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U.S. investigating POW claims

Pentagon analyst seeking info classified during Cold War

By Katerina Zachovalova
For The Prague Post

A 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 to go.

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.

Now, Lieutenant 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 O'Hara specified the nature of his discovery but requested the details not be published, fearing it could jeopardize the ongoing investigation.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 analyst

The current 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.

"It is what is missing from the various archives, especially the military archives, that causes the greatest concern on our side," O'Hara said.

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.

Cloudy claims

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 it."

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.

Controversial claims made by Gen. Jan Sejna, who defected to the United States in 1968 and died in 1997:

Doctors at a Czechoslovak military hospital in Korea tested mind-control drugs on American soldiers

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.

Every 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 and night."

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.

Sejna 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.

A 1993 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.

"Sejna's claims 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."

Katerina Zachovalova can be reached at

Golgot Real Estate Agency, Prague

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REAL ESTATE Special Section June 17, 2004

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