MIA Facts Site

The Official Record:
Testimony on the "Cuban Program"
Before Rep. Dornan's Subcommittee

 

You should have come to this page from a page that describes the background of these documents.  If you surfed in here without the background, back up and read, in this order:

  1. A Sad Story
  2. Beck's Fantasies

The following documents are extracted from:

Accounting for POW/MIA's From the Korean War and The Vietnam War
Hearing before the Military Personnel Subcommittee on National Security
House of Representatives, One Hundred Fourth Congress, Second Session
hearing held September 17, 1996
ISBN 0-16-054352-5

This document is the official record of a Congressional hearing.  You can purchase it from the Government Printing Office.  Or, contact your Congressional representative's office and ask them to get it for you.

This is a list of the documents that are reproduced below:

bulletOpening oral statement by Bob Destatte (page 160)
bulletWritten statement for the record by Bob Destatte (pages 161-164)
bulletEnclosure 1 (page 165)
bulletEnclosure 2 (pages 166-167)
bulletEnclosure 3 (pages 168-172)
bulletEnclosure 4 (pages 173-174)
bulletEnclosure 5 (page 175-176)

Opening oral statement by Bob Destatte

Opening statement by Mr. Robert J. Destatte
Senior Analyst, Research & Analysis Directorate
Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office
before the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel
September 17, 1996

Congressman Dornan I welcome the opportunity to appear here today. I remember well the many constructive meetings I had with you and your colleagues on the House POW/MIA Task Force in the early and mid-1980s. The task force’s dedication and support for our efforts to account for our servicemen and its courage and integrity in opposing all efforts to exploit the POW/MIA issue for narrow personal or partisan purposes profoundly influenced me and my colleagues who had the privilege of working with the Task Force. With your permission I will make a short verbal statement at this time and I ask that my full written statement be made a part of the record for this hearing.

In view of our past association, it saddens me that I appear here today to respond to charges you made against me in a speech on the floor of the House on 2 August 1996, as reported in the Congressional Record for that date.

In that speech you accused me of treachery. You accused me of willfully and knowingly lying to, manipulating, and psychologically torturing our families. You implied that I have become an accomplice of the Communist government in Hanoi. And, finally, you threatened to bring criminal charges against me.

As you know from our many earlier meetings, I have served this nation faithfully my entire adult life. I served in the United States Army for more than 20 years as an enlisted man and Warrant Officer. I voluntarily served five years in uniform in Vietnam during the war, including nearly two years with the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade and one year with the 1st Brigade of the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division. I carry an artificial hip as a result of an injury I received from a mine while accompanying montagnard soldiers from the Mai Loc Special Force Camp on an operation near the Demilitarized Zone in 1970. Despite the injury, I continued forward with a small group of montagnards and received the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device for an action later that day.

I have an unblemished record of 17 years of dedicated and faithful service as an analyst in the Defense POW/MIA Office. I helped open the American POW/MIA Office in Hanoi in 1991.

While seconded to that office from mid-1991 until August 1995, I and my colleagues in the United States Joint Task Force-Full Accounting worked hard to develop the spirit of genuine cooperation that now characterizes our joint search efforts in Vietnam.

I have been on the front line of our battles in war and peace in Vietnam. Your charges as reported in the Congressional record have done me a grave injustice. Friends have called and expressed wonderment and concern. Even my 12 year old granddaughter in southern California learned about them. I explained to my friends and family they need not be concerned because the facts are clear and they are on my side. The facts are outlined in the written statement I submitted for the record of this hearing. I told my granddaughter she can be confident that if history remembers my efforts on behalf of our unaccounted-for servicemen, it will remember me for my dedication to discovering the facts and my courage in defending the truth about this issue. I am ready to answer your questions.

End of oral statement
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Written statement for the record by Bob Destatte

Testimony of Mr. Robert J. Destatte
Senior Analyst, Research & Analysis Directorate
Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office
before the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel
September 17, 1996

This unclassified statement for the record responds to charges Congressman Dornan made against me and other current and former members of the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office (DPMO) in a speech in the House of Representatives on 2 August 1996, as published in the Congressional Record, and in a letter to the Secretary of Defense on 26 August 1996. This statement for the record extends my opening remarks before a hearing by the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel chaired by Congressman Dornan on 17 September 1996.

Congressman Dornan, in a speech in the House of Representatives on August 2, 1996, you made several serious charges against me and my colleagues in the DPMO. You accused me of treachery. You accused me of willfully and knowingly lying to, manipulating, and psychologically torturing our families. You implied that I have become an accomplice of the Communist government in Hanoi. And, finally, you threatened to bring criminal charges against me. In your speech and in a letter to the Secretary of Defense dated August 26, 1996, you implied in strong language that I and other analysts in the Department of Defense POW/MIA office had lied about and misrepresented a program in which three Caucasian interrogators who appear to have been Cubans brutally mistreated 19 American POWs at a POW camp nicknamed "The Zoo" in Hanoi, between about August 1967 and July 1968. As you know, the POWs coined the term "Cuban Program" to describe the actions of those interrogators. The records of the Defense Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Office (DPMO) concerning the "Cuban Program" show that your charges are unfounded and based on misrepresentations of information contained in documents DPMO sent to you in March 1987 and August 1996. I’m sure you agree that the strong language and serious nature of your charges demand the following detailed response.

