June 10, 1971
Congressional Record - Senate: Pages 19,278 - 19,281
Mr. HATFIELD. Mr. President, I am grateful to the Senator from Massachusetts for his presentation today on this subject, particularly as it highlighted the problem of civilian deaths.
I should like to ask the Senator, since the subcommittee of which he is chairman has been the basic source of numbers and estimates on civilian casualties, why a Senate committee had to go out and dig up this kind of information itself. Was this information not available from other sources, without the committee having to go forth to develop these statistics and figures?
Mr. KENNEDY. The Senator is correct in this observation. We had an extremely difticult time collecting information, both in terms of numbers of refugees and of civilian casualties, as well as finding out what realistically needed to be done for the refugees.
This has been going on since the mid-1960’s, when we started to investigate these problems. Still, as recently as a month ago, we had statements by Ambassador William H. Sullivan that there was not a refugee problem in Cambodia, that there had been no requests by the Cambodian Government for refugee aid, and that therefore we could not assist the Cambodians. Yet, when we want to drop bombs or provide artillery support there, I wonder how much attention has been paid to what the Cambodians ask for. When we asked Ambassador Sullivan whether we can exert some influence within their Government to provide some housing and medical attention to the people, they say that they do not want to interfere in the internal matters of the country.
Mr. HATFIELD. Did the Senator and his committee staff have to go out to develop these estimates and figures because he received the same response from the Pentagon that I received, when I asked the question as to what kind of civilian casualty records they have, and the Pentagon replied that they kept no record of estimates on the civilian casualties?
Mr, KENNEDY. We had the same response; and the figures that were made available to us, of course, are quite incomplete.
I will say that when we visited Vietnam in January of 1968, for example, we checked at various hospitals and found that official statistics on hospital admissions were understated by 10 to 30 percent and more.
This was in South Vietnam. So the Senator is correct about the fact that we have in a matter of hours collected information on the number of machine guns captured in Cambodia, and hand grenades, and so forth, about 24 hours after a military operation. But we cannot find out the number of civilians wounded in these countries.
Mr. HATFIELD. Does not the Senate agree, too, that this results in something more than just a problem of "people logistics," but highlights the moral insensitivity of the very policy we are asked to follow?
Mr. KENNEDY. I would agree with that. If the Senator will let me comment on that point and refer to a staff report of September 1970, pages 77 and 78. We were interested in the reports of bombing accidents in Laos. We were interested in what rules and regulations were being used, whether there were any violations, and whether there were any penalties against those involved in such violations. So we asked the Defense Department for a response on various accidental bombings. I shall make page 77 of this report available to the Senator, and he will see the number of communities and little villages which were accidentally bombed.
Here is one, for example, which was given to us by the Defense Department:
"14 January 1968. Accidental bombing of Ban Nalan Wapikhamthong Province, resulted in a reported 54 persons killed end 31 wounded. Compensation of 1,507,000 kip was paid, and other claims have not been processed by the Lao Ministry of Defense."
At 500 kips to the dollar that comes to less than $60 and that is what we compensated for those who were killed, let alone the wounded. Those people were lucky because they were able to get some compensation - if we want to call that lucky. This is only a partial list of accidental bombings, which goes to January 1969. It is incomplete, as the subcommittee's report and Representative MCCLOSKEY have pointed out.
Mr. President, the American people do not realize that we are paying only 50-some dollars in terms of compensation for the loss of life there.
Of course, it is difficult, under any circumstances to place any dollar value on a human life. We all agree with that. Certainly these are really tragic situations.
Mr. HATFIELD. Does not the Senator agree, too, that the major number of civilian casualties are created or occur as a result of our bombing policies?
Mr. KENNEDY. The Senator mentioned that. In that connection, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the record a summary of the findings of an official U.S. Survey of Laos refugees, July 1970.
