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Was Vietnam Worse Than What Americans Are Doing in Iraq?

Aired May 12, 2004 - 13:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The headlines "At This Hour." For the second time in two days, Israeli troops in Gaza hit by a deadly bomb attack. Witnesses telling CNN at least five soldier killed on patrol in the southern city of Rafah. Earlier today, at least three Palestinians were killed in Gaza.
Campaigning in Florida, challenger John Kerry accuses President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld of mismanaging the Iraq war. Kerry says Rumsfeld could be replaced by several people such as Senator John Warner. Kerry's first choice, however, Republican Senator John McCain.

Candidate Ralph Nader has won the endorsement of the Reform Party. That gives him ballot access in seven states, including key states like Florida and Michigan. Nader says he's thankful for the support but still plans to run as an independent.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the pictures we've seen out of Abu Ghraib Prison Iraq are nothing compared to the humiliation and torture of two Vietnam Vets. I'm talking about two former American POWs. These two men endured beating and psychological torture at the hands of their captures, not for days, but for 7 1/2 years in what is one of the worst POW camps in North Vietnam.

The stories of Major Fred Cherry and Lieutenant Porter Halyburton are bone-chilling. And they're being told in a new book "Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved two POWs in Vietnam." They join me now from Norfolk, Virginia to talk about their survival, their friendship, and of course the prison scandal going on right now in Iraq. Gentlemen, great to see you both.


PHILLIPS: We've had a chance to talk for a couple of days. I'd like you to share with our viewers, quickly, your reaction to the photos. Porter, let's start with you.

LT. PORTER HALYBURTON, FRM. POW: Well, I think the photos were shocking. Matter of fact, they were unbelievable at first. Once we determined they were for real, it was just shameful that American service people could behave this way towards other human beings.


MAJ. FRED CHERRY, FRM. POW: We think it was just deplorable what we saw in the photos and can't imagine that any of our servicemen would go to that extent to put such shame on our nation.

That is not Americanism and the world should know that. We're the most humane nation in the world and push for humanity more than any other country in the world. And we take the biggest blows when something happens like this.

PHILLIPS: I must say what you two went through for 7 1/2 years in North Vietnam was inhumane.

Porter, tell me -- when you saw those pictures -- I know you were treated much worse. Tell me what happened to you.

HALYBURTON: Well, I think I had a little sense of empathy for the Iraqis that were shown there in degrading positions having been through I think, a lot worse. Most of the POWs in Vietnam certainly went through harsher treatment than anything we saw in these pictures here -- not to try and minimize what they endured at all. But what the POWs in North Vietnam went through I think was quite -- something different.

PHILLIPS: Now, Fred, talk to me about -- when you were taken in by the captors, they specifically pointed out the fact that you were African-American and used that against you. Tell me how they brought in the death of MLK and tried to psychologically get to you.

CHERRY: Yes, that was later in my time, spent incarcerated in North Vietnam. But when Dr. King was assassinated, they came -- I was hospitalized at the time after lung surgery for bone chip removal, which they caused in torture.

But they tried to use that as a way of softening me up to have me side with them on their issues as being another nation of color. So they felt that they could do this to me and they told me about how the imperialist white (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in America would just kill us off at will, and why should I remain loyal to the U.S. when I could side with them and help them in this horrible -- horrible war, unjust war.

And I just sort of listening, halfway listening. I didn't listen. But I was very hurt to hear that Dr. King had been killed.

PHILLIPS: And, Porter, when they put you two together in that POW camp they wanted to use racism to break you two down. You're from the Deep South. But it didn't work did it?

HALYBURTON: No. Quite the opposite. I had been told if I didn't talk to them, cooperate, I would be moved to a worse place. Indeed, this had happened three times. I moved from one place to a worst place three times.

And this time I was in complete isolation in a really horrible place. That I think was the worst place they had. And they threatened me again if I didn't talk, they would move me into yet another worst place.

