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JIM LEHRER: Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. On the NewsHour tonight, Kwame Holman updates congress' move toward a new budget, Ray Suarez talks to Palestinian Leader Feisal Husseini, Lee Hochberg reports from Oregon on the problems of the U.S. post office, and* we get five perspectives on then issues raised by the Bob Kerrey Vietnam war story. It all follows our summary of the news this Thursday.
JIM LEHRER: President Bush today ordered new efforts to help California save energy. He said federal facilities in the state must conserve electricity in times of heavy demand. They might have to turn off escalators and keep building temperatures at 78 degrees, among other things. In addition, the Defense Department is to reduce consumption in the state by 10%. At the White House, Mr. Bush said cutting energy use is only the beginning.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It is naive for the American people and those who purport to speak for the American people, some of those to say that we can be okay from an energy perspective by only focusing on conservation. We've got to find additional supplies of energy. One thing this administration will do is we are going to do our part when it comes to conservation in the state of California. But we will be honest with the American people.
JIM LEHRER: At that same meeting, Energy Secretary Abraham warned California could see 35 rolling blackouts this summer. And the President ordered him to go to California to discuss the situation with Governor Davis. The Governor said later the federal conservation effort was not enough. In California today, the state Senate approved formation of a power authority. It will enable the state government to buy, build and run generators. The State House had already voted for the measure. It represents a reversal of a deregulation policy that led to soaring prices and nearly bankrupt utilities. The House today neared approval of a compromise budget for the year 2002. It would hold most federal programs to spending increases of 5% next year. It also includes tax cuts of more than $1.3 trillion over the next 11 years. The Senate takes up the budget once it passes the House. And we'll have more on this story right after the News Summary. The U.S. will play an active role in the Middle East. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he got that assurance today from President Bush. They met at the White House thismorning. Afterward, Peres said again Israel wants the U.S. to facilitate talks with Palestinian leaders. He said Mr. Bush wanted to do so and was "totally devoted to the peace process."
SHIMON PERES: The United States started already to bring together the commanders of the two sides, and tried to introduce a real cease- fire, not a theoretic one, and it goes on, and America played the cure in doing so, and I believe they'll continue to do so.
JIM LEHRER: Later, President Bush said his administration is "actively engaged" in trying to stop the violence in the Middle East. But there was criticism today from a top Palestinian official visiting Washington. Faisal Husseini complained the president had not met with Palestinian Leader Arafat. He said the U.S. "can't go on listening only to the Israeli side." We'll talk to Husseini later in the program tonight. President Bush said today the U.S. would review military contacts with china case by case. They include ship visits and exchanges of military personnel. He said he'd pursue the activities only if they help overall relations. Word came yesterday that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's office had issued a memo cutting off all contacts with China. The Pentagon later said that memo was a mistake. In Macedonia today, the government launched a new offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels near the Kosovo border. Helicopter gun ships and artillery blasted targets in and around a village northeast of the capital. They attacked after rebels ambushed and killed two Macedonian soldiers there. The fighting began as Macedonia's president was winding up a visit in Washington. The United States was voted off the UN Human Rights Commission today. It had held the seat since the commission was formed in 1947 to investigate human rights abuses. The secret ballot was conducted by the group's parent body. A spokeswoman for the private group Human Rights Watch said other nations resented U.S. opposition to a land mine treaty and to the international criminal court. And that's it for the News Summary tonight. Now it's on to the budget numbers, Palestinian leader Husseini, post office problems, and the Bob Kerrey war debate.
JIM LEHRER: Kwame Holman has the budget story.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican leaders in Congress today hoped for swift and decisive votes on the largest tax cut in 20 years, and tighter federal spending limits. It wasn't quite the tax cut and spending plan President Bush originally proposed in his budget blueprint, but after several weeks of negotiations with Congress, the President still got most of what he wanted.
REP. JOHN SUNUNU: It's balanced. I think it's fair. It keeps us on the right course. It took a lot of hard work and compromise. People are quick to note that the President did not get 100% of everything that he requested in the budget that will pass in the House and Senate, but it still reflects his priorities and our shared priorities as Congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: For instance, the President wanted $1.6 trillion worth of tax cuts over ten years. The Republican-controlled House went along with that amount, but the evenly split Senate knocked the size of the tax cuts down to $1.25 trillion. This week, all sides agreed on tax cuts totaling $1.35 trillion, which includes a $100 billion rebate for taxpayers, much of it this year.
REP. ROB PORTMAN: And at a time when the economy is faltering, it is extremely important, even more important, that we allow people to keep a little more of their hard-earned money to be able to take care of their own needs, their own family needs, but also to ensure that we get back to the kind of economic growth that we all hope for in this country.
KWAME HOLMAN: The President also wanted to limit spending to a 4% increase over current levels. Again the House agreed, and again the Senate differed, and doubled proposed spending to 8%. All sides were able to come together on a figure of 5%.
