Two errors in The Washington Post's account last Sunday of a report on amnesty for Vietnam-era offenders distorted the report's import. Lawrence Baskir and William Strauss, who wrote the report under the sponsorship of Notre Dame University, recommended that all draft and other non-violent offenders should be pardoned, and that all military deserters and other offenders should be given general discharges except for about 35,000 borderline cases that could be reviewed individually. The program thereby offers general discharges to about 200,000 offenders who - under the pardon outlined by President-elect Jimmy Carter during his campaign - would only have their cases reviewed on an individual basis. It is not known whether Carter has altered his thinking on the pardon, which he is to announce in his first week in office. The Post account also was incorrect in challenging the completeness of the report's list of amnesties in U.S. history.
With President Ford and President-elect Jimmy Carter each considering providing some form of pardon for Vietnam era offenders, a report issued yesterday urged a program similar to the one Carter outlined during his campaign.
The report was written by two of the top staff officials from Ford's Clemency Board.
Civilians convicted of dodging the draft should be pardoned and those charged with draft offenses should have their charges dismissed, Lawrence M. Baskir and William A. Strauss write in their report, "Reconciliation After Vietnam."
Deserters and men with undesirable discharges would be eligible to have their cases reviewed and qualify for general discharges instead, under the 150-page report's program.
Carter made the same distinction in his campaign, promising a blanket pardon for draft evaders and case-by-case consideration for deserters. He has not made public his views on men with bad discharges, which render many of them unemployable.
Carter's adviser, Charles Kirbo, was given a draft of the report.
The amnesty movement believes all those suffering for offenses related to the Vietnam war should be pardoned.
Leaders of the amnesty movement argue that the distinction between draft offensers and those who served before getting into trouble is also inevitably, a distinction between classes and races.
Draft resisters, as a group, are white, well educated, and affluent.
The Rev. Barry Lynn of the United Church of Christ has been a leading proponent of total, unconditional amnesty.
Lynn pointed out yesterday that the Baskir-Strauss report notes in one place that a general discharge, like other less-than-honorable discharges, is crippling to a man's chances of finding a job. Yet the report says general discharges should be the relief offered those with undesirable discharges and recommends that men already holding general discharges should get no relief.
Lynn cited a 1968 court decision that found: "Since the vast majority of discharges from the armed forces are honorable, the issuance of any other type of discharges stigmatizes the ex-serviceman. It robs him of his good name and it injures his economic and social potential as a member of the general community."
The report, which was supported by Notre Dame University, its president, the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, and a grant from the Ford Foundation, avoids any judgment on the rightness or wrongness of the Vietnam war.
It argues that using amnesty as a symbol to express a view of the war is to overlook the fact that "Vietnam-era offenders are real people with real problems."
Lynn countered: "The need for amnesty is intimately related to the whole discredited Vietnam war and the abuse of the military discharge system that took the place during that war."
The Baskir-Strauss report, however, offers much more sweeping relief than did Ford's 1974 clemency program.
The authors make several, somewhat contradictory, references to the Ford program on which they also worked. At one point they write that "its overall effect was negligible." At another, they rank it "among the most generous pardon or amnesty programs of any American President."
Their list of amnesties in an appendix does not include the most sweeping - President Andrew Johnson's Oct. 17, 1865, blanker amnesty to all Union Army deserters and draft evaders.
Hesburgh, in a foreword, and the authors also refer to the Ford program as a first step. About 21,800 people applied to that program.
Baskir and Strauss write that the program they now recommend could benefit more than 500,00 people.
By far the largest groups of beneficiaries (based on figures used by groups advocating total amnesty) would be the men with bad discharges and about 250,000 who committed the offense of never registering for the draft.
It is generally agreed that those in the latter category stand little risk of being prosecuted in today's climate.
It is still not known what Carter or Ford will announce this month. But the step from the Ford clemency program to the program recommended by Baskir and Strauss indicates there may be as many steps short of total Vietnam amnesty as there seemed to be during the Nixon administration short of total withdrawal from Vietnam.