Cuban War Crimes Against American POWs
During the Vietnam War*
Cuban officials, under diplomatic cover in Hanoi during the Vietnam War, brutally tortured and killed American POWs whom they beat senseless in a research program "sanctioned by the North Vietnamese."(1) This was dubbed the "Cuba Program" by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the CIA, and it involved 19 American POWs (some reposts state 20). Recent declassified secret CIA and DOD intelligence documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal the extent of Cuba's involvement with American POWs captured in Vietnam. A Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report states that "The objective of the interrogators was to obtain the total submission of the prisoners..."(2)
According to former POW Air Force Colonel Donald "Digger" Odell, "two POWs left behind in the camp were 'broken' but alive when he and other prisoners were released [1973 Operation Homecoming]. ... They were too severely tortured by Cuban interrogators" to be released. The Vietnamese didn't want the world to see what they had done to them."(3)
POWs released during "Operation Homecoming" in 1973 "were told not to talk about third-country interrogations. .... This thing is very sensitive with all kinds of diplomatic ramifications."(4) Hence, the torture and murder of American POWs by the Cubans was swept under the rug by the U.S. Government.
The "Cuban Program"
The "Cuban Program" was initiated around August 1967 at the Cu Loc POW camp known as "The Zoo", a former French movie studio on the southwestern edge of Hanoi. The American POWs gave their Cuban torturers the names "Fidel," "Chico," "Pancho" and "Garcia." The Vietnamese camp commander was given the name "The Lump" because of a fatty tumor growth in the middle of his forehead.
Intelligence and debriefing reports reveal that testing "torture methods were of primary interest" of the "Cuban Program." The Cuban leader of the "Cuban Program" ["Fidel"] was described in debriefing reports as "a professional interrogator," and a second team member was described as looking like a Czech ["Chico"]. "The Cubans has (sic) the authority to order NVNS [North Vietnamese] to torture American PWs [POWs]." The Vietnamese "catered" to the Cubans.(5)
*Research conducted for the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America's Missing Servicemen by Board Member and former Vietnam POW Mike Benge.
According to a 20 January 1976 deposition, Marge Van Beck of DIA/DI, Resources and Installation Division, MIA/PW Branch, states that she was told by the "Air Force that the CIA had identified FIDEL."(6) Since the CIA and the FBI has not released all documentation relevant to the "Cuban Program", there were no copies of any photographs accompanying the Defense Department's September 11, 1996, report to Congress, Cuban Program Information.(5)
Several other documents corroborate that the CIA analysts identified two Cuban military attaches, Eduardo Morjon Esteves and Luis Perez Jaen, who had backgrounds that seemed to correspond with information on "Fidel" and "Chico" supplied by returning POWs.(7) Reportedly, in 1977-78, Esteves served under diplomatic cover as a brigadier general at the United Nations in New York and no attempt was made to either arrest or expel him.(8)
However, unless the Cubans were overconfident, it is highly unlikely that those who participated in the "Cuban Program" would have used their actual names when they went to Vietnam, since it is standard practice in undercover operations to use new identities. According to an expert on Cuba, "Fidel's" profile fits that of Cuban Dr. Miguel Angel Bustamente-O'Leary, President of the Cuban Medical Association. [DPMO's compilation lists a Professor Jose Bustamante, who was the president of the Pan-American Medical Confederation.] Dr. Miguel Bustamente is said to be an expert at extracting confessions through torture and he was compared to Nazi Dr. Joseph Mengale.(9)
"Chico's" profile fits that of Major Fernando VECINO Alegret, described in two intelligence reports as being "un-Cuban in appearance makes [sic] one wonder if he was a Cuban, or a block officer (possible Czech) in Cuban uniform." "He has studied in the USSR," and "...his Spanish...does not sound like Cuban Spanish." He was active in the Rebel Youth Association (AJR) and Union of Young Communists (UYC).(5b) His background would give him a natural tie-in to the international communist youth training center and the Vietnamese interrogation center in Cuba. It would also explain the observation of and participation in the "Cuban Program" by young Vietnamese officer trainees (see below).
According to POW debriefing reports, "The Lump" told a group of POWs that the 'Cuban Program'...was a Hanoi University Psychological Study."(5c) [Also see section on Vietnamese and Soviet Bloc Research on American POWs]
The torture and murder of American POWs in Vietnam by Cubans ets an unconscionable precedent and is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War that the North Vietnamese communists signed.
"Fidel" called one of the American POWs the "Faker". However, he wasn't faking it. He was one of the three American POWs who had already been beaten senseless by "Fidel" and his cohorts.