CONGRESSMAN: When we were spending over the last couple of years increases of 8% to 12%, depending on who you talk to, and now we're restricting that spending to less than 5%, that's an amazing accomplishment.
KWAME HOLMAN: But it was a solid group of moderates in the Senate known as the centrists who forced the President to negotiate. And because of their success, approval of the budget by the full Senate today seemed a formality. But because all revenue-related bills must originate in the House of Representatives, the Senate could not vote until the House did, and that just wasn't happening.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Michigan.
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Speaker, I have a privileged motion at the desk.
CLERK: Mr. Bonior moves that the house do now adjourn.
KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, House Democrats, outnumbered and unable to defeat the President's budget on their own, used a series of procedural motions to delay debate and the vote on the budget.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Because of the outrageous procedures on the budget, I now move that this be taken by a roll call vote.
KWAME HOLMAN: Off the floor, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt complained Democrats had been ignored.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: This has not been a bipartisan procedure. They did not include our conservative Democrats in these negotiations. This has primarily been a behind-closed-door negotiation between Republicans. They've got a lot of problems on their side between their conservatives and their more moderate members. They still haven't worked out even those disagreements.
KWAME HOLMAN: Gephardt was right. A dispute between two of the Republican-controlled committees-- budget, which allocates money, and appropriations, which spends it-- forced House Republican leaders to pull the budget bill off the floor at midmorning. Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle tried to explain the nature of the dispute.
REP. JIM NUSSLE: Well, imagine if you will, 435, 535 members of Congress trying to order one pizza. Some like pepperoni, some like sausage, some don't like mushrooms, some want anchovies. And no matter what kind of pizza you order, you're going to have somebody who's not quite happy with the final product.
REP. JIM NUSSLE: Any time you put two committees with jurisdiction over how to carve up that pizza I was talking about before, how to make those decisions, you are going to have some squabbling.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: The problem, again, comes from the fact that there's not enough money in this budget to meet the legitimate needs of the American people. And the appropriators on the Republican side have figured that out, and that's why they're upset. And they want to know how these numbers work. They're about as much in the dark as we are. It's a sham. It's a fraud, and that's the reason they're having trouble on their side. And they may not get it done today; I don't know what they'll get done.
KWAME HOLMAN: And until the House completes its work on the budget, the Senate can't get started.
REPORTER: Have you had any discussions yet with Senator Lott about what the Senate will do, when you'll take it up?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The Senate will be asked to takeit up after the house has acted, but we are in no hurry. At this point I would be inclined to say we are going take all the time we need to look at it, be able to answer a lot of questions that so far have not been answered, and be as deliberative as possible. There is no hurry here.
REP. TOM DeLAY: For the past 100 days, members of the democrat leadership have devoted themselves to one thing and to one thing only: Total and complete obstruction. At every turn, Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle and the rest of the Democrat leadership have fought to increase government spending and to take more of American families' money.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reporter: Republican leaders spent most of the afternoon rewriting the disputed portions of the budget agreement. And the full House is expected to take a final vote near midnight. That would push the Senate's work well into early Friday morning.
JIM LEHRER: Now, to the second of our back-to-back interviews with Middle East visitors to Washington. Yesterday we talked with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres; tonight, Feisal Husseini, a top official with the Palestinian Authority. Ray Suarez has that.
RAY SUAREZ: Feisal Husseini has been an official with the Palestine Liberation Organization since 1964. He now serves as minister without portfolio in the Palestinian National Authority, with responsibility for Jerusalem. He's been in Washington meeting with members of Congress and State Department officials. Welcome.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, when he was leaving the White House today, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he was optimistic about the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. Does the Palestinian leadership share that optimism?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: No, actually, if you look to what happened yesterday and the multiplication of the Palestinian people not only destroying homes and fields and things likes this, but this step that they took yesterday to hold the meeting of the cabinet in the political... in illegal settlements, is a very dangerous message in which they are saying that we are not listening neither to the Palestinians nor to the international community.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary of State Powell this week called on both sides to, in his words, "knock it off." He said that peace is necessary as a breathing space for any progress to occur. Do you agree with that?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Yes, I agree that peace is important and stability is important to go and negotiate, but at the same time, I believe that we are people in an occupation. We are like any other people who are in occupation... People are demolishing homes, confiscating land. And so we are resisting that occupation, but to ask to us sit calm when we see that our land is taken day by day by the Israeli occupation and more and more settlements is built there...this is not acceptable.
RAY SUAREZ: But right now in the seven months of conflict, it's Palestinians who have been doing most of the dying. For your own people's sake, might there be some wisdom in standing down just to disengage, to perhaps save some lives?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: You know, sometimes the people are thinking in this way when they are giving the process that they must have something for that. But even after all of these victims, and then Israel is coming to us saying at first, "you must come, and then we will talk with you"; it means that they are not feeling of what happened to the Palestinians. They don't have the human feeling of these casualties for the Palestinians to tell us, "forget about everything; just stop your activities and then we'll think talking with you." I believe this arrogance cannot help any peace in the future.
