We could barely believe our eyes. Vang Pao and the others arrested, according to the AP, were picked up during a sweep by more than 200 federal, state, and local agents. The news wire quoted a criminal complaint as saying the authorities acted because weapons shipments were set to begin this month to areas in Thailand along the Laotian border. The AP quoted Hmong leaders in Thailand as saying they found the charges unbelievable. "I don't believe Gen. Vang Pao planned to cause trouble in Laos. I think the charges are meant by rival Hmong in the United States to smear him," the AP quoted Ming Wui, a Hmong Christian minister in Thailand's Phetchabun province, as saying.I'm following this story because of the controversy in Madison over naming an elementary school after the man. Here's my post on the subject from yesterday (noting that "oddly, Madison is the leading edge in appreciating anti-Communist military action"). Here's today's local news coverage of that story:
Federal prosecutors are quoted by the AP as saying, "We're looking at conspiracy to murder thousands and thousands of people at one time." Our instinct is that Mr. Bush will want to take a break between the Prague Conference and the G-8 summit and order up some adult supervision of whatever his justice department is doing in California. Or just exercise his unfettered pardon authority to nip this case in the bud. The only faction who have conspired to mass murder in Laos in our time are the communists, against whom Vang Pao has been our most reliable and inspiring ally. He is a freedom fighter who will tower over any courtroom into which he is brought.
[School board president Arlene] Silveira and board member Carol Carstensen said Tuesday that the board should reverse its April 9 decision to name the school in honor of former Gen. Vang Pao, who was among 10 people charged Monday in California with plotting a violent takeover of Laos' communist government.I'm glad to see that Silveira has backed away from her original statement "Obviously if there is something that is negative and we would like to have a discussion, what we will do is have a reconsideration," which I mocked yesterday.
Board members Lawrie Kobza and Lucy Mathiak agreed the board needs to discuss the name of the school but said it's too early to say whether Vang Pao's name should be removed....Seriously, how can you name an elementary school after a man who is under indictment? Even those who idolize the man should reject it, because it invites attacks on their hero.
All four board members on Tuesday stressed a desire to show sensitivity to members of the Hmong community, who nominated Vang Pao's name for the school, while also taking the right stand for the community as a whole.
Complicating that task is the history of America's withdrawal from the Vietnam War, after Vang Pao led his forces in a covert CIA-backed war on communists in Laos.Contrast that to the Sun's quotation of "Hmong leaders in Thailand" saying "I don't believe Gen. Vang Pao planned to cause trouble in Laos." Does the Sun really think individuals who do what is charged in the indictment should be labeled "freedom fighters" and given presidential pardons?
Many Hmong fled to Thailand and eventually the United States, but thousands are said to remain stranded in Laos where they remain subject to rape, killing and torture at the hands of the communist government — the regime Vang Pao is accused of attempting to overthrow.
Prosecutors called Vang Pao the mastermind of the plot, which involved raising money to recruit a mercenary force and equipping a small army to pull off a coordinated set of attacks with anti-tank missiles, grenade launchers and C-4 explosives. One prosecutor called it "conspiracy to murder thousands and thousands of people at one time."
An undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives secretly recorded a Feb. 7 luncheon meeting with Vang Pao, former California National Guard Lt. Col. Harrison Ulrich Jack and others at a Thai restaurant a few blocks from California's Capitol in Sacramento, according to the agent's affidavit. They then walked to a recreational vehicle parked nearby to examine machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank rockets, anti-personnel mines and other weapons, the agent wrote.
Hmong leaders had agreed to buy $9.8 million worth of military weapons, Jack said in a recorded conversation, with much of the money coming from immigrants throughout the United States, the affidavit states.
UPDATE: More here on the reaction in the Hmong community:
[S]ome in [Madison's] Hmong community -- especially elders -- feel betrayed by Vang Pao's arrest, according to Koua Vang, the executive director of United Refugee Services in Madison.AND: Here's more on the role of former state senator Gary George:
"It was the U.S. government that came to Laos and said 'Help fight the Communists,'" Koua Vang said in an interview Tuesday. "Now they say continuing to fight the Communists is wrong. People are sad, they feel they are being betrayed."
Another source in the Hmong community -- a middle-aged man who in recent years has cautioned other Hmong about donating money to Vang Pao -- estimates that 90 to 95 percent of Hmong families support Vang Pao.
The source, who requested anonymity because the situation in the community is tense, said that many Madison Hmong, particularly the veterans and the elderly, consider it an honor to support Vang Pao and to give money to his organizations.....
In his years in America, Vang Pao took on mythic proportions as a godfather of sorts whose connections to the government paved the way for the eventual arrival of thousands of Hmong to the United States and whose continuing influence inspired the Hmong to prosper....
Koua Vang speculated that Vang Pao's arrest may buttress his support among younger Hmong who may not carry personal memories of all he has done for the community.
"The older people knew, but the young will understand he is truly committed to fighting the Communists, he did not give up fighting for freedom. Now it is open record," Vang said.
[The San Francisco Chronicle] reported that George was "suspected of conspiring to violate the (federal) Neutrality Act and conspiring to kill or injure people in a foreign country," according to a report by an undercover agent included as part of the affidavit....
George wooed the Hmong community in Wisconsin while he was a state senator.
In 2003, he cast the deciding vote for the state budget only after demanding -- and getting -- a $3 million state grant for a planned Hmong cultural center in Milwaukee in George's district. In a rare move, the budget deal specified exactly where the center would be built and barred the state from considering other sites or supervising the construction or bidding process.
That plan was later vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle, who argued that the proposal had not gone through the proper approval process for major state projects.
George's former aide, Locha Thao, was one of 10 people charged with trying to overthrow the Laotian government.