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Winter Soldier

Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, on January 31, 1971, February 1 and 2, 1971

Sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Inc.

Part IV

MODERATOR. What about the prisoners? Who were these prisoners, normally? How did you acquire them, or where did you get them?

DROLSHAGEN. Well, they would be brought to us by the Vietnamese.

MODERATOR. I see. For what? Were these actual prisoners taken in an engagement of some sort, or what? Or do you know?

DROLSHAGEN. I'm not really positive as to whether they were taken in engagements or whether we're going to label them as suspects. Anybody, and this is the racist attitude of Americans in that country, anybody that has slanted eyes and is our age is a Cong if he doesn't have a South Vietnamese uniform on. And if you find one of these guys (we don't even use the term suspect) he was known, and if he died, he was definitely a Viet Cong. You know he's not going to retaliate or anything. He's used as a body count. We would take snipe fire in that area quite often. There was, I guess, a price on our head. We were told that the North Vietnamese, the Viet--I'm just going to use Vietnamese because they all are--they didn't like us, which I can imagine. They were trying to do away with us so any time we had to slice somebody up and do away with them, it was just another body count.

MODERATOR. Jon, what was the highest ranking officer that you've seen at these interrogations?




MODERATOR. Did he take part in them?

DROLSHAGEN. Well, yeah. He was my instructor-type guy.

MODERATOR. He taught you what you knew.

DROLSHAGEN. Right. He was pretty good at it, I guess.

MODERATOR. Okay, thanks very much, Jon. We have another gentleman here, Don Dzagulones, who was also an interrogator. He was an interrogator for eleven months in Vietnam. I'd like him to describe a few of his experiences to you. If you would, tell us where you were stationed and basically what the setup was there.

DZAGULONES. Okay. I was attached to a Military Intelligence Detachment which was attached to the Americal Division and it was subdivided further into teams. During the three days of interrogation, MPs were present at all interrogation sessions, which is a rule in Vietnam. All interrogations are conducted in the presence of MPs who are to make sure that we adhere to the Geneva Convention, but, as it is, the MPs were usually the most sadistic people. As far as the field phone itself, I watched as the MPs applied the torture themselves. Like I didn't have to do it. They did it for me. And that night, the night of the first interrogation, a medic came to my area with a syringe with 7 cc's--I believe it was of sodium pentothal--and it was kind of like an anonymous gift.

I was told how to use it and it was left to my discretion whether or not I wanted to. I didn't because I was afraid of killing the guy. I didn't know too much about that particular drug. There were numerous incidents I feel I should explain what our function was as an interrogator. Most of the prisoners were women, children, and old men. It wasn't often that we got a military-aged male and our primary function was to find something that these people had done wrong. In that part of Vietnam (I guess they call it disputed) but it's controlled by the Viet Cong; there's no doubt about it. No one ventures out anywhere at night and the Viet Cong force people to join organizations. The Viet Cong tax them heavily and these people are forced to join various organizations, each of which has a separate interest in aiding the Viet Cong. So anyone that we got as a detainee prisoner who admitted to being in an organization was classified as a civil defendant, which meant that he or she went to the National Police and the National Police applied further interrogation techniques. The National Police were probably, well, they could put the Gestapo of the SS to shame.

In our particular district, the favorite tactic used by the National Police was to string a guy up from a beam or a rafter or anything that would extend his hands out, get a speedometer cable, I believe it was, and kind of whip the person until either he died or talked or was unconscious. A lot of the interrogations were witnessed by officers. As I said, all of the interrogations were witnessed by MPs, none of whom ever did anything to prevent brutality.

When I first got into Vietnam, I was an observer at most interrogations for a couple of weeks just to learn what was going on and how to conduct the interrogations. One of the first interrogations I witnessed took place in a hospital in which a North Vietnamese prisoner was brought in wounded. He was severely wounded. He was going into shock from loss of blood. They had gotten the prisoner at an ambush. We had an interrogation team there that was interrogating the guy, but he wasn't offering information fast enough. The Brigade S-2, which is the Brigade Intelligence officer, a major, was there and he was dissatisfied with the proceedings so he took over the interrogation himself.

He got smelling salts, hands full of smelling salts, and he held them to the guy's face to keep him conscious, to make him talk. That didn't work very well, so he poked around in the wounds and what not. And there were MPs present again. There was a captain who was a doctor present and two or three interrogators who could easily corroborate what I'm saying. Anything I say can be corroborated. I can get people to corroborate what I say. No one took any steps to prevent the abuse of the prisoner.

