one baby, the words "My Lai" come to mind.

It was all a tragic mistake, the former U.S. Senator from Nebraska and 1992 Democratic presidential candidate would have us believe.

Kerrey, commander of a U.S. Navy SEAL team, had been told a Viet Cong official would be in Thanh Phong that night. The mission was to capture or kill him. It's called "taking the war to the enemy" - giving them a dose of the terror and unconventional tactics they had successfully employed for years.

But something went terribly wrong.

And the secret of what happened there stayed in the shadows for 32 years until Kerrey learned that a former member of his SEAL team was talking to the media about "killing civilians."


Any public relations specialist will tell a client if they know an adverse story is imminent, "get your version out there first to blunt the impact."

Kerrey lost little time in granting an interview to friend and former Bill Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos, now with ABC NEWS.

It was just days before broadcast of a pre-recorded interview with Dan Rather on "60 Minutes II" along with publication of a lengthy investigative article by Gregory Vistica in The New York TIMES Magazine.

Those media outlets had interviewed former SEAL team member Gerhard Klann, whose memories of Thanh Phong would differ greatly with what Kerrey claimed happened on that moonless night in the Mekong Delta.

Klann said not only were civilians deliberately killed, they were lined up and "executed" by rifle and machine-gun fire from a distance of only a few feet. The man who gave that order, Klann said, was Bob Kerrey.

"We weren't trained to pass out leaflets. We weren't going over there to try and persuade people that communism was inferior to democracy. We were sent over there to kill people as brutally and as ruthlessly as we possibly could to persuade them to stop fighting," Kerrey said. "This was a WAR and we tried to conduct it in as tough and RUTHLESS a fashion as we could to be as effective as we could."

STEPHANOPOULOUS: Did you kill people that night?

KERREY: I would ASSUME so. I killed people before and after.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: In the CBS interview with Dan Rather, Kerrey was vague about his role in the bloodbath. At one point Kerrey talked about the first hootch (hut) the SEALS came to in Thanh Phong. He says there were five males (presumably Viet Cong) inside and they were all killed.

RATHER: Did you personally kill any of them?

KERRY: No, I did not, BUT IN MY MIND, I personally killed all of them. I take full responsibility for them, so, and then I'm in charge of this platoon - I'm in charge of the squad, actually.

Now fast-forward to the account given by Klann. He tells CBS that it wasn't five MEN in the hootch. It was an "old man, a woman and three children."

KLANN: We were virtually standing inside the door before they even knew 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 (killed) those people.

RATHER: Three of whom were children?


RATHER: Who was in command?

KLANN: Bob Kerrey.

RATHER: Did he give the order?


RATHER: And what was the order?

KLANN: Kill 'em.

RATHER: Because?

KLANN: We were gonna continue on with the op (operation) and head toward the main village.

RATHER: And concern was that they might sound the alarm?

KLANN: Absolutely. At this point in the TV interview, Klann tells of the old man in the hut.

KLANN: He put up a fight and I called over one of the guys to hold him down.

RATHER: Do you remember who came over to help you?

KLANN: Bob Kerry . . . he kneeled on (the old man's) chest and so I put his head back and cut his throat.


Kerrey's contention that five males (i.e. Viet Cong) were in the hut (so it was OK to kill them) is contradicted by two eyewitnesses: Pham Tri Lanh and Bui Thi Luom.

Lanh told a CBS NEWS team who traveled to Thanh Phong that she survived the slaughter by hiding behind a nearby banana tree. Her account, that there was an old man, woman and three children inside the hootch, matches Klann's version. Neither one knew the other and had no way to compare stories, thus lending credibility to Klann and casting into doubt Kerrey's selective memory of events.

"The Americans killed everyone," Lanh said. "There was an old woman, an old man, two girls and a boy.

"The three children were scared and crawled into a ditch," the eyewitness told CBS NEWS Producer Tom Anderson and a translator. "The old man and the old woman were lying down inside the house . . . I saw them cut the man's throat."

Mrs. Lanh then went on to describe how the old woman and three children were stabbed to death. After that she said the Americans "walked further" into the hamlet and discovered several more hooches, and more villagers.

