December 7, 2000



The Honorable William S. Cohen

Secretary of Defense

The Pentagon

Washington DC


Dear Mr. Secretary:


Assistant Secretary Charles Cragin requested that the Outside Experts on the Army’s No-Gun-Ri investigation individually share their thoughts with you. 

    The Inspector General and his team conducted a thorough and unbiased investigation.  They probably got as close to ground truth in the matter as is possible given the passage of time, the limitations of testimony, evidence and documentation.  They are to be commended for their efforts. 

    My views and recommendations were independently arrived at on the basis of the data made available to me, physical inspection of the site, survivor testimony and discussions of the events.  They are holistic in nature. 

    At the outset of the investigation I drew up a list of "essential elements of information" in question form to guide me in reviewing the Army’s investigation.  The questions and my post-investigation answers are as follows: 

    Were innocent civilians killed by American air or ground action at or around No-Gun-Ri on or around the dates cited?  The evidence available from testimony and records overwhelmingly supports this conclusion. 

    How many civilians were killed?  Analyses of all the information available does not lead to a definitive number.  The best we can conclude is that the number is more than one and less than the claimed 300.  Logic coupled with the evidence would suggest that the number is in the rage of 12 to something less than 100. 

    Is the number killed germane?  No, the deliberate killing of a single innocent non-combatant violates the Rules of Land Warfare, military law and international conventions for the protection of the innocent.  The number is a matter of degree. 

    Had North Koreans or their sympathizers in civilian dress infiltrated the refugee column(s) in question?  There is no concrete evidence to support this contention.  There is ample documentation available to conclude that NKPA troops had availed themselves of that opportunity elsewhere, but there is no indication that they did so in the vicinity of No-Gun-Ri.  What is beyond doubt is the belief on the part of American troops that this practice was widespread and was feared at No-Gun-Ri. 

    Did somebody with legitimate authority (officer or NCO) order, authorize or in any way encourage 7th Cavalry troops at No-Gun-Ri to fire upon civilians?  There is no conclusive evidence that such was the case.  However, there is adequate evidence and testimony that members of the 2d Bn., 7th Cavalry believed such an order was given or that they were authorized to fire at civilians in the execution of their duty.  This could have been a panic reaction to a perceived threat, although such orders for refugee control that are known could have been construed or misconstrued as authorizing deadly force to halt civilian movement through American lines. 

    Did any American soldiers fire on civilians of their own volition?  According to self-incriminating testimony of at least one machine-gunner, the answer is yes.  But, there is no testimony from others to support this specific assertion. 

    Was the shooting of civilian refugees at No-Gun-Ri justified?  No, 7th Cavalry soldiers in the vicinity of No-Gun-Ri were not in contact with the NVA and there is no convincing evidence that they were being fired upon, or in immediate dangers from the ranks of the refugees during the time frame in question.  The evidence indicates that the refugees were passive and cooperative. 

    Were the Rules of Land Warfare and international law violated by one or more American officers, NCOs or men of the 7th Cavalry at No-Gun-Ri?  Yes, the evidence leads to that conclusion.  Non-combatant civilians are not legitimate targets of war. 

    Was a "war crime" committed at No-Gun-Ri?  No, the civilian deaths were not an end in itself, i.e., wanton killing without a perceived justifiable reason.  All the evidence and testimony lead to the conclusion that the deaths were the unintended consequence of what was believed to be a legitimate act of self-defense or self-preservation. 

    Does the state of training, quality of leadership or the physical and psychological state of the officers, NCOs and men of the 7th Cavalry bear on the findings?  Only as matters in extenuation. 

    Can we ascertain with certainty precisely what took place at No-Gun-Ri?  We can be exact in some details, but time, imprecise, vague and contradictory or unclear testimony and data make it virtually impossible for any party to reconstruct events with certainty. 

    Whether or not direct orders were given to fire upon civilians is unknowable in absolute terms, but it is also largely irrelevant.  Commanders are responsible for their own and subordinates’ actions, in what they do or fail to do.  At No-Gun-Ri, commanders at one or more levels failed to exercise their moral and military authority. 

    My conclusion is that the American command was responsible for the loss of innocent civilian life in or around No-Gun-Ri.  At the very least it failed to control the fire of its subordinate units and personnel.  At worst, it ordered the firing. 

    The harm done appears to have been a consequence of battlefield confusion.  Legitimate defense, not killing innocents, appears to have been the objective of the firing by ill-trained, frightened troops.  Nonetheless innocent civilians were avoidably and unnecessarily killed.  Other means of anti-infiltration and refugee control could have been employed.  But, from the data available in the Army study, no alternative was attempted.  This is a case of failed leadership.  It has left the impression that members of the 7th Cavalry acted, not as soldiers, but as murderers. 

    Great sympathy can be felt for the officers, NCOs and men who were thrust into the Korean War under handicaps that have been fully documented in the study.  But the sad fact remains they unjustifiably, if inadvertently, killed an unverifiable number of non-combatants in the execution of their duties.  The United States should accept responsibility for the tragedy at No-Gun-Ri. 

    No-Gun-Ri is but one of many cases where civilians were victims of the chaos of the war.  When the dogs of war slip their leash, the innocent suffer.  Notwithstanding No-Gun-Ri, the United States forces fought in Korea in keeping with the Just War tradition upon which our resort to arms is based.  Our intentions were noble (jus ad bellum) in entering the fray and honorable in its execution (jus in bello).  We need not apologize for our conduct even when legitimate and well-intentioned actions had unintended and undesirable consequences. 

    The United States Government should, however, express the deepest sorrow, regret and sympathy to the survivors and the victims’ families for the events that transpired at No-Gun-Ri.  No-Gun-Ri, however, is best served to symbolize the cruelty of war.  Erecting a fitting memorial monument on the site, representing the loss of all innocent lives during the war, would serve as a tribute to all those many victims and a testament to the cause of peace on the peninsula.  Such a memorial could be the joint expression of remembrance of both the South Korean and American governments. 

    Mr. Secretary, I thank you for affording me the honor and opportunity to continue to serve my country.  I was privileged as an Outside Expert to be associated with a truly distinguished group of patriots.  Ours was a sad task, but I hope the views expressed herein and in the separate correspondence from my colleagues will assist you in making a sound judgment in this tragic affair. 


Very respectfully,

Bernard E. "Mick" Trainor