A former Green Beret sergeant has filed a $100 million defamation suit against CNN, correspondent Peter Arnett and Time magazine for a retracted report claiming his unit used deadly nerve gas on Vietnam defectors.
Keith Plancich, 48, of Key West, charged Thursday that he and other former GIs were defamed by joint CNN and Time reports about Operation Tailwind, accusing them of mounting a raid on a Laotian village in 1970 to kill U.S. defectors and using deadly sarin gas just before and after the raid.The story was "not only totally untrue, it was a vicious attack on the courageous men I fought along-side," Plancich said after filing the federal suit. "I was shocked, then I was deeply hurt, then I became very, very angry."
Plancich's name was not used in the reports, but five photographs of him were used six times in the June 7 broadcast, and the Time story also used his picture, according to his attorney, Ed Horan.
"Mr. Plancich was in fact labeled a war criminal, a murderer of women and children," Horan said.
Plancich was wounded when his escape helicopter crashed, and he suffered grenade wounds and was awarded a Silver Star for bravery during the mission. He also won a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts during his two-year tour.
CNN spokesman Steve Haworth said the network has a no-comment policy on pending legal actions. Arnett was on vacation and unavailable for comment, Haworth said.
CNN has acknowledged reaching an undisclosed settlement with a story source, retired Adm. Thomas Moorer, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Pentagon found no evidence to support the allegations broadcast during the premiere episode of "NewsStand," a joint CNN-Time production. A review commissioned by CNN concluded the story couldn't be proven and contradictory evidence was over-looked.
The operation was a reconnaissance mission intended to divert attention from offensive maneuvers, the Pentagon said. A review of U.S. and North Vietnamese military records concluded that tear gas but no lethal chemical agents were used, and defectors played no role in the mission.