Forty years ago, in 1975, America’s official involvement in the war in Indochina came to an end. President Richard Nixon never did achieve his much-vaunted goal of «peace with honor».
At the end of America’s long war in Indochina, America’s «gift» to the people of that war-ravaged region was defoliated jungles and grasslands, dangerous unexploded bombs and mines pockmarking the countryside, birth defects from chemical spraying, countless civilian deaths, hundreds of thousands of maimed civilians, and a legacy of deceit from the highest echelons of the U.S. government. For the United States, the war delivered over 55,000 U.S. military dead and hundreds of thousands of wounded service personnel with observable physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress-induced psychological damage.
When it came to crimes against humanity and other violations of the law, the military brass and political leadership of both the Lyndon Johnson and Nixon administrations shirked any responsibility for their abuses. Instead, scapegoats like Army Lieutenant William Calley were court-martialed and imprisoned over such atrocities as the 1968 massacre of civilians at My Lai, South Vietnam. No one, from Johnson and Nixon and on down through the Joint Chiefs and top military commanders in Southeast Asia, were held accountable for their actions.
Avoiding public scrutiny from its own sordid role in Indochina was the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and its crimes were numerous. Vietnam also provided a training ground for future American war criminals, mostly civilians who wormed their way into higher positions and were involved in future American military adventures. America remembers the Vietnam catastrophe with a memorial wall in Washington, DC. Whether it is a wall to stop immigrants from Mexico to a largely American-financed wall to bisect Palestine and enable continued Israeli colonization, America’s quick answer to anything seems to be building a wall.
A CIA document dated July 11, 1972 and declassified and released in 2010 shows that the CIA was involved in covering up the Nixon administration's scapegoating of Air Force General John D. Lavelle, the commander of the 7th Air Force in South Vietnam, who was removed from his position and demoted from four-star to two-star general in 1972 after he was accused of carrying out unauthorized bombing missions of North Vietnam in 1971 and early 1972. In fact, the bombings were directly authorized by Nixon with the full knowledge of his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger.
In October 1972, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted against allowing Lavelle to retire as a three-star lieutenant general. The chairman of the committee was John Stennis (D-MS). The uncovered CIA document, a memorandum from the CIA Legislative Counsel to CIA director Richard Helms, dated July 11, 1972, indicates that Stennis sent two staffers to Saigon to investigate the Lavelle affair, Jim Woolsey and Larry Garcia. The memo states: "Stennis has sent Jim Woolsey and Larry Garcia of the Committee staff, to Saigon to investigate the LaVelle [sic] case. The station has been alerted to show them appropriate courtesies but avoid any discussion of the LaVelle [sic] matter».
Woolsey was general counsel of the Armed Services Committee who would later serve as CIA director under President Bill Clinton. Woolsey, according to the CIA memo, limited the committee's investigation of the Lavelle affair and, considering the fact that the Senate committee voted to strip Lavelle of his third star for retirement, appeared to acquiesce in the CIA's stonewalling of the congressional investigation, as well as with Kissinger's and Nixon's scapegoating of the general.
Woolsey’s perpetuation of lies and myths would continue well into the 1990s when he advocated the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein because of the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction «threat». Woolsey also acted as the chief lobbyist for Iraqi con-man Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, which was providing the Clinton and Bush administrations with massive amounts of bogus intelligence on Iraq.
Lavelle protested his innocence until his death in 1979. He stressed that he was acting under orders from his superiors. In August 2010, Lavelle was finally officially exonerated and his fourth star was posthumously restored and his official record purged of disparaging information. Nixon never revealed that it was he who gave the secret orders to Lavelle, through Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Thomas Moorer, U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral John S. McCain, Jr. (the father of Senator John McCain, one of America’s leading neo-Cold Warriors), and South Vietnam U.S. military commander General Creighton Abrams.