The sight of the prisoner stunned Bomar, he stood transfixed, trying to make himself believe that human beings could so batter another human being. The man could barely walk; he shuffled slowly, painfully. His clothes were torn to shreds. He was bleeding everywhere, terribly swollen, and a dirty, yellowish black and purple from head to toe. The man's head was down; he made no attempt to look at anyone. He had been through much more than the day's beatings. His body was ripped and torn everywhere; "hell- cuffs" appeared almost to have severed the wrists, strap marks still wound around the arms all the way to the shoulders, slivers of bamboo were embedded in the bloodied shins and there were what appeared to be tread marks from the hose across the chest, back and legs. Fidel smashed a fist into the man's face, driving him against the wall. Then he was brought to the center of the room and made to get down onto his knees. Screaming in rage, Fidel took a length of rubber hose from a guard and lashed it as hard as he could into the man's face. The prisoner did not react; he did not cry out or even blink an eye. Again and again, a dozen times, smashed the man's face with the hose. He was never released.(10)
Air Force ace Major James Kasler was also tortured by "Fidel" for days on end during June 1968. "Fidel" beat Kasler across the buttocks with a large truck fan belt until "he tore my rear end to shreds." For one three-day period, Kasler was beaten with the fan belt every hour from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and kept awake at night. "My mouth was so bruised that I could not open my teeth for five days." After one beating, Kasler's buttocks, lower back, and legs hung in shreds. The skin had been entirely whipped away and the area was a bluish, purplish, greenish mass of bloody raw meat.(11)
The "Cuban Program" was evaluated by two of the Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office's (DPMO) chief analysts Robert Destatte and Chuck Towbridge. In an email to Commander Chip Beck, an intelligence officer who at the time was working at DPMO, Destatte said he had concluded that the "Cuban Program" was nothing more than a program "to provide instruction in basic English to PAVN [North Vietnamese Army] personnel working with American prisoners."(12) According to Destatte, it was an English language program that had gone awry.
Destatte also has the audacity to claim that the Vietnamese were unaware of the "Cuban Program," and it was stopped once the Vietnamese found out that "Fidel" and the others were torturing the American POWs. However, the evidence that Destatte studied in compiling the report to Congress belies his assertion. It is very clear from the POWs' debriefing reports that the camp commander, "The Lump", guards and various other Vietnamese cadre were present during torture sessions.
Destatte also professes, "The Vietnamese explanation is plausible and fully consistent with what we know about the conduct of the Cubans in question..."(12) And how had Destatte reached his conclusion? Destatte asked the North Vietnamese communists, and this is what they told him! These are the very same people who broke every agreement they made with the United States, and who systematically murdered over 80,000 political prisoners after the communist takeover of South Viet Nam in 1975. A military historian once told Commander Beck not to underestimate "dumb," and Beck said Destatte would have to be brain-dead, however, to be that dumb.(13)
It is evident that DOD's analysis of the "Cuban Program" is incomplete for it did not examine the possible link to a Hanoi University research study, nor was there any investigation of Cuba's role in maintaining the Ho Chi Minh Trail where numerous American servicemen were captured. In early 1999, DPMO's chief, Bob Jones, told members of the organizations representing the families of POW/MIAs that he had proposed a meeting among Vietnam, Laos and Cambodian officials to discuss the fate of American POW/MIAs. The author, representing the National Alliance of Families, suggested that Cuba should also be invited to participate, since they were responsible for the "Cuban Program" as well as for maintaining a good share of the Ho Chi Minh Trail where many servicemen became MIA. Jones retorted that my suggestion was ridiculous for there was no evidence that the Cubans were ever involved. ["See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," author.]
Other Cuban Involvement With POWs
Documents reveal that Cubans not only tortured and killed a number of American POWs in Vietnam, but may have also taken several POWs to Cuba in the mid-1960s. The POWs, mostly pilots, were reportedly imprisoned in Las Maristas, a secret Cuban prison run by Castro's G-2 intelligence service. The source of this information reportedly was debriefed by the FBI; however, this debriefing report was not in DPMO's report to Congress, and no evidence has surfaced that there was any other follow up.(14)
According to a February 1971 State Department cable, a former aide to Fidel Castro offered "...to ransom POWs in NVN [North Viet Nam] through the Castro Government." The cable concluded, "Propose doing nothing further unless advised."(15) Evidently no advice was forthcoming, and there is no evidence of any other agency investigating this matter.
One intelligence source reportedly interviewed "Fidel", "Chico" and "Pancho" after they returned from Hanoi to Cuba and said they claimed that their real job was to act as gate-keepers to select American POWs who could aid international communism.(16)
According to a DIA "asset", Hanoi made "a political investment in all cases where prisoners [could] be ideologically turned around in order to someday serve its designs in behalf of international communism."(17) This is corroborated by several other intelligence reports. One, a CIA briefing memo, reveals that "As of September 1967 [redacted] a great deal of proselytizing of American pilots was being carried out in an effort to try to convince them to go to other communist countries as advisors. [redacted] This was disclosed during an official Party briefing [redacted]. The North Vietnamese claimed the communist countries needed the advice of American pilots to counter any attack which the U.S. might make against the communist countries."(18) This was the same time period that the "Cuban Program" was in full operation.
Those Americans targeted for selection by the communists as "advisors" for the communist countries would have been the highly-skilled pilots and electronic warfare back-seaters, skills highly prized by Soviet Bloc countries. The reported American POWs ("pilots") reported to have been held in Las Maristas prison in Cuba could have been some of these highly skilled people, who would have been prized assets for communist Cuba.
