Gulf War Battle Report Disputed
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey says an Army investigation just after the Gulf War refutes recently revived allegations that his troops violated a cease-fire and killed Iraqi prisoners.
Newly released documents show that in 1991 the Army’s criminal investigators interviewed dozens of soldiers and officers, reviewed maps and logs, and didn’t find evidence to substantiate allegations of wrongdoing under McCaffrey’s command of the 24th Infantry Division.
McCaffrey, now the White House director of drug control, has waged a pre-emptive strike against an upcoming New Yorker magazine article by Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has done new research on the charges.
McCaffrey complained to the New Yorker and writers and editors elsewhere that Hersh is spreading false allegations and engaging in ``journalistic stalking.″ Hersh responded that he was simply ``asking questions, listening to answers and trying to verify and assess what I’ve been told.″
At the heart of the dispute are events investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command probed in August and September of 1991, in response to an anonymous letter alleging war crimes.
Hundreds of pages of Army records released under the Freedom of Information Act provide new details about the fiery attack on a division of Iraq’s elite Republican Guard on March 2, 1991 _ two days after President Bush declared a cease-fire.
``Although the engagement occurred after the cease fire, this inquiry has substantiated that the engagement was clearly provoked by the Iraqis,″ said a Sept. 9, 1991, memo from the Criminal Investigation Command. The fight ``was within the cease fire rules of engagement.″
Some investigative documents were withheld by the Army, citing privacy concerns, and some were missing from files. Among records released are interviews with soldiers and officers, whose names were blocked out, describing what became known as the ``Battle at Rumaylah.″
A battalion of the 24th Infantry Division was surprised in the early morning darkness of March 2 by the appearance of a convoy of several hundred vehicles, including tanks, artillery, rocket launchers and trucks. The Iraqis apparently were leaving Kuwait and looking for a way to cross U.S. lines to the safety of home.
Soldiers of the 24th Division reported taking fire from an Iraqi tank and a missile and saw other weapons among the convoy pointed toward them. As a result, commanders ordered the Americans to open fire.
One officer at McCaffrey’s command post told investigators that while the attack was under way, ``I thought it was a slaughter. But the bottom line was he (McCaffrey) was doing what was necessary to protect the force because they had been fired on and nobody knew what these guys were liable to do.″
McCaffrey, who flew to the front lines to lead the attack, later told a Senate panel that his forces destroyed at least 630 vehicles and pieces of equipment. He didn’t estimate the number of Iraqi soldiers killed but said many fled their vehicles and escaped unharmed.
``While it is easy after the fact to say the Iraqis were beaten or unable to fight, our troops were under fire,″ McCaffrey wrote to the New Yorker on Monday in response to Hersh’s questions. ``This was a huge dangerous enemy force that posed a major threat to the integrity of my main battle area.″
The Army investigators’ memo also said that ``after extensive interviews with personnel from brigade and battalion commanders to privates, there was no evidence″ that soldiers at Jalibah Airfield ``killed or mistreated″ prisoners of war.
Investigators did find that one Iraqi prisoner was ``accidentally shot″ two days before the U.S. attack at the airfield, and the incident was reported up the chain of command.
The allegations surfaced in August 1991 in an anonymous letter alleging the attack after the cease-fire was ``a war crime″ covered up by military leaders and that soldiers ``slaughtered some prisoners after the Jaliba Airfield attack.″
In his response, provided to The Associated Press, McCaffrey said, ``Across this enormous confusing battlefield, thousands of Iraqi soldiers were treated with enormous compassion.″
McCaffrey, who was awarded a fourth star before retiring to become President Clinton’s drug policy adviser, points out that the Army investigation found ``no wrongdoing″ by any 24th Infantry Division soldier.
Hersh, who won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, also wrote ``Against All Enemies,″ a book about the Gulf War and the unexplained illnesses reported by its veterans.