Investigation leaves key question unanswered

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Investigation leaves key question unanswered


EDITOR'S NOTE: Charles J. Hanley is a member of The Associated Press' Pulitzer Prize-winning team that reported on the shootings at No Gun Ri.


Charley J. Hanley (Associated Press Special Correspondent)

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Copyright 2001 By The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Reports by U.S. and South Korean investigators Thursday ended decades of official silence on the refugee killings at No Gun Ri, but left a core question hanging: Who bears responsibility?
In trying to explain why U.S. troops shot "an unknown number" of civilians at the South Korean hamlet in 1950, investigators stressed that the American soldiers were "young, under-trained, under-equipped and new to combat." They noted the unit involved had recently lost many of its sergeants. They said the officers were "leaders with limited proven experience in combat."
The U.S. investigative report does not seek to assign blame to any particular inexperienced officers or novice soldiers for the chain of decisions and actions that left dozens if not hundreds of South Korean villagers dead over three days in late July 50 years ago.
"If there was a place to fix command responsibility in this report, we would have," Lt. Gen. Michael W. Ackerman, the Army inspector general and investigation chief, told reporters.
Instead, the 192-page report describes a period of disarray, poor leadership and confused troops in the early deployment of U.S. Army divisions in the Korean War, and says the passage of 50 years "greatly reduces the possibility that we will ever know all of the facts" of No Gun Ri.
"If we could have found a smoking gun, it would have been in this report," Ackerman said.
The wrap-up report seeks to distance the killings at No Gun Ri from a series of high-level command orders uncovered by The Associated Press that instructed U.S. troops in the Korean War's early days to "stop," "shoot" and "fire on" South Korean refugees fleeing the North Korean invaders and trying to cross U.S. defense lines to safety.
In doing so, the U.S. investigators' report did not cite a key order and a key passage of another document.
In the first, the investigators wrote that a 25th Infantry Division command to view civilians in the war zone as "enemy" and treat them "accordingly" did not "suggest any summary measures." But the report fails to mention a division staff follow-up order that civilians be "considered as unfriendly and shot."
In the second, both the executive summary and the main report left out a critical passage of a U.S. Air Force document, in which a ranking officer noted that U.S. planes had been attacking refugee columns. Just a day later, survivors say, their refugee families were strafed by U.S. planes at No Gun Ri.
Such orders stemmed from American commanders' fears that enemy infiltrators were disguised among refugee columns.
One order _ to "stop" refugees from crossing U.S. lines _ was issued to all units at the front just hours before the No Gun Ri shootings. The U.S. investigative report's executive summary said the 7th Cavalry Regiment troops at No Gun Ri had received a "stop" order before firing on the refugees there. But it does not identify who issued the order.
"To suggest that there is a specific individual who had more responsibility than another was not really the purpose of the report," said Charles Cragin, a deputy assistant defense secretary, in releasing the investigative report. "The purpose of the report was to find out what happened at No Gun Ri."
In Seoul, South Korea, Chung Koo-do, spokesman for the survivors of No Gun Ri, said that an investigative report that does not deal with command responsibility "cannot be construed as anything other than a Pentagon attempt to whitewash the massacre."

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Charley J. Hanley (Associated Press Special Correspondent), “Investigation leaves key question unanswered,” No Gun Ri Digital Archives, accessed July 5, 2020,