By David Jackson
USA Today | Aug 05, 2010
One of the tough things about studying the presidency is trying to determine the difference between what happens in public and what's really happening behind closed doors.
Which leads us to the case of Air Force Major Gen. John D. Lavelle, relieved of duty in 1972 after being accused of ordering illegal bombings in North Vietnam -- falsely accused by a sitting president who knew better.
Lavelle, who died in 1979, had his rank restored and was posthumously promoted yesterday by President Obama amid new evidence that authorization for the so-called secret bombings came from none other than then-Commander-in-Chief, President Richard Nixon.
According to a Pentagon statement:
In 2007, newly released and declassified information resulted in evidence that Lavelle was authorized by President Richard Nixon to conduct the bombing missions. Further, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records found no evidence Lavelle caused, either directly or indirectly, the falsification of records, or that he was even aware of their existence. Once he learned of the reports, Lavelle took action to ensure the practice was discontinued.
The evidence includes the now-famous Nixon tapes, as written up by The Washington Post:
Not only did Nixon give the secret orders, but transcripts of his recorded Oval Office conversations show that he stood by, albeit uncomfortably, as Lavelle suffered a scapegoat's fate.
"I just don't want him to be made a goat, goddamnit," Nixon told his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, on June 14, 1972, a few days after it was disclosed that Lavelle had been demoted for the allegedly unauthorized attacks. "You, you destroy a man's career ... Can we do anything now to stop this damn thing?"
On June 26, Nixon's conscience intervened in another conversation with Kissinger. "Frankly, Henry, I don't feel right about our pushing him into this thing and then, and then giving him a bad rap," the president said. "I don't want to hurt an innocent man."
But Nixon was unwilling to stand up publicly for the general. With many lawmakers and voters already uneasy about the war, he wasn't about to admit that he had secretly given permission to escalate bombing in North Vietnam. At a June 29 news conference, he was asked about Lavelle's case and the airstrikes.
"It wasn't authorized," Nixon told the reporters. "It was proper for him to be relieved and retired."
Lavelle maintained to his dying day that he never exceeded his authority. Now, more than 30 years later, he has been exonerated.
(Posted by David Jackson)