The July 11 CIA memo also indicates that the CIA was prepared to declassify certain CIA reports on illicit drug trafficking in Indochina. The memo states, «The whole problem has been taken up with the White House, where Walter Minick [sic], Bud Krogh’s deputy, apparently opposes declassification of any material on the illicit drug traffic». The memo also states, "[U.S. Representative Charles] Rangel seems determined to press for a showdown. On 10 July he issued a public statement charging that CIA's 'paranoid quest for secrecy' was keeping vital information about the drug traffic from the American public, and that we were 'covering up for the international merchants of death.’»
Minnick was later elected as a Democratic congressman from Idaho. However, the CIA memo indicates that Minnick was involved in covering up the CIA’s role in drug trafficking in 1972 while he was a member of the Nixon administration. Krogh was in charge of Nixon's «Plumbers Unit,» which ran the operation to burglarize the office of whistleblowing Pentagon consultant Daniel Ellberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Ellsberg revealed the contents of the classified «Pentagon Papers», the road map of the U.S. military adventure in Vietnam, to the media. Krogh was convicted for his role in the Watergate scandal and served four and a half months in federal prison.
The same CIA memo also shows some angst at Langley over information received by the offices of Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) and Representative Les Aspin (D-WI) from Professor Alfred McCoy detailing the CIA's role in opium smuggling, using the CIA proprietary airline Air America, from Laos. There is also concern about a letter sent to the office of Senator Henry «Scoop» Jackson (D-WA) from Craig Jarrell, who was with an «outfit in Vientiane called Lao Air Development» and who complained that the CIA's Air America was overcharging U.S. agencies whereas his firm offered «comparable services at substantially lower rates». Jarrell wrote that he had contacted investigative journalist Jack Anderson about the matter. The memo does not indicate whether Jarrell was aware that the «services» provided by Air America included transporting drugs from Laos to South Vietnam and beyond.
The memo also stated that the Nixon administration was «dismayed» to learn that an «end the war» amendment sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) was being considered by «fence sitter» senators who Kissinger had lobbied to support the Vietnam War. The fence sitters named in the CIA memo were Charles Percy (R-IL) and Jim Pearson (R-KS) and that Kissinger hoped to win them over with the disarray in the Democratic Party after the convention that nominated George McGovern for president and «expected ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] military successes».
History now shows us that Kissinger was one of the vilest architects and perpetuators of the Indochina War. Yet, he has been lauded by Republican and Democrats alike, including 2016 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.
The CIA was also concerned over two 1972 reports in The New York Times by Seymour Hersh that described the CIA's role in weather modification in Southeast Asia that was designed to produce drenching rain storms to stymie the flow of troops and materiel via the Ho chi Minh trail in Laos into South Vietnam. Throughout the 1960s and early 70s, silver iodide was dropped from Air America planes based at the Udorn airbase in Thailand. The silver iodide pellets seeded the clouds over Laos, northeastern Cambodia, and both South and North Vietnam, producing drenching rain storms. The CIA’s weather modification program was known as Operation POPEYE. The rain that was produced was called «Olive Oil» by the CIA weather modification personnel. The actual seeding operations were code-named MOTORPOOL. The top secret project was the brainchild of scientists at the Naval Ordnance Test Station in China Lake, California and was also used to create droughts in Cuba to ruin that nation’s sugar cane crop.
Such weather modification programs are now supposedly illegal under U.S. law but the drenching rains that caused devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010 and a subsequent warning from U.S. envoy to Afghanistan / Pakistan Richard Holbrooke that the Pakistani military's first priority was to fight the «Pakistani Taliban» rather than assist in flood relief had some wondering if the CIA re-created POPEYE for use in South Asia. Holbrooke was involved in crafting CIA covert operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, which included targeted political assassinations of South Vietnamese village leaders.
The Indochina War not only was responsible for a number of American war crimes but it was the nesting ground for future U.S. political leaders who would carry out other atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other nations.