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Explosive Situation At Marine Brigs

As a result of investigations and inquiries by reporters, the Marine brass have been forced to own up to some of the inhuman conditions existing in their brigs.

News of the situation in the brigs began to leak out with the publication in The Nation of an article which stated that prisoners were brutally treated and living in "primitive conditions." Almost immediately, the noted humanitarian, Congressman Mendel Rivers, announced that his Armed Services Committee would make use of the usual congressional cure-all: the committee, he said, was "investigating."

True to form, the Marine brass also took immediate action: they rushed to get their side of the story into print. Lt. Col. Archie Van Winkle, in overall charge of the brigs, hastened to assure reporters that none of the miserable conditions were his fault; since taking on the job last January, he said, he'd been working 12 hours a day trying to keep everything "under control." Van Winkle didn't explain how keeping things under control related to improving conditions.

The colonel also told reporters that the Corps' brigs were designed to hold a total of 1,629 men, but on July 31 had an actual population of 2,326. Some individual brigs are in an even worse situation: the one at Da Nang, South Vietnam confines 324 prisoners in a space designed for 120; the one at Quantico, Virginia has 143 in a space intended for only 20.

Many of the charges in The Nation article were concerned specifically with the Camp Pendleton brig. On September 13, Pendleton's commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Donn Robertson, corrected the situation there by holding a news conference. Robertson admitted that at least one prisoner had been handcuffed spread-eagled to a fence, but claimed that the NCO responsible for this brutality "was punished." He denied charges that prisoners were sometimes forced to stand naked all day in a room of mirrors."

Four days later an unnamed spokesman at Pendleton "explained" the mirror charge. Recruits in a "special correctional platoon" had sometimes been handcuffed to a mirror for prolonged periods in order to 'stimulate an attitude change." The spokesman claimed that the practice had been discontinued in August.

All of which begins to explain why even Colonel Van Winkle describes the situation in the brigs as "explosive." But if the Corps continues normal military practices, nothing will be done to improve conditions until an explosion takes place and they get a chance to court martial someone for "mutiny."

GI Press Service, vol. 1, no. 8

 

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