There being no objection, the summary was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
I. FINDINGS OF AN OFFICIAL U.S. SURVEY OF LAOS REFUGEES, JULY, 1970 (MUENG HIEM REFUGEES IN BAN XUAN AREA)
In the past week our three interviewers have talked with refugees, most of whom are now living in the Ban Xuan area in Site 272. The majority are from Mueng Hiem in Luang Prabang Province and Muang Son (Sam Neua). Some are Xieng Khouang, Lao from Muang Khem (around Ban Ban) who are now living at Ban That, near Phon Hong. And a few are Meo whose original homes were southwest of Mueng Sen in North Vietnam, the point that protrudes into Laos just off Route 7; after leaving North Vietnam they had moved to Muang Meh (site 46) and then to their current home at Ban Than Penp (TF 7693). The same factors that limited the report on the Plain of Jars refugees - lack of time, and weather conditions, the interviewers’ lack of experience - hampered this operation too. Nevertheless, it gives some notion of what the people interviewed have experienced and are thinking about. Some findings:
1. Type of people interviewed:
The male-female ratio was 60% vs 40%.
70% of the people interviewed had never attended school.
73% were ordinary villagers, not holding any position in the village hierarchy.
18% were Mai Beng.
92 of the 97 were married, and 88 of the 92 had children.
79% of those with offspring said their children were still with them, and of the children who had left home, 15% are now with the Pathet Lao and 6% with the RLG.
2. The largest group, 22%, left their homes in 1967, 19% in 1969, 19% in 1966. Since leaving their homes, 41% have moved twice, 23% three times, and 13% only once.
3. 50% of the people said they left their homes because they did not like the Pathet Lao, 28% because they feared bombing, and 22% because they wanted to be away from the war and when the government troops came they went with them.
4. 79% said the areas in which their original homes are located were controlled by the Lao-Viet while they were there. The interviewees from Sam Neua had been with the communists since 1953, for they were caught up in the resistance movement against the French.
5. The interviewers could get only 22 people to respond favorably about their experiences with the Pathet Lao. Of the 81 who answered the question "What did you like best about living under the Pathet Lao?", 59 (73%) said they did not like anything. The lack of favorable comment on the Lao-Viet may be attributed in part to fear of reprisal. However, the fact that the same interviewers got many favorable reactions from the PDJ refugees about their experience with the Lao-Viet suggests that the 97 people interviewed this time do have some genuine feelings of dislike for the communists. A partial explanation may be found in the terrorism employed by the Vietnamese troops when first introduced into Laos in large numbers in 1963. Another factor, of course, is that most of the people spoken with are now settled and seem reasonably happy with their new homes. (54% said the land they are now on is as good as, or better than, the land at their original homes. A few of those from Sam Neua spoke wistfully about the profits from growing opium "back home".
But they conceded that the land around site 272 is better than their holdings for highland rice.)
Of the many undesirable aspects of life under the Pathet Lao mentioned, the highest number (48 of 133) items centered around forced porterage. Following that WBS taxation (33). The other 52 negative responses fell into six categories.
6. 25% of the respondents said they first saw bombs dropped near their villages in 1964 and a higher percentage (37%) had heard of bombs being dropped on other villages in that Year. 6% said they had seen bombs dropped frequently (48 out of 70). 60% said they hid in the woods during bombing attacks.
7. 25% (24 of 97) had seen people killed by bombing, although only one had witnessed the death of over seven people. The majority of those who had seen people killed (58%) had seen two or more deaths (29% had seen two and an equal number had seen three).
8. 69% said there were PL troops in the area, being bombed, although only 18% had seen enemy troops killed by air attacks. A slightly higher percentage, (24% ), had heard of enemy casualties being caused by bombing.
9. 82 people said the bombing made life very difficult for them - 80% of this group saying they could not eke out more than a bare subsistence living after the attacks started. A point of some interest here is that only 7% said they feared death from the bombing.
10. 57% of the respondents said they had seen T-28’s bombing and 40% mentioned having seen jets. 49 of 92 (53%) said they thought the bombing was done by Americans; 30% listed the RLG as the responsible party; and 17% said they did not know who was doing it.
11. Although 25% of the respondents said they had left their home due to fear of bombings, 23% said they would return home if it were stopped. But 90% of all respondents said they would not return to their homes even if the planes stopped bombing, as long as the PL were still there. Reasons given were fear of conned war, dislike of the communists, and satisfaction with their present situation.
