W A S H I N G T O N, Dec. 6, 2000 -- An Army investigation has found that American soldiers panicked and fired into a group of unarmed refugees near the hamlet of No Gun Ri in the early days of the Korean War, but it did not find conclusive evidence that they had orders to kill thecivilians, a newspaper reported.
The story, in today’s edition of The Washington Post, saidmilitary investigators were unable to determine how many civiliansperished in the incident at a railroad bridge in late July 1950.
The Pentagon report, a year in preparation, would be “the firstformal acknowledgement by the U.S. military of its involvement inthe massacre at No Gun Ri,” The Post said. Military officials hadpreviously denied the involvement of American troops.
The report, based on more than 100 interviews and a review ofmore than a million pages of documents, is expected to be releasedin the next six weeks, and could come sooner, depending on talks inSeoul, the paper said.
A Pentagon spokesman was not immediately available to comment onthe report of the Army findings.
Questions of Responsibility
Former Rep. Pete McCloskey, R-Calif., a member of an eight-member civilian advisory panel to the Pentagon inquiry, confirmed that the Army’s draft report says there is no evidence that orders were given to fire on the refugees at No Gun Ri. Hesaid he disagreed with that conclusion and urged a revision.
“We have seen statements from one officer and nine enlisted menat No Gun Ri who referred to those orders,” McCloskey said.“Unless the Army has information we have not yet seen, I can’tunderstand how they reached their conclusion.”
Three other members of the panel, reached by The AP, declined tocomment.
Defense Secretary William Cohen ordered the Army inquiry afteran AP report a year ago told of the shooting of many civilians byAmerican GIs at the hamlet during a chaotic retreat southward frominvading North Korean forces.
The AP report said former GIs estimated the number killed as100, 200 or simply “hundreds,” while Korean survivors said 300died by shooting and 100 by strafing by U.S. planes.
About 170 Korean families are seeking compensation from theUnited States.
Varying Death Tolls, Vague Memories
While the draft report reaches no conclusion on the numberkilled at No Gun Ri, The Post said members of the advisory panelsaid they believe the number probably was between 50 and 300, withmost leaning toward the lower end of that range.
The paper said that, according to several people familiar withthe draft report, U.S. veterans had widely varying memories of NoGun Ri, and the Pentagon could not verify some elements of theoriginal AP story of September 1999.
It quoted one unnamed person familiar with the draft report assaying the AP was “too definite” about what happened, and mayhave left an impression that there was conclusive evidence thathundreds were killed.
The AP’s original story did not estimate the number killed onits own, but cited accounts by ex-GIs and survivors. It also saidthere were a number of unanswered questions, including whatofficers gave orders to open fire.
Kelly Smith Tunney, a spokeswoman for The AP, said the newsservice had not seen a copy of the draft report, but noted that“for many years, the Pentagon denied the involvement of Americansoldiers in the deaths of villagers at No Gun Ri.”
She added, “We are confident that any fair investigation willconfirm AP’s central finding that the U.S. military was involved inthe killing of a large number of Korean refugees at No Gun Ri.”
Following the Chain of Command
Some former members of the 2nd battalion, 7th Cavalry regiment,interviewed by AP, told of fears that the refugee columns had beeninfiltrated by enemy troops in order to ambush the Americans, andsaid they had orders to prevent any Korean civilians fromapproaching U.S. positions.
The AP also found in government archives declassified ordersissued at the time by three high Army headquarters including the1st Cavalry Division and an Air Force command to treat the Koreanrefugees as hostile. It was not immediately known whether theArmy’s report acknowledges the existence of these orders, includinga 1st Cavalry Division order to “fire everyone trying to crosslines.”
Two former 2nd battalion headquarters radiomen told the Army,and the AP in recent interviews, that they knew such orders camedown the chain of command from higher headquarters and weredelivered to the rifle companies. They, and two other former signalmen, also told AP that written orders were all but nonexistent inKorean combat.
The Korean Investigation
Meanwhile, U.S. and Korean officials met Wednesday in Seoul todiscuss their findings in separate investigations conducted overthe past year. The talks focused on a proposed “joint memorandumof understanding.”
A Korean-language draft copy, obtained by The Associated Press,reflected divisions between the two sides over the number of peoplekilled and whether U.S. troops acted under orders.
It quoted the U.S. version as saying both sides “understandthat from July 25 to 29, 1950, there was no written or verbal orderto kill any noncombatant Korean personnel around No Gun Ri, butsome U.S. soldiers assumed that there was an attack order afterwatching mortar and howitzer bombs (shells) falling in the crowd ofrefugees.”
The Korean document also said U.S. investigators had concludedthat “in areas around No Gun Ri, an unspecified number of Koreanrefugees were shot to death due to American combat action (but) noAmerican Army or Air Force personnel were given any orders to shootto kill” Korean civilians.
It said Korean investigators so far found that 248 people died,suffered injury or went missing at No Gun Ri, while the Americanssaid there were fewer casualties. But both sides referred to an“unknown number.”
A source close to the South Korean investigation affirmed thedocument was authentic, but said the U.S. position reflected in thedocument dated from early November and could have changed sincethen.