In your August 2 speech you charged that I ". . . had the gall, the effrontery, the treachery to put in writing recently that [the Cubans who tortured our POWs] were interpreters only. . ." You also stated you intended to ". . . bring [Mr. Destatte] up on charges for willfully and knowingly lying to our families, and I understand he owns property in Hanoi, that he is marrying in to that system over there, and that he has been allowed for years to disgracefully manipulate and psychologically torture the families of these men that were tortured by [the Cubans]."

DPMO recently furnished your office everything I had ever written about the "Cuban Program" as of August 13, 1996. Those writings consisted of two informal notes I sent via our internal office e-mail system to another member of the DPMO staff on the 3rd and 9th of July 1996, respectively, and two memoranda for record dated July 12 and August 13, 1996. I have copies of those documents with me today and request that they be made part of the record of this hearing. As these documents clearly show, I portrayed the "Cuban Program" with full and complete accuracy; including the repeated brutal beatings and torture by the "Cubans" that caused the death of one of the brave victims of the program. Your charge that "for years" I caused difficulties for the families of the American victims of the "Cuban Program" is wholly untrue. I wish to emphasize that I was never responsible for any investigations or analysis related to the "Cuban Program," nor had I ever written anything about the program before writing the informal e-mail note to a co-worker on July 3, 1996.

Your attacks on my character also are totally untrue. For example, as you undoubtedly know from your own research, one of the major impediments to foreign investment in Vietnam is the fact that foreigners can not purchase or own property there. I could not have purchased property in Hanoi, even if I wanted to.

Your implication that I am disloyal to the United States is especially unjust. I have dedicated my entire adult life to faithful service to this country. As I explained in my opening remarks today, I served in the United States Army for more than 20 years, including five years of voluntary service in Vietnam during the war, including nearly two years with the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade and one year with the 1st Brigade, 5th Mechanized Infantry Division. I carry an artificial hip as a result of an injury suffered in combat and was decorated for valor in combat. I have dedicated the last 17 years of my life to the search for an accounting for my fellow servicemen who are still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. I have served on the front lines of our battles in Vietnam in war and peace. If history remembers my service with the Defense POW/MIA Office, history will remember me for my dedication to discovering the facts and my courage in defending the truth about the fate of our unaccounted-for countrymen.

In your August 26 letter you wrote in reference to unnamed analysts that you found ". . . it shocking that in some of the documents you sent me . . . non-combat analysts kept referring to torture as ‘punishment,’ . . . [and that] there is more than a hint by some analysts that an uncooperative attitude [by the POWs] brought about the sadistic brutality of the Cuban and Vietnamese torturers. And in one disgustingly memorable phrase, an analyst wrote that the young Captain Cobeil seemed to ‘relish’ his punishment." These criticisms are misrepresentations of information contained in documents DPMO provided to your office and, in one instance, a classified report of a debriefing of a returned POW.

The word "punishment" appears in only two documents in our files on the "Cuban Program." One of the two documents is an extract from a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense dated April 5, 1973. The other is a fact sheet based on the earlier document. The Defense Intelligence Agency’s POW/MIA Office sent the fact sheet to you on March 25, 1987. The letter of transmittal described the fact sheet as ". . . a summary of the information known on the interrogation and torture of American PWs by ‘Cubans’. . ." The relevant passage in the 1987 fact sheet stated: ". . . When the soft sell was found to be ineffective, brutal measures were applied. Extreme physical torture was used in an attempt to gain total submission to ‘Fidel’s’ will. Besides physical punishment, the PWs were under constant mental strain and duress. ‘Fidel’ was always nearby, looking in the cells or asking questions, and the PWs were aware that they could be tortured or quizzed at any time. . ." The 1973 memorandum contained nearly identical wording, and explained that "physical torture included beatings with fists and rubber strips (known to the PWs as the ‘fan belt’) and the ‘ropes’." I brought a copy of the fact sheet with me today and request that it be entered in full into the record of this hearing.

As the full text of the documents show, the analysts who prepared the documents pointed out the fact that the "Cuban" and Vietnamese interrogators resorted to brutal torture in frustration over their inability to bend American POWs to their will. I am puzzled that anyone could find in those words any suggestion that our analysts disapproved of the bravery of those Americans or their inspirational resistance to their interrogators. I cannot identify any document in DPMO files that contains the "disgustingly memorable phrase" you referred to, namely that the POW who eventually died, USAF Major Earl G. Cobeil, seemed to "relish" his torture.

I did, however, find in the debriefing reports similar statements by two former POWs who were victims of the "Cuban" interrogators. Those two POWs helped protect Major Cobeil and helped try to nurse him back to health. The two returned POWs made the comments in the context of reporting that the chief "Cuban" interrogator, nicknamed "Fidel," had beaten Major Cobeil so severely that he became almost completely disabled physically and mentally, and that "Fidel" had convinced the Vietnamese guards that Major Cobeil was faking. Each of these returned POWs then explained how Major Cobeil’s roommates tried to protect him from more punishment when he refused to bow to the Vietnamese guards when they entered their room. One of the returned POWs recalled that ". . . In order to save [Major Cobeil] from further beatings, the other POWs grabbed him and forced him to bow. This satisfied the Vietnamese. He seemed to be looking for torture at this point; he had to take it. . ." The other returned POW recalled that Major Cobeil’s ". . . roommates tried to protect him from the guards and the harassment he was getting, however, he liked to be hit. . ." The second quote appears in a debriefing report prepared by three Navy officers, including two specialists from the US Navy Neuropsychiatric Unit in San Diego. The returned POW requested that medical experts participate in this debriefing to help insure there would be an expert record of the full consequences of "Fidel’s" extreme cruelty to Major Cobeil.

The statement you described as a "disgustingly memorable phrase" written by a "non-combat analyst" is in fact a misrepresentation of a statement a returned POW made as he tried to illustrate the extent of "Fidel’s" cruelty to Major Cobeil. I can not understand how or why anyone would misrepresent the source or the intent of the former POW’s statement.

The Department of Defense has steadfastly protected the reports of debriefings of returned POWs from unauthorized disclosure outside of the Department of Defense precisely to protect the reputations of the POWs from unjust attacks by unscrupulous persons who would misrepresent their statements and their conduct. I want to reaffirm my statement to you on 11 September 1996, that information from one or more classified reports of debriefings was released without proper authority to someone on your staff by a member of the DPMO staff who placed his or her personal opinions above our sacred responsibility to protect the reputations of our former POWs from unjust attacks. Again, I ask for your assurance that your office will protect that information from further disclosure and that you will return to DPMO immediately all copies of all documents any member of your staff received that contain information recorded in any report of debriefing of any former POW. Of course, DPMO will continue to provide you with all information and documents relevant to our efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting for the Americans lost during the Vietnam war; however, I’m sure you will agree that the brave

Americans who served with exemplary courage under extremely trying conditions in the POW camps in Southeast Asia deserve our gratitude, our profound respect, and our protection from unjust attacks.

Finally, I want to address your implication that my predecessors dismissed the "Cuban Program." I must point out that by 19 March 1973, nearly two weeks before the last POW was released, Mr. Trowbridge, a retired former member of the DPMO staff and a former US Navy pilot and Vietnam veteran, had helped establish a coordinated effort within the United States Government to learn the identity of the "Cubans" who were responsible for the torture of the 19 POWs in the "Cuban Program" and the death of Major Cobeil. That effort included the DIA POW/MIA Office, each of the Armed Services, the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the Chief Investigator of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. That effort led to the tentative identification of two of the "Cubans" in 1976; however, the returned POWs who were victims of the "Cubans" were never able to confirm that the two men who were tentatively identified were indeed the men who tortured them in the Hanoi prison camp. Mr. Trowbridge also helped insure that the DIA POW/MIA Office gave prompt and full support to the FBI’s investigation of a 1987 report that a Cuban employee of the United Nations might be one of the Cuban interrogators that tortured our men in Hanoi. The FBI worked closely with returned POWs in that investigation; however, the POWs could not positively identify the Cuban at the United Nations as one of the men who tortured them in Hanoi.

In summary, the record demonstrates that your charges against me and my colleagues in your August 2, 1996 speech and subsequent correspondence are unfounded and based on misrepresentations of documents DPMO furnished to you in March 1987 and August 1996 and a report of a debriefing of a former POW. I’m sure you will agree that if left uncorrected those charges are grave injustices to men who have devoted their entire adult lives to the service of this country. With all respect due your position, Congressman Dornan, I believe you owe me and my colleagues a public apology.

5 Enclosures:

1. E-mail note dated July 3, 1996.
2. E-mail note dated July 9, 1996.
3. Memo for Record dated July 12, 1996.
4.
Memo for Record dated August 13, 1996.
5. DIA Letter dated March 25, 1987.
(That's the correct date:  1987)

End of written statement
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Enclosure 1
E-mail Note date July 3, 1996

From: Destatte, Robert

To: Baughman, Daniel M. LTC, USA; Beck, William G.

Cc: Litvinas, Anthony J.; Sydow, Clyde G.; Gray, Daniel W.; Caswell, James R; Harvey, Joe B.; Travis, Jo Anne B.; Cooke, Melinda; Vivian, Paul

Subject: RE: Cuban Vietnam operations

Date: Wednesday, July 03, 1996 12:10PM

Chip,

We explored this issue with the Vietnamese a few years ago. According to the Vietnamese, the Cubans were not interrogators, nor were they part of any officially sponsored interrogation program. The Cubans sent a team of three English language instructors to Vietnam to provide instruction in basic English to PAVN personnel working with American prisoners. At the working level, the three Cubans persuaded their Vietnamese colleagues to allow them (the Cubans) to demonstrate the effectiveness of Cuban interrogation techniques. The resulting mistreatment of some of our POWs by the Cubans is well documented in returnee debriefings and books written by some of our POWs (for example Alvarez). Information about the mistreatment eventually filtered up to Vietnamese decision makers and they terminated the Cuban's English language training program about one year after it began.  (Note:  It is this paragraph that Beck and Dornan are attempting to use against Destatte by claiming that he dismissed the brutal Cubans as mere English language teachers.  Obviously, that is not what Destatte said.)

The Vietnamese explanation is plausible and fully consistent with what we know about the conduct of the Cubans in question and Vietnamese practices granting outsiders access to American POWs. I don't know what you have in mind when you refer to a "Soviet POW program during the Vietnam War era." I do know that we can state with complete confidence that the Vietnamese did not permit Soviet persons to interrogate American POWs, nor did they send any American POWs to the Soviet Union.

If you feel it is necessary to learn the names of the three Cubans in question and, perhaps, try to question them about their activities in Vietnam, I suggest we try to persuade Vietnamese and Cuban authorities to identify them and permit us to interview them. We should not, however, attempt to justify (either explicitly or implicitly) pursuit of further information about the three Cubans on the false notion that they can lead us to information about a presumed secret Soviet POW program.

We have more than 30 years of accumulated knowledge and experience regarding POWs and MIAs in Southeast Asia. While there are still some unanswered questions about specific cases, or general issues such as the quality and quantity of records the Vietnamese and Lao might still have, there is no mystery about Soviet or other Communist bloc access to American POWs.

In short, we answered the questions about Cuban and Russian access to American POWs years ago--there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. Let's focus our time, energy, and resources on actions that can produce useful casualty resolution data.

Regards, RJ Destatte

End of Enclosure 1
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Enclosure 2
E-mail note dated July 9, 1996

From: Destatte, Robert

To: Baughman, Daniel M. LTC, USA; Beck, William G.

Cc: Graham, Albert E.; Litvinas, Anthony J.; Sydow, Clyde G.; Gray, Daniel W.; Caswell, James R; Harvey, Joe B.; Liotta, Jay A.; MacDougall, James; Travis, Jo Anne B.; Wold, James W.; Chester, Mark, LCDR, USN; Cooke, Melinda; Kass, Norman D.; Vivian, Paul; Schumacher, Roger

Subject: RE: Cuban Vietnam operations

Date: Tuesday, July 09, 1996 4:03PM

Chip,

This note responds to your 08 July and 09 July notes.

The records of debriefings of the returned POWs will show that the so-called "Cuban Program" lasted from about August 1967 to August 1968, involved three interrogators who might have been Cubans and 19 American POWs, and took place at the Cu Loc prison camp in Hanoi. The program did not attempt to acquire significant intelligence or to indoctrinate the POWs involved. The USAF studied the program and published a report of its findings (Report No. A10-2, Series 700/JP-1, dated June 1974, Subject: Special Exploitation Program for SEASIA PWs, 1967-1968). As the USAF report noted, "While the 'Cuban Program' was undoubtedly sanctioned by the North Vietnamese, it apparently lost favor in the summer of 1968 and was permanently terminated." You did not note who showed you the more than 100 newspaper articles, personal documents, etc. that you mentioned in your 9 July note; however, my experience is that most returnees acknowledge that when they were debriefed in 1973, their recollection of events in the POW camps was much clearer and more precise than in recent years.

Some points have never been in dispute. Communism is by nature an amoral ideology. Communist officials frequently are secretive and duplicitous. Nevertheless, they do not always lie skillfully, nor do they always successfully keep secrets and deceive their adversaries. Although they shared some similar goals and methods, the Soviet and Cuban governments did not successfully dictate policies or actions to the North Vietnamese government.

The intelligence community has been collecting and evaluating information about Americans who became unaccounted-for in Southeast Asia for more than 30 years. Thousands of professionally competent Americans contributed to this effort. I doubt that any one of them was so naive as to place any confidence in uncorroborated statements by Communist officials. In fact, in the early years, suspicions about covert programs drove much of the collection effort. As the evidence accumulated, the answer emerged.

As this 30-year effort proves, it is seldom proper to assume on the strength of faith alone that we know in advance the answer to a question and then proceed to try to prove we were correct. The proper way to proceed is to begin with a question and then collect evidence to answer the question, recognizing that at some point the evidence will yield an answer. The intelligence community has striven over the years to insure that answers follow the evidence, and that analysts recognize answers when they see them.

 The fundamental question is not, as you suggested, whether the Soviet or Cuban Communists had a successful covert operation with regard to American POWs. We answered that question years ago. They did not. The fundamental question is whether we should continue to base our judgments and policy on rational, logical, and objective analysis of facts, or turn to speculation based on exaggerated notions of Communist actions and capabilities, and uncorroborated second and third hand claims by sources whose access and reliability are questionable.

I remain firmly convinced we should not spend our time, energy, and resources, and taxpayers' money, trying to reinvent the wheel. We should focus our efforts on activities that can produce useful casualty resolution data.

Robert J. Destatte, Senior Analyst, Research and Analysis Directorate

End of Enclosure 2
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Enclosure 3
Memo for Record dated July 12, 1996

MEMORANDUM FOR RECORD

DATE: 12 July 1996

PREPARED BY: Robert J. Destatte, Senior Analyst, Research & Analysis Directorate, DPMO

SUBJECT: Comments by Vietnamese Officers Regarding the "Cuban Program"

1. Summary:

a. The purpose of this memorandum is threefold;

1) To record comments by two officers of the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) in conversations with me in May and June 1992 concerning the so-called "Cuban Program."

2) To summarize efforts by the intelligence community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to identify the "Cuban" interrogators.

3) To summarize the descriptions of the "Cuban Program" the victims made during their post-homecoming debriefings.

b. The "Cuban Program" is a term that returned American POWs coined to describe a program in which a team of Caucasian interrogators subjected 19 American POWs to brutal torture over a period of nearly one year, from August 1967 to July 1968, at a POW camp in Hanoi, Vietnam. Many of the returned POWs believed the Caucasian interrogators were Cuban.

2. Background.

a. The POWs nicknamed the chief "Cuban" interrogator "Fidel." They nicknamed his two colleagues "Chico" and "Pancho." "Pancho" (one or two POWs called him "Garcia") first appeared shortly before the "Cuban Program" ended, and had direct contact with only two POWs. "Fidel" brutally beat and tortured most of the 19 POWs, destroying the physical and mental health of one of them. This POW eventually died in captivity, apparently as a result of the beatings. For a brief period during the closing months of the "Cuban Program," the POWs observed a fourth man who appeared to be a Cuban working as an electrical technician in the POW camp. Also for a brief period late in the program, the POWs heard on the camp radio the voice of a woman they believed was Cuban. As of the date of this memorandum, our records indicate that the American intelligence community and federal law enforcement agencies never positively identified the "Cuban" interrogators in the "Cuban program."

b. "Fidel." In 1976 American intelligence officials tentatively identified "Fidel" as a Captain in the Cuban Ministry of Interior. This Captain had a background of interrogating foreigners and was in Hanoi during the "Cuban program." The one available photograph of this Captain was taken in 1959 when he was wearing a full beard and an Army field hat. Seven victims of the "Cuban program" viewed the photograph, but none could positively identify the man in the photo. This Captain was in the United States during 1956-1957 buying and shipping arms to Cuba. In 1987 the FBI investigated a report that a Cuban working at the United Nations might be "Fidel." The absence of any follow up note in DPMO files suggests that this tip did not produce definitive results. I will contact the FBI agents who investigated the claim and confirm the results of their investigation.

c. "Chico." Also in 1976, American intelligence officials felt that "Chico" might be a Cuban employee of the Cuban Department of State Security who studied at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, during 1958-59. Apparently, however, intelligence officers did not have a photograph of this man.

3. PAVN Officers Comment on the "Cuban Program:"

a. PAVN Colonel Pham Teo. Colonel Pham Teo is an experienced member of the staff of the Ministry of Defense component of the Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons. On 31 May 1992, Colonel Teo and I accompanied a team of American specialists that visited several sites in Hanoi, including one former POW camp. During one of our several informal discussions that day I mentioned the "Cuban Program" to Colonel Teo. I asked if he knew the names of the Cubans involved in the program. Colonel Teo stated that he was an enlisted soldier serving with an infantry unit engaged in the fighting around the US Marine combat base at Khe Sanh during late 1967 and early 1968 and, therefore, did not know the names of the Cubans or have any direct knowledge about the "Cuban Program." He said he had heard, however, that in the mid or late 1960s a team of Cubans taught English to Vietnamese turnkeys who worked in one of the POW camps. He heard that the Vietnamese officers in charge of the camp allowed the Cubans more freedom of action than they should have, and that the Cubans abused the freedom. He heard that when higher authorities learned about the abuses in the camp they terminated the program.

b. PAVN Colonel Nguyen Minh Y (aka: "The Rabbit"). Colonel Nguyen Minh Y served as an interpreter and interrogator in the POW camps for American prisoners in Hanoi from 1964 until 1973. At that time he was a PAVN Lieutenant. American POWs nicknamed him "The Rabbit." I interviewed Colonel Y in Hanoi on 3 and 10 June 1992. During the interview I asked Colonel Y to identify the Cubans who interrogated American POWs in the POW camp at the Tu So Intersection (American POWs nicknamed the camp "The Zoo") in Hanoi. Colonel Y said he did not know the names of the Cubans and was not directly involved in the program. He was, however, aware of it. He stated that the intent of the program was to help the Vietnamese improve management of the POW camps. He noted that one problem in operating the American POW camps was the fact that most of the guards and other lower ranking personnel who had frequent daily contact with the American POWs could not communicate effectively with the POWs. He explained that one of the objectives of the program was for the Cubans to teach American English to Vietnamese who worked with American POWs. Colonel Y said he understood that the Vietnamese officers in charge of the camp where the Cubans worked permitted the Cubans too much freedom of action, that the program went out of control, and ultimately resulted in unacceptable treatment of some of the American POWs by the Cubans. Colonel Y recalled that when higher authorities learned of the abuses in the camp they terminated the program.

4. Comments. The above comments were consistent with information I had seen in the reports of the post-homecoming debriefings of the American POWs who were victims of the "Cuban Program," and the comments contained no new information about the "Cubans" or the "Cuban Program." Therefore, there was no need to make a formal record of them in 1992. Recent discussions about the "Cuban Program," however, suggest that the comments of these two PAVN officers could have some historical value. For that reason, I prepared this memorandum. I drew the following summary of the "Cuban Program" from records of the post-homecoming debriefings of the POWs who survived the program. This summary should help analysts assess the comments these two PAVN officers made about the program.

a. In their post-homecoming debriefings the returned POWs drew a portrait of the "Cuban Program" as having begun as a Cuban assistance project intended to help the Vietnamese improve POW camp management and to teach American English and probably interrogation techniques to the Vietnamese prison staff. They depicted a project that went awry because of the ineptitude of the Vietnamese officers in charge of the "The Zoo" and the mindless brutality of the senior Cuban officer on the Cuban assistance team.

b. Several returned POWs noted that "Fidel" appeared to be in charge of a number of projects apparently intended to improve the quality and quantity of food fed to the POWs. The projects included constructing a bakery to make bread for the POWs and ponds to raise fish and ducks. The bakery eventually provided increased amounts of bread; however, the ponds failed. The pond construction project, however, did allow some of the POWs to spend more time outdoors.

c. Many survivors also noted that "Fidel" taught English to the Vietnamese staff at the camp and to young Vietnamese trainees who later became turnkeys in the camp. The POWs dubbed this the "Kiddies Project" because of the youthful appearance of the trainees.

d. One of the POWs who survived the program recalled "Fidel’s" description of the "Cuban Program." "Fidel" told this POW, "I don’t want anything from you." "Fidel" went on to explain that there were many problems in the camp and that he suspected the problems were due to a communications problem between the Vietnamese and the POWs. His purpose was to solve those problems. Fidel also indicated that the Vietnamese lack of proficiency in the English language was the main reason for the communication problem. Fidel explained he was there to use his proficiency in English to help overcome this communication problem. Another survivor recalled that "Fidel" exhibited no interest in obtaining intelligence data. In the opinion of this survivor, "Fidel" appeared interested primarily in having access to Americans with whom the Vietnamese camp personnel and trainees could practice speaking English.

e. Judging from the post-homecoming debriefs, "Fidel" also used the POWs to demonstrate interrogation techniques to the Vietnamese trainees, and might have been teaching interrogation techniques to the trainees. Initially, "Fidel" tried to gain the cooperation of the POWs without using physical force. As the program continued, however, he became increasingly brutal. Former POWs recalled that "Fidel" had a quick and violent temper, a large and fragile ego, and possibly a drinking problem--a deadly combination that probably contributed to his increasingly violent treatment of the POWs when they did not readily submit to his will.

f. "Fidel’s" violence culminated in a savage beating he gave to USAF Major Earl G. Cobeil on 21 May 1968. This beating, combined with the numerous previous beatings Cobeil endured, turned Major Cobeil into a vegetable-like state from which he never recovered. Survivors recalled that this incident caused the Vietnamese to lose respect for the Cubans and led to the downfall of the "Cuban program." On about 12 June 1968 the other POWs persuaded the Vietnamese to bring a doctor in to examine Major Cobeil. On the doctor’s orders, Vietnamese prison officials sent Major Cobeil to a hospital.

g. Sometime between 22 and 30 June 1968, the Vietnamese ended all interrogations by Cubans and appeared to have terminated the "Cuban program." As one survivor recalled, it appeared that "Fidel" lost his power in the camp as a result of the Cobeil incident. For example, this survivor noted that the POWs no longer saw "Fidel" chatting or strolling with the political commissar of the camp as he commonly did in the past. The POWs noted that "Fidel’s" authority had visibly diminished. After the incident with Major Cobeil, the Vietnamese restricted "Fidel" to contact with one POW, USAF Colonel James H. Kasler; and they limited that contact. Despite the limitations, however, "Fidel" managed to administer a final savage beating to Colonel Kasler on about 10 July 1968. A short time later, one of the POWs observed the Vietnamese host a farewell party for "Fidel." This was the last time any of the "Cubans" appeared in the POW camps.

h. Major Cobeil’s condition did not improve after the Cubans disappeared. During the last half of October 1968 the Vietnamese took him to a hospital several times to receive shock therapy treatments. One survivor noted that this ". . . started a chain of events in the camp command. Someone higher up had heard of the Cobeil thing and wanted some answers." At the end of October 1968, the Vietnamese placed Major Cobeil in a hospital for about two weeks. When he returned to the camp he was better physically, was clean, and would feed himself, but he was still in bad shape mentally. He remained that way until mid-December 1968, when his condition started to decline again.

i. Then, on the morning of 16 February 1969, the camp commander and political commissar tried to coerce two POWs into signing a statement that Major Cobeil was receiving adequate care. The two POWs refused to sign any statement unless it contained the full details of the savage beatings that destroyed Major Cobeil’s health. The camp commander and political officer refused to include any details about the beatings. Events later that day suggest that the camp commander and political officer were trying to cover up their role in allowing the beatings to occur.

j. That afternoon a Vietnamese Major from a higher headquarters and the doctor who had been treating Major Cobeil visited the camp. They quizzed the two POWs the camp commander had tried to coerce and a third POW about "Fidel’s" beating of Major Cobeil. They then apparently began an investigation of the incident. Initially, the camp commander and political officer interrupted the POWs several times during the interviews and tried to describe to the Major the care Major Cobeil was currently receiving. Eventually, the Major told the commander and political officer to shut up. The POWs spoke for more than four hours, telling the Major every detail of "Fidel’s" abuse of Major Cobeil. Within 15 minutes after the POWs finished telling the Major about the incident an ambulance arrived to take Major Cobeil to the hospital. This time, he remained in the hospital for about three months. Unfortunately, he never recovered his health. Major Cobeil died before the Vietnamese released the POWs in 1973.

5. Conclusions: None of the POWs knew for certain why the Vietnamese allowed the "Cubans" in the camp or why the "Cubans" left the camp so suddenly. Some POWs thought "Fidel" might simply have finished a one-year tour. Other POWs thought the Vietnamese ended the program because of what "Fidel" did to Major Cobeil. Their post-homecoming debriefings, however, drew a clear portrait of a program that began as a Cuban assistance project intended to help the Vietnamese improve POW camp management and to teach American English and probably interrogation techniques to the Vietnamese prison staff. The project went awry, however, because of the ineptitude of the Vietnamese officers in charge of the camp and the mindless brutality of the senior Cuban officer on the Cuban assistance team.

End of Enclosure 3
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Enclosure 4
Memo for Record dated August 13, 1996

MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION

DATE: 13 August 1996

PREPARED BY: Robert J. Destatte, Senior Analyst, Research & Analysis Directorate, DPMO

SUBJECT: FBI Efforts to Identify Cuban Interrogator American POWs Nicknamed "Fidel"

Reference my 12 July 1996 memorandum, Subject: Comments by Vietnamese Officers Regarding the "Cuban Program."

1. Summary:

a. The referenced memorandum noted that in 1987 the FBI investigated a report that a man working at the United Nations might be an interrogator who savagely beat several American POWs in a POW camp in Hanoi in 1967-68. Many of the POWs believed this interrogator, who they nicknamed "Fidel," was a Cuban.

b. Prior to the date of this memorandum DPMO files contained no record of the results of the FBI efforts to confirm whether the man working at the United Nations was in fact "Fidel."

c. The purpose of this memorandum is to record for DPMO files the results of the FBI’s efforts in 1987 to confirm whether the Cuban working at the United Nations was "Fidel." As of the date of this memorandum, our records indicate that the American intelligence community and federal law enforcement agencies never positively identified "Fidel" or the other "Cubans" in the "Cuban program."

2. Background:

a. Returned American POWs coined the term "Cuban Program" to describe a program in which a team of Caucasian interrogators subjected 19 American POWs to brutal torture over a period of nearly one year, from August 1967 to July 1968, at a POW camp in Hanoi, Vietnam. Many of the returned POWs believed the Caucasian interrogators were Cuban. The POWs nicknamed the chief "Cuban" interrogator "Fidel."

b. A handwritten unsigned note, dated 4 May 1987, in one of DPMO files notes that an unspecified member of the DPMO staff gave an FBI agent in the FBI’s Washington, DC field office a couple of composite sketches of the "Cuban program" interrogators. The note goes on to say that a friend of the FBI agent in New York viewed the sketches and "made a make" on "Fidel" as a man working at the United Nations.

c. In early 1987 the DIA Special Office for POW/MIA Affairs sent a fact sheet about the "Cuban Program" to Congressman Dornan, at his request. DPMO records do not indicate whether Congressman Dornan’s request was linked to the FBI’s efforts to identify "Fidel;" however, in a speech on 2 August 1996 Congressman Dornan implied that "Fidel" is a Cuban Brigadier General named "Fernandez" who worked at the United Nations in 1977 and 1978 (sic).

3. Details:

a. On 13 August 1996 I spoke by telephone with the second of two FBI agents who handled this action in 1987. He recalled that in 1987 he showed photographs of a Cuban who was working at the United Nations to former POWs who resided in the Washington, DC area and who had been victims of "Fidel". He also showed them photographs of several other Cuban officials to see if they recognized one of them. He recalled that the former POWs confirmed that the Cuban who worked at the United Nations was not the "Cuban Program" interrogator that the POWs nicknamed "Fidel." The POWs also did not recognize any of the Cubans in the other photographs as "Fidel." The FBI agent emphasized that the FBI, in cooperation with returned POWs, made an intense effort in 1987 to determine whether any Cuban official in the United States was "Fidel." The POWs could not, however, positively identify any of those Cuban officials as "Fidel."

b. On 14 August 1996 I spoke with FBI Special Agent David A. Beisner. Agent Beisner was the first of the two FBI agents who handled this action in 1987. He confirmed that he and the other FBI agent showed photographs of a number of Cuban officials who had entered the United States after the Vietnam war to survivors of the "Cuban Program" who resided in the Washington, DC area. He recalled that the POWs could not positively identify any of the Cubans in the photographs as "Fidel." Like the other agent, he emphasized that the FBI, in cooperation with returned POWs, made a concerted effort in 1987 to determine whether any Cuban official in the United States was "Fidel." Also as stated by the first agent, the POWs could not positively identify any of the Cuban officials as "Fidel."

4. Conclusion: As of the date of this memorandum, DPMO records indicate that the American intelligence community and federal law enforcement agencies never positively identified "Fidel" or the other "Cubans" in the "Cuban program."

End of Enclosure 4
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Enclosure 5 DIA
Letter dated March 25, 1987

DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20340

U-0375/VO-PW

25 MAR 1987

Honorable Robert Dornan
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Dornan:

This is in response to your recent request for information pertaining to the "Cuban" program involving American prisoners from the Vietnam war.

A summary of the information known on the interrogation and torture of American PWs by "Cubans" is enclosed.  However,it is important to remember that the nationality of the interrogators was never conclusively established and it was mere speculation that they were Cubans.

since the 1973 return of the American prisoners involved in this program, hundreds of man-hours have been spent in an attempt to ascertain the identity of these interrogators.  All attempts to identify any of the alleged Cubans, to include photo identification by he returnees, proved unsuccessful.