II. FINDINGS OF AN OFFICIAL U.S. SURVEY OF LAOS REFUGEES, JULY 1970 (REFUGEES FROM XIENG KHOUANG PROVINCE)
In the past two weeks our interviewers have talked with refugees from Xieng Khouang Province, located in twenty settlements, from the Phoung Hong an-ea, in Thadeua District. Most of them came to the Vientiane Plains with the group evacuated from the Plain of Jars in February of this year (1970). They came from 96 villages, located in 17 townships.
Bad Weather and the usual travel impediments hampered the interviewers’ movements and limited the scope of their findings. The lack of time and paucity of the interviewers’ experience (only one of the four had ever been involved in such an experience) were also limiting factors. Nonetheless, the relatively large number of people queried should give some degree of validity to the findings, at least enough to indicate general trends of thinking.
This group off people is atypical when compared to other refugees in Laos - the length of time they spent with the Pathet Lao separates them from the mass of refugees here. A separate report is being prepared on the people who have sought refuge from their homes in Saravane, Sam Neua, and Luang Prabang. (People representing the latter two provinces now at Ban Na San - Site 272.) A cable will be prepared for the Ambassador on the 272 people.
1. Respondents’ Background:
96 percent of the respondents admitted to having lived with a Pathet Lao administered government, 63 percent of them from 1964 until they sought refuge with the RLG in 1969.
77 percenft said their children are living with them; 20 percent indicated that their offspring are now with the Pathet Lao; and the remaining 3 percent told the interviewers their children are away from home serving in the RLG.
Most of the people the interviewer talked with left their homes in 1969 (this was true of 93%). Including the move which took them to their current location, 48 percent said they had moved a total of three times after leaving their home; 37 percent twice.
Nearly 50 percent said someone had arranged for their children to be taken to school - 76 percent of this group said the PL had provided this service. There was an exact correlation between the location of the schooling and the parent's reaction to it - if in the village, all concerned said it was desirable; if away from the home, the people said they did not think it to be a good thing.
2. Aspects of Life under the PL:
Finding what they liked and disliked about their experiences with the communists proved to be difficult - the refugees were quite naturally reluctant to speak with strangers about their feelings toward the communists. However, the interviewers did manage to get 210 responses (more than one response was allowed) to the question, "What did you like best about the PL?" Of this number, 22 percent saw “unity” as a positive aspect of their life with the PL. ("Unity" in this sense means cooperative farming, communal arrangements for looking after children, etc.) 16 percent of the responses indicated "morality” (sintham) as a feature of life under the PL. (Note: No doubt one reason this was mentioned is the stealing of the refugees’ cattle and water buffalo by the II troops prior to their evacuation from the Plains of Jars.) Nine percent said they liked the PL system of education.
Forced porterage was the least desirable aspect of life under the PL (41 percent of 363 response). Next was taxation (36 percent). (Ref: McKeithen report provides a detailed account of life under the PL in Xieng Khofuang.)
97 percent of the people said they had seen a bombing attack - 32 percent as early as 1964. 49 percent said they could not count the number of times they had seen bombs dropped, and 43 percent said they had seen planes bomb "frequently".
68 percent of 168 response tabulated indicated that the respondents had seen someone injured by bombing, and 61 percent had seen a person killed. Given the period involved for most of the respondents (1964-1969) the number of people seen killed by bombing was extremely low - 32 percent had seen only one person’s death caused by a bomb. The only exception to this was one refugee from Mouang Soui who reported having seen 112 people killed during a bombing raid. (Unfortunately, the interviewer who talked with this man is now sick and had to be taken to a hospital in Bangkok, so it is impossible to get any more details about this case.) The other responses indicate a generally low casualty rate.
This appears to be true for the enemy as well. Only 18 percent of the respondents said they had actually seen Lao-Viet troops killed by bombing, and 25 percent indicated they had heard rumors of deaths caused by bombing. The one outstanding exception reported was a T-28 strike on a cave near Sieng Khouangville used by the PL as a communications center. The air attack was reported as having done away with the comma installation as well as some eighty PL troops who were in the cave at the time. Other cases reported in which relatively large numbers of enemy were killed by bombing, included 20 PL meeting their end at Phou Com Phet, 30 at Phou Kha Boh, and 20 at Phou Tuong.
