Library - Investigations
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Dellums Committee Hearings on War Crimes in Vietnam
Testimony of Ron Bartek (Capt, West Point, Class of 1966)
back to contents
STATEMENT OF RON BARTEK Capt, West Point, Class of 1966. Washg'tn, DC
BARTEK: my name is Ron Bartek. I come from a military family and graduated from West point in 1966, went into the infantry and spent 3 years in the infantry, 1 of which was in Korea, and then spent 1 year in Vietnam as an infantry officer and as an intelligence officer. I was intelligence officer for an infantry Bn in the 25th div and then as intelligence officer and briefing officer at div headquarters. I would like to relate 3 incidents which I observed while in Vietnam which indicate to me the level at which these policies and attitudes are created which lend to and promulgate the atmosphere of My Lai and which create a basic conduct of the war which is inconsistent even with our stated objectives in Indochina.
These incidents are, 1st, a commanders' conference by a high-ranking officer, the 2d is an incident of the bombardment of an enemy hospital inside Cambodia that Greg has already mentioned, and the last is an incident of an electrical torture of a man suspected to be a VC sympathizer. The 1st incident really points to the BODY COUNT mania at a very high and revealing level, I think. General Ewell, the man mentioned already, was 1st the commanding general of the 9th Infantry div and then went up to II Field Forces.
His 1st commanders' conference at the 25th Infantry div I was sitting in on.
At that conferences he had the div commander, the Bgd commanders and all the Bn commanders, and I was representing my Bn commander. He spent about 30 minutes giving his formula for success. He began by saying that his unit was only killing, and these are his words, only killing 2,000 of these little bastards a month, and that they were infiltrating 4,000.
Consequently by the end of that month, which I believe was February, 69, he wanted to begin killing 4,000 of these little bastards a month, and then by the end of the following month wanted to kill 6,000. Now, this is at a time, as I said, 1969, when we had officially steered away from our concept of a military victory and started emphasizing pacification, and yet there was no mention of either of those 2 programs.
He gave further guidelines as to how we hoped to kill that many of the little bastards, and also loosened up the reporting procedure considerably. The guidelines he gave was any effort to mass enemy forces into 1 location where we could use our massive firepower. The loosening of the reports came when he said that no longer would you have to put your foot on a man's chest or, as was mentioned earlier, cut off a man's ear. If you put a lot of firepower into an area where you observed an enemy soldier and you swept the area later and you could not find him, you could assume that he was dead.
This led to 2 things. 1st of all, the great pressure on the subordinate commanders. As I said, all the subordinate commanders in the div were there.
To produce that massive figure for BC, plus this loosening of the report, lent to a legitimization of the falsification of reports.
General Ewell to the div commander gave a quota for that month and for the following month. When it filtered down through the Bgds and to the Bn and the Bn level, I had to tell my Bn commander when I went back and briefed him that we had to kill 50 by the end of that month. We did not have a since major fire-fight that month, and we had a legitimately counted 3-body count, and yet I was told to report 50, and I did.
That shows you if you multiply that falsification of 3 to 50 by the number of Bns in Vietnam or under General Ewell's command, you can imagine what kind of reports Congressmen and senators and the President have to go on in forming policy. It also lends to the dehumanization of the Vietnamese people and obviously id. As Greg said, this man is now our chief military adviser to the Paris Peace Talks.
An extension of the same BODY COUNT mania came at the FSB Diamond action which my Bn established that FSB near the Cambodian border as bait and we were told if asked by newsmen or anybody from the States why we were there 3,000 meters from the border, it was to protect the poor, innocent farmers to our rear and of course drew chuckles from all the Capts and the majors in the briefing. But it was obvious, and it was part of the plan, that we were baiting the people from the sanctuary zones which we later went into.
The hospital was about a mile 1/2, as I recall, inside Cambodia. We had very hard intelligence indicating where it was. It was "an underground hospital, as Greg mentioned. We predesignated fire support from the div level-- this is a major general allocating out his resources-- for the bombardment of that hospital, and Capt O'Mera and I both recall reports coming back in as to the destruction of that hospital. The last incident I would like to relate is that of 1 that has been alluded to several times, and that is the torture of POWs. I do not find it strange to see us torturing POWs in Vietnam.
When I went through the Rangers' School at Fort Benning--this was in 1966--I was submitted to about 7 hours of torture myself as part of the program.
Having been captured by the guerrilla, the jungle guerrillas which are actually Vietnam veterans, I was submitted to being staked out, and the methods have already been described, having a cloth with a little wire embedded in it forced over my nose so I could not breathe through my nose, and 5 gallons of water used to pour down my throat when I tried to breathe through my mouth.
There were other methods I was stripped naked and led to believe I was going to be hung.
For 7 hours this went on. As I stated, this was Vietnam veterans with the stated objective of teaching me that every man can be broken. This was obvious specifically in Vietnam.
I did witness an old Vietnamese man brought in by the Bn commander. He had been picked up in the area in action but was unarmed himself and in no other way implicated than his proximity to the action. I was told to interrogate the man. I had a Vietnamese interpreter and talked to him. I was convinced after 15 minutes' interrogation that he was an innocent civilian. I told my Bn commander that. He said, "What did you do, just talk to the man again?" Because I had done similar things before. 'I said, "Yes, I did." He said, "I want you to go back there and interrogate him," and the implication was clear because we had talked about this before, as I said.
I went back in the bunker and just talked to him again and reported once again that he was an innocent civilian. He was not satisfied with that, and he wanted the Bgd intelligence team to come out. This is the LT Col talking to me. The Bgd intelligence team came out, this team worked for a full colonel. The 1st thing they asked for was the field telephone, the type of field telephone that has 2 hot terminals. You connect the wires and you can talk. In this case the hot wires were connected 1 to the man's groin and 1 to the small of his back; his hands and feet were both tied. Right out in the middle of the FSB, right next to the Bn commander's headquarters, in full view of all the American soldiers on the FSB, the man was subjected to torture for about 15 minutes, at which time that Bgd interrogation team determined he was an innocent civilian. The man was released and sent back to his village, I am sure not with very kind words for American involvement in Vietnam.
I would like to address just 1 point that Parren Mitchell from Baltimore brought up, and that was what effect the brutalizing of the war has on Americans. We have to all assess the effect on ourselves, and we can feel, and I have talked to others about it, the subtleties that have creeped into our own minds and into our own emotions when we look at a Vietnamese. There is a certain repulsion there. Certainly we are intellectually committed to erasing it, but it is a difficult thing to do. That was again the effect of the policies in Vietnam.
Finally, I saw it work on a classmate of mine, a man I had graduated from West Point with. I met him in a helicopter 1 day returning from an operation.
I recognized him. He was piloting the aircraft. I said, "Hello, Jim, how long have you been in the country?" He said, "I only have 2 weeks left." I know his wife and I knew he had a son. I said, "I bet you the very happy to soon be going home to your wife and son." He said, "You know, I thought about extending here." I asked him why.
The reply was, believe it or not, "Well, I really the killing gooks." That was a man of probably greater intelligence than myself. So those are the 3 incidents, and really I see them as bringing up to me the fact that the basic conduct of the war in Vietnam is not what the American public dinks it is.
Was are not protecting anyone from anyone else. Was are brutalizing Americans, we are brutalizing Vietnamese. Was have been illustrated by the political/ military realities of Vietnam into adopting measures, like free-fire zones and search and destroy, that brutalize Americans and brutalize Vietnamese rather than admitting our mistake and righting it.
DELLUMS: Thank you very much, Capt.