Did President Richard Nixon attempt to cover up the My Lai massacre? That's what some pouring over newly released documents at his library want to know.
The new documents at the Nixon Presidential Library revealed a series of handwritten notes by Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldemann, in which the cabinet member discussed a meeting with the 37th president titled "Task force - My Lai."
In the note, Haldemann mentions "dirty tricks" in reference to an apparent attempt to "discredit one witness," in order to "keep working on the problem," CBS News' "60 Minutes" reported in a segment called "Back to My Lai."
Haldemann goes on to clarify that the tricks should be "not too high a level."
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"Haldeman's note is an important piece of evidence that Nixon interfered with a war-crime prosecution," Ken Hughes, a researcher with the University of Virginia's Miller Center Presidential Recording Program, told "60 Minutes."
One of the darkest moments in U.S. military history, the My Lai massacre occurred on March 16, 1968, and involved soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division, who slaughtered between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians in the South Vietnamese village. More than a dozen officers were court martialed as a result of the slaughter, with one receiving a life sentence for his involvement in the actual killings.
To what extent if any the notes from Haldemann have on the investigation is unknown considering it's not known if they were ever received by the intended parties.
There is little question, however, as to who the intended target of the apparent discrediting campaign were – pilot Hugh Thompson, who along with gunner Larry Colburn witnessed the massacre and saved as many Vietnamese lives as they could.
According to Trent Angers, who authored the newly updated book "The Forgotten Hero of My Lai," two Congressmen worked in concert with Nixon to seal Thompson's testimony during the subsequent court-martial trials so as to weaken the cases against those responsible for the war crimes, CBS News reported.
"I would not characterize [the "dirty tricks" note] as a smoking gun, but it's pretty strong," James Rife, a senior historian at History Associates Inc. who assisted Angers with his book about the massacre, told "60 Minutes." "I don't think we'll ever find an actual document that can make the absolute final link between Nixon and Hugh Thompson."
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