That the bombing raised havoc with the lives of the people while they were in the Plain of Jars area is not to be denied. 75 percent of 190 respondents said their homes had been damaged by bombing. 76 percent said the attacks took place in 1969. 99 percent of 212 respondents said the bombing made life difficult for them. 63 percent of this group told our interviewers that they were prevented from earning more than a bare subsistence living during the most intense periods of bombing. 37 percent reported building a shelter in the woods after they first saw a bombing raid.
Even after being exposed to such trials, 74 percent of the respondents said they understood the air attacks were caused by the PL waging war. But, 23 percent told the interviewers that the bombing is directed not only at the PL but also the people - 13 percent said it was aimed at the people only. 71 percent of 238 responses indicated the U.S. is responsible for the bombing; only 17 percent laid the onus on the RLG. The 38 percent who had seen T-28s dropping bombs said they had seen jets doing the same thing. Their familiarity with planes was considerable; F-105s were noted in some conversations, as were "sky raiders" and P-4-hs(? ? ?). The PL propaganda machine has been reasonably effective, although it would seem to be aimed at a highly receptive audience.
4. Refugees’ Future Aspirations: with regard to their aspirations for the future, the responses gathered by our interviewers did not yield a very clear picture. 49 percent of the people whose answers were tabulated on this point (111 of 226) said that fear of bombing was the reason for their seeking refuge away from their homes. 29 percent listed dislike of the Pathet Lao, as the reason for leaving. 15 percent said the RLG coming in and either allowing or encouraging them to move was a primary factor in making them refugees.
The bombing is clearly the most compelling reason for moving. 57 percent of all 213 respondents said they would return to their villages if the air attacks were stopped. However, nearly 96 percent said they would not go back if the PL were still in control of their homes.
There are several possible reason for this latter response. One might be that the people really cannot imagine having PL in the vicinity of their homes without resultant bombing. Another might be a fear of having alienated the PL by coming to RLG side, thus leaving themselves open to retribution. But probably the most intense is a simple desire to be away from the war and from all the suffering and hardships it brings.
My personal impression is that it was a combination of three factors that moved most of the refugees. The destruction of their home villages by bombing certainly instilled the type of fear that would make a person want to move. However, 31 percent of the people had lived with bombing since 1954. Though it was not as intense as in 1969, it still represented a threat to their homes and lives. Being forced to serve as a porter irritated a high percentage of the people. On the other hand, while living under the RLG brings with it some mistreatment, it is nevertheless a way of life which generally does not impose many restrictions. In my opinion, it was all these factors, coupled with the opportunity offered by the RLG’s sweep over the Plain of Jars in late 1969, that brought the people to the Vientiane governments side.
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, we had great difficulty in obtaining this survey. We heard it had been made. We made a request for it. It was not made available to us for 8 months. Finally, Representative MCCLOSKEY was given a summation of it, which was put into his briefing book, and then he was able to get the complete document in Vientiane. He told us about it and then, on that very day, the Department of State made it available to us.
Mr. President, the survey shows that in 96 villages in Laos, 97 percent of the people said they had seen a bombing attack; 61 percent said that they had seen a person killed; 67 percent said that their homes had been damaged; and 23 percent said that they thought the bombing was directed at civilians.
Now, Mr. President, you and I know that the Vietcong, and certainly the Pathet Lao, do not come with clean hands when it comes to the destruction of human life-terrorist activities, assassinations, and other kinds of violence. But when we start to talk about the creation of refugees, particularly in Laos, as shown in the Government’s report, the number of refugees increases by the same geometric progression as the bombing does, as it did in 1969. It is virtually identical.
After the escalation of the bombing in 1969, the one study that was made by the Government, shows that the refugees are created - and it states this clearly - as a result of our air activity. I think that is something which has been much disputed, but the facts are clear.
Mr. HATFIELD. I thank the Senator for his comments because I believe he would agree with me that when we consider we have a ratio of firepower to our adversary of about 500-to-1, and when we consider the number of troops and bombs we have dropped on various parts of Indochina, it works out to be about 160 pounds for every man, woman, and child there. When we also consider the fact that we have in one operation at Lam Son 719 - the invasion into Laos - 151,837 air sorties, just in that one operation, it is apparent that the refugees and the casualties that result from bombings have a distinct relationship to the overall military policy that we follow.
