Recently Vang Pao has been charged with conspiring to violate the Neutrality Act, in violation of title 18, United States Code, Section 960, by providing and preparing a means for furnishing the money for and taking part in a military expedition or enterprise to be carried out against the territory and dominion of a foreign and sovereign nation of Laos, with which the United State is at peace.
Opinion: Vang Pao and the U.S. government, marriage and betrayal
So how did this come about? The irony is that the union between the U.S. and Vang Pao has finally come full circle.
Vang Pao came to power in 1960 when as a soldier’s soldier he was courted by the U.S. Government to halt the spread of communism. The U.S., whether real or imaginary, feared that communism was about to dominate the world and Laos would play a key role in this process. This led a few men in the highest position of the U.S. Government to violate the laws of this nation, the Neutrality Act, Title 18, Section 960, by providing and furnishing money for a military expedition in the sovereign nation of Laos, which the U.S. was at peace with.
In December of 1960, a CIA Agent by the name of Bill Lair met with Vang Pao and Hmong Clan Leaders in Padong, Laos. According to Jane Hamilton-Merritt’s interview with Taseng Yang, a Hmong tribal leader who was present at the meeting, Yang recalled, “I asked if we defeat the Vietnamese, how will you help us?” Colonel Billy answered, “If the Hmong beat the Vietnamese, then we will help the Hmong people as much as we can. If the Hmong people lose, we will find a new place where we can help the Hmong people”. That promise pleased us. After this discussion, Colonel Billy, Colonel Khouphan, Vang Pao, and I signed a paper that said in eight days, American people would send us 500 guns.”
Then on July 23, 1962 the U.S., along with Russia and twelve other nations, ratified the Geneva Accord. By signing this agreement they promised to recognize and will respect and observe in every way the sovereignty, independence, neutrality, unity and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Laos. They agreed that they will not bring the Kingdom of Laos in any way into any military alliance which is inconsistent with her neutrality. Shortly after signing this agreement and with total disregard for its contents, the United States continued to provide arms, build, and pay the salary of a Hmong fighting force, thus shattering the Geneva Accord and violating the Neutrality Act.
A declassified States Department Memo Volume XXII. CIA Supported Covert Paramilitary Program will help shed some light on this topic.
The genesis of this program stems from high level U.S. Government approval in late 1960 and early 1961 in response to a recommendation by the U.S. Ambassador in Laos that CIA enlist tribal support to fight communism. The main effort in this program has been the development of the Meo (Hmong), the largest non-Lao ethnic group in Laos, as an effective guerrilla force and the provision of plausibly deniable U.S. air support for the program. Vang Pao, the commander of the Meo forces, is a regular FAR officer and the Meo forces are technically considered to be FAR ADC units. As authorized by the Special Group in June 1963, this program has expanded to a present force of approximately 19,000 armed Meo guerrillas (23,000 authorized) engaged in village defense and guerrilla activities against the Pathet Lao.
In support of the above forces CIA has employed covert air support designed to fulfill resupply requirements, as well as meet FAR and neutralist paramilitary and military requirements. This air support, conducted by an ostensibly private and commercial company, has been able to continue operations in Laos under U.S.AID contractual arrangements and through the flexibility of CIA’s cover and funding mechanisms.
During the development, employment and support of the above covert tribal paramilitary program in Laos, CIA has provided World War II weapons and associated ammunition; salary and subsistence and miscellaneous. support items. The budget for the Laos tribal program for FY 1963 was $11,625,000 and for FY 1964 $14,008,000.
So the marriage was consummated, and for a while, things went pretty well. The CIA proudly credited Vang Pao’s success in a memo that reads:
An analysis of the enemy’s tactical posture in the Lao Armed Forces second military region of northern Laos as of 26 July 1967 reveals that the enemy was only able to take one significant piece of terrain from the regular and irregular forces of the Royal Lao Government during the dry season of October 1966 to July 1967. This lack of enemy success has resulted in a tactical shift in the balance of power in the second military region in favor of the regular and irregular forces of the Royal Lao Government under General Vang Pao. CIA-supported forces directly cause the enemy average monthly casualties of 300 KIA, 115 WIA and an average of 40 defectors and captives processed monthly; they also contribute enormously to casualties from air strikes of some 800 KIA per month. In contrast, the Royal Lao Army has caused an average of 70 enemies KIA monthly. We completely fund, support, and direct a force of local defense units, area security units and special guerrilla battalions, plus heavy weapons units, intelligence teams and a spider-web of communications. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Laos, Vol. XVII, Cables, 2/67-12/67.
Unknowingly at the time, with the above statement, the CIA made a complete confession to violating the Geneva Accords and the Neutrality Act.
But as the war escalated, by 1967 the war had taken a toll on the Hmong population, still Vang Pao’s army was expected to hold the Plain of Jars. With only children and old men left to do the fighting for the U.S., the U.S. intensifies carpet bombing of Laos by lifting all restriction on B-52 over Laos.