MRS. LANH: It was very crowded so it wasn't possible for them to cut everybody's throats, one by one . . . Two women came out and kneeled . . . They (the Americans) shot the two old women and they fell forward and their bodies rolled over. Then everybody was ordered out from the bunker and they were lined up and shot, all from behind.

Three little boys, no more than ten years old, were found hiding in a bunker, she said. They, and five or six females, including a pregnant woman, were gunned down in cold blood.

Bui Thi Luom told the Associated Press she was 12 years old when the seven Americans with guns stormed into her village. She said she watched helplessly as they opened fire, despite her grandmother's pleas for mercy.

The only survivor in her hut of 16 people, (11 children and five women), she said there were no Viet Cong in Thanh Phong that night and that "only the Americans fired weapons."

Luom's is the second independent account by a Vietnamese eyewitness to back up Klann's story.


After the killings in the first hut, Klann told CBS the SEAL team moved towards the main village. This is at the point where, according to Kerrey, his men "came under fire" and thus were allegedly justified in firing back with automatic rifles, machine guns and M-79 grenade launchers.

RATHER: Did you take fire coming in?


RATHER: Gunfire of any kind?


RATHER: Anything even remotely sounding like gunfire?

KLANN: No, not that I can recall, no.

RATHER: What'd you do this time?

KLANN: We gathered everybody up, searched the place, searched everything.

RATHER: What was the make-up of this group?

KLANN: Probably a majority of 'em were kids. And women. And some younger women . . . we herded them together in a group.

RATHER: Were any of these people armed?

KLANN: I don't believe so.

RATHER: Fair to say you didn't see any weapons?

KLANN: I didn't see any.

RATHER: Did you decide quickly or not that the target of your mission, the Viet Cong leader, was not among them?

KLANN: Yeah . . . we got together and we were, hey - the guy ain't here. Now we got these people, what do we do now?

RATHER: What did you do then?

KLANN: We killed 'em . . . we'd already compromised ourselves by killing the other group. The former SEAL TEAM member said the civilians were all shot on Kerrey's order.

RATHER: Do you remember him saying that?

KLANN: I don't remember his exact words . . . but he was the officer in charge. The call was his.

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: At roughly what range?

KLANN: Six feet, ten feet, very close.

According to Klann, the village grew quiet and still except for an occasional moan. "We would just fire into that area until it was silent . . . and we were sure everyone 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 the baby?

KLANN: Shot like the rest of them.


Kerry emphatically denies there were any "executions."

When Rather asks the simple question: "Did you or did you not come over and help (Klann) kill the old man?" he gets a rambling, indirect answer.

"THAT IS NOT MY MEMORY OF IT," Kerrey declares (in a Clintonesque phrase reminiscent of: "I never inhaled," or "I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky") . . . "But that's as far as I will go, Dan. I'm just, I'm not gonna get into a . . . Gerhard for 30 years has been living with this memory as well . . . and so part of what we're 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?"

After his men killed the five "men" in the first hut, Kerry says the SEAL team proceeded toward a group of four or five huts. The Americans "took fire" at a range of approximately 100 yards, Kerrey says, and so the SEALS opened up with guns blazing.

"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 hootches. There was a cluster of women and children. They were all dead."

Kerrey claims he didn't know they were women and children until after the shooting had stopped.

When Rather informed him that much of Klann's story was supported by a Vietnamese eyewitness, (this was prior to the Associated Press interview with a second female eyewitness), Kerrey "seemed stunned, but then conceded that what happened at Thanh Phong could have been worse than he remembers."

To the objective television viewer, Kerrey's shocked expression and raised eyebrows made him look like the proverbial "deer caught in the headlights." His ghosts from the past had returned.

Like a lawyer parsing his words, Kerrey responded with a less than equivocal "THAT'S NOT MY MEMORY OF IT" when asked specific questions about what really happened.

"Gerhard (Klann) 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 that's his view, I don't contradict it. IT'S NOT MY MEMORY OF IT."

RATHER: You told me that you and your men shot from a distance that you estimated at maybe 100 yards . . . and you did not know until you stopped shooting that all of the people shot were women and children?

KERREY: That's correct. THAT IS MY MEMORY (of it).


