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Kerrey Admits Vietnam Killings Former Nebraska Senator Had Role In Civilian Massacre

By John J. Goldman
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- NEW YORK

Former Nebraska senator and governor Bob Kerrey, a potential Democratic presidential contender, has revealed that he commanded a raid on a village during the Vietnam War that killed only women, children and older men.

Kerrey stressed that members of his seven-man Navy SEAL team began shooting after they were shot at and assumed they were facing fire from Viet Cong soldiers.

He said the secret incident has “haunted” him for 32 years.

“Now I can talk about it. It feels better already,” Kerrey said in an interview Wednesday.

Kerrey made his comments after news reports about his involvement in the Feb. 25, 1969 raid in the Mekong Delta.

Then a 25-year-old Navy lieutenant, Kerry got a Bronze Star for the raid and later received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest valor award, for another SEAL action that cost him part of his right leg. His war hero background has been an important part of his political profile.

Kerrey’s account, however, has been dramatically contradicted by a member of the SEAL squad he headed and by a Vietnamese woman who claimed to be a survivor of the raid and who alleged the villagers were brought together and massacred.

“It was very crowded, so it wasn’t possible for them to cut everybody’s throats one by one,” Pham Tri Lanh, who said she was an eyewitness, told CBS News’ 60 Minutes II. The network released excerpts from the interview Wednesday.

“Two woman came out and kneeled down,” she is quoted as saying. “They shot these two old women and they fell forward and they rolled over and then they ordered everybody out from the bunker and they lined them up and they shot all of them from behind.”

Gerhard Klann, a member of the SEAL commando team headed by Kerrey, described similar events in another interview with the program.

“We herded them together in a group. ... We lined them up and we opened fire,” Klann is quoted as saying.

Klann also told the New York Times that Kerrey at one point helped push an older villager to the ground and put his knee on the man’s chest while Klann drew a knife across the man’s neck. Kerrey disputed those accounts Wednesday night.

The accounts contradicting Kerrey were part of a joint investigative effort by CBS and the New York Times. The New York Times posted a story by Gregory L. Vistica on its web site Wednesday in advance of publication in the newspaper’s Sunday magazine and indicated that the Kerrey story had been in the works for two and a half years.