A meeting was held at the White House. The participants were: Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, General Wheeler, CIA Director Helms, Mr. Walt Rostow, Mr. George Christian, and Mr. Tom Johnson.
The President asked about the over-flight of B-52s over Laos. Secretary Rusk said Souvanna Phouma had some problems with this. Secretary Rusk recommended night-time flying if this is possible. General Wheeler said there are three aspects involved:
(1) Recommends doing away with restriction against flying over Laos during the day and night. This will shorten the turn-around time, will permit the B-52s to get up to their twelve hundred sorties per month, and will cut down on operational cost.
(2) Even trained eyes cannot identify B-52s flying at 20,000 to 30,000 feet, and tell them apart from KC-135s which are permitted to fly over Laos now.
(3) It is no longer necessary to couple strikes in South Vietnam with the flights out of Thailand since B-52s stationed on Guam are hitting areas in South Vietnam already. The President approved the over-flights. This approval was transmitted to Vientiane in telegram 76627, November 29. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
When it was all said and done, more bombs were dropped on Laos by the U.S. then all the bombs ever dropped in the history of warfare; this includes the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. More than two million tons of bombs were dropped. Laos was turned into a dust bowl. This indiscriminate destruction is in violation of the Geneva Convention, crime against the environment.
By 1968, Vang Pao is one of two remaining fighting Generals left defending the objectives of the U.S. One false hiccup from General Vang Pao had the U.S. turning up the heat.
Telegram from the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State Vientiane, March 14, 1968, 0841Z: Last evening subsequent to discussions reported Souvanna told me he had received disturbing message from Vang Pao which he interpreted as preparation for withdrawal from additional forward territory in Region II, raising prospect that north and east defenses of Vientiane plains would be significantly reduced in depth. Souvanna felt this was imprudent and hoped to dissuade Vang Pao from any such steps. He felt he needed assurances of air strikes as persuader for Vang Pao and again urged early meeting on subject. Sullivan.
The war rages on and in spite of the U.S.’s might, the war was turning for the worst and the U.S. was looking for a way out. Their plans however did not include the Hmong. The U.S. began to negotiate the Paris Treaty with the North Vietnamese. By 1972 only a handful of Americans remained in Laos. Vang Pao’s 20,000 boys were abandoned by the U.S. to face a Vietnamese army of 500,000 strong.
In 1975 the U.S. divorced Vang Pao and withdrew all personnel from Laos leaving the Hmong to hold the bag. Forty thousand panic-stricken Hmong civilians waited on the tarmac of Long Tieng to be evacuated. Only two planes came and a handful of people were evacuated. For the rest of the Hmong, their ordeal had just begun. For the U.S., a blind eye was turned on the Hmong.
The communists rolled into town and started to exact revenge on their hated American supporters. A campaign of genocide followed as the Hmong fled to neighboring Thailand. On this dangerous exodus, thousand of old men, women, and children were massacred. At the border, those that weren’t robbed by Thai human traffickers and corrupt UN workers drowned trying to cross the mighty Mekong River. Those who survived the journey spent years confined in squalid refugee camps forgotten by the world. Those left behind in Laos suffered the wrath of the communist chemical weapons program. The New York based Independent Lawyer Committee for Human Rights reported that between 1975 and 1980, out of a population of 350,000 to 400,000 Hmong some 100,000 were killed fleeing the communists. Yet the U.S. States Department failed to mention the Hmong to Congress in their 1976, 1977, or 1978 Human Rights Report.
I would like to think that the silence was due to shame. But more likely it was due to a fear of exposure to war crimes committed in secrecy. By keeping quiet, the U.S. Government hoped that it will all just disappear. Instead their betrayal led to the genocide of their fiercest ally.
For the past 40 years, it has been well documented that the Hmong left behind have endured some of harshest punishments known to mankind; from concentration camps to chemical warfare. The March 23, 2007 Amnesty International Report on the Hmong hiding in the jungle of Laos condemns the action of the Communist Government for their continuing murder, rape and detention of the Hmong who supported the U.S. And yet, the U.S., in denial, is still deaf to their cries.
Vang Pao for forty years has tried to draw the world’s attention to the Hmong’s plight but to no avail. Most U.S. citizens don’t even know where Laos is let alone what happened there forty years ago. The recent U.S. policy shift in terror activities by the Bush administration once again will commit another betrayal of its former ally. Ironically, the charges filed against Vang Pao are the same criminal acts exercised by the U.S. that started this atrocity. Had the U.S. lived up to its promises then perhaps Vang Pao would not feel obligated to help the helpless. Vang Pao is the product of U.S. policies. Now U.S. policies will condemn him for his alleged actions. Only in America does the culprit have the audacity to blame the instrument for a crime … such hypocrisy.