POW Lawsuit Could Force Kerry To Come Clean On Vietnam ‘War Crimes’ Charges
by George "Bud" Day, Chairman, Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation
|Thirty five years ago John Kerry slandered an entire generation of
men who fought in Vietnam branding them as a "war criminals." Today,
much of the same thing is being said about our young men and women in
Now, a lawsuit filed in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas will test the very foundation of Kerry’s anti-war persona for the first time. It isn’t dubious medals or Kerry’s disputed service record in Vietnam that is being called into question. This time Kerry may finally be forced to answer for the events that launched his public career, one that made him an anti-war hero for many American liberals and a turncoat for millions of Vietnam veterans.
The lawsuit (Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation, et al. v. Kenneth Campbell, et al.) challenges the basis, the factual accuracy of then-Lt. (j.g.) Kerry’s acrimonious testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. It was there Kerry’s public career was catapulted with his now ubiquitous portrayal of American soldiers as murderers, rapists and torturers "who ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam . . . [and] razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan."
Kerry said then his accusations were based on the so-called "testimony" of "150 honorably discharged" Vietnam veterans who, like himself, claimed to have committed or witnessed "war crimes, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
Many if not all were members of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), an organization led by Kerry and financed by Jane Fonda during the early 1970s. Now, a number of those "witnesses" will be required to testify, under oath for the first time ever, about what they really did and saw in Vietnam.
What these VVAW witnesses say could have implications reaching beyond Kerry’s veracity and reputation. Their lasting portrait of the American soldier as a blood-thirsty butcher, a baby killer, is also at stake. And that picture remains entrenched among their kind, "proof" that those serving in the U.S. military, even today, truly are a "horde of barbarians" capable of unspeakable brutalities. That is the underlying theme, the constant drumbeat from the mainstream media and others as they try to undermine the American military today.
For the anti-war, anti-American protesters, the American soldiers are the "terrorists," and the enemies are the victims of a barbaric U.S. military which tortures and murders defenseless civilians.
That false premise, one of the most vicious and enduring smears spawned by Kerry 35 years ago, will also be put to the test once Kerry’s true "Band of Brothers" are put under oath in a Philadelphia courtroom.
The background to this lawsuit is long and complex, but even a condensed version is rich in irony and poetic justice.
It had it roots in 2004 with the documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal. Many may recall the film, although it is probably best known for not being seen, suppressed after Sinclair Broadcasting Company courageously announced it was going to air the documentary in its entirety. Thanks to Kerry and his liberal colleagues in the Senate and their enablers in the mainstream media, Sinclair was browbeaten into withdrawing the film, its broadcast license threatened by a Kerry campaign manager in 2004.
Stolen Honor focused on Kerry’s venomous diatribe before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 1971 when he accused Vietnam veterans of "war crimes" on a genocidal scale. (A full transcript is available at http://ice.he.net/~freepnet/kerry/index.php?topic=Testimony. ) It examined the impact Kerry’s widely reported statements had on hundreds of Americans who were being held prisoners of war by the North Vietnamese communists. The film’s producer, Carlton Sherwood, a Pulitzer Prize and Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter, interviewed former POWs for the documentary.
I was among those whom Sherwood, a decorated Marine combat veteran himself, asked to participate in Stolen Honor. I was a POW for nearly six years, held in North Vietnam prison camps, including the notorious Hanoi Hilton, a place of unimaginable horrors -- torture, beatings, starvation and mind-numbing isolation. When Kerry branded us "war criminals," he handed our captors all the justification they needed to carry out their threats to execute us. Thanks to Kerry, Jane Fonda and their comrades in the anti-war movement, our captivity was prolonged by years. The communists in Hanoi and Moscow couldn’t have had a better press agent to spread their anti-American propaganda.
To guarantee Stolen Honor would never be seen by anyone – not even theatre-goers – the producer was slapped with a libel and defamation lawsuit. That lawsuit was filed by Kenneth Campbell, a University of Delaware professor, Kerry campaign aide, and long-time anti-war disciple of the Massachusetts Senator. Campbell co-founded the Philadelphia chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and, in 1971, he was one of Kerry’s key war crimes "witnesses," one of several on whom Kerry claims he based his Senate testimony.
Campbell was and still is regarded by some as one of the VVAW’s most articulate and published "experts" on U.S. atrocities in Vietnam. He has "testified" before Congress, in Europe, and elsewhere that while in Vietnam he deliberately killed "dozens and dozens" of innocent civilians as a Marine artillery forward observer. He has written extensively about his and others’ atrocities in Vietnam and he even teaches a course on the Vietnam War that showcases his war crime accusations. Campbell, like Kerry, met with enemy delegations -- Vietcong and North Vietnam Communist officials -- in Paris in 1971 while he was still a U.S. uniformed reservist. He was also flown to Moscow that same year to meet with other Communist leaders, all expenses paid by the Soviets.
Campbell’s lawsuit put a unique spin on the definition of defamation: He claimed that Stolen Honor damaged the public reputations of himself, Kerry and others by questioning whether they truly were the baby-killers they claimed to be!
