Sources familiar with a year-long government investigation of the incident were cited in today’s Washington Post and New York Times.
The Pentagon investigation report is based on more than 100 interviews with U.S. veterans and on a review of more than one million pages of documents, according to the Post. The report will be the first formal government acknowledgment of U.S. military involvement in the killing of as many as 300 unarmed Korean refugees in July 1950, the first month of the Korean War.
The report is expected to be released in the next six weeks.
Investigators submitted the report to an eight-member civilian advisory panel last week, and U.S. officials began discussing the findings yesterday with representatives of the South Korean government in Seoul.
But the report is not without its critics. Former Congressman Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.), a Marine veteran of the Korean War and a member of the Pentagon’s civilian advisory board, told the AP he believes soldiers received orders to shoot, and said he plans to ask Secretary of Defense William Cohen to tell the Army to take another look at the evidence.
“We have seen statements from one officer and nine enlisted men at No Gun Ri who referred to those orders,” McCloskey said. “Unless the Army has information we have not yet seen, I can’t understand how they reached their conclusion.”
Four other members of the board declined NewsHour requests for comment.
Cohen commissioned the investigation after a September 1999 Associated Press article quoted dozens of G.I.s and Korean survivors who described a scene of American soldiers, reportedly acting on orders, machine gunning helpless refugees huddled under a railroad bridge. The AP won a Pulitzer Prize for its reports.
“There were so many dead people here next to the stream, and there were a lot of American soldiers around,” Park Hee-Sook, a No Gun Ri survivor, told the AP last year. “I didn’t want to die, so I piled the dead bodies on top of me.”
Norman Tinkler, a U.S. Korean War veteran, told the AP last year that troops did what they felt they had to in order to survive.
“Either shoot, stay alive or die,” he said “That’s all there was to it.”
And, according to AP reporter Martha Mendoza, one of the team of reporters following the No Gun Ri case, the troops were told to shoot.
“There’s orders to fire on civilians — remarkable, sensational orders that have, you know, stunned military historians when we brought them to them. They’re orders to fire on civilians at the time,” she told The NewsHour in May.
But other news organizations questioned the AP’s findings. U.S. News and World Report questioned the accuracy of one of the story’s main sources, veteran Edward Daily. When the AP went back to Daily with new information in May, he said he realized he could not have been at the scene of the shooting and must have heard the story second-hand.
But Mendoza said the story stands despite Daily’s reversal.
“Ed Daily told us about the shooting of a large number of civilians in South Korea. That happened,” she said. “The Pentagon has confirmed to the New York Times that they have now concluded that more than 100, I believe it was, people died there. The South Korean investigators have concluded the same thing.”
But the actual death toll at No Gun Ri is still unknown, the Post reports. The number reportedly killed by ground troops ranges from 200, according to U.S. veterans, to as many as 300, according to Korean survivors.
And some survivors allege that still more Koreans were killed in attacks from U.S. aircraft.
A report by CBS News in June cited a military document in which Army officials instructed U.S. warplanes to fire on groups of South Korean refugees fleeing toward American lines.
According to the memo, dated a day before the No Gun Ri incident, the Army was concerned that “large groups of civilians, either composed of or controlled by North Korean soldiers, are infiltrating U.S. positions.” But, the memo warned, targeting civilians “may cause embarrassment to the Air Force.”
A Korean version of the report obtained by the AP quoted the U.S. version as saying both sides “understand that from July 25 to 29, 1950, there was no written or verbal order to kill any noncombatant Korean personnel around No Gun Ri, but some U.S. soldiers assumed that there was an attack order after watching mortar and howitzer bombs [shells] falling in the crowd of refugees.”
The Korean report also underscores the different estimates of casualty turned up by American and Korean investigators, but concludes American troops killed an “unknown number” of civilians in the attack.
The Post said the report will not be officially released until U.S. and South Korean officials to come to a consensus about what happened at No Gun Ri.