With several reporters poised to break the story, former Sen. Bob Kerrey acknowledged today that the Navy SEAL unit he led in Vietnam killed civilian women, children and old men.
For 32 years, Kerrey says he has been haunted by what he did on Feb. 25, 1969.
Kerrey, president of the New School University in New York City, is a Medal of Honor winner and a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.
'Darkest Evening in my Entire Lifetime'
In an interview today with ABCNEWS' George Stephanopoulos, Kerrey acknowledged he killed people before and after that night. On that fateful night patrol in the Mekong Delta with six Navy SEALs he was commanding, Kerrey and his men came under enemy fire.
"And we returned fire, and we returned a lot of fire," Kerrey said.
But something went terribly wrong.
"By the time the firefight was over," Kerrey said, "we had, I don't know the total number…they were all women and children. All civilians…Every single one."
Kerrey now calls it a tragic mistake. But in a lengthy account posted on The New York Times Web site, Gerhard Klann, a man under Kerrey's command, describes the events of that night as a crime and accuses his former squad leader of intentionally targeting the civilians.
"I regret that he's got a different memory. Because it's not the same memory that I've got," Kerrey said. "We did not intentionally target civilians. Nobody in the squad that I talked to has the same memory that Gerhard's got. It doesn't mean that Gerhard doesn't have that memory. It doesn't mean that he's not tortured and tormented by that memory. I'm not going to criticize either his motive or his memory."
But Kerrey, a once and perhaps future presidential candidate may face criticism himself for concealing his story for so long. Asked if he regrets not coming forward sooner, Kerrey said, "Look, I wish I hadn't done it that night. Frankly, I don't give a damn about afterwards. What I tried to do is describe the darkest evening in my entire lifetime." George Stephnopoulos contributed to this report.