Notes on “The Redactions”

Redaction #1: Southern Legitimacy Statement

 

“Southern Legitimacy Statement” is an erasure based on the Ku Klux Klan’s membership requirements, and a “Frequently Asked Questions” statement posted on “The Knights’” U.S. website. The redaction was inspired (in part) by submission guidelines for The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, an online literary journal that requires all contributors to first draft a “Southern Legitimacy Statement.”

 

The KKK’s membership requirements are listed here:

http://kkk.bz/main/?page_id=70 and at http://kkk.bz/?page_id=2896.

 

The Mule’s guidelines for a Southern Legitimacy Statement:

http://www.deadmule.com/submissions/

 

Redaction #2: Secret #20290329: Release to the Control of Another Country

 

Release to the Control of Another Country is a reverse-redacted, classified military document downloaded through the Guantanamo Files server at http://www.wikileaks.org. Prisoner 970 (who is identified only by first name—Amanullah—in the Pentagon file) was arrested Feb. 11, 2003.

 

Despite the fact that Amanullah, a resident of the city of Paiwairza Village, Afghanistan, had merely run to the scene of an explosion, had found his son wounded, was carrying him home … U.S. forces arrested him. Thirteen months later he was found to be of low intelligence value. His mistake? While trying to carry his son home, he was caught in the crossfire when a battle broke out between Taliban and U.S. forces. When the battle ended, Amanullah was arrested, then deported to the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

 

Amanullah’s file does not reference any possible crime he may have ever committed (unless trying to administer first aid to a wounded son is an act of terrorism when ‘perpetrated’ by an Afghani), nor does it charge him with any crime. It does not present any evidence against him whatsoever. But after a year of incarceration (and we can reasonably presume torture), the Pentagon report does recommend his release … or “transfer to the control of another country for continued detention.”

 

By “reverse-redacted,” I mean I’ve attempted to highlight the absurdity of Amanullah’s capture and imprisonment, rather than obscure the essence of the report; usually a redaction hides the most egregious or damning evidence against (as well as the identifies of) those who’ve constructed the document.

 

My intention—by doing the reverse—was to highlight the cruelty inherent in determining Amanullah was of “low value,” then recommending he be discarded, by shunting him off to some random prison in some other random country.

 

There are 779 such reports at the Wikileaks site. Contrary to popular belief, the detainees are not exclusively the nationals of Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations. They are French. Chinese. Belgian. Canadian … Dutch. According to Pentagon reports, 22 of them have been children. Seven adults have died in captivity. And still they keep arriving. To disappear.

 

Amanullah’s non-redacted file is downloadable here: http://wikileaks.org/gitmo/prisoner/970.html

 

Redaction #3: Orders Beyond Fleeing

 

“Orders Beyond Fleeing” is a redacted Soldier’s Medal citation for Warrant Officer Hugh C. Thompson, Jr., U.S. Army—the only medal issued in U.S. history to a soldier who ordered his fellow soldiers to fire on U.S. troops. Thompson, a 24-year-old helicopter pilot in Vietnam, was flying a ‘draw fire’ mission March 16, 1968 when he spotted a wounded civilian lying near a road. He saw a U.S. soldier approach the woman, kick her, then execute her.

 

Thompson, in confusion and mounting rage, began his descent into the village of Mai Lai.

From the air, he spotted the bodies of women and children lying motionless in a ditch, and other unarmed women and children pursued by U.S. soldiers.

He and his two crewmen landed. Thompson dismounted, then confronted Lt. William Calley, a platoon leader in the U.S. Army’s 20th Infantry Regiment. Thompson demanded … an explanation.

 

The now-infamous Calley—responsible (along with Capt. Ernest Medina) for issuing orders that led to the murder of 504 unarmed civilians in Mai Lai—told him, “This is my business.”

 

After a brief argument, Calley, who outranked Thompson, ordered Thompson to “get back in that chopper and mind your own business.”

 

Thompson lifted off. But before he passed the outskirts of Mai Lai, he saw a group of 10 civilians running from soldiers, headed for a makeshift bomb shelter. He dropped the ship between the Vietnamese and the U.S. troops. As he dismounted, he ordered crew chief Glenn Andreotta and door gunner Lawrence Colburn to open fire on U.S. trooos if they fired either on him, or on the civilians.

