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POWs AND THE CUBA PROGRAM

The Miami Herald has reported this past September 9 that a former American
prisoner of war during the Vietnam War has identified the leader of the Cuban
interrogation team that tortured him. The former American POW is Retired Air Force
Colonel Ed Hubbard, and his former torturer is none other than the Cuban General
Fernando Vecino Alegret, who just happens to be Cuba’s current Minister of Higher
Education!
According to the Herald, Hubbard was beaten so brutally by the Cuban team that
after one interrogation session, a fellow POW found him unconscious on a cell floor;
some of the POWs are now considering suing the Havana government in American
courts.
Why is this information not reported widely in the American media? Imagine, for instance, if a
person in an American Cabinet—or the Cabinet of any Western government—had been identified as a
former torturer of prisoners of war. The news would be in the front pages of all mainstream American
newspapers, plus in radio and TV news programs. Yet, this story, which is closely tied to a recent book on
the suffering of American POWs in Vietnam, is being kept out of the news.
The Miami Herald reported this past August about the Cuba Program, which is
now extensively documented in the book Honor Bound, by Stuart Rochester and
Frederick Kiley. The book makes use of previously classified documents from the
Department of Defense’s Prisoner of War, Missing Personnel Office. Some of these
documents came to light in 1996 during Congressional hearings, but were also ignored by
the media and, I regret to say, I did not learn of them.
The story is simple. Cuba sent a team of interrogators to conduct psychological
experiments and worse to North Vietnam in 1967. They selected a random (and small)
sample of Americans for their experiments. Their goal was to achieve psychological
surrender from the POWs, so that they could be used for propaganda purposes. The
methods are briefly described below, as reported in the various Herald stories:
“[The leader] loved direct hits to the face with the tire strips that the POWs came to call fan belts,
one POW told his debriefer… [The leader’s] month long beatings of [Jim] Kasler were among the worst
sieges of torture any American withstood in Hanoi…[The leader] flogged him until his buttocks, lower
back and legs hung in shreds, and at the end [Jim] was in a semi-coma.” Another POW died as a result of
the beatings, and by the end of the Cuba Program, the team had tortured 18 of the 20 Americans selected
for it.
American investigators tried to determine the names of the Cubans in the Cuba
Program but were unable to do so. That is, until the Miami Herald published its original
story in late summer. Then, someone in the Cuban-American community who knew the
identity of the leader sent the Herald a picture of the now Cuban General and Minister of
Higher Education—as this person looked in the year 1958. This picture has allowed the
retired American Air Force Colonel to identify him as the leader, saying “I can state with
99 percent certainty that it is him.” The Cuban General’s picture will be shown to the 16
surviving POWs who underwent the Cuba Program for confirmation of the identity of the
leading torturer.
The Miami Herald cannot avoid reporting this story, since the former American
POW held a news conference in the office of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is a Cuban-
American and a member of the United States Congress, representing the Miami area. But
where is the rest of the American press corps? American POWs who knew the story
“obeyed Pentagon orders to keep quiet, to protect POWs who might remain in Vietnam,
and perhaps because [the leader’s] identification as a Cuban was then only an
unconfirmed allegation by the POWs.”
However, now a Department of Defense official has confirmed that the torturer
was indeed a Cuban, who Ed Hubbard identifies as the Cuban Minister of Higher
Education! How, I repeat, can we explain the lack of coverage in the American media?
The problem is that the current Administration in Washington is trying to improve
relations with Cuba, and this piece of news would not play well with the American
public. The Cuban General is not just a soldier who committed atrocities on his own, but
a high-ranking dignitary in the Cuban government who has been doing the dirty work for
it. The press and the media do not want to rock the boat and tell everyone unpleasant
news about the murderous dictatorship found in Cuba. Regrettably, the news will get to
the people, but maybe too late--once all the under-the-table deals have been made.
Nicolas Sanchez September 13, 1999
13 Redcoat Road Word Count: 789
Framingham, MA 01701 Tel. (508) 872-4205