Cuba, España y los Estados Unidos | Organización Auténtica | Política Exterior de la O/A | Temas Auténticos | Líderes Auténticos | Figuras del Autenticismo | Símbolos de la Patria | Nuestros Próceres | Martirologio |

Presidio Político de Cuba Comunista | Costumbres Comunistas | Temática Cubana | Brigada 2506 | La Iglesia | Cuba y el Terrorismo | Cuba - Inteligencia y Espionaje | Cuba y Venezuela | Clandestinidad | United States Politics | Honduras vs. Marxismo | Bibliografía | Puentes Electrónicos |

Organizacion Autentica

Former U. S. POWs detail torture by Cubans in Vietnam. Torturers' aim was `total surrender' Savage beatings bent captives to will of man dubbed `Fidel'

By JUAN O. TAMAYO, Herald Staff Writer

Published Sunday, August 22, 1999, in the Miami Herald

FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. -- Retired Air Force Col. Ed Hubbard says he holds no hate for "Fidel, the Cuban government agent who viciously tortured him and 17 other US prisoners of war in North Vietnam three decades ago.

Almost daily for one year, the man the POWs nicknamed Fidel whipped them with strips cut from rubber tires until their buttocks "hung in shreds, and trussed them in ropes and wires to tear at limbs and cut into flesh. Fidel was one of three Cubans sent to North Vietnam by Havana to deal with American POWs, in what became known as the Cuba Program.

He whipped and kicked one POW so fiercely in 1968 that the American went into a catatonic state and later died, in what a new book on US POWs in Vietnam calls "one of the most heinous and tragic atrocity cases.

Hubbard himself was beaten so brutally by "Fidel" during one 1967 interrogation session that fellow POW Jack Bomar recalled finding him afterward unconscious on a cell floor, "a bleeding, broken, bruised mass.

Concealed for decades by official U.S. secrecy and the shadows of a war that many simply wanted to forget, the full story of Fidel and the so- called Cuba Program is finally becoming public.

Honor Bound, a book published in April with Department of Defense assistance, devotes 13 pages to the "unusually intensive and prolonged operation that monopolized the [prison's] torture machinery for much of the year."

A two-inch-thick stack of documents declassified by the Defense Department's Prisoner of War, Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) for a string of congressional hearings in 1996 provide extensive and gruesome details on the Cuba Program.

And a DPMO official has now reported that two North Vietnamese army colonels confirmed to him in 1992 that "Fidel" was indeed Cuban and had tortured American POWs -- but without Hanoi's official approval.

DIFFICULT TO FORGET - Some former POWs consider suing Cuba

"I've moved on with my life, said Hubbard, a motivational speaker living in Fort Walton Beach who uses his POW experiences to celebrate the human spirit. Then he smiles and adds: "But if I see `Fidel' again, maybe I'd turn him over to Bomar.

He knows that Bomar has not forgotten the broken nose, broken cheek and busted eardrum he suffered in one particularly brutal beating by "Fidel" after he insulted Cuban-Argentine guerrilla Ernesto "Che Guevara.

"I would kill him, said Bomar, another former Air Force colonel who, like his fellow POWs, was handpicked by "Fidel and two Cuban "good guy interrogators, "Chico and "Garcia, for what they dubbed the Cuba Program.

Some former POWs angry with the DPMO's handling of the Cuba case say they may even file suit against Havana, following the example set in Miami by relatives of three Brothers to the Rescue pilots killed by Cuban MiGs in 1996.

"I don't mind admitting it -- I want to harass the Vietnamese, said Mike Benge, a former POW who was not part of the Cuba Program but has long accused the DPMO of failing to properly investigate allegations that Chinese and Soviet officers interrogated US POWs.

DPMO officials in Washington declined to comment to The Herald on "Fidel," the Cuba Program or the many controversies surrounding the agency's handling of the case.

Sketchy versions of the story of "Fidel" appeared in a handful of US publications from 1973, soon after Hanoi began freeing American POWs, until mid-1977, but the tale drew little attention. Perhaps that was because most POWs obeyed Pentagon orders to keep quiet, to protect POWs who might remain in Vietnam, and perhaps because Fidel's identification as a Cuban was then only an unconfirmed allegation by the POWs.

But now the newly released DPMO documents, the book Honor Bound by Stuart Rochester and Frederick Kiley, and Herald interviews with Hubbard, Bomar and three other Fidel victims provide the fullest account yet of a significant chapter in the history of Vietnam-era POWs.

"This marked the first and only time that non-Vietnamese were overtly involved in the exploitation of American prisoners, said a 1975 US Air Force analysis of the Cuba Program declassified in 1996.

When Fidel and Chico showed up around August 1967 at the POW camp known as "The Zoo," a former French movie studio on the southwestern edge of Hanoi, it was clear to the 50 prisoners there that they were no ordinary visitors.

While the camp's North Vietnamese commandant rode a bicycle to work, Fidel arrived in a car chauffeured by a Hanoi army officer and always sat to the commandant's right, a position of honor, Bomar said.

Debriefed after they returned home, POWs held at The Zoo described Fidel as about six feet one inch tall, in his early 30s, muscular, ramrod-straight, swarthy and handsome enough to be compared to movie star Fernando Lamas.