As I said, he was severely wounded and he was there for maybe half an hour. They were working on getting a helicopter to medivac him up to Division for more intensive treatment, medical treatment that is. Field phones and beatings were commonplace occurrences. As an interrogator, I was subject to the Geneva Convention and I was watched by the MPs during the interrogations. However, there were other people in our unit who were counterintelligence and, during their interrogations, there was no one ever present. They conducted their interrogations on their own. There was no one to supervise, and consequently, they took advantage of it. They always used the field phone. They never bothered to ask the person questions.

One of the incidents that I know of personally, which I witnessed, was a guy who was supposed to be a spy. They'd interrogated him for about four or five hours and they alternated between beating him and wiring him up with the field phone. Subsequent to the interrogation, the guy was unconscious. I don't know if he was alive or not. They loaded him in a jeep, left the base camp, dumped him off Highway 1 somewhere off the side of the road and came back. No one ever found out about the conduct of the counterintelligence people.

Another time they brought in a woman prisoner who also was alleged to be a spy. They continued the interrogation in a bunker and she wouldn't talk. I don't think she even gave them her name. So they stripped off her clothing, and they threatened to rape her, which had no effect on her at all. She was very stoic. She just stood there and looked at them defiantly. So they threatened to burn her pubic hairs, and I guess it wasn't done on purpose, I'm sure of that, but they lighted a cigarette lighter and she caught on fire. She went into shock. I guess she was unconscious, so they called the medics. The medics came and they gave the medics instructions to take her to the hospital under the pretext of being in a coma from malaria, which they did. And nothing was ever done about that.

I also had experience with Psy-Ops teams, which is basically the same thing Jon was. They were to win the hearts and minds of the people. There was one sergeant in particular who had a reputation for being a sadist. His mission was to go into areas and propagandize the people, try to win their hearts and minds over to the South Vietnamese government's side, which is an impossibility. There was no part of his mission which involved detaining people, but at least once or twice a month, he'd send in a bunch of prisoners. Usually they were old women, and, invariably, all had been beaten. One time in particular, we had five elderly ladies sent in, all of whom were beaten. One had a broken leg, I believe, and another had a skull fracture. We sent them over to the hospital for medical attention and we brought it to the attention of the people at Brigade (the majors, the captains, and the colonels).

We told them that it wasn't an isolated incident, that it happened before with the same guy, but no one took any action to prevent it or to reprimand him or to see that it never happened again. As I said, it was commonplace to beat people. There were many assorted techniques used. The field phone was the most popular, though. I'm sure there's a lot more I could relate but right now I'm too nervous to think of them.

MODERATOR. Okay, how about the dehydration?

DZAGULONES. One of the favorite methods used in coercing a prisoner to talk was dehydration. Our main objective in getting a prisoner to talk was to make sure we left no marks, nothing that was traceable. So the MPs were very cooperative with us. We'd get a prisoner and we'd keep him on a diet of crackers and peanut butter, which comes in C-rations. The prisoner was kept out in the sun for three or four days eating crackers and peanut butter and occasionally they'd make him do a little physical labor. If the guy wasn't suffering enough, they'd make him fill sand bags and carry them around. They did this until it was obvious that the prisoner wasn't going to talk, or the prisoner broke. No steps were ever taken to prevent these actions. There was no supervision.

If people did find out about it, they just let it go, because it was an accepted practice; it was common. They were after the information and since the Vietnamese, as has been mentioned, were treated and held as less than human, anything that we did was perfectly all right. I was trained at Fort Meade, Maryland, and officially we weren't trained to use any kind of torture tactics. A class was supposed to last for an hour. They'd lecture us for half an hour and then they'd turn the class over to Vietnam veterans, people who had been interrogators in Vietnam. It was up to them to tell us what they felt was essential to help us function as interrogators in Vietnam. Invariably the instruction would turn to various methods that they'd seen or heard of or used in torturing people in Vietnam and there are many, many, many methods.

MODERATOR. Also, you related to me earlier about women in the camp and about a mother and a daughter.

