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Kerrey On Defensive

Five members of former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey's Navy commando team joined him in denying that they wantonly killed Vietnamese civilians during a wartime raid more than 30 years ago.

"No order was given or received to execute innocent women, old men and children as has been described by some," said a statement signed by Kerrey and five Navy SEAL mates published in Sunday's Washington Post. "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."

In a telephone interview Saturday with The Associated Press, Kerrey said it reflects the position of him and the five others that there is no truth to the allegations that they gunned down civilians or killed them with knives.

The statement was signed by Kerrey and former SEALs Rick Knepper, Mike Ambrose, Lloyd Schrier, Gene Peterson and William H. Tucker III. The other five had not spoken publicly on the issue before Saturday.

Hill Reaction

Some of Bob Kerrey's former Senate colleagues who served in Vietnam said Sunday they have little desire for a Pentagon investigation into his recent admission that civilians were killed during a mission for which he won the Bronze Star.

"To now talk about an investigation, it seems to me, is just the wrong way to go," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told ABC's "This Week." "If the Pentagon asked me, I'd say no."

Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a member of the Armed Services Committee, told ABC he does not think an investigation is warranted, as did Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. "There's no point in it, I don't believe...Let it play out, but I don't think we need an investigation here," Hagel said.

In an editorial in Sunday's Washington Post, Kerry, Cleland and Hagel said Kerrey's admission "demonstrates the courage we all have known in him for years."

"Many people have been forced to do things in war that they are deeply ashamed of later. Yet for our country to blame the warrior instead of the war is among the worst, and, regrettably, most frequent mistakes we as a country can make," they wrote.

Asked if Kerrey should give back his medal, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a prisoner of war for more than five years, said that would be "a decision that Bob would make." (AP)

The seventh member of the unit known as Delta team, Gerhard Klann, claims in interviews published in Sunday's New York Times Magazine and to be broadcast on CBS News' 60 Minutes II/b> on Tuesday that civilians were herded into a group and killed.

"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," the SEAL team members' statement said. "That simply is not true."

Kerrey has said he does not know Klann's "motivation" for making the charge, but he insists that the former colleagues remain on good terms.

Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator, meanwhile, accused The New York Times and CBS News of "collaborating" in a propaganda campaign to discredit Americans in the war.

"It's disgraceful," Kerrey told the AP. "The Vietnamese government likes to routinely say how terrible Americans were. The Times and CBS are now collaborating in that effort."

He continued: "What happened that night is bad enough...It is a disgrace that just brings back the memory of the war."

"I think he knows better," said Joseph Lelyveld, executive editor of the Times, when asked for comment on Kerrey's statement about alleged collaboration with the Vietnamese government.

"After many months of in-depth reporting, during which time the principals involved agreed, independently, to tell their accounts to 60 Minutes II, we believe we have produced a fair and balanced report of what happened at Thanh Phong," said CBS News President Andrew Heyward in a statement. "On Tuesday night, viewers will have the opportunity to hear these first-hand accounts of the events and draw their own conclusions. As with every report, our only interest is good journalism."

Kerrey, in speaking publicly last week about the raid, said that about 13 civilians were killed "by mistake" after his SEAL team was fired on and returned fire during a nighttime raid to capture or kill Viet Cong officials believed to be meeting in Thanh Phong on Feb. 25, 1969.

Kerrey was awarded the Bronze Star for leading the Thanh Phong raid and later received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military commendation, for an unrelated action in Vietnam.

The declaration of solidarity among SEAL team members came as a second witness in Vietnam told the AP the commando team had intentionally killed civilians during the attack.

Two Vietnamese women told reporters Saturday that they witnessed the killings in Thanh Phong, and their accounts closely echo Klann's account.

Bui Thi Luom, 44, said that women and children were rounded up and shot and that about 20 died. She recalled being told that one girl was "disemboweled," although she did not see it.

Pham Thi Lanh, 62, elaborated on her earlier account to CBS, describing how the intruders killed an elderly couple and their three grandchildren with knives. In her latest account, Lanh said the grandparents were decapitated.

Kerrey denied the Vietnamese women's allegations in the AP interview.

"They (the SEALs) received fire, and on returning fire, some innocent civilians were killed," he said. "Not once was an order given t round people up and execute them. They didn't disembowel anyone, and they didn't cut off heads."

Kerrey also said Lanh's assertion that the raiders wore "helmets" was untrue, and showed the "lack of credibility" in her statement.

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