And their idea of the worst place was to put me in with a black man, particularly one in the Air Force who outranked me by two ranks. And I was told to care for him because he was in pretty bad physical condition and really couldn't do much for himself.

So I think they thought that this was going to be the thing that would break both of us, put us together.

PHILLIPS: Well, I want to ask you both to respond to this. When we see these pictures come out of Abu Ghraib -- of course, we can't forget what happened on 9/11. And when it comes to doing whatever needs to be done to get information from a terrorist, from a terrorist detainee, do you think that getting that information -- you should be able to do whatever you need to do for the cost of freedom and for the cost of preventing another 9/11? Fred?

CHERRY: No, I don't -- I don't think that is correct , because the information one gets under those conditions is usually not accurate. Like we did, we said things that weren't true. And just to get the pressure off, or stop the torture.

But -- and we must realize that people are human. And if you -- if we can't get the information through other means, we just have to wait until we get it through the legal means or whatever. We -- in Germany, after the war, we had court-martials and -- for the leadership, and whatever, and we settled it that way. We didn't just go out and try to kill all the people who were in charge of camps and what have you. So I really think there are other ways than just brute torture and inhumane -- terribly inhumane treatment to individuals.

PHILLIPS: Porter, i've got to bring attention -- actually, real quickly, two photos, one involving each of you. This one photo, Porter, of your gravestone. It's funny and it's not funny. Your family -- they thought that you were dead, that you were not coming home, so they actually buried you. Where do you keep this tombstone now?

HALYBURTON: Well, I have it out in my garden under a grape arbor with a very nice bench and a little cocktail table out there, and it's a great conversation piece. We go out and have a glass of wine, and it's just really wonderful to be able to look down on that thing, rather than being looking up.

PHILLIPS: Amen. And I know your wife has been very involved in helping you and helping other former POWs.

And finally this picture, we picked out, Fred, of you, that first smoke, when you came out of that POW camp in North Vietnam. Now porter sits over his grave site and has cocktails and conversation. Where was your shot of whiskey when you had your first smoke?

CHERRY: Well, they wouldn't allow us to have that. We were on an aircraft coming from Hanoi to the Philippines. And the gentleman who is lighting my first American cigarette is an old friend of mine who I didn't know he was on the aircraft, and he heard that I was on it, and he was the navigator for the flight that brought us back from Hanoi. So he didn't know what psychological condition I might be in, so he got the word to me quietly that he was in the cockpit and if I remembered him. I remembered him very well. His name is Jim Warren. And we were in Germany together for six months. He was stationed there, and I was just there for six months. But that's where I met him, and he bought my car when I left Germany, an old wreck, too. And he tried to beat it out of me, but I got the price I wanted.

PHILLIPS: Yes, and you know what...

CHERRY: He's a dear friend.

PHILLIPS: I don't think either one of you would give into anything after what you went through.

Major Fred Cherry, Lieutenant Porter Halyburton, what a pleasure to interview you both. We salute you. Get out and get that book. It's amazing, "Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam." Thanks, guys, for your time.

CHERRY: Thank you very much.

HALYBURTON: Thanks, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, we'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


O'BRIEN: Our top story all throughout the day has been the continuing fallout in the wake of the Abu Ghraib Prison controversy and the abuse that occurred there.

And joining us now is Giorgio Ra'shadd, who is an attorney representing Lynndie England, who has become sort of iconically represented as part of this whole thing because her picture has been associated with many of the pictures released thus far.

Mr. Ra'shadd, good to have you with us.

Can you hear us, Mr. Ra'shadd?


O'BRIEN: OK. I can barely hear him, so I'm hoping viewers can do better.

Let me ask you this, Lynndie England, Private First Class Lynndie England, was interviewed by KCNC in North Carolina, and indicated that she was essentially following orders. Who gave her those orders?