DPMO's analyst Bob Destatte wrongly concluded that the "Cuban Program" was terminated by the Vietnamese in August 1968 because of "Fidel's" excesses in torturing the American POWs. This is far from the truth, for the Vietnamese communists routinely continued to torture American POWs in other camps long after the "program" was terminated.
Besides being part of a medical study linked to the University in Hanoi, Cuba was carrying out an aggressive propaganda campaign and other subversive activities against the U.S. According to the Cuban paper El Mundo, in August 1968, Professor Miguel A. D'Estafano, who headed the Cuban Solidarity with Vietnam Committee, "prolonged his stay in the DRV to complete a program with various organizations and institutions to collect extensive information that can serve as the basis for the second symposium against genocide in Vietnam..." According to POW debriefings, a Cuban (presumably D'Estafano) showed up at the Zoo during that time and "Fidel," "Chico" and "Pancho" left with him. Their return was timed so they could prepare a presentation for the communist internationale Second Symposium Against Yankee Genocide in Vietnam held in Cuba, October 18-21, 1968.(19) There, films and tapes were shown of the research on American POWs in the "Cuban Program" that served to boost the morale of the communists that the war in Vietnam was being won.(1) [Similar to the Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal "kangaroo court" and "dog and pony show" held in Denmark in July 1967.(20)]
"Fidel", "Chico" and "Pancho" weren't the only Cubans who were involved with American POWs. As part of their propaganda program, Dr. Fernando Barral, a Spanish-born psychologist, interviewed Lt. Cmdr. John Sidney McCain Jr. (now a U.S. Senator) for an article published in Cuba's house-organ Granma on January 24, 1970.(21) Barral was a card-carrying communist internationale residing in Cuba and traveling on a Cuban passport.
Cubans on the Ho Chi Minh Trail
The Cubans were heavily involved in the Vietnam war. Cuba had a very large contingent of combat engineers, the Giron Brigade, that was responsible for maintaining a large section of the "Ho Chi Minh Trail;" the supply line running from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia to South Vietnam. The contingent was so large that Cuba had to establish a consulate in the jungle.(22)
A large number of American personnel serving in both Vietnam and Laos were either captured or killed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and in all likelihood, many by the Cubans. One National Security Agency SigNet report states that 18 American POWs "are being detained at the Phom Thong Camp..." in Laos, and "...are being closely guarded by Soviet and Cuban personnel with Vietnamese soldiers outside the camp."(23)
Cubans and Other POWs
According to CIA documents Cuban communist party committee members, Cuban "journalists" Raul Valdes Vivo and Marta Rojas Rodriguez, "visited liberated areas of South Vietnam where they interviewed [interrogated] U.S. prisoners of war being held by the Viet Cong."(24) [Many of the American POWs held in the South Viet Nam, were in fact under the command-control of the North Vietnamese's Enemy Proselytizing Bureau, but temporarily farmed-out to Viet Cong.] Rojas told of her "interviewing" American POWS in South Viet Nam at the Bertram Russel mock war crimes tribunal in Denmark in 1967.(20) Photographs of some of the POWs, and related articles, appeared in Cuban and various other communist media. American POWs Charles Crafts, Smith, McClure, Schumann and Cook were among those interviewed and photographed by Rojas and Vivo. This leads one to ask, "Why hasn't DOD pursued questioning Cubans about the fate of American POWs?"
One POW camp holding a large number of Americans was located about 100 km from the Chinese border between Monkai and Laokai, (an area where Cuban engineers were constructing military installations after 1975). According to an intelligence source, "one day the camp just disappeared, guards and all".(25) [also see End Notes]
The disappearance of American POWs near the Cuban facilities at Monkai and Laokai wasn't an isolated incident. American POWs also disappeared in the vicinity of two other Cuban installations. One American POW camp, located at "Work Site 5" (Cong Truong 5) just north of the DMZ, was adjacent to a Cuban field hospital that Fidel Castro visited in 1972. None of the POWs held in that camp were ever released, including black American aviator Lt. Clemmie McKinney. McKinney was shot down in April 1972, approximately the same time as Castro's visit. McKinney's remains were returned on August 14, 1985. The Vietnamese claim that McKinney died in November 1972; however, "A CILHI (U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii)
forensic anthropologist states his opinion as to time of death as not earlier than 1975 and probably several years later."(26) Had McKinney been a guest of the real "Fidel" to be exploited by Castro's G-2 at Las Maristas and later returned to Vietnam?
Another Cuban installation was near Ba Vi, where numerous sightings of "white buffalos" [i.e., American POWs] were made by South Vietnamese undergoing "reeducation" in the North. According to one of the recently returned Vietnamese 34-A commandos, he saw 60 American POWs at the Thanh Tri Prison complex in 1969.(27) Also in the same prison complex were approximately 100 French and Moroccan POWs captured in the early 1950s. Later the French and Moroccans were transferred to the Ba Vi Prison complex near the Cuban facility. There were a small number of American POWs held for a while in a section of the Thanh Tri Prison complex, appropriately dubbed "Skidrow". However, they numbered about 20, not 60, and none had been held with French and/or Moroccan POWs.[see End Notes]
The commando's report corroborates numerous other similar sightings; however, DPMO has made a conscious effort to discredit all of these reports--although from unrelated sources and too numerous to ignore.