They described Chico as more light-skinned, almost blond and in his 40s. He liked to play Spanish-sounding songs on the camp's organ, and often wore a beret with a visor, the type then popular in Cuba.

Both spoke good if accented English, but while Fidel had full command of American slang and even obscenities, Chico struggled with words like Piper Cub, pronouncing it "peeper koob," according to excerpts from the debriefings.

Fidel interviewed POWs and soon selected Hubbard, Bomar and eight other Air Force and Navy pilots or navigators shot down over North Vietnam, segregating them in a block of four cells that the POWs nicknamed "Stable."

That, the POWs said, is when the torture began, after a few cursory questions -- such as whether they liked Mexican food -- apparently designed less to elicit intelligence information than to provide an excuse for beatings.

BEATEN SENSELESS: Navy pilot Earl Cobeil died a captive.

While Chico always played the "good guy, Fidel was a savage torturer one day and a friend the next, a man who would "hammer one POW, then play Frank Sinatra tapes and offer chewing gum to the next.

"Under different circumstances, Fidel might have been an interesting guy to talk to, former Zoo POW Allan Carpenter told The Herald. "But I can't have anything but loathing for him.

Level of violence worsens

As days passed, Fidel notched up the torture. "He loved direct hits to the face with the tire strips that the POWs came to call fan belts, one POW told his debriefer.

Fidel placed POWs awaiting interrogation in cells next to his torture room, to make sure they heard their predecessor's screams. He threw POWs he had just finished torturing with new roommates, so they saw the results.

"Fidel could get you squirming without even touching you, former Zoo POW Robert Daughtry told The Herald. A debriefer quoted one POW as saying, "Anticipation of beatings became more of a threat than actual beatings. Nervous to the point of loosening of bowels when heard the key in the lock.

One by one, the POWs gave way before Fidel.

By Christmas 1967, all but one had been tortured into "surrendering" -- which meant any sign of submission that Fidel arbitrarily set, from bowing to a Vietnamese guard to accepting an unwanted cigarette or making written or tape-recorded statements that could be used by the North Vietnamese propaganda machine.

Some of the 10 were still beaten occasionally -- "just a reminder, to keep us in line, Bomar said -- but they received better meals, more mail and more time in the sunlight, outside their dark and bug-infested cells.

A confident Fidel began to select a second group of 10 POWs in January 1968. One, aware of Fidel's reputation, "surrendered" swiftly. Two others won the POWs' admiration by engaging Fidel in conversations that averted torture.

But then Fidel ran into Jim Kasler, sent to The Zoo after withstanding tortures at another prison, and Earl Cobeil, a Navy F-105 pilot who acted crazy and may indeed have suffered a head injury when he was shot down.

Fidel's monthlong beatings of Kasler were "among the worst sieges of torture any American withstood in Hanoi, the book Honor Bound said. Fidel flogged him "until his buttocks, lower back and legs hung in shreds, and at the end he was in a semi-coma. He eventually recovered.

Worse still was the onslaught against Cobeil, accused by Fidel of faking his craziness to avoid torture. Bomar recalls Fidel angrily vowing to other POWs, "I'm going to break this guy in a million pieces.

Bomar recalled that during one all-day torture session in May 1968, "Fidel took a length of black rubber hose ... and lashed it as hard as he could into the man's face. The prisoner did not react. He did not cry out or even blink.

After a month of almost daily beatings, Bomar told his debriefer, Cobeil "was bleeding everywhere, terribly swollen, a dirty, yellowish black-and-purple from head to toe.

Another POW's debriefing said Cobeil "was beaten to the point where he was incapable of surrender. Was completely catatonic. He was later transferred out of The Zoo and is listed as having died in captivity.

By July 1968, Fidel appeared to have grown frustrated, flying into rages and beating POWs without apparent purpose. He was seen drunk around the camp, and complained of worsening liver problems.

Fidel, Chico and Garcia, also nicknamed "Pancho," a fat, always sloppily dressed man in his mid-30s who had arrived at the camp around June, suddenly vanished in mid-August, never to be seen again by the POWs.

By the end of the Cuba Program, Fidel had tortured 18 of the 20 POWs selected for the Cuba Program. Two apparently were never beaten. All but Cobeil had "submitted."

ENGLISH INSTRUCTORS? A Vietnamese version of Cubans' presence cited Fidel left behind a crucial question: What had been the goal of the Cuba Program?

DPMO analyst Robert Destatte, in an e-mail message written July ...


Cuba, España y los Estados Unidos | Organización Auténtica | Política Exterior de la O/A | Temas Auténticos | Líderes Auténticos | Figuras del Autenticismo | Símbolos de la Patria | Nuestros Próceres | Martirologio |

Presidio Político de Cuba Comunista | Costumbres Comunistas | Temática Cubana | Brigada 2506 | La Iglesia | Cuba y el Terrorismo | Cuba - Inteligencia y Espionaje | Cuba y Venezuela | Clandestinidad | United States Politics | Honduras vs. Marxismo | Bibliografía | Puentes Electrónicos |

Organización Auténtica