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Pentagon to Launch Investigation Into South Korean Massacre Story

By Paul Richter
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- The Pentagon, in an abrupt about-face, declared Thursday that it would use “whatever resources are available” to investigate whether U.S. infantrymen massacred more than 100 South Koreans in 1950 during the chaotic opening weeks of the Korean War.

Although a recent Army study found no basis for survivors’ claims, Army Secretary Louis Caldera said new disclosures justify a ``quick and thorough’’ study of the actions of 1st Cavalry Division troops at the rural hamlet of No Gun Ri, 100 miles southeast of Seoul.

While stressing that the investigation is at its earliest stage, Caldera hinted that if evidence of killings is found, some redress might be paid to the 30 South Koreans who have unsuccessfully pressed claims to the American and South Korean governments.

An Associated Press investigative report, carried on the front pages of major U.S. newspapers Thursday, contained accounts of former soldiers who said they took part in the massacre.

The soldiers said U.S. forces trapped hundreds of old men, women and children under a railroad bridge at No Gun Ri during a panicked southward retreat in July 1950. Fearing the presence of North Korean troops concealed in civilian garb, the soldiers slaughtered anywhere from 100 to 300 or more South Koreans over a three-day period, the AP report said.

Although some accounts were contradictory, six veterans said they fired on the refugees, and six others said they had witnessed the shootings.

If corroborated, the alleged massacre would rank as one of the largest such incidents perpetrated by U.S. soldiers in modern times, and could prompt a broader re-examination of the actions of American servicemen in the Korean War.

A senior defense official acknowledged that the report raises questions about criminal liability of the soldiers involved, possible compensation and the need for an official U.S. apology. Such issues are “all on the table,” this official said.

Although plans are preliminary, the probe is expected to take roughly a year and to cost an estimated $1 million to $2 million. It may call on the expertise of military historians, forensic pathologists and military lawyers, the official said.

Officials said they expect the investigation to involve painstaking reviews of records and logs to determine where infantry units were at certain dates, examination of the testimony of surviving veterans and perhaps excavation of the site for evidence.

On Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman had said that the allegations had been sufficiently checked and that they saw no need for further examination. But after a thunderclap of publicity Thursday, senior leaders said it had become imperative to gather more data on an incident involving one of America’s closest allies.

At the White House, President Clinton told reporters that he had been briefed on the Associated Press report.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen “wants to look into this, he wants to get to the bottom of it, he wants to examine all of the available information and evidence,” Clinton said. “And he has assured us that he will do that. And that was his immediate instinct, too, and I appreciated it.”

The South Korean government promised its own investigation.