Other Cuban Involvement
Several reports indicate that Cubans were piloting MIGs in aerial combat with American pilots over North Vietnam. One American advisor flying in an H-34 used a M-79 grenade launcher to shoot down a Cuban flying a biplane in Northern Laos.(28)
This was the same kind of plane used in the attack against Lima Site 85--the top-secret base in Laos providing guidance for American planes in the bombing of North Vietnam.
The involvement with American POWs was just a part of Cuba's long history of commitment to assist the Vietnamese communists, and just another chapter in their role as "communist internationales" on behalf of the Soviet Union. The Cubans first showed up in Vietnam not too many years after they consolidated power on their own island in the early 1960s. Soon after, the Cubans soon began operating en masse alongside their Vietnamese brethren. They even accompanied the North Vietnamese through the gates of the South Vietnamese Presidential Palace in Saigon on April 29, 1975.(21) However, the Cuban's assistance to the North Vietnamese continued well beyond 1975.
Raul Valdes Vivo: The creditation of Raul Valdes Vivo as a journalist, however, was only a cover, for he was in fact a DGI (Cuban Intelligence) officer and a high-ranking Cuban communist party member. [Latinos often hyphenate their last name in recognization of the matrilineal side of the family. Therefore, the last name of Raul Valdes Vivo (Valdes-Vivo), may in fact be Valdes. However, he will be referred to as Vivo in this paper.] In his book, El Gran Secreto: Cubanos en el Camino Ho Chi Minh, Vivo wrote that he first met Marta Rojas in 1965 at a Cuban Communist party meeting. Vivo was the Cuban communist party representative to the IndoChinese communist party from 1965 thru 1974.(21)
Vivo claims to have established a Cuban embassy in the jungle in Vietnam in South Viet Nam in 1969. The truth is Vivo was attached to the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), the central command for North Vietnam's operations in South Vietnam, which was located well inside Cambodia. Much to the chagrin of the Vietnamese, Vivo was assigned to COSVN upon the insistency of Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, who was head of the Cuban armed forces. The Vietnamese reluctantly acquiesced, since Cuba was supplying several thousand soldiers to build, maintain and guard a sizeable portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and providing a large amount of other "technical" and material assistance. COSVN was in fact a front for a front. [For propaganda purposes, the North Vietnamese maintained that COSVN was the headquarters for the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF), a political arm of the Viet Cong. However, in fact, the NLF was a "front" for Hanoi, and COSVN was entirely controlled by the North Vietnamese. It was the North Vietnamese headquarters for staging and directing operations into South Vietnam.]
During a reception in Cuba for a high-ranking Vietnamese communist party official, in a loud voice, Castro chided Vivo for not inviting him to "his embassy." In fact, Castro wasn't at all chiding Vivo, for the barb was aimed at the North Vietnamese for not inviting Castro to COSVN headquarters in Cambodia. Vivo responded by telling Castro the difficulty in accessing "his embassy" after Cambodian General Lon Nol's coup d'etat 1970, indicating that Castro's safety in Cambodia could not be assured. Vivo was evidently in charge of Cuban intelligence in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Initially, the soviet-block subversion of Cambodia was coordinated by the Cubans out of the Cuban embassy in Phnom Penh. After General Lon Nol took over in 1970, the intelligence staff of the Cuban Embassy in Phnom Penh was moved into Hanoi along with a core of Vietnamese trained high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials to form a "Cambodian government in exile." In another section of his book, Vivo refers to himself as the Cuban Ambassador "in" Hanoi in 1971.
Later in his book, Vivo says that Cubans were with the North Vietnamese communists in 1975 when they took over Saigon, "although a modest presence." These statements are very important, for historians have yet to admit the extent of the involvement of Cuba and the other Soviet-Bloc in the directing the Vietnam War as part of the "communist internationale."
Vietnamese in Cuba
While a POW in Hanoi, I was interrogated by "The Lump" and another individual who had a Spanish accent. After learning about the "Cuban Program" upon release, I assumed the person with the Spanish accent might have been "Fidel." After my release in 1973, I identified "The Lump" in a photograph taken in Cuba shown to me by a member of a Congressional committee. In the picture, "The Lump" was with a U.S. anti-war contingent. I was told that he had been identified by intelligence agents as being responsible for funneling KGB money to the American anti-war groups, such as those that Jane Fonda led.(9)
The foreign affairs element of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, code named "CP-72," was positioned only 90 miles off the coast of Florida during the war and their personnel worked closely with the Cuban Government in manipulating the anti-war movement in the United States. Many of the propaganda themes directed at influencing groups in the United States were developed from information gathered by "CP-72" and was fed to the Cuban interrogation experts who were involved in exploiting American POWS in Vietnam for propaganda.(29).
