March 19, 2016
William B. Bader, who held high-ranking foreign-policy positions with several federal agencies and who, as a Senate staff member, helped investigate CIA abuses and events surrounding the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, died March 15 at a care facility in Sykesville, Md. He was 84.
He had complications from Alzheimer's disease, said a son, Christopher Bader.
While working for Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) in the late 1960s, Dr. Bader was among the first people to cast doubt on the official reasons given by the Defense Department and the White House for escalating U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.
On Aug. 4, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson went on national television to announce that the U.S. military was taking action against "repeated acts of violence" by North Vietnamese forces. According to the Defense Department, Navy ships had come under fire on two occasions in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam.
The first attack, on Aug. 2, was on the destroyer USS Maddox. Two days later, defense officials said the Maddox and a second destroyer, the USS Turner Joy, had come under automatic weapons fire and torpedo attacks. The Maddox fired hundreds of shells during the nighttime incident, and U.S. jets were dispatched from a nearby aircraft carrier.
Johnson used the episodes as justification for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was passed by Congress on Aug. 7, 1964. The resolution authorized the president to "take all necessary measures" to protect U.S. interests and led to a decade-long military engagement in Vietnam that claimed about 58,000 American lives.
Dr. Bader, a onetime naval intelligence officer who worked at the CIA and State Department early in his career, was a member of Fulbright's staff in 1967, when he began to examine Navy documents concerning the Gulf of Tonkin incidents.
There was no doubt that the Maddox had exchanged fire with a North Vietnamese vessel on Aug. 2, 1964. But Dr. Bader helped raise questions about the second attack, finding no evidence that it had taken place.
Fulbright, an early critic of the Vietnam War, charged then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara with misrepresenting evidence about the supposed assaults. Fulbright suggested that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution had been passed under false pretenses.
Many documents related to the episode were not declassifed until 2005 and 2006, when the doubts voiced by Fulbright and Dr. Bader almost 40 years earlier were confirmed.