RAY SUAREZ: The new American administration came into office saying that it would not place the same high priority as the Clinton administration did on helping negotiate a settlement. Yet, the Bush administration had been very tough on the Israelis when some of the land under the Palestine Authority had been occupied by Israeli soldiers; they've been calling on both sides to stop the shooting. What's your judgment of how the American administration has handled this since January, the new administration?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: I can say that there are steps, those steps of asking the Israelis to stop, and be tough with the Israelis in this method is a must. The American were supposed to take this position because in this case, they can save the peace process and they can save the American role in this peace process. Otherwise, if they are not going to interfere in the negotiations and to push things forward, and to leave the Palestinians and the Israelis fighting while they're knowing what kind of process between the Palestinians and the Israelis - in this case it will be that they are supporting completely the other side; this position of the United States is showing that it is not completely supportive of the Israelis and we hope that such policy and such toughness which was there on the ground to be also in the matter of other things like building more settlements, like expanding more settlements, like the evaluation of the Israelis for the international decisions, I believe we are in need of such a position for the United States. I hope the Americans will come quickly to this matter because as you said every day we are paying a very high price for the neglecting of the world - of what is going on, on the ground.
RAY SUAREZ: Are the Americans essential to the future of peace at this point? When he was here on the program yesterday, Foreign Minister Peres seemed to indicate that the Americans are quite important to the future of the bilateral relations between your two peoples.
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Yes. I believe that is really important. They are the power in this world - they are the people who are leading this peace process; they are very important and very important but in a way that they must use Israel in the right way - not to neglect on the ground, which is saying that the Israelis are occupying us, the Israelis are bombing us; the Israelis are confiscating our land - the Israelis are leading a policy of transfer people from their homes, especially when the Israeli Government has ministers like Mr. Asabi, who is the minister of transfer - in Israeli, when we have some statements from some ministers - who care calling that we must go, and hitting the Palestinians - until they come to us on their knees, and they have some - like Landau - who is saying that we are not fighting to reduce the violence, but we are fighting to end the terrorism and the Palestinian Authority have 10,000 terrorists - and we must fight them - until that we will end that - that means they are not searching for peace, and they are trying to implement something completely against the peace process by going completing the occupation, going on with the occupation, going on with the settlements, and what they did yesterday by holding their meeting in one of the illegal settlements in the occupied territories is very bad indication.
RAY SUAREZ: But Israeli leaders do point out that their citizensare dying in these confrontations as well, whether it's individuals inside the state of Israel who are being killed by bombers, or settlers who are moving through occupied areas in motor vehicles and buses who are being killed by snipers. They say, and the foreign minister said here yesterday, that the Israelis will not negotiate at the end of a gun.
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Okay. The one who is holding even - holding a heavy gun is the Israelis, and the one who is hitting and the one who is killing is the Israelis. Yes, there is some casualties for the Israelis. I am not undermining any kind of feelings for anyone, killing one, -- losing one - one is lost. I am not counting here how much the Israelis are losing, how much the Palestinians are losing, but actually the side who is using more than enough power is the Israelis. Yes, we have some people from our side who are acting and attacking civilians, but you must remember that the Israelis also have people who are attacking Palestinians. Not only individuals like Golda Stein in Hebron, who killed... But their police who kill the people where they are in... Like in the beginning of this intifada when they killed several people when no one was shooting, for a whole week no one was shooting. Palestinians have been killed without even having one single Israeli to be a judge. This reality is giving you the real picture -- that it is not... We are not talking about middle ship. There is one side who is attacking, who is maintaining the occupation, and another side who is defending and who is struggling for his own freedom, for his own dignity. He is resisting an occupation. And I would like to ask you, in whole history did hear about the occupation whose ended just like this? Did you hear about people who were under occupation and the land is confiscated every day and they are not going to resist against that occupation? Did you hear that in any place in this world that the one who is resisting the occupation of his own country be blamed, and that one who is implementing this occupation and moving his own people into his own settlements from his own country the occupied areas are not blamed?
RAY SUAREZ: Along with the new American administration, a new Israeli administration has taken office. What is the nature of your communications, the state of your dialogue with the new Sharon government?
FEISAL HUSSEINI: Unfortunately until now, because of the manner of this government and the way that they are dealing and the kind of minister they collect in this government, really there is no real communication between them, us and them. There is some security meetings between the people of the securities just to run some things of life here and there but is something complete, I don't believe that there is something. Yes, Sharon is sending his son from time to time. I don't know why did he choose his son. Did he believe that this was the Arab ...and we are dealing as families or as tribes? Maybe this is one of the things that Mr. Sharon is refusing to understand, that we are a people and we are not something under that, and thinking that we would be pleased to have his son talking with us. I didn't see his son. Maybe he is a marvelous man. But in the end, this mentality of trying to show that he knows and he understands how we are thinking and we will come with a certain act or certain decision believe that is the best the Palestinians must accept, and he will be surprised that we didn't accept it because not in this way people can talk with each other.