Also, CIA and DIA reports reveal the operation of an international communist youth training center southeast of Santiago de Cuba in the mid-and-late 1960s. The young people, many of whom were blacks and Vietnamese, were being trained for subversive operations against the United States. One intelligence source reported that many of these young people were children of French soldiers who had either defected to the Vietnamese communists during the French Indochina or were children of French forces who were POWs and still held by the Hanoi communists. Reportedly, they had been given Vietnamese wives, and the children were taken away from their parents at a very young age and sent to communist youth camps similar to those in the Soviet Union and "Hitler's Children" in Nazi Germany.(30)
According to a DIA source, their control officer was Jesus Jiminez Escobar. "The students (agents) were to be infiltrated into the United States through normal airlift channels and would be claimed by relatives on their arrival." "Their subversive activities against the United States would include sabotage in connection with race riots..."16 Another DIA source said that "the 5th contingent was infiltrated into the U.S. from Canada through Calais, Maine."17
The same source said that DIA also monitored a center in Cuba during the same period where Vietnamese were being trained by the Cubans in POW interrogation methods. "Fidel", "Chico", and the other Cubans associated with the "Cuban Program" in Hanoi in all likelihood may have been staff associated with this center. Maj. Fernando Vecino Alegret, "Chico", has an extensive background in youth movements. This presumption is strengthened by the debriefing reports of American POWs who were in the "Cuban Program." They reported that "a large number of VN officer trainees" came to the camp, and the Cubans "Conducted interrogation training, using [American] POWs."[DPMO] The trainees were estimated to be approximately 20 years of age. One would logically assume that this was in-service training of Vietnamese graduates from the training camp in Cuba.
Vietnamese and Soviet Bloc Research on American POWs
The Cubans used standard scientific methologies in selecting American POWs for the "Cuban Program;" i.e., random selection with a control group. Everett Alvarez was initially interviewed for the "Program" but was disqualified purportedly because he was of Spanish decent and presumed to speak Spanish.(5)
A 1975 secret CIA counterintelligence study states that the Medical Office of Hanoi's Ministry of Public Security (MPSMO) was responsible for "preparing studies and performing research on the most effective Soviet, French, communist Chinese and other...techniques..." of extracting information from POWs. The MPSMO "...supervised the use of torture and the use of drugs to induce [American] prisoners to cooperate." MPSMO's functions also "...included working with Soviet and Communist Chinese intelligence advisors who were qualified in the use of medical techniques for intelligence purposes. .... The Soviets and Chinese...were... interested in research studies on the reactions of American prisoners to various psychological and medical techniques..."(32)
The "Cuban Program" in Vietnam parallels that of a similar Soviet program in Korea according to congressional testimony on September 17, 1996 by General Jan Sejana, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet Block during the "Cold War."(33) After defecting, Sejana worked for years as a top-secret analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. According to Gen. Sejana,"Americans were used to test physiological and psychological endurance and various mind control drugs. Moscow ordered Czechoslovakia to build a hospital in North Korea for the experiments [on American POWs] there." As in North Korean, Soviet, East German, Czechoslovakian and Cuban "medical specialists" were assigned to the top-secret "Hospital 198" in Hanoi where American POWs were believed to have been taken for "treatment".(34) This would have been the hospital where at least one of the American POWs in the "Cuban Program" was taken for shock treatment.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, Gen. Sejana had been in charge of communist Czechoslovakia's Defense Council Secretariat, and from 1964 on, First Secretary at the Ministry of Defense. In his various official capacities, he was constantly meeting with Soviet officials, receiving instructions, and relaying those instructions to various Czech agencies and departments. "At the beginning of the Korean War, we received directions from Moscow to build a military hospital in North Korea. ..... The Top Secret purpose of the hospital was to experiment on American and South Korean POWs. .... It was very important to the Soviet plans because they believed it was essential to understand the manner in which different drugs...affected different races and people who had been brought up differently; for example on better diets. .... Because America was the main enemy, American POWs were the most highly valued experimental subjects. .... I want to point out that the same things happened in Vietnam and Laos during the Vietnam War. The only difference is the operation in Vietnam was better planned and more American POWs were used, both in Vietnam and Laos and in the Soviet Union."
Several sets of remains of American servicemen repatriated from Vietnam evidenced that they were of POWs who had suffered severe and depraved conditions long after the purported release of all POWs in 1973. The skull of one had been sawn open, evidence of an autopsy as part of an experiment common to Soviet-style research on the affect of certain drugs on the brain.(36)
Cuba's End Game in Vietnam
According to a DIA "asset", after the signing of the cease-fire on January 21, 1973, 4,000 Cuban army engineers arrived in Hanoi. They helped rebuild the Phuc Yen/Da Phuc Airfield North of Hanoi where, according to intelligence reports, American POWs were used as technicians after the war. Later, the Cubans disappeared into the mountains of the north and constructed and eqvuipped secret bases about 100 km from the Chinese border between Monkai and Laokai. Here, the Soviets equipped the bases with mobile launch ramps, medium-range strategic missiles, possibly with tactical nuclear warheads, capable of hitting population centers in the southern part of China.(17) This is the same area where the above mentioned POW camp containing American prisoners "disappeared, guards and all."(25)
Units of this same Cuban engineering contingent were building the airfield in Grenada when Americans overran the island. U.S. military intelligence captured reams of documents and photographs relating to this unit's operations in Vietnam. However, no evidence has surfaced that these documents were ever analyzed for information on POWs by DPMO or any intelligence agency.