You're a longtime "media darling," former United States Senator, Medal of Honor winner, now President of The New School in New York and in some quarters you are being discussed as a possible Democratic candidate for President in 2004. You wake up one morning to find you've been accused on national television and in print of ordering the murder of innocent civilians in wartime. Wouldn't you, dear reader, be a little upset?

Not Bob Kerrey, if we can believe him. Not only will he "not contradict" Klann, he says with a straight face: "I love Gerhard Klann dearly." Kerrey tells Dan Rather that he's "surprised" by Klann's story, but he's "not angered by it."


Or is Kerrey worried about other things Klann has knowledge of? Why else would Kerry not be "shouting from the rooftops," demanding his name be cleared?

His colleagues in the Senate, Vietnam vets John McCain, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are all singing from the same songbook that "no investigation is warranted . . . there's no point in it . . . we don't need an investigation here." Would they be taking that line without checking first with Bob Kerrey?

From information obtained by, the bigger story might come in what has NOT yet been revealed. That is what has Kerrey worried the most.

If the national news media drops the story and the Congress and Navy don't want the case to go any further, it will gradually fade away. But Kerrey has been mortally wounded as a viable political candidate in the future.

Who benefits the most from these sudden revelations? Was any of the Thanh Phong material in one of the 900 FBI files on both Republicans and Democrats that Hillary Clinton-flunkie Craig Livingstone had his mitts on? Hillary still has designs on the White House someday, perhaps as early as 2004. And one of her potential rivals has just been derailed.


We don't know why other media haven't picked up on it yet, but a very careful reading of the official transcript of the CBS interview reveals Kerrey may have inadvertently revealed MORE than he wanted as to what really happened.

RATHER: Do you have nightmares?

KERREY: Oh, yeah. I mean, I couldn't shut my eyes without seeing red for quite a while after I got HIM. That's right. You read it correctly. Kerrey obviously meant to say " . . . after I got home." But that's not what came out. What HIM could he have been thinking about in his subconscious mind but the Vietnamese peasant he is alleged to have held down as Klann slit the old man's throat?

Unless other embarrassing revelations come out, Kerrey probably will dodge the bullet on this one - as far as an investigation is concerned. But you've got to know he is concerned. Note the following exchange between Rather and the former SEAL lieutenant.

RATHER: To your knowledge, has this operation in Thanh Phong ever been investigated?


RATHER: As a war crime.


RATHER: Or atrocity case?


RATHER: Should it have been?

KERREY: I would say no, under the circumstances of what we were doing. I would say no . . . I mean, I certainly wouldn't have been afraid of an investigation AT THAT TIME.

RATHER: All but one of the victims were women and children. There was one man described as an older man. That being the case, why shouldn't it be considered a war crime? Or an atrocity? Or be an investigation?

KERREY: I would not call it a war crime, but the people who were responsible for us at that time, if they wanted to do an investigation, they should have done an investigation . . . To describe it as a war crime, I think is wrong. Or to describe it as an atrocity. I would say that is pretty close to being right. Because that's how it felt and that's 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, I'm . . . that's a possibility. I've got to be prepared to TOLERATE any consequences of this . . . I understand that there 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.


Gerhard Klann was noticeably taken aback on camera when Rather informed him that Kerry had received the Bronze Star medal for his actions during the raid on Thanh Phong.

"I wasn't aware of that," Klann stammered. "There was nothing warranted on that whole night that anybody should have received a decoration - let alone accepted it."

Kerrey was especially defensive about the award in his Stephanopoulos interview.

"First of all, " Kerrey sputtered, "we filed an operation report to file what happened. The Bronze Star citation was not written up by me nor requested by me. It was written by somebody else and received by me after I got home . . . so, IT'S NOT LIKE I WROTE MYSELF UP.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The Bronze Star citation - how did the government get it wrong?

KERREY: How did the government get it wrong? The government ALMOST ALWAYS GETS IT WRONG when it comes to citations. The only medal that I am certain I DESERVED is the Purple Heart. Citations are written by other human beings. God only knows why they write them . . . [inaudible]

The citation in question credits Kerrey's team with killing 21 "Viet Cong" and "capturing and destroying enemy weapons."

Still on the defense about accepting a Bronze Star medal based on a citation he knew was false, Kerrey claims he's "never worn it" and "has no idea where it is."