RAY SUAREZ: Feisal Husseini, thanks for joining us.
FEISAL HUSSEIN: Thank you very much.
JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, problems at the post office, and the Bob Kerrey war crimes debate.
JIM LEHRER: Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Broadcasting delivers the post office story.
LEE HOCHBERG: Last month's announcement that the U.S. Postal Service wants to raise the price of stamps three to five cents and possibly end the Saturday service read like a horror story at Powell's bookstore in Portland. A top Internet seller of used books, Powell's ships 800 priority mail packages a day, and says it needs Saturday pickup to stay competitive.
JANE WELLS: We need to move packages out of here every single day. We want pickups and deliveries seven days a week. So I think it's unfortunate to see that they're going backwards.
LEE HOCHBERG: Powell's took some of its business to other carriers after the postal service's last rate increase in January, which was 16% on some mail. Shipping manager Jane Wells says the proposed new hike could make Powell's rethink its reliance on the post office.
JANE WELLS: We would almost be forced, in order to keep our business going, to send things by other means.
LEE HOCHBERG: The Postal Service says it needs another hike because it faces a potential loss of $2 billion to $3 billion this year. The dire prediction came out of nowhere. The agency ran in the black in the late 1990s, and as late as last September, protected a surplus of $150 million for this fiscal year. But it now says labor and utility costs are up, and fuel expenses for mail trucks will be $350 million more than it expected. Add to that the fact that first-class mail, more than half the agency's revenue base, has stagnated.
WILLIAM HENDERSON: For the first time in our history, advertising mail outpaced first-class mail. Now, what does that mean? Well, it means that instead of delivering most of your mail as first-class to your house at 34 cents apiece, we're delivering mail at 17 cents apiece. So the actual revenue per piece of mail, if you take the entire volume of the Postal Service, is going down.
LEE HOCHBERG: Postmaster General William Henderson says the last months' slower economy means not enough people sending mail or buying stamps.
WILLIAM HENDERSON: We have horrible demand for mail, and it has just whacked us. I mean, we are really... We're really hurting for revenue.
LEE HOCHBERG: Competition from United Parcel Service and Federal Express has hurt. The post office says electronic communication has hurt too-- not so much casual e-mails, but electronic billings and payments. Last year, for example, the Social Security Administration transferred more than 500 million electronic payments directly into recipients' bank accounts. Only one out of four Social Security checks still goes by letter mail. And consumers, like many getting these bills from Portland General Electric, are opting to pay electronically.
NANCY MILLER: We've got about 20,000 people that are sending us Internet payments. We also have about 10% of our customers who are on automatic debit. It really has affected the checks coming in in the mail.
LEE HOCHBERG: But critics say the economy and e-mail are only aggravating what's really a much deeper problem with the Postal Service.
RICK MERRITT, Postal Watch: Here we have an organization that is massively bloated, has institutionalized, systemic problems relative to waste, fraud, mismanagement, and can't even break even when it has a monopoly.
LEE HOCHBERG: Rick Merritt heads the Florida-based citizens' group Postal Watch. Its web page blasts the Postal Service for increasing productivity only 11% in 30 years, far below private sector companies. It points to recent reports from the General Accounting Office and the Postal Service's own Inspector General outlining $1.4 billion of agency waste, fraud, and abuse over the last four years.
RICK MERRITT: This reads like Harvard Business School's guide of what not to do when you're trying to run a business.
LEE HOCHBERG: The Inspector General's Office says the Post Office paid for chauffeur- driven limos and town cars for postal managers' personal use. It details $467 million in fraud and waste in procurement programs. It notes the Postal Service paid managers $325 million in performance bonuses last year, though the agency already was running in the red. And it documents payments $250,000 to move two postal executives to new homes, though the homes were only 20 miles from where they originally lived. Postmaster Henderson defends those payments as necessary to keep good managers.
WILLIAM HENDERSON: Relocation benefits, while they were large, were completely within our regulations, completely within our policy.
LEE HOCHBERG: Critics say even if the agency reduces waste, it will continue to run deficits until it reduces its payroll. The Postal Service has a workforce of more than 800,000. Labor costs eat up 76% of revenues, far more than at competing UPS or Federal Express.
RICK BUSINESS: Their problem is that they've hired 238,000 workers since 1980. What they need to do is have a hard, enforced, predefined, long-term freeze on hiring, and that will basically solve e majority of their economic problems.
LEE HOCHBERG: The Post Office does plan to trim labor costs over the next five years but says it can't freeze hiring because it's required by law to keep staffing 26,000 unprofitable post offices. And it can't lay off letter carriers either because there are two million additional addresses each year to which letters need to be delivered. Portland-area letter carrier Jim McEntire:
JIM McENTIRE, Letter Carrier: A year and a half ago, this was a field. So as far as staying busy, I'm busy, sometimes more busy than normal, because of the growth.
