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U.S. Policy Was to Shoot Korean Refugees

The Army report of 2001 acknowledged investigators learned of other, unspecified civilian killings, but said these would not be investigated.

Meanwhile, AP research uncovered at least 19 declassified U.S. military documents showing commanders ordered or authorized such killings in 1950-51.

In a statement issued Monday in Seoul, a No Gun Ri survivors group called that episode "a clear war crime," demanded an apology and compensation from the U.S. government, and said the U.S. Congress and the United Nations should conduct investigations. The survivors also said they would file a lawsuit against the Pentagon for alleged manipulation of the earlier probe.

The Army's denial that the killings were ordered is a "deception of No Gun Ri victims and of U.S. citizens who value human rights," said spokesman Chung Koo-do.

Even if infiltrators are present, soldiers need to take "due precautions" to protect civilian lives, said Francois Bugnion, director for international law for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, global authority on the laws of war.

After reviewing the 1950 letter, Bugnion said the standard on war crimes is clear.

"In the case of a deliberate attack directed against civilians identified as such, then this would amount to a violation of the law of armed conflict," he said.

Gary Solis, a West Point expert on war crimes, said the policy described by Muccio clearly "deviates from typical wartime procedures. It's an obvious violation of the bedrock core principle of the law of armed conflict _ distinction."

Solis said soldiers always have the right to defend themselves. But "noncombatants are not to be purposely targeted."

But William Eckhardt, lead Army prosecutor in the My Lai atrocities case in Vietnam, sensed "angst, great angst" in the letter because officials worried about what might happen. "If a mob doesn't stop when they're coming at you, you fire over their heads and if they still don't stop you fire at them. Standard procedure," he said.

In South Korea, Yi Mahn-yol, head of the National Institute of Korean History and a member of a government panel on No Gun Ri, said the Muccio letter sheds an entirely new light on a case that "so far has been presented as an accidental incident that didn't involve the command system."

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AP Investigative Researcher Randy Herschaft in New York and AP Writer Jae-soon Chang in Seoul contributed to this report.


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© 2006 The Associated Press