Tom Fitton / March 28, 2016

Cover-Up on American POWs in Cuba?

Seventeen U.S. airmen captured during the Vietnam War may have been flown to Cuba, held captive in a prison noted for holding political prisoners, and used for medical experiments on torture.

Seventeen U.S. airmen captured during the Vietnam War may have been flown to Cuba, held captive in a prison noted for holding political prisoners, and used for medical experiments on torture.

We don’t know for sure, because the Obama Pentagon is balking at requests for records.

Last week we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Department of Defense to obtain records about American POWs who may have been held captive by Cuban government or military forces on the island of Cuba. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense (No. 1:16-cv-00151)).

We filed this suit after the Defense Department failed to comply with a June 1, 2015, FOIA request seeking:  

Any and all records depicting the names, service branch, ranks, Military Occupational Specialty, and dates and locations of capture of all American servicemen believed to have been held captive by Cuban government or military forces on the island of Cuba since 1960.

Responding to the suit, the Department of Defense initially claimed to have no responsive records.

An opinion piece published in Accuracy in Media by John Lowery describes at least 17 U.S. airmen captured during the Vietnam War and reportedly brought to Cuba for “medical experiments in torture techniques." 

When U.S. Navy F-4 pilot Lt. Clemmie McKinney’s plane was shot down in April 1972, he was reportedly held in the Cuban compound called Work Site Five in North Vietnam. The Department of Defense reportedly said he was killed in the crash, but a CIA document later published included a picture of McKinney standing next to Fidel Castro.

Lowery also reported:

More than 13 years later, on August 14, 1985, the North Vietnamese returned Lt. McKinney’s remains, reporting that he died in November 1972. However, a U.S. Army forensic anthropologist established the "time of death as not earlier than 1975 and probably several years later.”

The report speculated that he had been a guest at Havana’s Los Maristas prison, with his remains returned to Vietnam for repatriation. (We also paid big money for the remains—delivered in stacks of green dollars to Hanoi aboard an AF C-141 from Travis AFB, California.) Unfortunately, our servicemen held in the Cuban POW camp near Work Site Five (Cong Truong Five), along with those in two other Cuban run camps were never acknowledged nor accounted for and the prisoners simply disappeared.

In 1999, during testimony before Congress, Mike Benge, former prisoner of war (POW) and POW historian, stated: “I have also uncovered evidence of the possibility that American POWs from the Vietnam War have been held in Los Maristas, a secret Cuban prison run by Castro’s G-2 intelligence service.”

American POWs describe the Cuban section of a Hanoi prison as the Zoo. Cuba reportedly provided personnel who helped improve the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which was used by the communists to support military attacks against U.S. military forces in Vietnam.

The fact that we had to sue the Obama administration to get simple answers as to whether Cuba held and tortured American POWs strongly suggests that a cover-up is underway. The Obama administration admires Castro’s Cuba so much that even the fate of the regime’s victims, even American POWs, is of little concern. 

I have a feeling that President Obama didn’t raise the issue with his friends in the Cuban regime during his visit.

But Judicial Watch will continue to seek answers in federal court.

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