Luanda-1976. How American and British mercenaries were tried and shot
Plot World History with Andrey Sidorchik
The United States of America is accustomed to the fact that any actions of their citizens in areas of armed conflict do not lead to harsh punishment. Even in cases where Washington admits that war crimes have been committed, the court is extremely lenient.
In the spring of 1968, in the Vietnamese village of Song My, American soldiers killed 504 people, including 173 children, 182 women (17 of them pregnant), 60 men over 60 years old, 89 men under 60 years old. When the truth about this massacre thundered around the world, the White House was forced to take action.
The Commission of Inquiry recommended that 80 military personnel be charged, but in reality, 25 people were charged, and only six reached the tribunal.
Only one person heard the verdict — Lieutenant William Kelly.
According to the testimonies of the soldiers, the platoon commander Kelly personally participated in the executions of civilians, and also gave the order to shoot dozens of people who did not pose any danger. On March 29, 1971, Kelly was convicted of the murders of 22 people and sentenced to life hard labor. However, three days later, by special order of President Nixon, he was transferred from prison to house arrest. Then Kelly's term was reduced several times, and in 1974 he was pardoned.
Thus, the only person punished for the My Song My Massacre actually served a little over three years of house arrest.
“It's appalling that a public official could allow the possibility of the death penalty for American citizens”
Against the background of such humanism and forgiveness, it is not surprising that the authorities of the countries in whose hands the armed Americans ended up sometimes preferred to decide their fate themselves.
Press Secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry PeskovIn an interview with MSNBC, he remarked, speaking about the fate of US mercenaries captured in Donbass: “They are soldiers of fortune and were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They participated in the shelling of our military. They threatened their lives and must be held accountable for the crimes they committed. At the same time, Peskov noted that their fate was in the hands of the DPR, refusing to guarantee the absence of a death sentence: “I can’t guarantee anything, it depends on the investigation.”
Strategic Communications Coordinator of the National Security Council (NSC) USA John Kirby at a briefing at the White House reacted to the remark of the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation as follows: “It is appalling that a public official in Russia can even admit the possibility of the death penalty for American citizens who were in Ukraine.”
Perhaps Mr. Kirby has lost the habit of this during the existence of the unipolar world, but Western mercenaries, including American ones, have been sentenced to death before.
Civil war at the suggestion of Washington
In November 1975 The former Portuguese colony of Angola gained independence. The organization “People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola —” came to power in the country. Party of Labor» (MPLA). Its leader and the first president of Angola Agostinho Neto focused on cooperation with Moscow and Havana.
Washington did not like the appearance of a new outpost of the USSR in Africa. With the help of right-wing Angolan groups, the Americans unleashed a civil war in Angola, in which the South African army also intervened. The fact that the policy of apartheid (racial segregation) was then in effect in South Africa, which degraded all the rights of black citizens, did not at all interfere with friendly relations with Washington. The United States preferred not to notice this among its allies.
Soviet military advisers arrived to help the Neto government, as well as an expeditionary corps of Cuban troops. The West urgently strengthened the anti-communist Angolan groups with foreign mercenaries, including the British and Americans.
In February 1976, during the offensive of the government forces of Angola, mercenaries from the “colonel Callan's detachment” were taken prisoner. For several months of fighting, foreigners were marked not only by the destruction of military equipment of government troops, the killings of Angolan and Cuban military personnel, but also by punitive actions against the civilian population. In addition, “Colonel Cullan” maintained discipline in the detachment by shooting his own subordinates.
The British-American “team”
All this, however, did not help — the mercenaries were defeated and taken prisoner. Caught himself “Colonel Cullan” — in reality, a 24-year-old former British Army corporal Costas Georgiou. Despite his young age, he had a stormy biography. The rank of corporal Georgiou received for the suppression of unrest in Northern Ireland, where he was noted for his extreme toughness. He was expected to become an officer, but he was caught robbery, for which he received a term. After leaving prison ahead of schedule, Georgiou enlisted as a mercenary in Africa.