DZAGULONES. Like I said, most of the prisoners we had were women. It wasn't uncommon to have a mother and daughter coming in the same group of prisoners. I don't know why, I can't understand it, but we had a rarity in our unit. We had a black interrogator, which is really uncommon. There aren't too many black people in military intelligence. So we found out that by threatening a woman with having the black interrogator rape her, would usually make them talk. So they'd have the woman and her daughter brought in at the same time. We'd send the daughter into a bunker and tell the mother that we were going to send the black interrogator in to rape the daughter if she didn't cooperate and give us information. Usually they took it only as a threat. There were occasions on which the guy did go in to the bunker, but he was a pacifist, he never did anything. He didn't even want to interrogate. I guess he was considered by the brass to be a malcontent, but he served his purpose just by walking in the bunker. He'd scare the woman and usually they'd talk. They'd tell us what they knew.

MODERATOR. Okay, thank you very much. I think the point is obvious here. We talked yesterday about maltreatment of prisoners by combat troops in a combat zone in the heat of battle. And of course what we've presented here with this type of testimony is the fact that this is delivered by professionals not in the heat of battle. It's common knowledge at all echelons of command. At this point, I'd like to ask John Van Dyke if he would sort of summarize what we have been listening to here this morning.

VAN DYKE. My contribution to this panel is that I did work in the State Department in 1966 for the Office of the Legal Adviser on the question of prisoners of war. Since then, I've kept in contact with the people in Washington that are connected with us and I've tried to find out as much as I could about what the actual practices were--are in the North and the South in connection with prisoners. I've talked with as many of the men who've returned from North Vietnam as I can persuade to talk to me. I've just tried to piece together the picture of what is going on as best as I can.

Now we've all been deluged in the last eighteen months with this incredible campaign from Washington to get us aroused over the prisoner of war issue. I don't need to go into any great detail about what's been happening. Members of the Cabinet have met with wives and parents of the prisoners. Congressional resolutions have been passed with great urgency. One hundred thirty-five million prisoners of war stamps were issued by the Post Office. Local telephone companies have circulated little notes with the bills telling you to write to Hanoi. The Steve Canyon cartoon strips went through a period of presenting daily sagas of life of relatives of POWs.

This whole effort has been designed to arouse us, get us concerned, and generate hatred toward an enemy that none of us find it very easy to hate. Ho Chi Minh looked like Santa Claus. It's very difficult to generate hatred toward him. Most people you know just don't want to have anything to do with hating this enemy. The campaign has had some success and I think it's useful to try to understand what's been going on and to acknowledge how closely this is being regulated from Washington.

The Defense Department provides direct encouragement for wives and parents who have organized themselves into a group called the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. The chief fund raiser for this group is a chap called Paul Wagner who was Barry Goldwater's Press Secretary during the '64 Presidential campaign and has since, as a PR man, served clients such as Portugal in its disputes with Angola. The group's chief lawyer is a chap called Charles Havens, who was employed by the Defense Department when I was at the State Department and worked on prisoners of war affairs.

Then just in typical military-industrial complex fashion, he switched over to the private sector. This group has continued to work closely with the Defense Department to get as much interest as it can. Now the amazing thing about this campaign to me is how little evidence the government and the League of Families has come up with about abuse by the North Vietnamese toward our prisoners.

Virtually each of the nine men who've been freed has made statements which contradict themselves. So we're left with a great state of confusion. Two of the three men who were last freed, which was in the summer of 1969, said after they'd had a month of debriefing in Washington, that they had been mistreated to some extent. These are the prime witnesses for the government.

These statements that they made in September 1969 directly contradicted statements they'd made when they were freed. And at that point, none of the other seven prisoners who had been released would corroborate the statements that the two of the nine made. I called one of the other seven, Air Force Captain Joe Carpenter, after the two, Robert Frischman and Douglas Hagdahl made their statements, and asked him whether he had experienced any of the kind of mistreatment abuses that Frischman and Hagdahl announced or whether he'd heard about any. He said, "No," but that he could not make any public statement because he'd been contacted by the Pentagon. He'd been contacted right after Frischman and Hagdahl held their press conference. They had told him not to say anything, that there was an elaborate plan being organized and that his role at this point was to stay quiet, which he did, because he was still in the Air Force and still wanted to make a career of it.

Last September, September 1970, which was some two years after Carpenter was released, he finally did make a statement on ABC News and gave a generally mild account of his captivity. He said that soon after he was shot down he was, of course, terrified when he arrived, but he soon got over his fears when he realized that his life was being protected by the militia that quickly arrived. The most serious problem that arose was that some villagers pulled at his mustache. He was, once he got used to the prisoner's camp, kept alone in a bunker and he found the isolation somewhat difficult to get used to.

But it wasn't total solitary confinement because he had a window out on the street, kids would come by and they would communicate as best they could without knowing the language. He'd make faces at them and they would make faces back. They got along and eventually the older people came over and he sort of dug it. Friendship developed and he had no charge of brutal treatment at all toward his captors.

Well, since that statement of September 1970, two of the other released pilots have made public statements and indicated that they had some rough times, especially when they were being transported around North Vietnam during periods of heavy bombing. They had to suffer the same inconveniences as the North Vietnamese. As we know, our government and the pilots who fly for our Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, have been making it very unpleasant to live in North Vietnam. There's been no explanation of why these two pilots that have recently made statements waited two, and in one case, three years, before making any statements. The remaining charges against North Vietnam involved procedural irregularities.

In those areas, North Vietnam has responded and has made dramatic improvement. There's been an official list that has been released and mail is now coming regularly. Mrs. Warner indicated that since March, she's gotten a letter about once a month. That's the general average that most families have been getting. Now what's the comparable situation in South Vietnam in terms of the legal structure? We've heard a great deal about what happens before prisoners get to formal prisoner of war camps. It's fairly clear that life is made very unpleasant for any prisoner before that happens.

Now, there are six formal prisoner of war camps in South Vietnam which hold some 35,000 men and the International Committee of the Red Cross does make inspections of these camps. The Department of Defense, for some reason it's not been announced, classifies as confidential information about the number of prisoners who have died in these formal prisoner of war camps. Richard Dudman, who is the Washington Bureau Chief for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and a man who was incidentally himself a prisoner in Cambodia for a month last year, did some investigating and discovered that the figure of prisoners who have died in the formal prisoner of war camps in South Vietnam is at least 899 out of the 35,000 and that includes at least more than 300 North Vietnamese and another 500 Viet Cong soldiers.

The comparable figure of Americans who have died in captivity in North Vietnam is five. I'd like to mention some other aspects of the legal situation. There's been an effort in one or two cases to bring to trial men accused of killing prisoners of war in the South and the record of convictions is so amazing that it just elevates what we've heard here as unofficial and what really happens to an official policy. The trial of Lt. James Duffy in March 1970 indicates the somewhat hypocritical attitude that our government takes.

Duffy was in command of a company in Binh Phouc district, September 1969, attempting to set up an ambush. The company discovered a man hiding inside the bunker with documents indicating he was a deserter from the South Vietnamese army and they suspected he was a Tiger Scout for the Viet Cong and imprisoned him.

Subsequently, according to allegations which the Court-Martial panel accepted, Lt. Duffy told Sgt. John Lanasa, "It's time to get up and get out and shoot him." Lanasa replied, "I always wanted to shoot a gook between the eyes." Lanasa then put an M-16 to the prisoner's head and did in fact shoot him between the eyes. This is uncontradicted testimony. Lt. Duffy reported to his superiors that the man was shot while trying to escape. Duffy's lawyer, in the defense in the court-martial, did not deny that any of these events took place, but instead argued that Duffy was acting in accordance with an Army policy not to take prisoners in combat operations.

Two fellow 1st Lieutenants in Duffy's company testified in his behalf at the trial that there was a conscious policy to avoid taking prisoners. And we've heard plenty of evidence here that this has been a policy throughout South Vietnam. The eight-man military court-martial accepted this defense. They first concluded that Duffy was guilty of premeditated murder, but upon learning that such a finding required a sentence of life imprisonment, they changed their verdict to involuntary manslaughter and gave him a six month sentence.

Duffy continued to be paid by the army while in prison with a forfeiture of $25.00 per month. He was allowed to remain in the Army. The court-martial panel, in fact, wanted to avoid imposing any penalty on Lt. Duffy and they only gave him a six month sentence after they were told that they could not completely suspend the sentence. Sgt. Lanasa, who was put on trial in July of last year, was acquitted by the court-martial entirely. There's another trial that I'd like to mention and it happened more recently. Last month a court-martial panel was being organized to try Sgt. Charles Hutto for participation in the My Lai massacre.

