Company Press Release - The New Yorker NEW YORK, May 14
-- In ``Overwhelming Force,'' in the May 22, 2000, issue of The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh reports on the activities of the 24th Infantry Division
during the 1991 Gulf War. The 24th was commanded by General Barry R.
McCaffrey, who now serves as the director of the White House Office of
National Drug Control Policy. Hersh concentrates on three episodes in the
campaign: the Battle of Rumaila, on March 2, 1991, which took place two
days after President Bush declared a ceasefire; and two incidents, on
February 27th and March 1st, in which Army personnel have been accused of
wrongly shooting Iraqis who posed no threat to them and who, in the case of
the February 27th incident, had already surrendered. All three of these
episodes have been investigated by the Army, which found no wrongdoing,
but, Hersh reports, key witnesses and information were either missed or
ignored. Hersh interviewed more than two hundred past and present enlisted
men and officers over the six months he spent preparing this account,
including the Army's own investigators. Taken together, they present a
picture that is, as editor David Remnick remarks in a Comment accompanying
Hersh's article, ``at a minimum, unsettling.''
March 2, 1991: On the morning of March 2nd, Hersh writes, ``McCaffrey
reported that, despite the ceasefire, his division had suddenly come under
attack from a retreating Republican Guard tank division.'' There was
disagreement among the officers assigned to McCaffrey's mobile
headquarters, Hersh reports, about the significance and strength of the
Iraqi attack and about whether there had indeed been an attack at all.
There was also profound disagreement over the appropriate level for the
division's response. Nonetheless, McCaffrey, after a delay, ``ordered an
assault in force -- an all-out attack,'' Hersh writes. The assault
destroyed some seven hundred Iraqi tanks, armored cars, and trucks.
``Many of the generals interviewed for this account believe that
McCaffrey's attack went too far, and violated one of the most fundamental
military doctrines: that a commander must respond in proportion to the
threat,'' Hersh writes. ``That's the way we're trained,'' one major general
tells Hersh. ``A single shot does not signal a battle to the death.
Commanders just don't willy-nilly launch on something like that. A
disciplined commander is going to figure out who fired it, and where it
came from. Especially if your mission is to enforce a ceasefire. Who should
have been better able to instill fire discipline than McCaffrey?''
In testimony before Congress and in written responses to questions sent to
him by Hersh, McCaffrey has said that the Iraqis attacked first and that
the subsequent response by the 24th was necessary to protect the lives of
American soldiers. But, Hersh reports, McCaffrey's version of events was
disputed by soldiers and officers who were at the scene on March 2nd. The
assault ``was not so much a counterattack provoked by enemy fire as a
systematic destruction of Iraqis who were generally fulfilling the
requirements of the retreat,'' Hersh writes. McCaffrey, in his written
responses to Hersh, says, ``I believe that my actions at Rumaila were
completely appropriate and warranted in order to defend my troops against
unknown and largely unknowable enemy forces and intentions.''
Among McCaffrey's harshest critics are several of his fellow Gulf War
generals. ``There was no need to be shooting at anybody,'' Lieutenant
General James H. Johnson, Jr. (Ret.), then the commander of the 82nd
Airborne, tells Hersh. ``They couldn't surrender fast enough. The war was
over.'' The officer in charge of enforcing the ceasefire, Lieutenant
General John J. Yeosock (Ret.), says, ``What Barry ended up doing was
fighting sand dunes and moving rapidly.'' He was ``looking for a battle.''
Major General Ronald Griffith, who commanded the 1st Armored Division of
VII Corps, says of McCaffrey, ``He made it a battle when it was never one.''
After the ceasefire, the rules of engagement had been revised; commanders
were to protect their troops and hold their positions but they were no
longer authorized to initiate offensive military actions on their own
unless they faced an imminent threat. In the two days following the
ceasefire, McCaffrey had moved his forces toward an access road Iraqis were
using to retreat, Hersh reports, ``without informing all the senior
officers who needed to know -- inside his own division operations center at
XVIII Corps, and at Third Army headquarters.''
