- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

In his Letter to the Editor, Seymour Kleiman claims, “The big mistake the administration made came afterward in acting on Vice President Dick Cheney’s assumption that the Iraqis would greet us as ‘Liberators’ (“Bush, Democrats and Iraq,” Letters, Feb. 5, 2007). In fact, the Kurds did so in Northern Iraq because we enforced the no-fly zone in the North. However, the Shias welcomed the U.S. as betrayers not as liberators because after we armed and encouraged them to rebel against Saddam’s regime, the U.S. betrayed our potential allies by not strictly enforcing the no-fly zone in the South. This allowed the Iraqi military to murder tens of thousands of Shia men, women and children with helicopter gunships and devastating artillery fire.

The media have tried, ad nauseam, to draw comparisons between the Vietnam War and Iraq. The United States is gaining a bad reputation and losing respect for betraying and abandoning our former allies. That is the only similarity. The Montagnards were our loyal allies during the Vietnam War, and as a result, more than half of their adult male population was killed. Without them, the names of many more Americans would be on that somber black wall — the Vietnam Memorial.

Recently, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey told a Hanoi media briefing she had spoken with seven Montagnard returnees she had chosen at random in a Central Highlands village and “I have to report that with no exceptions the people who were returned from Cambodia that we spoke with all indicated that there has been no punishment.” (AFP, Feb. 5).

It’s hard to believe Mrs. Sauerbrey can be so naive as to believe any Montagnard living under a repressive communist regime would dare speak out in opposition. The Montagnards are intimately aware of the consequences of their actions for they would be tortured and face 17 years imprisonment — the fate of more than 600 other Montagnard political prisoners who dared speak out against the communist regime.

I am certain Mrs. Sauerbrey is not fluent in any Montagnard dialect. Therefore, she had to rely on either an interpreter provided by the communists, or a U.S. Embassy employee who speaks Vietnamese — a language many Montagnards do not speak fluently. Further, as part of a disinformation program, the communist regime has paid a number of Montagnards “ringers” to go to Cambodia and pose as refugees and tell the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) that they (and the other legitimate refugees) were there not because of religious repression and human rights abuses, but because of a land dispute. UNHCR believed them and evidently Mrs. Sauerbrey does too.

Mrs. Sauerbrey said, “The U.S. and Vietnam shared agreement that those Montagnards who feared persecution in Vietnam should stay in the communist country and take their concerns directly to US missions.” The problem is, the Vietnamese communists won’t let them out of prison to go to the U.S. missions. Instead of 30 pieces of silver, it seems as if the U.S. has sold loyalty to allies, religious freedom and human rights for cheap labor, globalization and a $5.7 billion trade deficit with Vietnam.

Based on the U.S. track record with the Montagnards and other allies, the Kurds and Iraqis can expect to be next in line if the U.S. cuts and runs.


Mr. Benge spent 11 years in Vietnam as a Foreign Service Officer (five years as a prisoner of war from 1968-73), and worked closely with the Montagnards before and after his captivity. He is very active in advocating for human rights and religious freedom for the peoples of South East Asia. He resides in Falls Church, Va.

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