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Defense Witnesses Speak For Captain in Cannibalism Trial

February 18, 1989

SUBIC BAY NAVAL BASE, Philippines (AP) _ A U.S. Navy captain accused of abandoning Vietnamese refugees who later resorted to cannibalism is a caring soldier, defense witnesses testified Friday at his court-martial.

Four witnesses were presented to a jury of six U.S. Navy captains in support of Capt. Alexander Balian, former skipper of the USS Dubuque.

″Capt. Balian is a person who gets the job done immediately,″ Rear Adm. Vernon Smith said. ″He is dedicated, tenacious and loyal.″

Smith was Balian’s operational commander when the Dubuque was deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1987. He described Balian’s performance as an officer as ″impressive.″

Miller, who was on the bridge of the Dubuque when it encountered the refugee boat, testified Balian ″indicated more than once that he wanted to know the condition of the refugees aboard the craft.″

On Thursday, a military judge dropped one of three charges against Balian. The judge ruled that military prosecutors failed to present evidence he refused to render aid to a man who tried to swim to the Dubuque from the refugee boat.

Balian faces another charge of ″wrongfully failing to render assistance″ to a second Vietnamese who also tried to swim to the warship, and a third charge of dereliction of duty for failing to render adequate assistance to the other refugees.

If found guilty of both remaining charges, Balian could be sentenced to two years and three months in jail, forfeiture of all benefits and dismissal from the service.

The wooden Vietnamese boat, crammed with 83 refugees, had been at sea since leaving Vietnam on May 22 when it crossed paths with the Dubuque on June 9 about 230 miles north of the Philippine island of Palawan.

U.N. officials in Manila said nearly 20 other refugees died of starvation before the encounter with the Dubuque and only 52 survived when they were rescued by Filipino fishermen on June 27.

The survivors told officials that after provisions given by the Dubuque crew ran out, they survived by eating the flesh of five refugees, including three who were murdered.

Balian, 48, of Los Angeles, was relieved of his command in August, when the Navy began investigation. Court martial charges were filed in December.

Balian is to be the next defense witness when the trial resumes on Monday.

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