Early on March 2nd, a Scout unit reported to McCaffrey's command post that
it was being fired upon by the retreating Iraqis and that it had returned
fire in self-defense. The Scouts were attacked by several different types
of weapons, McCaffrey writes, and ``direct fire from T-72 tanks,'' adding
that the rocketing continued later that morning. There was a delay after
the initial American response, which destroyed several Iraqi tanks and
guns, while McCaffrey decided what to do and his subordinates debated the
nature of the Iraqi threat and the appropriate American response. Some
officers were in favor of engaging the Iraqis and some were not. Major
General John Le Moyne, then commanding the 1st Brigade of the 24th Division
as a colonel, tells Hersh, ``there was absolutely no doubt in my mind''
that the attack was justified. Lieutenant General James Terry Scott (Ret.),
then an assistant division commander, says, ``Eventually, we became
convinced that it was a real, no-shit attack by the Iraqis.'' Others saw it
differently. ``There was no incoming,'' Patrick Lamar, McCaffrey's
operations officer, tells Hersh. ``I know that for a fact.'' Lamar
describes the battle as ``a giant hoax,'' although he also told Army
investigators that McCaffrey's response was ``necessary.'' To Hersh, Lamar
says, ``The Iraqis were doing absolutely nothing. I told McCaffrey I was
having trouble confirming the incoming.''
According to many of the enlisted men Hersh spoke to who were on the scene,
there was nothing like an Iraqi attack forming the morning of the 2nd.
James Manchester, a Scout positioned well forward of the main force,
remembers thinking, ``It's over, it's over. These guys are going home. It
was just a line of vehicles on the road.'' Edward R. Walker, another Scout,
tells Hersh, ``Many of the Iraqi tanks were on flatbed trucks and had their
turrets tucked backward.'' When Manchester heard a captain saying on the
radio that the Iraqis were about to launch anti-tank missiles at his tanks,
he was incredulous. ``We are sitting right on top of these people,'' he
says, referring to the Iraqis, ``and there are no vehicles pulled off.''
The captain calling in this information, he says, was behind him and could
not see the line of vehicles.
February 27, 1991: On the afternoon of February 27th, the day before the
ceasefire, James Manchester and other Scouts were manning a roadblock in
front of the main forces of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Ware's battalion.
Things proceeded routinely until, as Manchester recalls, ``A Buick comes
up, with the commander, and he surrenders his battalion to us.'' Vehicles
continued to arrive, including a hospital bus, according to Specialist
Edward Walker, who was in charge of counting the men. There were, he
remembers, 382 Iraqis. They were stripped of their weapons, Walker says,
and lined up in rows. One man, who had lost an eye, asked if he was now a
prisoner. When he was told that he was, he said, ``Thank, Allah.'' The
Iraqis were each given a ``a white piece of paper, if they didn't have
anything white,'' Sergeant James Testerman, who was also present, tells
Hersh. The lieutenant in charge of the Scout group, Kirk Allen, ``made it a
point to keep the battalion headquarters in the loop,'' Hersh writes. Allen
told the operations center that he had captured a large number of prisoners
and reported the precise position of the surrendered hospital bus.
According to Walker, Ware's headquarters ordered that the captured weapons
be destroyed, a task which fell to Walker himself. Then the Scout group was
ordered to move. As they drove away, the explosion detonated. At that
moment, Walker says, a platoon of Bradleys came into view rolling toward
the prisoners, and then the Bradleys' machine guns opened fire. ``I saw
rounds impact in front of the vehicle,'' Sergeant Steven Mulig, another
Scout, says. ``I could tell that they were hitting close to the prisoners,
because there were people running. There were some who could have survived,
but a lot of them wouldn't have, from where I saw the rounds hit.''
