Citizens Commission of Inquiry

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The National Committee for a Citizens Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam (CCI) was founded in New York by Ralph Schoenman in November 1969 to document American atrocities throughout Indochina. The formation of the organization was prompted by the disclosure of the My Lai Massacre on November 12, 1969 by Seymour Hersh, writing for the New York Times.[1] The group was the first to bring to public attention the testimony of American Vietnam War veterans who had witnessed or participated in atrocities.


Schoenman had previously worked on the International War Crimes Tribunal founded by Bertrand Russell.[2] Schoenman left CCI in the hands of two New Left anti-war activists, Tod Ensign and Jeremy Rifkin.[2] They were joined in early 1970 by several Vietnam War veterans, including Robert Bowie Johnson, a West Point graduate and former infantry captain, and Michael Uhl, a retired 1st lieutenant in military intelligence.[3]

American Vietnam War Veterans and GIs Offer Personal Witness to War Crimes[edit]


CCI's first press conference was in Toronto, Canada, March 4, 1970. Ensign and Rifkin convened three more press conferences in the following two months: Springfield, Massachusetts (April 6, 1970); New York City, New York and Los Angeles, California (April 14); and Boston, Massachusetts (May 7, 1970). Uhl then traveled to Sweden and Australia to brief reporters that American Vietnam war veterans had first-hand evidence of atrocities they had either witnessed or committed themselves. CCI continued to mount press conferences in other cities, culminating in a three-day National Veterans Inquiry, held in Washington, D.C. on December 1, 2 and 3.[4]

The testimony offered by veterans at these CCI events provided documentation that American atrocities in Vietnam were not uncommon. This evidence was a counterpoint to the U.S. Army command’s assertion that the My Lai Massacre was an exception. The Citizens Commission of Inquiry leaders asserted that atrocities committed by American soldiers were a result of military field policies like “search-and-destroy,” "free-fire zones" and “forced urbanization,” the saturation bombing of villages believed to be controlled by enemy forces.[5][6]

Major Events When American Veterans or GIs Offered Testimony About War Crimes in Vietnam[edit]

  • April 7, 1970: David Bressam, a former Army officer; Peter Fossell, a former Marine Corps rifleman; and Robert B. Johnson, a former Army captain and chaplain. They allege that Col. Lewis Beasley, 1st Air Cav Div of 9th Cavalry, from his helicopter killed Vietnamese civilians who were "taking evasive action." Location: Central highlands north of Dak To. Date: August 1967.[7]
  • May 7, 1970: Larry Rottman, a retired first lieutenant, affirmed that he had seen nerve gas stored at the Bien Hoa American air base while stationed there in 1967 and 1968. Michael Uhl, 1st Lt., military intelligence, Americal Division, witnessed electrical torture 15 times.[8]
  • July 19, 1970: Six recently returned Army veterans tell of using electricity to torture prisoners. The veterans offering testimony are: Robert Stemme, Sgt, 172nd Military Intelligence Dept., attached to 173rd Airborne Brigade; Michael Uhl, 1st Lt., military intelligence, Americal Division; Peter Martinsen, Sp/5, 542nd MI Detachment, 101st Airborne Division; John Patton, 2nd Lt., 11th Regiment, Americal Division; Edward Murphy, Sgt., 4th MI Detachment, 4th Infantry Division; Fred Brown, 172nd Military Intelligence Dept., attached to 173rd Airborne Brigade.[9]
  • October 28, 1970: Mike McCusker, Sgt., 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, 5th Marine Infantry Division, reveals that on September 6, 1966, his unit destroyed everything that moved in two villages near Chu Lai. Michael Shepherd, Special Forces medic, 101st Airborne Division, reported witnessing the shooting of wounded prisoners. Nick Kinler, chemical warfare specialist, told of witnessing the massacre by American troops of villagers who were chased from bunkers by tear gas.[10]
  • November 24, 1970: Three active duty officers and three veterans blame U.S. commanders for policies that lead to atrocities committed by ground-level troops. The active duty Army officers, all stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, were: Capt. Edward Fox, Capt. Grier Merwin, and Capt. Robert Masters. The three veterans were: Louis Font, Lt., a West Point graduate; Robert Johnson, Army Capt.; and T. Griffith Ellison, Marine Corps Lance Corporal.[11]
  • December 1–3, 1970: Forty veterans of the Vietnam War testify in the Dupont Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. at the National Veterans Inquiry into U.S. War Crimes Policy. They testify about the atrocities they either witnessed or participated in. They share a single opinion that war crimes committed by American soldiers in Vietnam were the logical consequence of command policies. Among those testifying were four West Point graduates: Louis Font, Robert Master, Bob Johnson and Gordon Livingston.[12] Others whose testimony was cited by reporters include Steven Hassett (1st Air Cavalry Division), Stephen S. Naetzel (Sgt.), Edward Murphy (Sgt.), and Kenneth B. Osborne (intelligence specialist).[13][14]
  • April 26–27, 1971: [slug: Dellums hearings]
  • August 2, 1971: Michael Uhl gave testimony about the Phoenix Program under oath to the Congressional Foreign Operations and Government Information Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations of the U.S. House of Representatives.[15]

