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[2004 · Toledo Blade • Investigative Reporting]

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BLADE SERIES REVEALED LONG-HIDDEN VIETNAM ATROCITIES

In 1971, an American Army platoon committed horrific war crimes that were hidden from the American public. In 2002, The (Toledo) Blade gained access to classified files related to the crimes and began an investigation. In 2004, Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss and Joe Mahr of The Blade won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their investigative reporting on Tiger Force.

Tiger Force was investigated by the United States Army in 1971 for war crimes, which included killing innocent Vietnamese women and children, wearing necklaces made of human ears and killing unarmed citizens, but charges were never filed and the atrocities were never made public.

The team at the Blade, led by Sallah, began a nine-month investigation after obtaining 22 pages of classified Army records.

The records came from Henry Tufts, who died in 2002. Tufts was the head of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and oversaw the Tiger Force investigation. He was unsatisfied with the results of the case, but he was forced into retirement at the conclusion of the investigation. He took the classified files once he retired and left these files to his neighbor and friend upon his death. His friend was Michael Woods, a member of the Blade’s Washington bureau.

The team members went through declassified records and National Archives to collect previously unpublished information.

“I remember when you would go through these witness statements and all these horrific things they were saying, you would wake up thinking about it or you would even dream. In your dreams you would be kind of replaying what you read,” Joe Mahr said recently. “It was hard to separate yourself from it.”

“The Tiger Force investigation was finished after the war had ended. It was the last thing our government — particularly the Nixon and then the Ford administration — wanted to become public. This was one last horrific reminder that would have kept us lingering on the war had they not buried it,” Sallah told Salon.com in 2006.

The Blade reporters also interviewed former Tiger Force soldiers.

“Some vets were surprised we knew about it, but they opened up. For a lot of them, this was the first time they had talked to anyone about what they saw or did,” Weiss told Salon.com in 2006.

Sallah, Weiss, Mahr, and Andy Morrison, a Blade photographer, went to the Central Highlands of Vietnam to continue their research and found witnesses and family members of victims of the Tiger Force atrocities who were willing to speak.

In October 2003, the team’s reports were completed and published.

by Sami Fisher
PULITZER ENTRY MATERIALS:

The Blade’s Tiger Force Series.

MORE INFORMATION:

The Blade’s front page from April 6, 2004, announcing the Pulitzer win.

“The Tiger Force investigation was finished after the war had ended. It was the last thing our government — particularly the Nixon and then the Ford administration — wanted to become public. This was one last horrific reminder that would have kept us lingering on the war had they not buried it,” Sallah said in an interview with Salon.com in 2006.

The series received significant responses, including an opened review of the former Tiger Force investigation by the United States Army.

L9780316066358In 2006, Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss published the bookTiger Force: A True Story of Men and War.”

Michael Sallah talks about studying the original documents that would ultimately lead to the Tiger Force Series in a 2006 presentation at Bowling Green State University.

Michael Sallah talks about how the team tracked down key documents at the National Archives.

Mitch Weiss talks about how the team persuaded The Blade’s editors to pay for them to travel to Vietnam in the hopes of finding witnesses to the Tiger Force atrocities.