 

In one account of the massacre, Thompson is quoted as having ordered, “If these bastards open up on me or these people, you open up on them. Promise me!”

 

He approached the bomb shelter, began coaxing villagers into the helicopter. He used the ship’s radio to contact another pilot, convinced him to land, to begin an evacuation. He talked a second pilot into landing, and that pilot began loading the wounded as Thompson’s crew continued to shield civilians from their attackers.

 

Thompson then radioed an area military commander and reported that U.S. troops were murdering unarmed villagers en masse. He demanded the officer issue a cease-fire order.

 

The order came almost immediately. The killing ceased.

 

These are not all the actions of Warrant Officer Thompson March 16, 1968. For most of us, even the briefest recollection of his actions … has faded from memory. History itself, perhaps from revulsion, has redacted him—not completely, although the Army has actively pursed Thompson’s erasure from military domains.

 

Thompson wasn’t awarded the Soldier’s Medal until March 6, 1996, in a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Army had approved the citation (also awarded to Colburn, and posthumously to Andreotta, who died in combat three weeks after Mai Lai) 18 months earlier, but military officials seemed reluctant to inform Thompson, or bestow the medal publicly.

 

According to Army regulations, the medal is awarded to a soldier or “members of friendly nations” who has “distinguished himself or herself by heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.”

 

It seems miraculous he lived to accept it. After Thompson filed formal accusations against Calley and the soldiers of C Company (by noon on the day of the massacre), the Army repeatedly sent him into hostile fire. According to a PBS profile, he was shot down four times in an 11-day period following Mai Lai. The fifth crash broke his back, ending Thompson’s career as a pilot.

 

He retired from the Army in 1983 at the rank of captain, then worked as a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs until 2005. In the ensuing years the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy occasionally invited him to give lectures to midshipmen and cadets. In a 28-page profile of Thompson available as a download on the subject of ‘ethics in the military’, Annapolis deftly skirts Thompson’s direct order to fire on U.S. troops. His bio has been ‘revised’ to state that Thompson was “prepared” to fire on fellow soldiers.

 

Nevertheless, the Academy doesn’t redact his account of Mai Lai—not when quoting Thompson lecturing midshipmen. Not, for example, when Thompson explained why he’d heard so little screaming from children that day. A day in which he says 179 children under age two were murdered.

“A lot of the girls didn’t scream too much,” Thompson told Midshipmen in one lecture, “ … because they had already cut their tongues out …”

 

During the 1969 Congressional hearings into the Mai Lai massacre he was called a traitor and a Commie. ‘Patriots’ left dead animals on his doorstep. He died Jan. 6, 2006. His parents believed in corporeal punishment. Andreotta waded into a ditch filled with bodies and found a two-year old still breathing, returned to the ship and laid the child in Thompson’s lap. They flew him to a hospital as other pilots continued to evacuate the wounded. In television interviews, after he’d grown old, Thompson ground his teeth and habitually canted his head to the left, as though in a perpetual slow roll, or in the comportment of someone attempting to resolve the face of a figure on some invisible horizon. He once said that “if history is written false, the future is a waste.”

 

                                                END

 

Note to editors: The Soldier’s Medal citation is available here:

http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=113312

 

Other resources related to Thompson’s actions at Mail Lai:

http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/learning_history/vietnam/peers_report.cfm

 

The U.S. Naval Academy’s profile of Thompson:

http://www.usna.edu/Ethics/_files/documents/ThompsonPg1-28_Final.pdf

 

*


Joel Preston Smith
born in South Charleston, W.Va., is a freelance writer and photographer based in Portland, Ore. He served as a U.S. Army journalist/photojournalist from 1987-1991.  His publication credits include New Madrid, Gobshite Quarterly, The Irish Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Oregonian and others. His photography is featured in the French-Canadian film Le Nerf de la Paix, (The Sinews of Peace, directed by Alexandre Kozminksi: 2007), and his photography is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Art, Houston.  He is the author of “Night of a Thousand Stars and Other Portraits of Iraq” (Nazraeli Press: 2006; author/photographer) and the co-editor (with Mary Bast) of Image Poem Iraq (forthcoming).”

 

 

 

 

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