Impact and Legacy[edit]

Telford Taylor, former chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials stated on the Dick Cavett Show that General William Westmoreland might be convicted as a war criminal if Nuremberg principles from World War II were applied to the Vietnam War. Taylor, himself a retired brigadier general in the Army Reserve, explained that the U.S. Army applied this standard of justice in the trial of Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Yamashita was convicted of war crimes and hanged for atrocities committed by his troops in the Philippines. Taylor attributed his opinion to the evidence of atrocities and war crimes offered by veterans and active-duty soldiers, who were testifying under the auspices of the Citizens Commission of Inquiry.[16]

The Concerned Officers Movement was formed by five officers, all active duty, who met under the auspices of Citizens Commission of Inquiry as they prepared to ask the secretaries of the Army and Navy to convene courts of inquiry to determine whether American soldiers committed war crimes in Vietnam. Four of the officers were stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland: Capt. Robert J. Master and Capt. Grier Goodwin, both doctors; Capt. Edward G. Fox, a zoologist in the Army Medical Service Corps; First Lieutenant Louis Font, a West Point graduate. A fifth officer, Lieut. (jg.) Peter Dunkelberger, was a management systems analyst stationed at the Pentagon.[17][18]

The Winter Soldier Investigation, which ran from January 31, 1971 to February 2, 1971, followed in the paths of both the Citizens Commission of Inquiry and the Russell Tribunal. This event was organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and some of its leaders have credited CCI with establishing the credibility of veterans' voices of dissent. Internal divisions between the two groups led each to work independently of the other.[19]

The Citizens Commission of Inquiry disbanded in December 1971.

See also[edit]

Additional Reading[edit]

  • Ali, Tariq (May 17, 2005). Street Fighting Years. London, England: Verso. p. 403. ISBN 9781844670291. 
  • Article by Tod Ensign, "Organizing Veterans Through War Crimes Documentation" in the book by Duffy, Dan; Tal, Kali (1994). Nobody Gets Off the Bus: The Viet Nam Generation Big Book. Yale University, New Haven, CT: Vietnam Generation, Inc. ISBN 0962852481. 
  • Hunt, Andrew E. (1999). The Turning: a history of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. New York University Press. p. 259. ISBN 0814735819. 
  • Kunen, James S. (1971). Standard operating procedure;: Notes of a draft-age American. Avon. p. 381. 
  • Turse, Nick (2013). Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (American Empire Project) (Reprint ed.). Picadore. p. 416. ISBN 1250045061. 
  • Uhl, Michael (23 May 2007). Vietnam Awakening: My Journey from Combat to the Citizens' Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in Vietnam. North Carolina: McFarland and Company. p. 263. ISBN 0786430745. 


  1. ^ Bilton, Michael; Sim, Kevin (1992). Four Hours in My Lai. Penguin Books. ISBN 0140177094. 
  2. ^ a b "Peace Group to Set Up Panels on Atrocity Charges". New York Times. 29 January 1969. Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Uhl, Michael. "That's Vietnam, Jake". The Nation (9 July 2001). Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  4. ^ Uhl, Michael (2007). Vietnam Awakening. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-7864-3074-1. 
  5. ^ "They'd Probe Pentagon on 'Atrocities'". New York Daily News. 14 April 1970. 
  6. ^ Long, James (28 October 1970). "War Atrocities Termed Common Place". Oregon Journal. 
  7. ^ "U.S. Army Veteran Alleges Vietnamese Civilians Slain". Springfield Union. 7 April 1970. 
  8. ^ Crockett, Douglas (6 May 1970). "Two Ex-Gis Say Troops Torture Prisoners in Vietnam". Boston Globe. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Greider, William (19 July 1970). "Ex-GIs Tell of Torturing Prisoners". Washington Post. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  10. ^ Long, James (28 October 1970). "War Atrocities Termed Commonplace". Oregon Journal. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  11. ^ Maynard, Robert (24 November 1970). "War Foes Blame U.S. Commanders for Viet Atrocities". Washington Post. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  12. ^ Uhl, Michael (2007). Vietnam Awakening. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 171–179. ISBN 978-0-7864-3074-1. 
  13. ^ "Yanks Tortured Red Prisoners, Two GIs Testify". Chicago Daily News. United Press International. 3 December 1970. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  14. ^ "War Veterans At Inquiry Feel 'Atrocities' Are Result of Policy". New York Times. 4 December 1970. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  16. ^ Sheehan, Neil (9 January 1971). "Taylor Says by Nuremberg Rules Westmoreland May Be Guilty". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  17. ^ Sheehan, Neil (13 January 1971). "Five Officers Say They Seek Formal War Crimes Inquiries". New York Times. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  18. ^ "History of the Concerned Officers Movement". Sir! No, Sir!. Displaced Films. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Uhl, Michael (2007). Vietnam Awakening. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 164. ISBN 978-0-7864-3074-1.