John Brasfield recorded radio transmissions that were being made by the
Scouts and their superiors while the Bradleys were firing toward the
prisoners of war, on a personal tape recorder he had brought with him to
the Gulf. ``The lead company behind us is tearing up all those vehicles,''
one man is heard saying. ``There's no-one shooting at them. Why'd they have
to shoot?'' asks another voice. Lieutenant Allen then reports to Lieutenant
Colonel Ware, ``There's shooting, but there's no one there to shoot at,''
to which Ware responds, ``I understand.'' On the tape, Brasfield says,
``They want to surrender. Fucking armored vehicles. They don't have to blow
them apart.'' Someone else says, ``It's murder.'' After more sporadic
firing, someone says, ``We shot the guys we had gathered up,'' and another
adds, ``They didn't have no weapons.'' At this point, Ware calls for all
firing to stop.
March 1, 1991: The day after the ceasefire was announced, Hersh reports,
another incident took place in which American soldiers stand accused of
shooting unarmed Iraqis. Sergeant Steven Larimore, who headed a
ground-surveillance-radar team, was assigned to work with Scouts from the
3-7 Battalion of McCaffrey's Command. Army troops had discovered a cache of
weapons in a deserted schoolhouse late in the afternoon of the 1st, and
Larimore's unit joined the Scouts in clearing the village and searching the
schoolhouse. The weapons were secured, Larimore says, and after taking
souvenirs, he and his men moved out toward the east, along with the Scouts.
There was a group of villagers walking in the area. ``One guy had a white
bedsheet on a stick,'' Larimore says, but ``out of the blue sky, some guy
from where we're sitting'' -- that is, in the Scout Platoon -- ``begins
shooting'' into the villagers.
Other machine guns joined in. ``We were screaming, 'Cease fire!''' Larimore
tells Hersh. ``People hit the ground. The firing went on.'' Larimore
estimates that he saw fifteen or twenty Iraqis fall. ``I did not see
anything that looked like return fire,'' he says. Another eyewitness,
Sergeant Wayne P. Irwin, who headed a different G.S.R. team that was in the
area, says the Iraqis were ``just passing through'' when the shooting
began. ``I yelled for them to cease fire. I couldn't understand why they
were firing.'' Irwin, a seventeen-year Army veteran, tells Hersh, ``To me,
they posed no threat to us-they were all in civilian clothes.'' Scouts told
Irwin that they had seen the Iraqis carrying ``grenade launchers and stuff
like that,'' but, Irwin says, he did not find that account credible. ``To
me,'' he says, ``they had nothing.''
Lieutenant John J. Grisillo was the platoon leader of the Scout team that
opened fire. Grisillo tells Hersh that Larimore, who confronted him at the
time, did not understand that his men were responding to a threat. ``They
raised a white flag,'' Grisillo recalls, but ``they were carrying weapons.
We fired warning shots, but they didn't stop.'' Because they were headed
toward the schoolhouse, a building known to contain weapons, they were,
Grisillo determined, a danger. Grisillo also tells Hersh that after the war
he spoke with his brigade commander, Colonel Le Moyne. ``He let me know
that he thought the G.S.R. guys didn't understand the situation at the
time,'' Grisillo says. ``Calls had to be made. It's not nice, but prudent.
If I had that situation again, I'd do it again. I've never lost a minute's
sleep about it.''
The Investigations: There were four Army investigations into the conduct
reported on by Hersh in his article. Each of these investigations found
that no criminal charges should be brought against anyone. Hersh describes
these investigations in detail.
Concerning March 2nd: In August, 1991, Colonel Ernest H. Dinkel, then a
deputy chief of staff for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division
(C.I.D.), was assigned by Major General Peter T. Barry to investigate
charges made in an anonymous two-page letter which had been sent from Fort
Stewart to the Army's Inspector General. The letter appeared to have been
written by an officer serving in McCaffrey's 24th Division command post.
