US dumped Vietnam saboteurs

Newly declassified documents detail how the US military washed its hands of several hundred Vietnamese commandos it sent on abortive sabotage missions in the early years of the Vietnam War. The documents, which the Pentagon fought to keep secret, show that the United States literally scratched the names of the men from its payroll lists, stopping payments to their families in spite of evidence that showed many of them were alive in prisons in North Vietnam.

Senator John Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran, said this week that his country should now pay what it owed to nearly 300 surviving commandos. They have brought a law suit seeking back pay of just $2,000 (pounds 1,300) a year, without interest, from the mid-1960s.

"It's the wrong thing, to deny them the honour they deserve," Senator Kerry said. "This is an important matter of both conscience and common sense for the country. We paid our prisoners, and these men were working for us."

The release of the documents caps a long struggle by the Vietnamese and their American supporters to force the US government to accept them as living proof of Oplan 34-Alpha, a covert operation launched in 1961. Most of the men now live in the US. But lawyers defending the law suit for the Pentagon insisted as late as last week that secret contracts for covert operations are unenforceable, based on an 1875 Supreme Court ruling which denied back pay to a spy in the American Civil War.

Senator Kerry said he would seek bipartisan support to find $11m in the defense budget to meet the commandos' claims. "Somewhere out there, there's a golf course that can be sacrificed for principle," he said.

Oplan 34-A was initiated by William Colby, then the CIA's Saigon station chief, who later rose to be the agency's director and died earlier this year. Vietnamese who had fled the Communist North were trained in espionage and sabotage and sent back. A secret report on the operation later described their experience as "a one-way street with no hope of return". It appeared almost all were rapidly captured or killed.

US officials became suspicious that teams were "turned", working for the North Vietnamese to feed false intelligence back to their operators. But trials of others, and their 30-year sentences, were broadcast on Radio Hanoi. In 1964 the US military's Special Operations Group took over the operation from the CIA. It was then that officers began going through the list of the missing, the documents suggest, declaring a number of them dead each month. The treatment of the commandos is in striking contrast to the almost obsessive US search for its own men listed as prisoners of war, or missing in action.

John Mattes, the Florida attorney representing 281 commandos, says he has compiled a list of about 60 who were once declared dead. "Widows" received death benefits of as little as $200.

As late as 1995, the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service tried to block refugee status for a group of more than 50 of the commandos, who were tortured, served long jail sentences, and lived as pariahs in Vietnam after their release.

Nguyen Van Ke was parachuted into North Vietnam in 1964. He was listed in Defense Department records as captured soon after landing. Now 63, he lives in southern California. He told the Los Angeles Times of 13 years in a Vietnamese jail including torture, and bouts of solitary confinement. He was reunited with his family on his release in1977, but managed to reach the US only two months ago. "I gave my life for the operation," he said. "Why did America forget us?"

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam