Thursday, May 31, 2007

Book Reveals Cuba-Vietnam POW Link

Wednesday, May 30, 2007 3:58 p.m. EDT
Book Reveals Cuba-Vietnam POW Link

Former Congressman Bill Hendon's compelling new book about American POWs
in Southeast Asia stirs up memories of an earlier controversy – charges
that American prisoners in Vietnam were tortured by Cuban agents.

In "An Enormous Crime – The Definitive Account of American POWs
Abandoned in Southeast Asia," Hendon and co-author Elizabeth Stewart
disclose that Fidel Castro was a key adviser to the North Vietnamese
government during the Vietnam War. They report that Castro gave Hanoi a
strategy for capturing GIs and then trading them for postwar
reconstruction aid from the U.S., just as Cuba had done with the Bay of
Pigs prisoners.

But another Cuba-Vietnam connection came to light in late 1999 with the
revelations about the torture of POWs.

U.S. Air Force Col. Edward Hubbard, a former POW, said he had received
brutal treatment at the hands of a Cuban advisor the prisoners nicknamed

Hubbard claimed that "Fidel" was actually Fernando Vecino Alegret, who
is now Cuba's Education Minister.

And Hubbard said one of the POWs tortured by the Cubans died after a
savage beating.

After reports of the Cuban torture program first surfaced, Fidel Castro
dismissed the claims on state television, saying Alegret had never even
set foot in Vietnam.

But in late October 1999, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican
with many Cuban-American constituents, told the House's International
Relations Committee:

"During this period of August 1967 to August 1968, 19 of our courageous
servicemen were physically and psychologically tortured by Cuban agents
working under orders from Hanoi and Havana.

"Assessed to be a psychological experiment to test interrogation
methods, the Cuba Program, as the torture project was labeled by our
Defense Department and intelligence agencies, was aimed at obtaining
absolute compliance and submission to captor demands.

It was aimed at converting or turning the POWs and to be used as
propaganda by the international Communist effort. It was inhumane. It
was incessant. It was barbaric."

Air Force Major James Kasler "said that during one period in June 1968
he was tortured incessantly by a man known as Fernando Vecino Alegret,
who had been identified as Fidel, the Cuban agent in charge of this
exercise in brutality," said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.

She also told the committee: "The atrocities committed by Castro's men
in a prison camp known as 'the Zoo' resulted in the death of Air Force
Captain Earl Cobeil, one of the 19 POWs held captive there."

Hendon's new book, based on more than 60,000 pages of
never-before-published U.S. government documents, shows that the
American government has known all along that hundreds of POWs in North
Vietnam and Laos were never freed by their captors.

Kirkus Reviews called the book "a sprawling indictment of eight U.S.
administrations … a convincing, urgent argument."

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