LEE HOCHBERG: The agency is trying to be more entrepreneurial. It began selling advertising space on mail trucks and mailboxes in February. And it's trying to advertise itself too.
SPOKESMAN: ...The qualities that won Lance Armstrong the Tour de France. Now, they're available in
international delivery.
LEE HOCHBERG: It sponsored the U.S. Olympic bicycling team to promote Postal Service overseas delivery.
SPOKESMAN: Now you'll know which team to ride with.
WILLIAM HENDERSON: Lance Armstrong is a huge success for the Postal Service, on many fronts. The reason initially that we put together this team was for branding in Europe, and it's done a terrific job of branding the United States Postal Service in Europe.
LEE HOCHBERG: The agency says it ma $9 million last year on postal service product lines, things life Looney Toons key chains and pens; sweatshirts and bike team fanny packs. And it hopes to begin profiting from the e-mail business. Already it offers stamps and bill payments online through its web site, and recently it introduced a new electronic postmark that marks a verifiable time and date on e-mail messages.
SPOKESMAN: U.S.P.S. Electronic postmarks bring the trust, security, and power of the Postal Service's
brand to the field of electronic communications.
LEE HOCHBERG: But its detractors urge the post office to stop dabbling in the internet and focus on its core goal, delivering traditional mail.
RICK MERRITT: What in the world makes us thank that they can go out and compete with some dot-com company that's got a workforce that's willing to sleep under their desk 24 hours a day to program? They won't be successful at it any more than they had been successful at their previous ones.
WILLIAM HENDERSON: Unfortunately our hands are tied when it comes to some types of innovation. We can't change our prices in response to market changes.
LEE HOCHBERG: In an address in March to Post Office customers in Florida, Postmaster Henderson said the best way to improve the Postal Service's finances is to free it of congressional oversight. The agency wants to operate more like a business-- changing prices quickly, maybe offering bargain-priced stamps in the slow summer mailing season, but raising prices at Christmastime, or offering volume discounts to large mailers. Under the 1970 Postal Reform Bill, it's unable to do those things now.
WILLIAM HENDERSON: If we were a car dealership and we had no pricing freedoms, we would be the least competitive in that market. And today what you're looking at is a competitive enterprise with no price increase.
LEE HOCHBERG: At a congressional hearing in March, House members were skeptical about such reform.
REP. BOB BARR: I think there is just so much room for improvement in other areas; why you would bite off that at the beginning of this exercise is something I don't quite understand. I would urge you all to move that off of the table.
LEE HOCHBERG: Some suggest the threat to end Saturday service is just a tactic to force Congress to give the Post Office a longer leash. But Henderson insists the agency's economic slowdown is real.
WILLIAM HENDERSON: It doesn't help our brand-- we're a competitor out there-- to forecast losses. N I mean, that's not... That's not a fun thing to do for us. This is not a trick.
LEE HOCHBERG: The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the postal service's finances on may 15. A decision on a rate increase could be considered by July.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the Bob Kerrey story and the brutality of war; Spencer Michels begins with some background.
SPENCER MICHELS: For the past week, former Senator Bob Kerrey, now a university president, has agonized publicly over the activities of one night 32 years ago.
FORMER SENATOR BOB KERREY: Every person who has gone into war has struggled with the question: Did I do it right? And I've struggled with that question privately since February of 1969, when I led a squad of U.S. Navy Seals on an operation in which we received fire, returned it, and then found that only apparently innocent civilians had been killed.
SPENCER MICHELS: On February 25, 1969, Bob Kerrey, then a 25- year-old Navy lieutenant, led a combat mission in Vietnam. During the action, more than 20 unarmed civilians, including women, children, and an elderly man, were killed. The attack took place in the dark of night in the small hamlet of Thanh Phong in the Mekong Delta. Kerrey was later awarded the Bronze Star for, according to the citation, 14 Viet Cong killed in action. He earned a Medal of Honor and lost part of his right leg in a grenade blast during another mission he led a month later. Kerrey's recent revelations about Thanh Phong came after one of his Navy Seal squad members gave a different account of what happened that night to the "New York Times" and "60 Minutes." Gerhard Klann, the most experienced soldier on Kerrey's squad, said the civilians were deliberately targeted on Kerrey's orders because the American troops feared they would alert the Viet Cong. Kerry commented on the danger.
FORMER SENATOR BOB KERREY: This was a free-fire zone. This was a hostile area. We did expect to find military in there. In fact, we had reliable intelligence that there was going to be a meeting there that evening, and I have every reason to believe that there were soldiers in that area and every reason to believe that the fire we took came from them, and every reason to believe that our lives were in danger.