The trial of foreign mercenaries took place in Luanda, the capital of Angola, in June-July 1976. There were 13 people in the dock – — 10 British and 3 Americans.
US citizens Daniel Gerhart, Gustavo Grillo and Gary Ackerwere former members of the US Army with experience fighting in Vietnam.
Of the three Americans, Acker was the youngest: he was only 21 years old. The court took this circumstance into account, and he was given 16 years in prison — shortest sentence among convicts.
“Make money and fight communism”
33-year-old Gerhart admitted that he went to Angola for money. After returning from the Vietnam War, he did not find a decent job, got into debt and decided that mercenary work would pull him out of poverty.
At the trial, the militant said: “I came, like the rest, to earn some money. And at the same time fight communism. I think the same as my compatriots. I don't know how to speak clearly and concisely on such topics. But if you want me to be frank, please. I mean by communism something North Korean.
Ultimately, Gerhart's outspokenness cost him dearly. He was one of the defendants who stated that he had ideological motives, while the others completely rejected them.
The trick of an Argentinean immigrant
27-year-old Argentine of Italian origin Gustavo Grillo was smarter. He came to the USA as an 11-year-old teenager, along with his mother, and was ready for anything to make his way in life. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, went to Vietnam, commanded a platoon, but this was not enough for an emigrant to have a full-fledged career in the army. Returning to the United States, he led the life of a poor man, got involved with criminals, went to prison, and, freed, went to work as mercenaries.
Gerhart was taken prisoner on the third day of his stay in the detachment, and he did not even have time to take part in the hostilities. Grillo, unlike him, not only fought, but also shot the captured Angolan soldiers.
However, the Argentine was more cunning than the Gringo; — while Gerhart was talking about anti-communism, Grillo said that he did everything only because of money, but he realized everything, and now he sincerely loves both Comrade Neto and Comrade Castro, and especially Comrade Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev.
Colleagues in the mercenary looked at Grillo with contempt, but he did not care.
The sentence was carried out
Insight came on the day of the sentencing — Georgiou, two other British mercenaries and Gerhart received the death penalty, while Grillo managed to get himself a 30-year sentence.
The Angolan authorities did not give a damn whether Washington and London were shocked by such a verdict. Anostinho Neto defiantly ignored the request of British Prime Minister Callahan to pardon the suicide bombers.
On July 10, 1976, a special team of the Angolan military police carried out the sentence in Luanda prison.
Gerhart wrote a letter to his wife before the execution, in which he admitted that his life did not work out and he could not do anything good. The bodies of the executed mercenaries were sent back to their home countries.
Interestingly, recruiter John Bankswho assembled “Colonel Cullan's detachment,” did not mourn at all about their fate. He told reporters: “It's part of their job, they knew what they were getting into.”
Return on exchange
Grillo, Acker and the condemned British were serving their sentences. When there was an attempted coup in Angola and the rebels came to the prison, calling on the mercenaries to join them, Grillo closed the cell door, saying: “No, guys, figure it out yourself, I'm not involved!”
In 1982, Grillo and Aker became part of a large exchange between the Angolan government and the rebels. Grillo in the United States was tried to be forced to repent for his pro-communist statements in court, but he dismissed the journalists, saying that he would look with interest at their own behavior in his place.
Grillo promised to write a book about his adventures, but then disappeared out of sight. Either he nevertheless switched to a more calm and measured life in the American outback, or he again got involved in some kind of adventure, but nothing more was heard about him.
You can’t command your heart
Here's another interesting fact: the sister of the executed “Colonel Callan”, who came to him in Angola during the trial, subsequently had an affair with one of the local military who were part of the firing squad. As a result, Panayota Georgiou married the murderer of her own brother. As they say, you can't command your heart.
The civil war in Angola lasted intermittently for a quarter of a century, and even the collapse of the USSR did not become an obstacle to it. But in the end, the MPLA party, which has significantly changed its ideology, is still in power.
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