In the process of impaneling the group of officers to try Sgt. Hutto, an army colonel was questioned to determine whether he could be an impartial member of the panel. He was asked whether it would be appropriate to execute a prisoner of war in Vietnam, his answer was, "This is not a conventional war. We have to forget propriety." It's an army colonel that makes this statement. He was then accepted as foreman of the court-martial panel being deemed to be an impartial observer of the situation.

I think that that elevates a policy of killing prisoners of war to an official level. Since then, Sgt. Hutto, of course, was acquitted by this court-martial panel and since then all but five of the twenty-five people originally charged with the My Lai massacre have also had the charges dropped against them. So it would appear that we will not even get a scapegoat for the My Lai massacre. I'd like to touch on one other aspect of North Vietnam's prison treatment: the question of inspection of camps which generally comes up. The North Vietnamese have always refused to have an international body inspect the camps and I think that position ought to be explained a bit. The North Vietnamese genuinely doubt whether any international body can be neutral in this war.

The United States has for some time tried to persuade North Vietnam to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the captured American pilots. The United States views the International Committee as an impartial body. It's composed entirely of Swiss nationals and they cannot understand why North Vietnam does not similarly view the committee. Well, the history of it is that Asian nations were first introduced to the Red Cross by Western countries which brought it along with their colonizing missions.

The Red Cross is still viewed as an arm of imperialism. Although the International Committee of the Red Cross has done as best it can to be neutral in the war, the Swiss naturally find it easier to communicate with other westerners and they've maintained a close relationship with the United States. North Vietnam has in turn grown to mistrust the Red Cross. Second, and perhaps a more important reason why the North Vietnamese do not want any foreign organizations inspecting their prison camps, is that they fear a renewed and even more intensive bombing campaign by the United States if the United States learns the exact locations of all the prison camps.

The North Vietnamese reason, I think correctly, the Air Force and Navy would be free to begin a saturation bombing campaign in all other parts of the country and to send over more commando raids on the camps themselves. The bombing attacks on various parts of North Vietnam in January, February, May, September, and November 1970 and again during the past month, provide new reasons for North Vietnam's fears. In fact, I think the recent commando raid would end forever the possibility of any international inspection of North Vietnam's prison camps. The North Vietnamese should not, however, be viewed as intransigent on this issue of prisoners of war. Mrs. Warner mentioned the Viet Cong offer about prisoners of war. In September of 1970, Madame Binh said that if the United States would set a definite timetable for troop withdrawal, the Communist forces would refrain from attacking withdrawing U.S. troops and in addition they would begin immediate discussion on the exchange of prisoners. Never before in modern warfare has there been a general prisoner exchange prior to the end of hostilities. It's a really remarkable offer. The Nixon Administration ignored the offer.

Instead of responding directly to it, President Nixon made an address the following month, October 1970, in which he said he favored the immediate release of all prisoners but he would not link this gesture to withdrawal of American military forces from Vietnam. Another obstacle in the way of complete settlement of the prisoner of war situation is the U.S. insistence that those men now held in Saigon's POW camps be given a choice of whether or not they will be returned to the North.

And there's evidence that we may be undertaking some kind of reeducation program in the POW camps in the south similar to what we did in Korea to encourage the men in those camps not to return to North Vietnam. This issue of voluntary repatriation delayed the Korean truce by some 18 months during which 140,000 casualties occurred and it seems possible that the Nixon Administration is going to use this issue again in an attempt to gain time for what they hope might be a military victory.

In contrast, we see that the issue might backfire on them. Mrs. Warner is not alone; there are at least half a dozen other relatives that have gone on record as favoring Madame Binh's proposal. Fred Thompson who was released in the summer of 1968 has gone on record in favor of Madame Binh's proposal and the day may come in which the majority of these relatives turn around and force the administration to accept Madame Binh's proposal as the appropriate way of getting out of Vietnam and getting the prisoners out of Vietnam.

It would seem that this is a possible course that we can take. In the meantime, however, government officials are talking about more raids into North Vietnam to rescue prisoners. Before the November raid, the administration's use of the prisoner of war issue seemed a cynical attempt to manipulate popular support in order to gain emotional hatred toward the North Vietnamese. The raid raises deeper questions. Unlike President Johnson, Mr. Nixon has given no assurance against American military expeditions to the North. As we know, an American invasion of Laos seems imminent. The Administration is exploiting the prisoner of war issue to generate emotional support for military actions as a pretext for yet another expansion of the war. Thank you.

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