If you possess any recent information as to the identity of the foreign interrogators, request that you provide it to DIA to aid in the identification process.

Sincerely,

 

JAMES W. SHUFELT
Brigadier General, USA
Deputy Director for Operations, Plans and               Training

1 Enclosure a/s

(The following document is an enclosure to BG Shufelt's letter to Rep. Dornan.  The document is a DIA Fact Sheet on the Cuban program.  This fact sheet was one of several such fact sheets prepared by the DIA Special Office for POW-MIA Affairs in response to commonly-asked questions.)

"CUBAN" PROGRAM

    During the period August 1967 through July 1968, two Caucasian interrogators conducted an extensive interrogation/indoctrination program at a prisoner of war camp, located on the southwest outskirts of Hanoi.  A group of 10 U.S. PWs was initially selected for the program after a screening process.  The prisoners speculated that the group was a cross section of PWs at the camp with different backgrounds and personalities. Another group of nine prisoners was added to the program in January 1968.

    The Caucasian interrogators were believed by the POWs to have been Cuban because of an apparent Spanish accent; however, their nationality was never definitely established by the prisoners.  The interrogators were careful not to identify themselves to the PWs.  The principal interrogator, nicknamed "Fidel," was usually driven into the camp in a chauffeured automobile and was saluted by the North Vietnamese.  After a short period in the camp, he was given complete control of his group of PWs.  "Fidel's" assistant was nicknamed "Chico." He played the "good guy" role and never administered torture to the PWs.  Other possible associated with the program included a radio technician and a woman whose voice was heard for a two-week period over the camp radio.

    The "Cuban" program appears to have been a training exercise in which "Fidel" attempted to learn the most effective methods and techniques for gaining information from the PWs,  to test their reaction to his program, and to gain complete submission of the group to his will.   All types of interrogation / indoctrination methods were tested.  The soft sell approach was initially used by "Fidel" in an attempt to extract propaganda from the PWs.  The group was given extra cigarettes and better food, and received more letters than the others in the camp.  Outdoor projects, such as building duck ponds and gardens, were initiated by "Fidel," thus allowing these PWs more time out of their cells.  When the soft sell was found to be ineffective, brutal measures were applied.  Extreme physical torture was use din an attempt to gain total submission to "Fidel's" will.

    Besides physical punishment, the PWs were under constant mental strain and duress.  "Fidel" was always nearby, looking in the cells or asking questions, and the PWs were aware that they could be tortured or quizzed at any time.  "Fidel" had complete domination over the PWs involved, and he succeeded in forcing everyone to "surrender" with the exception of one USAF officer.

    It was considered the opinion of the prisoners that this Air Force officer was beaten to a point that he was insensitive to pain and became completely withdrawn and unresponsive.  He deteriorated both physically and mentally during the "Cuban" program and was believed to have died as a result of his beatings.

    In July 1968, a new "Cuban" arrived, possibly as a replacement for "Fidel," but the program ended abruptly before this new "Cuban" became involved with the PWs.   The prisoners speculated that the program was terminated doe to the disenchantment of the North Vietnamese with "Fidel's" methods and the extremely deteriorated mental and physical condition of the Air Force officer.  The program ended in late July 1968 when the "Cubans" left the camp.

(Note that this letter from BG Shufelt and the enclosed DIA Fact Sheet were provided to Dornan in 1987.   Compare this fact to the following statement made by CDR Beck in his August 1999 letter to the Miami Herald: "As the POW investigator who first surfaced the story of Cubans in Vietnam through Congressman Robert Dornan's Subcommittee in October 1996, . . . "   Beck "surfaced the story of the Cubans" nine years after DIA informed Dornan -- a fact that did not stop him from lying about it.)

End of Enclosure 5
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Now, let me state again the purpose of posting these documents.  USN (Reserve) CDR William "Chip" Beck, since his tour of duty in DPMO, has persisted in making personal attacks on senior analyst Bob Destatte, on other analysts with whom he disagrees, and on DPMO in general.  The letter to the editor of the Miami Herald reproduced here is an example of his attacks.  Congressman Bob Dornan's attacks on Bob Destatte are, I believe, based entirely on Beck's contacts with Dornan and his staff -- a use of Congressional position to carry out a personal vendetta.  These documents prove that Dornan and Beck have seriously misrepresented -- even lied about -- the facts.   Why?

Here are links to other articles in this series.

  1. Follow this link to read the statement by Mr. Robert J. Destatte, senior DOD POW-MIA analyst regarding the "Cuban program."   Statement made November 4, 1999, in Congressional hearing.
  2. Follow this link to an article regarding CDR Beck and his fantasies.
  3. Follow this link to an article about former Congressman Bob Dornan and his venture into the "Cuban program."  This link takes you to a copy of a "special orders" speech made by Dornan, attacking Bob Destatte.
  4. Follow this link to a collection of newspaper articles that report on the November 4 hearings.
  5. Follow this link to an attempt by author Al Santoli to make something out of nothing.
  6. If you have a copy of the book Honor Bound:  American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961 - 1973, you can read about the "Cuban program" on pages 394 - 407