by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
March 13, 2003
POWELL BLAMED FOR 'MISTAKE' IN MY LAI MASSACRE
LOS ANGELES, Calif., March 13, 2003 -- A former White House covert operations official has told The American Reporter that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, then a military aide to the U.S. Army command staff in Vietnam, misunderstood a general's instructions and mistakenly ordered the notorious March 16, 1968, My Lai massacre, and successfully covered up his error until now. The former official's allegations concerning the events, whose 35th anniversary occurs on Sunday, could not be confirmed.
"He [Powell] made a stupid mistake," said the official, now a retired and wealthy civilian, in a wide-ranging three-hour interview last week.
A State Dept. spokesman, Jo-Anne Prokopowicz, said she would forward questions about Powell's possible role to officials at the Dept. of State. "I don't even know if he was in Vietnam at that time," she said. "We don't usually comment on military matters." News reports have placed Powell in Vietnam no earlier than June 27, 1968, about two months after the massacre occurred.
The source, who said he would deny the information if he was named in this story because he has suffered several heart attacks and might not survive the controversy his charges could create, said that he had been asked by then-President Richard Nixon to see if the sentence received by Lt. William "Rusty" Calley for the Vietnam War massacre could be reduced.
In the course of that investigation, the source said, Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964 to July 1968, told him that Powell had mistaken his orders to subdue the village as an order to wipe out its inhabitants, and relayed the mistaken order through an Army major to Calley, who was court-martialed and sent to jail for murder.
He was released after serving only part of his sentence as the result of his findings, the source said. Westmoreland left Vietnam to become Army Chief of Staff just four months after the incident and before Calley was court-martialed. The source said he did not talk with Powell about the incident, but did talk with the major through whom the orders were relayed to Calley.
According to various reports, some 347 unarmed men, women and children were wiped out in the village, which was actually named Son My. Several officers were charged with covering up the incident, and five were court-martialed. Lt. Calley was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of 22 unarmed civilians. His sentence was reduced to 10 years, and in 1974 a Federal court judge reversed the conviction and freed Calley.
Powell, a major and deputy assistant chief of staff for operations G-3 at Americal Division headqurters in Chu Lai, was assigned eight months later to investigate rumors of the incident and wrote a controversial 1969 official report that cleared American soldiers of any serious wrongdoing.
After the incident became public in the Fall of 1969, a friendly biographical account says, "Powell sided with the American Division General during the court martial proceedings" against Calley. Powell has been heavily criticized in later years for not using his position on the command staff to prevent the massacre at the time it occurred.
The major through whom Gen. Westmoreland allegedly relayed the order is dead, and the source said many but not all of those who had firsthand knowledge of Powell's role are no longer living.
The source said he is a liberal Democrat who was a CIA officer for many years before accepting a military commission from President Reagan. He also was a military liaison to Saudi Arabia's royal family and said he was responsible for the destruction of a satellite-bearing Russian rocket on a launch pad in Russia, and was shot during that operation.
The source, a high-ranking retired military officer who said he had served Presidents Nixon and Reagan, said an unexpurgated transcript of the secret proceedings of a military tribunal that convicted Calley would reveal Powell's role. The transcripts remain classified, he said.
Powell's role in the My Lai massacre has been the subject of many articles over the years, but until now there has been no suggestion made that he was responsible for ordering it. Powell was unavailable for comment, but in an autobiography said he did not learn of the incident until two years after it occurred.
"Senior officers who were in Vietnam at the time are quietly skeptical of [Powell's] account," Newsweek reported on Sept. 11, 1995. "They point out that word of the massacre - which did not become public until November 1969 - quickly spread through the region, and to the Americal Division's headquarters."
The magazine, in a lengthy article, said Powell never talked to the soldier who first reported the incident to command staff, and his claim that he didn't know of the incident until after it became public is at odds with his report's dismissal of rumors about the massacre.
Calley was convicted in a court-martial in Septermber 1969, before the incident became public, when a soldier named Tom Glen wrote to Westmoreland's successor, Gen. Creighton Abrams, and told him American soldiers in the field were killing Vietnamese civilians. Powell's report failed to confirm that allegation.
Powell was implicated in the Iran-Contra Affair as the official who provided information to the National Security Council about Iran's request for missiles in a scheme to trade them for the release of hostages taken at U.S. Embassy in Teheran in 1979. He was also criticized for failing to send an American rescue mission to help U.S. soldiers pinned down in Mogadishu, Somalia, in the events pictured in the film "Black Hawk Down."
At the same time, he has served four U.S. Presidents, successfully directed the 1991 Gulf War as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and is a frequently-mentioned possible black candidate for the nation's highest office. In 1999, he was endorsed in advance of any declaration of his candidacy by this newspaper in the event he should seek the presidency in 2000. He later decided not to run, citing family obligations.