Ignored and censored by the mainstream news networks, Stolen Honor eventually aired on some small local cable outlets. The documentary managed to penetrate Kerry’s blacklisting in rural northern Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and several other places. But, Campbell’s lawsuit against Sherwood continued in 2005, when he even added POWs who appeared in the film to the litigation!
The POWs and the wives of POWs who participated in Stolen Honor refused to abandon the facts conveyed in the film. For some of us, it was the first time since our release by the Communists in 1973 that we were able to have our voices publicly heard, to tell our stories about the consequences of Kerry’s treachery. In 2005, we formed a nonprofit organization, the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation (VVLF), to gather records, documents and other materials to form a fact-based, educational repository for students and scholars of Vietnam history and to tell the true story of the American soldiers in Vietnam. The VVLF’s mission is "to set the record straight, factually, about Vietnam and those who fought there."
For our efforts, we were promptly sued by Campbell and another long-time anti-war Kerry follower and VVAW member, Dr. Jon Bjornson. It was clear that Kerry not only wanted to punish us for Stolen Honor; he intended to use surrogates to sue us into permanent silence and financial ruin.
But in lawsuits, even defendants have an opportunity to question the accuser under oath in pre-trial depositions -- even when a lawsuit is filed solely to harass, intimidate and silence and when the legal system is abused for political vengeance, as these lawsuits clearly were.
Our chance came earlier this year when Kenneth Campbell was deposed. Among the first thing he disclosed was that this was the first time he had actually been put under oath in over 35 years of "testifying" about Vietnam "war crimes." Neither he nor any of his fellow "war criminals" – Kerry included – had ever been sworn in at any hearings, not before the Senate, the House of Representatives, or anywhere.
All of the so-called "testimony" the old mainstream media trumpeted for nearly four decades -- graphic, sickening and grisly "testimony" about savage atrocities committed by Vietnam veterans, "testimony" to which Congress and the media gave so much weight and credibility -- wasn’t "testimony" at all! Just propagandist speeches told without limitation or fear of consequences, least of all penalties for perjury. As for the "war crimes" Campbell claimed for years he committed and personally witnessed, he now conceded he didn’t actually see innocent civilians killed by his artillery barrages. In fact, if anyone had been killed or wounded, he admitted, they may not have been civilians at all! Concerning other atrocities Campbell identified in his lawsuits -- things like Marines massacring an entire village, killing surrendering enemy soldiers -- those incidents, too, failed to stand up under questioning. Some were things he said he had heard or assumed happened; others, he acknowledged, were simply "rumors."
That Campbell alleged personal knowledge of horrible atrocities in his complaints and then gave wholly different stories of hearsay and assumption at his deposition is detailed in the recently filed Philadelphia lawsuit, which repeatedly alleges that Campbell lied about supposed war crimes in 1971 and lied again when he claimed in 2004 that his war crime stories were true.
While hard evidence may have been in short supply during his sworn testimony, Campbell did offer the names of "witnesses" who would confirm his stories. Not surprisingly, the first two were Kerry State Veterans Campaign Coordinators and long-time VVAW organizers in Florida and Massachusetts.
Subpoenas were served on both men but, before either could be deposed, one checked himself into a hospital for elective back surgery and the other had himself arrested and committed to a mental institution. At last press reports, he was released from the psychiatric hospital and fled the country to Vietnam via Hawaii.
Both men clearly knew what was coming, as did Campbell. For the first time in nearly four decades they would be forced to answer for their alleged "war crimes," their slanderous accusations against their fellow soldiers finally examined, under oath.
It was just a matter of days before all the lawsuits were withdrawn, nearly two years of costly litigation abruptly ended, Campbell’s libel claims ground to dust under the weight of his own testimony.
Like their leader, John Kerry, his surrogates wanted no part of having to defend these despicable allegations, or for being held accountable for the great harm they and he continue to inflict on our men and women in uniform. They fled the moment the light of truth shined their way.
My fellow POWs and I who were the target of these lawsuits are not willing to quit or surrender. Kerry and his cowardly followers may have achieved their purpose of keeping the American people from seeing Stolen Honor in 2004, but we refuse to allow the truth about Vietnam to remain untold.
Forced to spend huge sums to defend ourselves from these frivolous lawsuits, we have filed a countersuit against these Kerry surrogates and intend to reveal the truth about the lawsuits and their sponsors. We believe that we can prove that the purpose of nearly two years of litigation was to cover up for Kerry’s treachery, to drain us financially and spiritually, and to prevent us from setting the record straight.
At stake is ultimately nothing less than the integrity of the American military in Vietnam, the honor of the men who served their country, the nobility of those who gave their lives, and the truth of America’s history in Vietnam. Until or unless we do correct the existing record, the American military may never be free of the myths and smears of Vietnam, its honor and integrity cleansed as it fights to defend freedom at home and around the world.
Our mission is hardly over. We hope you will join us in fighting this battle . . . for our soldiers, then and now.
Col. George E. "Bud" Day, USAF (Ret.,) was a POW in North Vietnam for five years, seven months and 13 days. He served in three wars (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam) and earned the Medal of Honor. He is the Air Force’s most decorated living veteran. He is the Director and President of the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation, Inc., an organization created to better educate and inform the public about the Vietnam War, its events, its history, and the men and women who sacrificed to serve their country.