In the spirit of communist solidarity, Hanoi reciprocated for Cuba's assistance during the Vietnam war by sending U.S. arms and ammunition, captured in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, to South America to fuel the "revolution" directed by the Cubans there.
As agents of the Soviets, and continuing their belief in the communist internationale, the Cuban government expanded its role in the communist internationale.
The Cubans sent troops to Angola. In 1975, Vivo again surfaces in Angola posing as a journalist. Vivo "interviewed" western mercenaries who were put on trail in a "kangaroo court" in yet another slanted propaganda coup against the U.S. One of the mercenaries was an American who's body has yet to be recovered.(13)
Evidently, Cuba's partnership with Vietnam in subversive activities against the U.S. has continued. In 1996, Jane's Defense Weekly reported that "Vietnam has been training Cuban Special Forces troops to undertake limited attacks in the USA... .... Havana's strategy in pursuing such training is to attack the staging and supply areas for U.S. forces preparing to invade Cuba. .... The training program is focused on seaborne and underwater operations, roughly comparable to those assigned to U.S. Navy Seals. .... The political objective would be to bring the reality of warfare to the American public and so exert domestic pressure on Washington."(37)
Vietnam and Cuba are closely linked by their belief in exporting international communism. Hanoi praised Cuba for its shootdown of two American planes and denounced the Helms-Burton Bill as "Insolent!" Hanoi recently reaffirmed the unswerving solidarity of the communist party, the government and people of Vietnam with the Cuban revolution.(38)
The behavior of "Fidel", "Chico" and "Pancho" in the torture and murder of Americans is beyond the pale and is clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of Prisoners of War, which North Vietnam signed. Allowing these Cubans to go unpunished sets an ugly precedent, and adds to America's growing "paper tiger" image. Although the Cubans' crimes are smaller in number, they are no less than some of the war criminals that are being tried in Bosnia.
If the communist regime in Hanoi was fully cooperating in resolving the POW/MIA issue as President Clinton, Senator John McCain, and Ambassador Pete Peterson profess, the Vietnamese communists would have turned over to the U.S. the names of the Cubans who tortured and killed American POWs in the "Cuban Program." Full cooperation by the communist government in Hanoi includes the full disclosure of the true identities and roles of these Cuban "diplomats", who were "advisors" to the Hanoi prison system, and were directly responsible for the murder, torture, and severe disablement of American POWs.
Although the "Cuban Program" was reviewed by the Department of Defense's Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office (DPMO), its analysis was incomplete. DPMO's chief analyst Robert Destatte's claims that the "Vietnamese's story is plausible and fully consistent with what DPMO knows about the conduct of the Cubans in question" are ludicrous and grossly incompetent. DPMO's analysis of the "Cuban Program" is glaringly incomplete, indicating either incompetence, negligence, or an attempt at political correctness in keeping with our present policy toward Cuba.
DPMO did not thoroughly, nor competently, analyze the documentation they presented to Congress, and other related material including:
-- POW debriefing reports containing the statements by the camp commander that the 'Cuban Program' "was a Hanoi University Psychological Study."
-- POW debriefing reportings that clearly state that the Vietnamese camp commander ("The Lump"), cadre and guards were well aware of, and often participated in, the torture.
-- the CIA report, North Viet-Nam: The Responsibilities of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Intelligence and Security Services in the Exploitation of American Prisoners of War.
-- DIA reports on the training of Vietnamese prison interrogators by the Cubans.
-- no mention of the interviews and photographs made by Cuban journalists cited in documentation, and no there is no indication that it attempted to pursue the Cuban connection.
-- obtaining information from FBI files relating to the "Cuban Program," reports by Cuban refugees of American POWs from Vietnam being held in Cuba, or electronic and other surveillance of Eduardo Morjon Esteves during his "service" at the United Nations.
-- no attempt to obtain the intelligence information relating to their operations in Vietnam garnered from the seizure documents by Army intelligence from the Cuban engineers building the airfield in Granada during the U.S. incursion of that island.
DPMO maintains, as did the defunct Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, that there is no conclusive evidence that American POWs were left behind in Vietnam after "Operation Homecoming" in March 1973. However, eyewitness reports, such as Col. Odell's, and numerous intelligence documents, belie these claims. Pentagon officials weren't the only ones who wanted to keep this secret, and it wasn't only because of third-country diplomatic ramifications. The Nixon Administration, and chief negotiator Henry Kissinger, in particular, wanted to hide the fact that POWs had been left behind in their haste to close the chapter on the Vietnam War.
There are numerous intelligence reports of a group of American POWs seen north of Hanoi, who were suffering from severe war wounds or mental disorders. They were still being held because the communists feared their release would have an unfavorable impact on public opinion. It is very likely that these POWs are the ones who simply disappeared at Monkai and Laokai, for conspicuously absent from the Operation Homecoming release in 1973 were POWs suffering from severe war wounds (amputees) and mental illnesses.
