The My Lai Massacre was the murder of about five hundred unarmed citizens of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), mostly civilians and majority of them women and children, conducted by U.S. Army forces on March 16, 1968. Before being killed some of the victims were raped and sexually molested, beaten, tortured, or maimed. Some of the dead bodies were also mutilated.
The first army reports claimed that "128 Vietcong and 22 civilians" were killed in the village during a "fierce fire fight". General William C. Westmoreland, MACV commander, congratulated the unit on the "outstanding job." As related at the time by the Army's Stars and Stripes magazine, "U.S. infantrymen had killed 128 Communists in a bloody day-long battle."
The awful truth surfaced in time, however, and full justice was served. One man, Second Lieutenant William Calley, served three and a half years of house arrest in his quarters at Fort Benninghouse, during which time he was allowed routine and unrestricted visits by his girl-friend. That was the sum total of punishment meted out to all involved. The laws of war that were set forth in the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals resulted in German and Japanese soldiers being executed for similar acts.
To take another quick look at the events of that day, BBC News described it thus::
Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. ... Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.
Now to take a look at another roughly contemporary incident to offer a picture of a society- particularly the ruling establishment- and its sense of truth. MC5 was a hard rock band based mainly in Detroit in the late 60s and early 70s, probably best known for their song, Kick Out the Jams. Their manager, John Sinclair, was a kind of figurehead of the politically tinged youth movement of Detroit in the form of the interesting mix of absurdism and revolutionary politics of the White Panther party. He was managing the MC5 at the time of their free concert outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The band was the only group to perform before baton-wielding police broke up the massive anti-Vietnam war rally, calling it a riot.
Sinclair was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1969 after giving two joints of marijuana to an undercover narcotics agent. Ten years for giving another adult two joints of a mild narcotic for personal pleasure. Rape and massacre of about five hundred civilians: three and a half years comfortable military house arrest for one man, everyone else unpunished. Enough, as the man said, said.
Sinclair served two and a half years, and was released three days after a protest rally, thanks to focus and pressure gained by the performance of John Lennon there. Lennon's performance of his song, 'John Sinclair' can be seen here.
And for a kind of update on how the relevant authorites are getting on, from Amnesty International, July 2006:
US Govt Creating Climate of Torture
"Although the US government continues to assert its condemnation of torture and ill-treatment, these statements contradict what is happening in practice," said Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director Of Amnesty International USA. "The US government is not only failing to take steps to eradicate torture it is actually creating a climate in which torture and other ill-treatment can flourish -- including by trying to narrow the definition of torture."
The Amnesty International report describes how measures taken by the US government in response to widespread torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in US military custody in the context of the "war on terror" have been far from adequate. This is despite evidence that much of the ill-treatment stemmed directly from official policy and practice.
The report reviews several cases where detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan and Iraq have died under torture. To this day, no US agent has been prosecuted for "torture" or "war crimes".
"The heaviest sentence imposed on anyone to date for a torture-related death while in US custody is five months -- the same sentence that you might receive in the US for stealing a bicycle. In this case, the five-month sentence was for assaulting a 22-year-old taxi-driver who was hooded and chained to a ceiling while being kicked and beaten until he died," said Curt Goering.
"While the government continues to try to claim that the abuse of detainees in US custody was mainly due to a few 'aberrant' soldiers, there is clear evidence to the contrary. Most of the torture and ill-treatment stemmed directly from officially sanctioned procedures and policies -- including interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld," said Javier Zuniga, Amnesty International's Americas Programme Director.