WASHINGTON — Some of Bob Kerrey’s former Senate colleagues who served in Vietnam said Sunday they have little desire for a Pentagon investigation into his recent admission that civilians were killed during a mission for which he won the Bronze Star.
“To now talk about an investigation, it seems to me, is just the wrong way to go,” Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told ABC’s “This Week.” “If the Pentagon asked me, I’d say no.”
Kerrey, the former Nebraska governor and senator, and five other former members of his Navy SEAL team said in a written statement released over the weekend that what happened on the night of Feb. 25, 1969, at Thanh Phong “was a defining and tragic moment for each of us.”
“We regret the results of this night. We might do things differently if we could do it over. But we cannot be certain. We were young men then and did what we thought was right and necessary,” they said in the statement issued to The Washington Post.
Kerrey’s admission came as another former SEAL member, Gerhard Klann, claimed in interviews that civilian women, children and elderly were herded into a group and killed on Kerrey’s order. Two Vietnamese women who said they were witnesses gave a similar account.
Kerrey and the five squad members said they fired after being fired upon.
The Pentagon last week left open the possibility of investigating the award of a Bronze Star to Kerrey. Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said he did not believe Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was reviewing the matter, and the Pentagon spokesman said he could not say whether the Pentagon would look into it.
The citation for the combat medal says 21 Viet Cong were killed and enemy weapons were captured or destroyed. Kerrey said that he told his military superiors his Navy SEAL squad killed civilians.
Asked whether it was possible that the matter would be investigated, Quigley replied: “Sure.”
Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a member of the Armed Services Committee, told ABC he does not think an investigation is warranted, as did Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. “There’s no point in it, I don’t believe. ... Let it play out, but I don’t think we need an investigation here,” Hagel said.
In an editorial in Sunday’s Washington Post, Kerry, Cleland and Hagel said Kerrey’s admission “demonstrates the courage we all have known in him for years.”
“Many people have been forced to do things in war that they are deeply ashamed of later. Yet for our country to blame the warrior instead of the war is among the worst, and, regrettably, most frequent mistakes we as a country can make,” they wrote.
Asked if Kerrey should give back his medal, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war for more than five years, said that would be “a decision that Bob would make.”
A Kerrey aide, Michael Powell, said Sunday that “it is not my understanding that he’s giving the medal back.”
Kerrey recently said that because a dozen of the victims turned out to be civilians, “the medal means nothing to me.” After receiving the Bronze Star, he received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military commendation, for an unrelated mission in Vietnam.