RA'SHADD: Well, as she indicated, on the scene was MI, a -- certain individuals from the military intelligence section, but not in her chain of command. Also on the scene were different people from OGA. And as you know, that would be CIA, the different intelligence agency. And what essentially occurred is, prior to their arrival on the scene, General Karpinski came down. She actually met with my client, gave my client a tour of the gallows before we took it over. So General Karpinski was actively on the scene leading her troops.

At some point, OGA decided that they were going to take over from General Karpinski. When they did that, they prevented the military command structure from commanding their troops, including my client. OGA became the de facto commander of that section of the jail.

O'BRIEN: OK, so when she says she was answering orders in her chain of command, really, technically, it was outside her chain of command, wasn't it?

RA'SHADD: Well, there were instructions that were given by OGA, MI, and those instructions were given sometimes to sergeants and specialists, and those orders rolled down. So some of the orders were given directly by OGA. Some of the directions were given directly by MI. Other directions were given by sergeants and specialists in the chain of command to the privates below to do the work.

O'BRIEN: All right. And for our viewers, OGA stands for what?

RA'SHADD: Other governmental agencies.

O'BRIEN: All right, that means essentially spies. And MI means military intelligence. We want to make sure people know what you're talking about.

Can you name names, then, besides General Karpinski?

RA'SHADD: In terms of who the OGA is?

O'BRIEN: Yes, who are the people giving her the orders?

RA'SHADD: We don't know. We know their faces. You have them in pictures. General Taguba had some pictures attached to his report. But we need their names so we can subpoena them and get them here to the article 32 and possibly to the court-martial. But we're not being allow to have their names or the name of their mission because they're considered intelligence operatives and that information is considered classified. But if we don't get it, we can't properly prepare our defense because they were actively involved in the ordering and in the advisement.

O'BRIEN: That's a bit of a catch-22 for your defense. Do you have any idea -- has your client told you why those pictures were taken?

RA'SHADD: She's informed me a couple of things. And one of them was that they were told that certain actions were equivalent to psychological operations actions. They were designed to humiliate and weaken the resolve of a lot of suspected terrorists. If they were to do this part, then OGA would be more readily able to break them down and get information on roadside bombings. They were told that these hard criminals, who were already suspected of bombings, had information that OGA needed to further protect the troops. They had information that OGA needed to prevent another 9/11. So you're a private, you're a specialist, you're a sergeant, you need to do your part so OGA can get the intelligence to protect your country and your fellow soldiers, and they did that.

O'BRIEN: You know, in the interview, which I happened to see, your client did not express an ounce of remorse. Is she remorseful about what happened?

RA'SHADD: Well, actually, you're incorrect. She did express remorse. What she didn't do was, she didn't tell you that those -- that her behavior was behavior that she woke up one night and decided to do. The behavior was manifested, ordered, advised, and cheered on by MI and OGA. So to the extent that someone would want her to apologize for taking order from the de facto command, you're right, she didn't do that. But you know, soldiers take orders from the command. And if that's the only command that's allowed to be there, she did her job.

O'BRIEN: So taking orders is her defense?

RA'SHADD: No, everything that's happened is her defense. The fact that the military officers weren't allowed to be officers is her defense. The fact that civilians aren't allowed in the military chain of command and they told all these kids to do essentially their job for them, is her defense. The fact that the general couldn't get in that section and the soldiers couldn't get out of that section to ask for advice, that's her defense.

But really, the crux of her defense is, she's a soldier, she is just, she did her job, and that is her defense.

O'BRIEN: Giorgio Ra'shadd, one of the attorneys representing Lynndie England, whose picture has been associated with this Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. We appreciate your time.

RA'SHADD: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We're be back with more LIVE FROM in just a moment.



PHILLIPS: Coming up next on live from, what it's like to be a civilian inside the danger zone. Also known -- hi, Rhonda.

O'BRIEN: Rhonda was hopping off her perch there. Rhonda, you still there?

All right, anyway.

PHILLIPS: Much more serious business next hour. We're talking about does the U.S. have a right to protect -- or have to protect you, rather? We'll talk about it.



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