An abnormal, disproportionate number of Americans captured in Laos were never released. Although the CIA has acknowledged that approximately 600 men are missing in action in Laos, given the nature of the "Secret War," it is reasonable to presume that the number could be much higher. The fact that out of the 600 acknowledged missing in Laos, only 10 persons survived is unbelievable. Only 10 were released. When the North Vietnamese communists negotiated the treaty to end the IndoChina War with the French in 1954, they never acknowledged the capture of POWs in Laos. A 1969 RAND report warned that when the U.S. negotiated with the dogmatic Vietnamese communists, they would most likely again deny that they captured any American POWs in Laos. U.S. intelligence showed that over 82% of American losses in Laos were in areas under total control of the North Vietnamese.
American POWs captured in Laos were likely candidates for "transfer" to other Soviet Bloc countries, such as Cuba, since the Vietnamese considered them as "free commodities."
Much of DOD's analysis of POW camps and evaluations of live sighting reports are based on the time-frame that the camps were occupied by POWs who returned in 1973. Therefore, if a live sighting pertains to a period of time that does not correspond to the time it was occupied by returned POWs, it is most often disregarded or debunked. Also, the analysts often failed to take into consideration the fact that many of these camps were vast complexes with annexes often hundreds of kilometers apart that have the same name as the main camp. An excellent example is the Son Tay POW camps, one north of Hanoi and the other south of Hanoi. Thus, if a live sighting report correlates to the name of a camp but the coordinates are different from the main camp, the live sighting may be discounted. This is what happened in the case of most of the Thanh Tri complex and Ba Vi Prison live sighting reports.
DPMO analysts, and DOD's Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (which conducts on-the-ground investigation of live sighting reports in Vietnam), discredits most live sighting reports by providing the names of the sources to the Vietnamese communist secret services weeks before interviews--a violation of good intelligence procedures, who subsequently disappear or are coerced; or by simply discrediting the sources because they had been political prisoners. However, DPMO's Bob Destatte uses these same sources (political prisoners) to vilify "Bobby" Garwood, a detainee who was courtmartialed for collaboration with the Vietnamese communists and reported live sightings of Americans in Vietnam. If many of the reports are "triangulated," several live-sightings from unrelated sources are very similar--too much so to be mere coincidence (e.g., "white buffalos").
For some unfathomable reason, DOD sent pilots, who had worked in top-secret projects such as the atomic energy program, on tactical bombing missions over North Vietnam only to be shot down and captured. The loss of a great many planes over North Vietnam could have been easily avoided. According to National Security Council advisor William Stearman (1971-76 & 1981-93), "One of the untold scandals of the Vietnam War was the refusal of battleship foes [i.e., within the Pentagon] to follow an expert panel's advice and deploy them to Vietnam until it was too late. Of all the targets struck by air in North Vietnam, with a loss of 1,067 aircraft and air crews, 80 percent could have been taken out by a battleship's 16-inch guns without endangering American lives or aircraft."(39)
The loss of pilots was further exacerbated by Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's Dr. Strangelove-like obsession of directing targets to be bombed at the same time every day. To some, it seemed as if DOD, led by McNamara, was intentionally aiding the communists by providing them with some of our best and brightest military minds [e.g., one F-111 pilot was shot down over North Vietnam shortly after leaving the Gemini space program.] Concurrently the Soviet equivalent to the Gemini program made quantum leaps over the next two years in the area of the F-111 pilot's specialty. An F-111 capsule was found in a Russian museum by U.S. investigators. There are several other similar examples of vast improvement in communist technologies after the capture of these pilots. According to DIA's "asset", the American POWs were "a gold mine of information to brief ... specialists in the technologies used by the enemy."
Michael D. Benge*
2300 Pimmit Drive, #604-W
Falls Church, VA 22043
Tel: (703) 698-8256 (H)
(202) 712-4043 (W)
October 4, 1999
*The author spent 11 years in Vietnam, over five years as a prisoner of war--1968-73, and is a diligent follower of the affairs of the region. While serving as a civilian Foreign Service Officer, he was captured in South Vietnam by the North Vietnamese, and held in numerous camps in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and North Vietnam. He spent 27 months in solitary confinement and one year in a "black box." For efforts in rescuing several Americans before being captured, he received the Department of State's highest award for heroism and a second one for valor. He is an active Board Member of the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America's Servicemen.
1. United States Air Force. June 1975. Special Exploitation Program for SEASIA PWs, 1967-1968. Rep. No. A10-2, Series: 700/JP-1.
2. CIA Memorandum From: Deputy Director for Operations
For: Director, Defense Intelligence Agency. dated 28 Jan (illegible). Subj: Identification of "Fidel", Cuban Interrogator of U.S. Prisoners of War in North Vietnam.
3. The Washington Times. Oct. 21, 1992. Ex-POW describes "broken" cellmates left in Indochina. Washington, DC
4. The Washington Star. April 3, 1973. POWs Tortured by "Fidel". Washington. DC.
5. DPMO. Sept. 11, 1996. Cuban Program Information. Department of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) Compiled for Congressional Hearings.