``That's what scared everybody,'' Dinkel recalls. ``This was from someone
who was there.'' The letter alleged that McCaffrey was guilty of a ``war
crime'' in his March 2nd assault on the retreating Iraqis and that he had
urged his brigade commanders to ``find a way for him to go 'kill all of
those bastards.''' The letter also claimed that 24th Division soldiers had
``slaughtered'' Iraqi prisoners of war after seizing an airfield. Colonel
Dinkel and his investigators spent several weeks conducting interviews and
collecting data on the anonymous letter, at Fort Stewart and at Army bases
around the country, but they did not focus on the shootings on the 27th or
the 1st, Hersh reports. In the end, Dinkel and his assistants, after
interviewing more than one hundred and fifty men and women, including
McCaffrey, concluded that McCaffrey's actions on the 2nd were justified
because the Iraqis had fired first. They also concluded that no prisoners
had been mistreated. Nonetheless, General Peter Barry, the C.I.D's
commanding officer, explains to Hersh that by the time the investigation
shut down, the Army's senior leaders realized that there was ``a certain
element of truth'' to the allegations made by the anonymous letter writer.
``Whoever wrote the letter had detailed knowledge,'' Barry says. ``But
establishing the criminality is difficult.''
Concerning February 27th: Edward Walker told his story about the events of
February 27th -- the collection of the prisoners and the shooting
afterwards -- to a lawyer in Saudi Arabia. After Walker returned to his
home base in Missouri, the 1st Brigade began an inquiry into his
allegations. When he was asked if he had seen anyone actually get shot,
Hersh writes, ``Walker said what he always said: he hadn't seen any
prisoners fall, but he saw rounds being fired at them.'' The 1st Brigade's
investigation absolved Lieutenant Colonel Ware's battalion of any
wrongdoing. Le Moyne tells Hersh that Walker's claims were groundless. ``It
was not a hospital bus. There were no wounded. They were armed Iraqi
officers and soldiers.'' Steven Mulig and a few other Scouts had been
summoned to testify, but Mulig says, none of the officers wanted to hear
what they had to say. ``We were all getting upset,'' Mulig says, adding,
``It was just an officer cover-up kind of thing.'' The final report
concluded that, while the Americans had fired in the direction of the
Iraqis, no prisoners ``had been killed or wounded in the incident.''
Late in the spring of 1991, three members of the 5th Engineer Battalion at
Fort Leonard Wood told officials in the base's Inspector General's office
about the alleged shooting of Iraqi prisoners of war by soldiers from the
1st Brigade of the 24th Division. This investigation was conducted by Major
Thomas Mitchell. Mitchell says, ``The kids who came in were nice, and there
seemed to be some validity to what they saw. But we couldn't confirm
anything illegal.'' In the formal report that Mitchell prepared for his
superiors, he found that the 5th Engineer allegations were
Concerning March 1st: After his return from Iraq, Sergeant Larimore
gathered six of his colleagues in the Ground Surveillance Radar teams of
the 124th Military Intelligence Battalion and met with investigators at the
Fort Stewart branch of the C.I.D. The men described what they had seen on
March 1st, when Iraqis in civilian clothes had been shot near a schoolhouse
while holding a white flag. ``All six of us went and told what we knew,''
Larimore tells Hersh. ``The basic tenet was that we didn't see anybody
shooting at us'' before the 1st Brigade platoon opened fire. After they
made their report, Larimore and his colleagues heard nothing more from the
C.I.D. until Colonel Le Moyne, the 1st Brigade commander, announced that he
wanted to meet after work with the men in the chain of command. Once in Le
Moyne's office, Larimore says, ``We got this big long speech about how we
had never been in combat or in a firefight. We didn't know what it was
like. He ripped us pretty good.'' When Hersh interviewed Le Moyne, he
defended his meeting with Larimore and the other complainants as merely an
attempt ``to cut down on confusion. You gather the key people all in one
place, so there's no misunderstanding.''
Le Moyne's next step was to authorize a captain in his brigade to conduct
an informal investigation and file a report. ``The captain laid out the
course of his investigation,'' Larimore tells Hersh. ``He said there was a
group who observed no weapons'' among the civilians who had been shot and
``there were also people who said they saw weapons and muzzle flashes.''
The captain then concluded that the allegations of wrongful death were
``unsubstantiated.'' In Le Moyne's view, the case was now closed. The
investigation, he said, had produced a series of witnesses who ``totally
refuted the allegations.'' The soldiers' immediate superior, Lieutenant
Charles Febus, who had encouraged them to make their report, tells Hersh,
``They did their duty and filed their report. And the Army chose to do what
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