Calley Trial, Foreign Affairs

Published: 1971
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI

Announcer: The publication of the Pentagon Papers stirred again the controversy of how the Vietnam War began and why it continued. Even while the war itself, in 1971, appeared to be winding down day by day, by the end of the year, fewer than 200,000 US troops were in Vietnam.

One week, the weekly combat death rate was lower than any week since 1965. Vietnamization was proceeding and was climaxed by a 44 day drive into Laos to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail. American participation was diminishing but true pease still seemed far away.

In Paris, peace talks continued to get nowhere, and there were still prisoners of war on both sides.

Elections were held in South Vietnam. The winner was incumbent President, Nguyen Van Thieu. It was an easy race, he was the only candidate.

In the United States, memories of grimmer days in Vietnam were recalled during the trial of Lieutenant William Calley, Jr. The longest court-martial in history ended when the Lieutenant was found guilty of premeditated murder of 22 South Vietnamese men, women and children, in My Lai in 1968. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Chamberlain reports.

Chamberlain: “Lieutenant Calley walks out. Calley salutes the crowd, about 100 people. Two MPs escort him. He gets in the car. Door slams, second door slams. People waving a peace sign at Calley. He is driven away. He has just been sentenced to spend the rest of his natural life in prison. It's a beautiful bright spring day. Calley has shown no more emotion this time than he did at the verdict phase, when he was convicted of premeditated murder. In the court, Calley's face was bright red and last he saluted after the punishment was announced and said, I will do my best sir.”

Announcer: A wave of protest spread throughout the country. The Governor of Indiana ordered all state flags flown at half-mast. A four man Draft Board in Virginia resigned. Automobile stickers and billboards demanded free Calley. In a sense, the plea was heard at the White House. The President ordered Calley released from the stockade to his own quarters under house arrest. The President promised to review the sentencing.

The 29-year-old prosecutor of the trial, Aubrey Daniels, accused the President of damaging the military judicial system and called his move improper.

President Richard Nixon: “My intervention in the Calley case was proper for two reasons. One, because I felt that Captain Calley should not be sent to Leavenworth prison while waiting for the months and maybe a year or so that appeal would take. I thought that he should be confined to quarters. I think that was proper to do.

“Second, I felt that it was proper for me to indicate that I would review the case, because there was great concern expressed throughout the country as to whether or not this was the case, involving as it did so many complex factors in which Capitan Calley was going to get a fair trial.”

Announcer: Finally in August the life sentence of Lieutenant Calley was changed.

Speaker: “The Commanding General of the Third US Army, Lieutenant General Albert O. Connor, has approved the findings as guilty, and only so much of the senate that provides for dismissal, forfeits you of all paying allowances, and confinement for 20 years.“

Announcer: In a related trial, Captain Ernest Medina, Lieutenant Calley's immediate superior officer, was acquitted of all charges in the deaths of more than 100 South Vietnamese civilians. The military jury deliberated and made their decision in about 60 minutes.

Vietnam veterans speak of the fear of walking the jungle, of encountering the unseen enemy; the gorilla, the sniper.

In Northern Ireland, where the cancer of civil strife between Catholics and Protestants has grown year after year, 1971 was a year filled with that kind of fear.

In Belfast, you could answer a knock on your door and be shot dead. Your Christmas shopping could be cut shot when a bomb explodes in the aisle of the store, or you could walk the streets and have a sniper lining you up in his rifle sights.

These men were only a small part of the 12,000 British troops who were sent to Northern Ireland in 1971. They moved quickly, carefully, as they hunted down a sniper on the streets of Belfast.

Unknown Speaker: “Where is he coming from?”

Announcer: If there was a change in Northern Ireland in 1971, it was from bad to worst.