He told Rather "I don't, I didn't think then nor do I think now, that I had to give it back, to feel like it was inappropriately awarded."

RATHER: Do you feel it was inappropriately awarded?

KERREY: I think it's inappropriately awarded, yeah.


In the Stephanopoulos intervew, Kerrey was asked if he had ever talked with Klann about the night in Thanh Phong.



KERREY: We don't do that sort of thing. I don't know. You just don't talk about the BAD memories nearly as much as you do the good memories. I have no other explanation other than that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any idea at all why he might be giving this account?

KERREY: No, I don't . . . I mean . . . I don't.


Now, let's fast forward again to the CBS interview with Dan Rather on "60 Minutes II."

RATHER: We've 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 Gerhard's story, I would have contacted him three years ago.

RATHER: Did he tell you that he thought you were trying to get him to change his story?

KERREY: I don't think so.

He may have. The implication is clear. In Kerrey's CBS interview he indicates he DID talk to Klann but claims he wasn't trying to influence his version of events. In the ABC interview, Kerrey contends he had "never" talked with Klann about what happened at Thanh Phong.


Much has been made of Kerrey inviting five of the six SEALS in his team to New York and putting them up at a fancy hotel. After a "reunion," the six men issued a statement to the press that basically denied Klann's assertions, except that women and children were killed in the incident.

Former Dallas TIMES-HERALD crime reporter Reuben Noel, himself an old Vietnam hand and author of SAIGON FOR A SONG (now being looked at by a major Hollywood studio), says "for the former SEALS to come to any other position would be to admit complicity in what happened. They certainly would have a vested interest in backing up Kerrey's claims that it was a tragedy but no crime was committed."

Noel points to a little publicized fact that only one of the five SEALS that backed Kerrey will speak of the incident in any detail. And his version helps lends credibility to Gerhard Klann.

CBS reported that SEAL "point man" Michael Ambrose "agrees with Klann that Kerrey helped Klann kill the old man in the first hootch, 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."


By now, it should be obvious to the reader that does not buy Kerrey's version of events. There are enough holes in his story to drive a tank through!

For example, he claims his men came under fire from the village so the SEAL team responded by "opening up" with everything they had. At 100 yards - the distance in the dark that Kerrey claims the shooting started - how was it that not one "Viet Cong" was killed, wounded, or even located?

Kerrey told CBS "no weapons were found." Strange that the VC would shoot it out with the SEALS and then completely vanish with not so much as spent shell casings left behind from their AK-47's.

And why were the women and children all found shot dead - the SEALS mistakenly thought there were no survivors - but not one wound to any member of the SEALS? What kind of "fire fight" was that?

Shooting rapidly in the dark at that length of distance would not have been anywhere near deadly enough to kill all the civilians without exception, including children and a baby.

Why were the bodies found in a "cluster?" The indication is obvious - they were shot "execution style" at close-range. Otherwise, some would be found sprawled in different areas of the village. This was Viet Cong territory, and certainly the village women and children knew how to roll into slit trenches or hide in a bunker the moment a shot is fired.

Klann, and the two Vietnamese women eyewitness survivors, claim the victims were killed by point-blank fire, execution style. That seems the likely explanation.

This is what we think happened on February 25, 1969:

"Kerrey's Raiders" as the SEAL Team was known, found the old man, woman and three children in the first hut, just as the Vietnamese survivor and Klann said. All occupants were slain to keep them quiet. Knives were used to minimize noise. Kerrey may well have assisted in killing the old man if not some of the others as well.

As to "taking fire," the SEAL leader panicked after realizing the VC official they had come for was not there. So, to cover their tracks and make sure no one was left alive to get word to the VC that a seven-man SEAL team was in the area, they decided to waste all the other occupants, civilian women and children.

The story about being "shot at" first doesn't hold any more water than Kerrey's claim that he didn't kill anyone personally, that he MIGHT have, caused fatalities, but that by being the commander, he felt "responsible" for the deaths.

There is no doubt that Kerrey feels remorse for the senseless loss of life that night in Thanh Phong. But you can bet the farm he feels equally bad the real story got out and his "war hero" image is tarnished forever.

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