5a. Ibid. p.57.
5b. Ibid. pp.150-154, 243.
5c. Ibid. p.77.
5d. Ibid. p.45.
6. CIA. 21 January 1976. Memorandum for the Record, DOC:F86-12-64.
7. Heller, B.L., Com. Oct. 21, 1997. Cuban Interrogation Program. PW/MIA Branch, Resources and Installations Division, Directorate for Intelligence Research.
8. Personal communication with Congressman Bob Dornan.
9. Personal communication with former congressional staff considered an expert in Cuban affairs. Confidential.
10. Hubble, J.B. 1976. P.O.W. Readers Digest Press.
11. TIME At Last the Story Can Be Told. April 9, 1973. pp.19,20,25&26.
12. Destatte, R. July 3, 1996. Subj: RE: Cuban Vietnam Operations. DPMO Email To: Daniel M. Baughman, LTC; William G. Beck.
13. Beck, C., CDR USNR (ret). March-April 1997. The Gatekeepers and the Connection: Cuba and America's POWs. U.S. Veteran Dispatch.
14. Brown, J.M.G. Undated. Untitled. Records of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.
14a. Cable. Department of Defense. R 211023Z AUG 80. FROM: USDAO Bangkok. Subj: Response to Request for Interview of Prisoner In Bangkok Immigration Jail.
15. Department of State Cable. Nassau 00104 051014Z.
Re: 051825Z Feb.71.
16. Personal communication. Confidential.
17. American Embassy/Paris. Oct. 18, 1979. Post-1975 Vietnam: POWs in Vietnam. Report.
18. CIA. Sept. 1970. Personal Views on Possible North Vietnamese Refusal to Comply Fully with Terms of a Prisoner Exchange Agreement. Intelligence Information Report.
19. FBIS. 11/12/68. Five Committees Report from Second Genocide Symposium. Article: Havana, Granma, Spanish, October 21, 1968, p3. Sum. No. 46,845.
20. FBIS. May 5, 8 & 9, 1967. Material on Russel 'War Crimes' Tribunal.
21. FBIS. 6 Feb 70. GRANMA Publishes Interview Witn U.S. POW McCain. GRANMA 4 Jan 70, p.7. Havana.
22. Vivo, Raul Valdes. 1990. El Gran Secreto: Cubanos en el Camino Ho Chi Minh. Editora Politica. La Habana.
23. National Security Agency. 0310233Z Nov. 83. SigNet 3071025.
24. State Department. Oct. 10, 1979. Selected POWs in Vietnam. no. 181733Z.
25. Personal communication with Garnett "Bill" Bell, former Chief, DOD/POW/MIA Office in Hanoi.
26. Sauter, M. and J. Sanders. The Men We Left Behind. National Press Books. 1993. pp.212-213.
27. Personal communication.
28. Personal communication with Commander William G. Beck, DPMO.
29. Bell, G.E. September 19, 1996. Testimony. House National Security committee Military Personnel Subcommittee.
30. CIA Report. Training of Negroes in Cuba. Attachment to memorandum to The Honorable Walt W. Rostow, Special Assistant to the President, from Thomas H. Karamessines, Deputy Director for Plans.
31. DIA source. Personal communication. Confidential.
32. CIA. Nov. 17, 1975. North Viet-Nam: The Responsibilities of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Intelligence and Security Services in the Exploitation of American Prisoners of War.
33. Sejna, J. September 17, 1996. Statement Before the Subcommittee on Military Personnel of the House National Security Committee.
34. CIA. Sept 29, 1982. Hospital 198/The Medical Department of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Ministry of Interior (BVN); Treatment of BVN Personnel at Facilities which had Soviet, East German, Czechoslovak, and Cuban Medical Specialists.
JCRC/Bangkok Reporting Cable. North Vietnam, pre-1975: Vietnam Cuba Hospital/Place Names Obtained During Third Joint Search Effort. Doc. No. 240947zfeb89.
35. Rochester, S.I. and F. Kiley. 1998. Honor Bound: The History of American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961-1973. Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Washington, DC. p.400.
36. Personal communication with next of kin, confidential.
37. Jane's Defence Weekly. March 6, 1965. Cuban special forces prepare for US attack.
38. FBIS-EAS-96-046 Vietnam. SRV Papers Back Cuban Downing of U.S. Airplanes. March 7, 1996.
FBIS-ESA-96-053 Vietnam. SRV Daily Calls Helms-Burton Bill on Cuba "Insolent". March 19, 1996.
FBIS-EAS-96-077 Vietnam. SRV: Le Kha Phieu Reaffirms Solidarity With Cuba. April 19, 1996.
39. Stearman, William Lloyd. A Misguided Missile Ship: Old Battleships Would Do a Better Job Than a Pricey New Boat. The Washington Post. July 7, 1996.
Records of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. Untitled. JAN-28-92 TUE 10:27. p.29.
Commander Bruce Heller, Chief, PW/MIA Branch, Resources and Installations Division, Directorate for Intelligence Research. 21 Oct. 1977. "Cuban" Interrogation Program. Memorandum.