I am sure the Senator would also agree that when we consider we had only about 40,000 troops in Vietnam in February 1965, when we started the bombing of North Vietnam; even when we are told that the troops will be withdrawn by a certain date, whatever that might be, that does not say that We will stop the bombing or that civilian casualties will cease, because as the Senator from Massachusetts knows, we have very important air power in Thai-
land-as well as the 7th Fleet-that is used in action over Vietnam or Laos or Cambodia. So it does not take thousands and thousands of ground troops to maintain a bombing policy.
The Senator has commented today on the matter of refugees and casualties and the other comments he has made. They certainly focus attention upon the moral implications of this war.
I cannot conceive why the Pentagon would say it is so unimportant that they have no record of civilian casualties. Yet they expect us to accept without question the policy that has had this kind of result, and especially since we have signed international treaties and made commitments to other nations in joint action with them not to bomb villages that are defenseless and not to bomb medical supplies or medical centers or medical facilities.
Yet I am sure the Senator is aware not only of those treaties that we have signed indicating we would not do those things, but he is also aware that we have even talked about having done so. As part of a progress report to the American people on May 3, 1970, the Vice President on the Program "Face The Nation,” speaking of the Cambodian operation said,
"The purpose of the strikes in to the sanctuaries is not to go into Cambodia, but to take and reduce these supply depots, the hospital complexes,"
I want to underline that - "the hospital complexes" -
"the command network, the communication, etc …."
I want to carefully and explicitly quote from article XIX of the Geneva Convention that we signed as a treaty, which reads as follows:
"Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the conditions of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces (Article 19) states: 'Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may on no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the Conflict.'"
I think here again it shows a moral impoverishment on this whole policy.
Again I express my appreciation to the Senator from Massachusetts for focusing upon this facet of the war today.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The time of the Senator has expired.
Mr. HATFIELD. Mr. President, I yield myself 5 additional minutes.
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I commend the Senator from Oregon and the Senator from Dakota for introducing this amendment.
I would hope that this colloquy and the statements made in my prepared remarks today would remind the Senate that just withdrawing the last American is not going to fulfill our responsibility to the people of Indochina. We have a very basic and fundamental responsibility in seeing that the violence ends and that it ends on the ground and from the air, and that we do not leave a situation where Asians are killing Asians, and that the United States is part of that operation.
I would certainly hope that this dialog would help remind us all of the impact this war is having on the people of Indochina. We have a very serious responsibility to them that can only be achieved through a political settlement of the conflict.
But the level of fighting continues. The flow of refugees continues. The civilian war casualties mount each day. More people are made homeless. Children are losing their arms and their legs, as well as their parents. It is our responsibility to end the war and to help in the reconstruction of that region.
A South Vietnamese child now has to wait about a year for a prosthetic device if he loses an arm or a leg. Yet, we can get the military gear and equipment that is necessary over there in little time. I am all for getting the military equipment there to insure that the lives of American servicemen will not be endangered.
But it seems to me that we have been talking about this for years and years, that this whole aspect of the impact of the war on the civilians has not received anywhere near the priority it should receive.
Mr. President, on another aspect of this matter, I wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense on May 10, asking him questions about various military terms and asking him to describe the definitions for the various military terms and what impact the Defense Department thought they would have on the civilian population.
I asked him for the intensity of the impact on the civilian population of the American air war in Laos. I asked him to make some kind of study of this question and for photos of various villages we listed, from which we had heard from refugees and volunteer service people about how they had been destroyed. So far, we cannot find out about this.
I also asked about the rules of air war and what kind of protection is given by the various services to the civilians. I have not received a response from the Secretary of Defense.
There were a number of questions. However, the time is getting late, and we still have not heard from him. I thank the Senator from Oregon for yielding the time. I appreciate the comments he has made. He has provided great leadership on this whole question of our policy in Southeast Asia. It is a pleasure to be able to join with him today in support of the amendment he has cosponsored with the Senator from South Dakota.
Mr. HATFIELD. Mr. President, I am grateful for the contribution of the Senator from Massachusetts and for engaging in this colloquy today. Mr. President, I yield the floor.