|U.S. investigating POW claims |
Pentagon analyst seeking info classified during Cold War
By Katerina Zachovalova
former Czechoslovak general who defected to the United States during
the height of the Cold War said in 1992 that Czechoslovakia had held
and even conducted medical experiments on American prisoners (POWs)
captured in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Twelve years later,
a Pentagon investigation into those allegations still has a long way
Several investigations throughout the 1990s, the most
thorough of them by this country's Office of Documentation and
Investigation of the Crimes of Communism (UDV), attempted to prove
or rebut the claims of controversial defector Gen. Jan Sejna. The
investigations, however, achieved neither.
Colonel Michael O'Hara — a senior analyst with the Pentagon's office
that conducts investigations for the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission
for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action Personnel — says that
despite the prior UDV investigations, he is optimistic new leads may
still be found.
O'Hara has been working on the case for a
year and a half and says he has come across documents in Czech
archives previously not discovered by Czech investigators.
These finds reveal that Czechoslovakia received information
about American prisoners during the Vietnam War, he said. O'Hara
specified the nature of his discovery but requested the details not
be published, fearing it could jeopardize the ongoing investigation.
"On many occasions I've been told that ... the Czechoslovak
Socialist Republic had zero interest in American POWs, did not care
to know anything about what was going on in Korea and Vietnam and
yet ... somehow the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was receiving
some information regarding POWs," O'Hara said. "That does not make
anybody guilty of anything but it's information that's important to
us in resolving some of our issues."
"It is what is missing from the various archives,
especially the military archives, that causes the greatest
concern on our side."
Michael O'Hara, Pentagon
investigation, aimed at discovering any information Czechoslovak
institutions and citizens might have had about American POWs, began
in 1998 but did not get off the ground until early last year.
Dependent on the will of the Czech government to let foreign
investigators search its archives and interview its citizens, the
effort stalled until U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson of Texas elicited
support in meetings with Czech leaders in January 2003, O'Hara said.
Johnson was captured during the Vietnam War and held in Hanoi for
nearly seven years. According to Defense Ministry spokesman Jan
Pejsek, the ministry's cooperation further improved after U.S.
Ambassador William Cabaniss met with Defense Minister Miroslav
Kostelka this past spring.
Several government agencies have
allowed O'Hara to conduct research in their archives. Yet the access
has not automatically translated into success. The paper trail of
four decades under communism is not complete, as numerous documents
were destroyed or misplaced during the 1989 revolution.
is what is missing from the various archives, especially the
military archives, that causes the greatest concern on our side,"
Many of those who believe Sejna's claims, such
as the author of his memoirs Joseph D. Douglass, are skeptical that
O'Hara's efforts will lead anywhere. "You cannot do a joint
investigation with any country that's been involved in this issue,
unless there's been a radical change in the country, because they
don't want any information to go out," Douglass said.
Meanwhile the elderly doctors, diplomats and military
officials who could have met with or known about American POWs in
Korea and Vietnam are dying out.
A Prague 5 villa with a worn, brown facade is the home of
Professor Vladimir Dufek, the last living man Sejna blamed in his
Nov. 5, 1992, statement to the U.S. Senate committee that
investigated the fates of POWs. According to Sejna's Nov. 19, 1992,
deposition, Dufek, an 85-year-old retired heart specialist, was in
charge of a Czechoslovak military hospital in Korea where drugs that
"control the mind, for example, of military people in wartime" were
tested on the Americans.
But Dufek never served in the
Czechoslovak military or civilian hospitals in Korea during or after
the conflict. "It's complete nonsense," he said by telephone, adding
that he has no idea why Sejna accused him. "I had nothing to do with
Three Czech doctors who served in Korea during the time
of that military hospital's existence, 1952-53, denied that medical
experiments ever took place there.
|A DEFECTOR'S CHARGES
Controversial claims made by Gen. Jan Sejna,
who defected to the United States in 1968 and died in
• Doctors at a Czechoslovak military
hospital in Korea tested mind-control drugs on American
• Tests of mind-control drugs on
American soldiers continued during the Vietnam War
From 1965 to 1967, numerous U.S. POWs were shipped from
Vietnam to Prague and then on to the Soviet Union. Some of the
prisoners were held in the villa that currently houses
President Vaclav Klaus
Describing the hospital's crude conditions, such as
underground shelters dug out in a slope between villages whose
residents accommodated patients in their huts, the doctors ruled out
that such experiments could have been kept secret.
night after 8 p.m., the hospital's first chief surgeon checked in
new patients by candlelight while the rest of the staff was swimming
in a malaria-infested lake nearby, recalled a doctor, now 89, who
wished to remain anonymous. He said he did not accept any Americans
into the hospital.
"I did not see a single prisoner.
Nothing," the doctor said. "I checked people in. I worked there day
According to the UDV report, two doctors
testified that a small group of U.S. POWs and their Korean guards
stopped by the hospital for a short period of time. While the
doctor's accounts vary in date, both recalled the same detail of
seeing the prisoners and guards playing table tennis.
also said that the experiments continued during the Vietnam War.
From 1965 to 1967, he said in his deposition, two to three groups of
20 to 25 U.S. POWs were shipped from Vietnam to Prague and then on
to the Soviet Union.
According to Sejna's statements, some
of the prisoners were held in a villa on Slunna street that was
owned by the military and currently houses President Vaclav Klaus, a
claim first reported by Mlada fronta Dnes.
Czech military counter-intelligence investigation ruled out that
those claims were grounded in fact, said the UDV's Prokop Tomek, who
conducted the office's archival research.
Tomek, who said he
thinks Sejna made up his claims, complained that results of any
investigation are doomed to be questioned.
are difficult to break," he explained. "It is constructed in such a
way that it could have happened. Either the paper trail to support
it never existed and the people who did it will never talk about it,
or all the documents were destroyed. It is impossible to refute."
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