- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

The Pentagon said yesterday that U.S. soldiers killed groups of South Korean refugees early in the Korean War because North Korean soldiers were hiding among them.

President Clinton issued a statement of regret for the killing of civilians.

"On behalf of the United States of America, I deeply regret that Korean civilians lost their lives at No Gun Ri in late July 1950," the president said.

The incident at No Gun Ri "has served as a painful reminder of the tragedies of war and the scars they leave behind on people and on nations," Mr. Clinton said. "To those Koreans who lost loved ones at No Gun Ri, I offer my condolences."

The events surrounding the deaths in June 1950 shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War could not be determined precisely, and an investigation by the United States and South Korea said an unconfirmed number of refugees were killed or injured, defense officials said.

The United States is setting up a memorial near No Gun Ri, located about 30 miles southeast of Taejon, in the southern part of the country, Mr. Clinton said. It also is establishing a commemorative scholarship fund "to preserve the memory of those who died during the war."

But South Korean survivors of the incident called the U.S. report a "whitewash."

"It's full of excuses," said Park Hee-sook, 66, who said she witnessed the incident.

"Any final report that does not deal with the responsibility of commanders has a serious defect," said Chung Koo-do, spokesman for a group of No Gun Ri survivors. "It can't be construed as anything other than a Pentagon attempt to whitewash the massacre."

Charles Cragin, a deputy assistant defense secretary involved in the investigation, said there is no evidence orders were given to shoot civilians. "The only orders that we could find were the inferences of orders," he said at a Pentagon briefing.

"U.S. soldiers were legitimately fearful of the possible infiltration of North Korean soldiers, who routinely entered American lines in groups disguised as civilians in refugee columns and then attacked American positions from the rear," Mr. Cragin said.

The U.S. Army's report concluded that the deaths and injuries of civilians were part of the tragedy of war and not deliberate.

Mr. Cragin said soldiers at the time "were not aiming at innocent civilians for the purpose of killing innocent civilians."

With North Korean infiltrators hiding among the civilians, the unprepared U.S. soldiers "believed they were in a threat situation," Mr. Cragin said. "That is not the deliberate and intentional determination to kill an innocent noncombatant."

He said there was a "very substantial history" of North Korean soldiers posing as civilians at that period of the conflict.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael Ackerman, the Army's inspector general, said soldiers told investigators of the bodies of North Korean soldiers being found among the civilian casualties at No Gun Ri.

"Yes, there were soldiers that we interviewed, veterans that said that they saw or found afterwards North Korean soldiers amongst the civilians after the firing had occurred," Gen. Ackerman said.

The United States and South Korea issued a joint statement of mutual understanding yesterday that concluded there is no proof orders were given to fire on civilians.

The 15-month investigation was arranged after publication of a series of investigative articles by the Associated Press.

A blue-ribbon panel of eight defense specialists appointed by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen oversaw the investigation.

"The Korean War was fought for a just cause," Mr. Cohen told reporters in releasing the Pentagon's findings. "After North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, U.S. forces were rushed into battle from Japan, joined later by many thousands of Americans, 36,000 of whom lost their lives in battle to defend freedom."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide