June 20, 1996 in Nation/World

Kerry Seeks Pay For Commandos Senator Wants $20 Million To Repay Allies Written Off As Dead

Los Angeles Times

While about a dozen former South Vietnamese commandos looked on stoically Wednesday, U.S. senators used words like “atrocity,” “betrayal” and “indefensible” to describe the men’s treatment by the U.S. government. In an apparent move to avoid continuing to pay their salaries, the government had declared them dead, even though most of them had been captured and sentenced to long prison terms in North Vietnam.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a decorated Vietnam veteran, described the commandos’ treatment as a “bureaucratic Phoenix program,” a reference to a clandestine CIA operation that is widely believed to have eliminated opponents of the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government by assassinating them.

A few hours after the Senate Intelligence Committee reviewed the commandos’ treatment, Kerry introduced legislation that would authorize a $20 million reparations program. The bill would provide some 450 former commandos, whose plight came to light in recently declassified documents, with back pay of $2,000 for each month they spent in Communist prisons.

Kerry said the Clinton administration supports the legislation. But the Pentagon, Justice Department and CIA have urged the U.S. Claims Court here to dismiss a related lawsuit. In the suit, 281 former commandos are seeking $11 million in benefits.

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