SPENCER MICHELS: Friday, Kerrey and the five other members of his seal team met privately and then issued a signed statement which said: "One of the men in our squad remembers that we rounded up women and children and shot them at point-blank range in order to cover our extraction. That simply is not true...No order was given or received to execute innocent women, old men and children as has been described by some We took fire and we returned fire. Our actions were in response to a dangerous situation that we know for certain could have resulted in our deaths." At the Pentagon, officials have said it's possible they'll review Kerrey's Bronze Star citation and his report of the event. On Capitol Hill, Kerrey's former Senate colleagues, some of whom are also veterans, said they don't want to see a Pentagon investigation. They spoke Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) Massachusetts: They made a decision, a decision I think they regret enormously, but it's one that America has to be very wary of trying to second-guess 32 years later in our positions.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R) Nebraska: Civilians get caught in the middle of this, and especially in a war when, in fact, we didn't know who the enemy was or where the enemy was. They didn't have lines and they didn't dress like a soldier.
SPENCER MICHELS: The question of a war crimes investigation was raised. In the "60 Minutes" report broadcast Tuesday Kerrey responded, saying: "To describe it as a war crime, I think is wrong. Or to describe it as an atrocity, I would say, is pretty close to being right because that's how it felt, and that is why I feel guilt and shame for it."
JIM LEHRER: Some perspective now on the issues raised by the Kerrey story. Retired Marine Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor was an infantry platoon leader in Korea and had two combat tours in Vietnam where he was a military correspondent for the New York Times. He's now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Johnathan Schell covered the Vietnam War for the New Yorker Magazine; he's now a correspondent for the Nation Magazine; Wallace Terry was a Vietnam War correspondent for Time Magazine; he's the author of "Blood: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans"; he's now a contributing editor at Parade Magazine. William Dannenmaier was an army radio man and scout during the Korean War; he's a retired Professor of Education, author of "We are Innocents and Infantrymen in Korea." Father Bryan Hehir, professor at the Harvard Divinity School, he's written extensively on ethics, foreign policy, and military intervention.
Jonathan Schell, should there be a Pentagon investigation of this?
JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, I think there should be; furious and credible allegations of a war crime have been made; they've been contradicted by others; they've been corroborated by still others. I can't see how this country can afford not merely to know the truth about what happened. I can't see a reason not to find out...
JIM LEHRER: General Trainor, how do you feel?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.): Jim, I don't think there's any practical purpose to conduct an investigation. Recently, I spent 18 months as an outside adviser to the Secretary of Defense on another atrocities story that took place in July 1950 in Korea, and there was a long, exhaustive investigation, and we knew midway through there we would never come get the ground troop because there was such inadequate resources available, contradictory testimony, memories that were vague, and I think we'd run into the same thing in this case. And then at the end of the day what do you have? Do you have the basis for a war crimes trial, with the worst coming to life? I don't think something like this would ever stand up in court for the very reason that we'd never get to ground truth - because the full data is not there. And I think the only result that would come from something like this is to reopen terrible wounds that were inflicted on the country by the War in Vietnam.
JIM LEHRER: Wallace Terry, how do you feel?
WALLACE TERRY: I agree. Jim, I think sometimes we forget what Sherman said about war, that war at best is barbarism. And I think that war basically is an atrocity and there are atrocities on all sides. I think this is a sad and tragic small sample of what took place in Vietnam, and I think it does no good to open the sore and expose it in a way more than it's been exposed already. I think it's up to the Senator to apologize for what happened, because obviously something terrible did happen - and I think it probably be not so much to whether or not he goes beyond the rules of conduct of war as the Americans believe it to be, but that he was a young officer, what we call a cherry officer -- he left- he went out on a terribly dangerous mission, a mission that he was not prepared for, not trained for, and should have been along - other people should have gone along with him that perhaps would have kept him the panic that seems to have taken place and caused him to go across the line.
JIM LEHRER: Father Hehir, where do you come down?
FATHER BRYAN HEHIR: My own sense is that there is an enormous amount of ambiguity around this, and an investigation probably would not provide crystal clear delineation of either responsibility or even final judgment. At the same time, my own sense is that precisely because there's such different accounts of the story, it is now part of our public life. I think some clarity would come from independent analysis of it and that, therefore, it is useful to pursue that.
JIM LEHRER: Bill Dannenmaier.
WILLIAM DANNENMAIER: I - I think there is no way at this time to discover the truth of what happened there. For one, you don't know if those women were carrying arms; number two, you don't know how many Viet Cong were there who might have been dragged away by these efforts. There's no way of finding the truth. I know a lot of infantrymen and since my book came out, I've had others call. I don't know of any working infantrymen who ever deliberately or knowingly or willingly killed innocent people; however, I do and have known other people where they have done killings that they wish they hadn't and 70 years later, 50 years later they remember at the age of 70 the things they did that they now wish they hadn't done in the first place. Senator Kerrey has given all of his life to the service of this nation, and now people who've never been there want to investigate. Are we going to investigate all of us who are in combat? I don't know anybody who was in combat who didn't do things that they were sorry about afterwards.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let's go back to Jonathan Schell. Mr. Schell, take us through now what you think would be accomplished by an investigation, at least trying to get to the bottom of what happened 32 years ago.
JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, of course it's entirely possible that if you do an investigation, that you would not get to the truth, but you can't know that until you do the investigation. I think there's a very practical and urgent reason for pursuing it as far as we can. For one thing, I think the Army itself needs that, because it needs to set a standard for its own troops, to make sure that doesn't happen again, that kind of thing, we don't get in it again. But another reason that's a larger reason is that all around the world today, countries are trying to face dark deeds in their past. We see that in South Africa, in Eastern Europe, and South American, and we've even established international criminal courts to bring crimes of war to justice and the United States has supported that very strongly. And that effort has a very great historical importance right at this moment. If the United States refuses to do all it can to find out what its own people have done in committing what looks like a terrible crime, then our voice is going to be weightless in those councils. That is going to be very, very unfortunate for the United States and for the rest of the world itself, I say.
JIM LEHRER: What about that argument, General? We can't have a double standard. Everybody else's alleged crimes get investigated, but not ours.
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.): Jim, there is no need to set a standard. The standard and it existed then. It is against the rules and laws of land warfare to kill innocent civilians or prisoners. That is clear and absolute now as it was then. The problem in this instance was the complexities that went into the situation.
JIM LEHRER: What would be the harm, General, as Jonathan Schell says, of trying to find out what happened-- maybe, as Jonathan Schell says, that Bob Kerrey and his colleagues did nothing wrong. They didn't violate the rules of war. What is the harm in trying to find out?
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.): Well, that would be marvelous if we were assured of the outcome, but there is such misinformation, lack of information and contradictory information in this very ambiguous situation that I don't think that you'll ever get to ground truth.
JIM LEHRER: Bill Dannenmeier, is that your point too, that if Bill Kerrey and his troops did do something wrong, it shouldn't bear investigation, we should move on; that's the accident of war and combat?
WILLIAM DANNENMAIER: That in a way is - in a way I agree with it, but not really. I'm really reacting to that business of standards of ours and rules and regulations. It is against all standard conduct for people not in uniform to carry rifles and fight in the war. It's against standard conduct for women to come forward and shoot people. It's against standard conduct for six and seven and eight year old children to bring grenades up and stick them in soldiers' pockets; those things happened in Vietnam, and they happened in the early days in Korea. And the very idea that you can say that war can be civilized is stupid.
JIM LEHRER: Wallace Terry, what about that? Civilized people commit uncivilized acts in war and is there any to judge it is really whatBill Dannenmaier is saying?
WALLACE TERRY: Well, you've taken a descent into hell when you enter a war, we need to understand that, that there is no clean way to fight a war. And in Vietnam, we were fighting within a country that was torn apart by a civil war. We had no idea who was on our side and who was against us, and the very journal on which I worked for two years -
JIM LEHRER: Time Magazine.
WALLACE TERRY: Time Magazine - the political reporter that I depended on who took me into the palace, into the inner sanctums of the South Vietnamese military and political structures was himself a Viet Cong lieutenant colonel who retired out a brigadier general. The enemy was sitting in my lap, and I didn't know who he was; nor did the Vietnamese who worked for me knew that he was a Communist soldier.
JIM LEHRER: But how do you come to the fact that okay, maybe this - maybe the charges against, the allegations against Bob Kerrey and the others are true? Do we just move on?
WALLACE TERRY: Jim, we've been down that path before with the Mila episode, and I think we tried to cleanse our soul as a nation when that took place. But if we're going to go after Bob Kerrey, why not go after the people that sent Bob Kerrey over there, beginning with Henry Kissinger, who extended the war four more years after we knew it was a failed exercise, or for that matter Robert McNamara, who's still with us.
JIM LEHRER: But does that excuse individual soldiers?
WALLACE TERRY: No. You have to have a standard, and I think Bob Kerrey has to continue his soul searching. If he feels the Bronze Star was not rightfully his return it; make a clean confession of what he feels this whole episode represents, and then we move forward from there. This was one more smear against our noble Vietnam veterans, and I don't think we need to continue it.
JIM LEHRER: Smear on behalf of what, by the New York Times and CBS?
WALLACE TERRY: No, by the episode itself.
JIM LEHRER: By the episode.
WALLACE TERRY: And its revelation - yes.
JIM LEHRER: Father Heheir, how would you define the purpose in pursuing this investigation?
FATHER BRYAN HEHIR: Well, I think in light of our discussion so far, it's really important to distinguish two different things; that is to say the establishment of objective standards, the need to have them, even though war is ambiguous and tragic and awful, people have tried for centuries to set limits on how awful it is, and that's a worthwhile enterprise. And we've tried to do that, so the objective standards, it seems to me, need to be constantly reiterated, and that's the first point, and we shouldn't, I think, eviscerate them by saying war is awful; it is. But it is much worse if there are no limits on it. Secondly, they're a subject of considerations. Now this is where an investigation would go and would have to be very careful to acknowledge that things that could be objectively wrong, people could have done because they were under subjective pressure or bad judgment, or their assessment of the situation. You can't make an overall moral judgment without bringing those subjective things into consideration that oftentimes mitigate - mitigate greatly responsibility even when you think the thing is objectively wrong.
JIM LEHRER: So it could be possible that the Kerrey troops killed innocent civilians and yet it still wouldn't constitute a war crime?
FATHER BRYAN HEHIR: Not necessarily...once you examine the subjective criteria. I think the other point that has to come in here is the policy framework under which they were working. It's a mistake to go precisely to individual actions in a vacuum. The question of what the policy guidance they were given and under which they operate would have to be part of any investigation. It has been reported again and again that this was a free fire zone, and that was one of the norms used in Vietnam for policy. The question about whether that's an adequate policy guidance for individuals, whether that's good policy to assume that anyone in the area is automatically vulnerable, that has as much to do with an investigation as any individual decision made under extraordinary pressure.
JIM LEHRER: General Trainor, do you agree with that? Explain to us anything you want to add or subtract to the definition what are free fire zones, because Senator Kerrey mentioned that as well at his news conference.
LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.): Yes, well, a free fire zone was a geographic area that was carved out on a map, and the presumption was that anybody that was in that area was hostile, a VC, because the Government, anyone who favored the Government forces, had been removed, so therefore, any unit that went into that area, had to go on the assumption that they were under threat from hostile people, regardless of whether they were man, woman, or child, because as we know in that war and has been pointed out early in this segment, that women and children were a very active part of the VC operations. Then the other item was the rules of engagement. These governed the conduct of troops in the field, which means, when can you use lethal force? And at that particular time and under those circumstances the judgment was made or was left up to the commander of the unit that if he felt threatened, then he could use lethal force, but there was no definition of what threatened meant; that was left up to the judgment of the individual, and the climate at the time, Jim, was that Robert McNamara and those around him were assessing our success in the war by the number of VC that were killed, and therefore whether it was man, woman or child, innocent or guilty, if they were dead, almost by definition they were considered VC to
increase the count to satisfy Robert McNamara's desire to bean count success or failure in the war.
JIM LEHRER: Jonathan Schell, is there any way to pursue this without opening all those kinds of things all over again that the General and other people have talked about, about Vietnam? Is that a good thing for the country to do right now?
JONATHAN SCHELL: This question has arisen; I don't think we can duck it. I do think it's important to ask what the policies were de facto and otherwise. General Trainor has rightly said that there is a standard on the books written there, but the fact of the matter is that it was massively - and I would say it was systemically violated by American forces in Vietnam, and this was done on orders at high levels, and the fact of the matter is that we aren't clear exactly how it came to be that the United States arrived at the really terrible policy of simply drawing a line around certain areas and saying that everybody in those areas could be killed at will. As far as I'm aware that was not articulated in any formal policy way, but it was indeed the practice, and I think it would be very useful for us as a country as we try to face ourselves and our own past and give advice to others to understand how we slipped into that kind of thing, and I certainly would hope, as Father Heheir has said, that that would be part of the investigation; it would have to be.
JIM LEHRER: But, Bill Dannenmaier, is there something special about Vietnam, or - you took the position these kinds of things happen in all wars, right?
WILLIAM DANNENMAIER: Absolutely. I have talked with men who were infantrymen from the Second World War, from Vietnam, and of course I was in Korea and from other fellows in Korea. It is simply always true. War is a nasty, dirty business, and there is no way of getting around it, and the infantrymen I've known, certain things are true in every war; they're always tense, because somebody's trying to kill you and it's 24 hours a day. It's seven days a week. You can't go outside to go to the toilet that somebody doesn't try and kill you. You've got the tension there; if you don't live with it, you die without it. You're always tired; all of the guys I knew were always exhausted; mostly, we were always hungry. I haven't heard that from Vietnam, but I have heard that from the Second World War, as well as from - I know it was true of Korea. The - you lose your sense of reality; you don't know what's going on anymore. I - you lose all - all you know is you're staying alive, you're finding food, and I said earlier, the infantrymen that I knew, the working infantrymen -
WILLIAM DANNENMAIER: -- never, never harmed people deliberately unless he thought it was necessary.
JIM LEHRER: All right. We have to leave it. Sorry, Mr. Dannenmaier. We have to leave it there. Yes, sir. Thank you all five very much.
JIM LEHRER: Again, the major stories of this Thursday. President Bush ordered federal facilities in California to conserve electricity in times of heavy demand. And on the NewsHour tonight, Palestinian leader Feisal Husseini said he hopes the Bush administration will get more involved in the Middle East and take a tougher line with Israel over Jewish settlements and other issues. We'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening with Shields and Gigot, among others. I'm Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
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Chicago: “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” 2001-05-03, NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
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