Senate Democrats are not jumping to defend the testimony on Vietnam that Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the Democratic presidential frontrunner, delivered before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971.
Kerry, a much decorated Vietnam veteran, lectured the committee that day on “the hypocrisy in our taking umbrage in the Geneva Conventions and using that as justification for a continuation of this war, when we are more guilty than any other body of violations of those Geneva Conventions, in the use of free-fire zones, harassment interdiction fire, search and destroy missions, the bombings, the torture of prisoners, the killing of prisoners, accepted policy by many units in South Vietnam.”
Two weeks ago, HUMAN EVENTS provided Kerry’s office with a copy of the 1971 hearing record and requested comment on this specific quotation. Neither Kerry’s Senate office nor presidential campaign responded.
This week, Freddoso showed some of Kerry’s Senate colleagues a photocopy of this quote taken from the record in the Library of Congress and asked them if they believed Kerry was right that the U.S. was “more guilty than any other body of violations” of the Geneva Convention.
Kerry said in his testimony that the United States was “more guilty than any other body of violations” of the Geneva Convention because of what we were doing in Vietnam. As his colleague and as someone who served in that same military, is that true?
SEN. DANIEL AKAKA (D.-HAWAII): I would say that that was his opinion. And I know of many people, including my former colleague [Rep.] Patsy Mink [D.-Hawaii], who were against that war. There were many members who felt that was something our country should not be involved in. And I did not participate in that war. I had my reservations about that war.
Sure, a lot of people did. But whether it was a good or bad war, were we more guilty than anyone else of war crimes? Were our soldiers violating the Geneva Conventions, and being the worst about it?
AKAKA: Well, once our country commits itself–you know, like this one–we need to support our troops. So I respect his opinion.
But when you say we need to support our troops–that’s not a good thing to say if you support them, is it?
AKAKA: No. Frankly, I didn’t think that that was a good decision, but what I’m saying is, when the country commits itself, we have to support the troops.
Do you think Kerry should just look back and say, “Hey, I was wrong, I should not have said that,” especially now that he wants to be President?
AKAKA: I respect his opinion. I know of other people, like I said, that didn’t think it was the right thing to do. But, as I said, whatever our country commits itself to, I support it. In that case, the leaders of our country at that time made the decision on Vietnam.
It may have been the wrong decision. But if Kerry’s opinion were true, wouldn’t we need to have a lot more war crimes trials? Do you think it was perhaps something very ill-considered to say?
AKAKA: Well, he’s saying it at that time, and he was in it. So I respect his feelings about what he said.
Kerry said in his testimony the United States was “more guilty than any other body of violations” of the Geneva Convention in Vietnam. Is that true?
SEN. WAYNE ALLARD (R.-COLO.): I don’t know, you go clear back to ’71, I don’t–you know, I wasn’t paying that much attention, but I do not believe that to be true. I think that we’re one of the best countries, at least in today’s terms, for civil rights and protecting individual rights.
Should Kerry repudiate this statement and others like it? I know they may be old, but because of that shouldn’t they also be easy to repudiate?
ALLARD: I don’t know the circumstances under which they were stated and what not. And–you say that was in front of a committee here?
Yes. April 22, 1971.
ALLARD: Is that right?
He was not in the Senate then, he was testifying as a war veteran.
ALLARD: And what was the statement he made?
Here’s a copy. He said it was hypocritical for America to use North Vietnamese violations of the Geneva Convention as a reason to continue the war, because, he says, “no one is more guilty than this body of violations of those Geneva Conventions.”
ALLARD: Well, I think he’s overly critical of the United States, just in general terms. I think that’s the best way to–and I don’t understand his criticism. I was also in the same era that he was, although I did not serve in the military. I don’t think there’s anything I can say beyond that.
In his 1971 testimony, Kerry said the U.S. was “more guilty than any other body” of violating the Geneva Conventions–
SEN. CONRAD BURNS (R.-MONT.): You want my reaction to that (points to photocopy)?
Well, is that true?
BURNS: Well, I don’t think so. No. I have no way of knowing whether they have been or they haven’t been. But as far as Kerry’s concerned, who is he to criticize? Who is he to criticize? When he decided to throw his medals away and join in a movement that was suspect at best, who is he to criticize what anyone does in this nation?
To become President, does Kerry have to repudiate that statement and others like it?
BURNS: We’re all going to be judged on what we’ve done, our actions. They’re out there. People should understand what they stand for. In other words, it was not a good gesture on his part. It was not a good gesture.
Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, among other things, [Kerry] said the United States was “more guilty than any other body” of violating the Geneva Conventions for what we were doing in Vietnam. Was he right?
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D.-CONN.): I don’t know the context of that, but I know that generally when you run for President, everything you’ve ever said is part of the public record. On the other hand, that has to be thirty years ago, and it has to be taken in context. It’s essentially the same with the President’s National Guard service. . . .
Senator, if I can harass you for just another minute, do you think it’s true, what he said?
LIEBERMAN: Well, this is back thirty years ago. Of course I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think it was true then.
Do you think Kerry should say something about or repudiate–
LIEBERMAN: Oh, I think that’s up to him.
Among the things Kerry said in his testimony was that the United States was “more guilty than any other body of violations” of the Geneva Convention–you know war crimes, basically–he could be saying either that we were the worst in the Vietnam War or the worst in the world. Is that true?
SEN. BILL NELSON (D.-FLA.): I don’t know. I don’t know what he said.
Well, it was specifically that: “We are more guilty than any other body–“
NELSON: I haven’t had a chance to take a look at it. So I don’t want to comment until I know what I’m talking about.
Among the things Kerry said in his testimony was that the United States was “more guilty than any other body of violations” of the Geneva Conventions for what we did in Vietnam. Is he right?
SEN. MARK PRYOR (D.-ARK.): I don’t know. I don’t have any comment on that. It’s 1971, he was over there, so I wouldn’t know what to say. If it was made when he was young and caught up in the moment, and this is something he genuinely believed in then, and maybe still believes in, I just wouldn’t know that.
It is thirty years ago, but do you think it would be a good idea for him to back away from that comment?
PRYOR: Well, I just want him to tell the truth, no matter what it is. If he still feels that way–
If that’s true, shouldn’t we be putting more people on trial for war crimes?
PRYOR: Again, I just don’t know. I don’t have any idea about the accuracy of that, or what he said, I really don’t have any comment on it. I’m sure, though, that people will try to dredge up things he said from way back when, just like they will with President Bush. This is the same time frame as his National Guard service. So both sides will try to go way back. I guess voters certainly have the right to know that, weigh that, but I think most people, 30, 35 years ago–well, anyway, we’ll see what they think.