The Army drops all charges against six Green Berets who murdered a South Vietnamese interpreter, Thai Khac Chuyen, accused of being a North Vietnamese double-agent. The Green Beret unit, the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of the Mekong Delta was active in illegal cross-border operations in “Golden Triangle” countries of Cambodia and Burma. The CIA, NSA Kissinger and Nixon did not want the nature of those operations to get out to the public.
The Green Berets did indeed murder Chuyen and drop his body in the South China Sea. The CIA is irate that Army General Abrams found out about the murder and began courts-martial proceedings against the six. However, the White House convinces CIA Director Richard Helms not to let any of his agents testify at the trials; without their testimony, the Secretary of the Army, Stanley Resor, decides that the trials cannot continue.
White House press secretary Ron Ziegler solemnly informs reporters that “The president had not involved himself either in the original decision to prosecute the men or in the decision to drop the charges against them.” The news of the cover-up horrifies RAND Corporation defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg. He is convinced that President Nixon and his aides were indeed involved in the decision to stop the CIA from testifying in the case. Ellsberg has long known of a secret document detailing the origins of the Vietnam War; one of only fifteen copies of that document resides in a RAND safe.
From Ellsberg’s Memoirs & a biography:
He awoke on the morning of September 30, 1969, got out of bed, went to the front door of his house in Malibu, and picked up the Los Angeles Times. Relaxing in a bedroom that looked out upon the Pacific Ocean, Ellsberg read the paper. The lead story was about what was being called the “Green Beret Murder Case.” A Green Beret (Special Forces) colonel, Robert Rheault, and five intelligence officers under his command had been charged with the premeditated murder in Vietnam of one Thai Khac Chuyen, a Special Forces informant whom Rheault and his officers believed had betrayed them. After interrogation, on June 20, 1969, Chuyen was shot, his body placed in a weighted bag, and the bag tossed into the South China Sea. The story had been in the papers since July. Today’s deadline was “CHARGES AGAINST GREEN BERETS DROPPED BY ARMY.” The story detailed how Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor, who just eleven days earlier had expressed his strong feeling that the case should be brought to trail, now overruled General Creighton Abrams, commander of the U.S. forces in Vietnam, ordering that charges be dropped.
“I lay on my bed,” Ellsberg wrote, “and listened to the ocean and the gulls and thought about what I read.”
Ellsberg reasoned that the CIA could not “‘refuse’ to produce witnesses without the backing of the president.” Although the Pentagon and the White House both denied involvement in the CIA refusal, the press “took it for granted that these denials were false” — and, in fact, the diary of H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s chief of staff, published years later, confirmed that both Richard Nixon ands foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger were directly involved in the CIA refusal. Ellsberg found himself suddenly amazed by the casualness with which the press accepted the inevitability of lying at the highest levels of government. He was also stunned by what Resor and Abrams had originally said, that the U.S. Army couldn’t “condone murder,” and yet, apparently, the president of the United States could.
“Yet,” Ellsberg wrote, “if they didn’t personally condone an individual murder,” they were not being honest about the reasons for bringing the charges or for dismissing them. They “were taking part in a lot of lying,” and, Ellsberg continued, a “vision forming in my mind was what seemed to be the skeleton of [what] I had just read: a ladder of lies.
“I lay in bed that Tuesday morning and thought: This is the system that I have been working for, the system I have been part of, for a dozen years – fifteen, including the Marine Corps. It’s a system that lies automatically, at every level from bottom to top — from sergeant to commander in chief — to conceal murder.”
And Ellsberg kept thinking.
This same system had been lying “on an infinitely larger scale, continuously, for a third of a century,” about what it had been doing in Vietnam. “I thought: I’m not going to be part of it anymore.”
Ellsberg calls his friend Anthony Russo and secures the use of a Xerox copying machine. The two begin secretly making their own copies of the document. When Ellsberg later leaks the document to the press, it becomes known as the “Pentagon Papers” (see March 1971). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 127-132].
Also see A Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story That Changed the Course of the Vietnam War about the “Green Beret Affair” and Ellsberg’s decision to copy the Pentagon Papers.