U.S. lied about Vietnamese commandos' fate, Times says
June 9, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States sent hundreds of Vietnamese commandos into North Vietnam in the 1960s, then deliberately wrote them off, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The government documented the men as dead even though they managed to survive captivity, lied to their families and buried the story "under a shroud of secrecy" for years.
The Times based its article on secret documents that were declassified Wednesday after 14 months of news reports and documents substantiating the commandos' claims. One of the documents lists 13 commandos as dead; 10 of the 13 are alive today.
At least 200 of the agents survived capture, torture and imprisonment, and are living in the United States, according to the newspaper. The commandos are seeking back pay -- $2,000 a year, without interest, for their prison time -- and help in rescuing 88 comrades still in captivity.
The doomed covert operation to infiltrate North Vietnam was known as OPLAN 34-A. It was launched in 1961 by the CIA and taken over in 1964 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The financial records of the mission were declassified at the request of attorney John Mattes.
Mattes is seeking $11 million in back pay for the commandos who survived. Lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice, the Army andthe CIA said back pay should not be granted because secret contracts for covert operations are unenforceable, the Times said.
Documents reveal cover-up
According to the documents obtained by the Times, the United States trained the commandos, dropped them into North Vietnam, then began crossing their names off a classified payroll list one-by-one in December 1965. Many of the commandos were Roman Catholics who had fled the Communist North in the 1950s and knew the local dialects.
Some of the documents describe deaths among a commando team code-named Scorpion. However, Radio Hanoi announced -- and the CIA recorded -- that the group was captured alive in June 1964. Many were imprisoned under unspeakable conditions. Nevertheless, the CIA declared the men dead and paid their families $4,000 apiece in death benefits, the Times reported.
Dang Cong Trinh, 52, Scorpion's deputy commander, was one of those falsely reported dead.
"They didn't want to remember us because we represent the failure of the United States in Vietnam," he told the Times. "The man who crossed my name out probably was someone back in Washington, D.C., who gave the South Vietnam government the authority to say to my family: 'Here's your money. Don't bother us anymore.'"
Nguyen Van Chinh, 59, also was dropped from the payroll list.
"The people who crossed me out -- I don't know how to express it.They wished me dead, but I came back alive."