Senate Investigators Allege POWs Held in Underground Prison in Hanoi
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Several separate sources alleged as recently as 1988 that American prisoners of war were being held in an underground prison next to the Hanoi tomb of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, a member of a Senate investigating committee said Tuesday.
But Defense Intelligence Agency officials said there is no credible evidence such a prison ever existed. They said the water table in the Vietnamese capital is too high to permit such a facility to be built.
And, they said, some of the sources proved to be untruthful.
″The likelihood they are holding Americans in that environment is low,″ said DIA analyst Robert DeStatte, who recently spent 10 months in Vietnam, freely walking near the Ho Chi Minh tomb and the Vietnamese defense ministry and talking to civilian residents of the neighborhood.
But Sen. Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., said a ″cluster″ of individual sources reporting over a 15-year period ″have filled in details concerning the construction and operation of this underground detention facility at the Citadel,″ the headquarters of the Vietnamese armed forces in north-central Hanoi.
″The story of American POWs in these areas long after the war sounds like something out of a Tom Clancy novel,″ said Smith, a member of the Senate Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs. ″But these reports are not from fictitious people. They are real people telling us what they have seen and heard.″
″The presence of a secret underground facility for American POWS in Hanoi at the Citadel is the only rational explanation for all of these sightings and reports over the years,″ Smith said.
″The majority of the ultimate sources are construction workers who worked on the prison, or people associated with senior (Army) officers who knew about the prison,″ he said.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the committee chairman, said the reports must be treated with caution and restraint.
″The sheer number of live-sighting reports, more than 1,500 since the end of the war, indicates to some that Americans - perhaps hundreds - must have been left behind,″ Kerry said, referring to all of Southeast Asia.
″However, our failure over 20 years to locate any of those Americans has caused others to conclude that the reports must be false,″ he said.
″We are not going to draw conclusions until this process is complete,″ he said.
Smith read into the hearing record details of more than a dozen reports in which Americans are alleged to have been seen alive in the Citadel area long after 1973, the year in which all American prisoners were said to have been liberated by the Vietnamese government.
One source, interviewed in a South Korean refugee camp in 1987, said he was told by a Vietnamese Army officer that as late as 1985 there was an underground facility near the Ho Chi Minh tomb in which American war prisoners were being held.
According to documents released by the committee, the officer stated that the prison was built under tight security in 1970, as the Ho Chi Minh tomb was being constructed.
Another document contains a statement by a Vietnamese herbal doctor who said he saw Caucasians in prison uniform in 1986 when he was called to the defense ministry compound to treat an ailing general.
″The source asked the general’s 30-year-old son about the prisoners,″ the document states. ″The son stated they were American pilots who were kept confined in an underground prison in the compound and that over 30 prisoners were being held there.″
Still another document quotes a former Cambodian communist official as saying that on Sept. 12, 1984, while visiting Hanoi, he was blindfolded and driven to an underground prison where he saw about 100 Americans in each of three large cells.
The DIA analysis of the latter statement said that this source failed a lie detector test and was determined to be ″a fabricator.″
DeStatte said he was ″totally confident″ that an underground prison would have been discovered if it in fact existed.
He noted that one source described a facility with guard towers, high walls, search lights and barbed wire.
″Those things simply did not exist,″ he said, adding that the sources appear to be describing underground prisons not in just one location but three or four.
A colleague, Gary Sydow, chief of the DIA’s analysis branch, said the agency has done enough work on the issue and collected enough negative evidence to be able ″to sustain the belief that there is no underground prison in Hanoi.″