Sole Source of Stories
Summary. The author of the
book Spite House -- purporting to be the true story of convicted Vietnam-era
collaborator Robert Garwood -- now admits publicly that the book has serious errors
of fact. Spite House author Monika Jensen-Stevenson claimed that
she conducted extensive research and determined that Garwood was an abandoned POW, framed
by the US government. Spite House included statements by Garwood in which
he charged US POWs with reprehensible -- if not criminal -- actions while in
captivity. The men who bore the brunt of Garwood's charges were those who had
witnessed his collaboration and who had testified against him in his court-martial.
One of these men read the book and sued for libel and slander in January 1999. In
late 1999, Jensen and her publishers agreed to a settlement. As part of the
settlement, she published an admission that Garwood was her only source. Her
statement is a marvel of bobbing and weaving, yet it reveals her shallow
"research" and reliance on Garwood's claims.
Monika Jensen-Stevenson first published Spite House in March 1997. (Note: There are two
publication dates for Spite House. The hardback edition was published in March
1997 by W. W. Norton, the paperback in September 1998 by Avon Books.)
She claimed that this was the true, untold story of Garwood. Jensen is author of the
pseudo-history Kiss The Boys Goodbye that is filled
with untruths, myths, and fabrications about the issue of US MIAs in Southeast Asia.
On the Spite House page at Amazon.com, one finds this uninformed review:
"This book uses impressive spadework to tell the story of what
its subtitle calls "the last secret of the war in Vietnam," namely, what really
happened in the case of Marine Private Bobby Garwood, the last soldier to return from the
war alive. He returned in 1979, after 14 years missing in action. Jensen-Stevenson, a
former Sixty Minutes producer, managed to get on the record people who have spent
years staying off it: several well-placed military intelligence figures and Garwood
(court-martialed for consorting with the enemy upon his return) himself. The main
contentions of the book are that Garwood didn't desert but was captured after a firefight,
that despite the sorts of lapses that virtually all Vietnam POWs fell prey to from time to
time, he remained a loyal American throughout an incredibly arduous captivity, and most
explosively of all: that before his return, based on the idea that he was a defector,
there was an organized effort by U.S. forces to assassinate him. Readers will conclude
that the Garwood case needs re-opening."
In fact, Spite House is filled with lies, half-truths, and misrepresentations.
The author did not "get on the record people who have spent years staying off
it." Garwood and one other individual are the only sources. The book does
not use "impressive spadework" -- the only spade in evidence is the one that
Monika used to shovel out bull manure.
Shortly after Spite House was published, several of the POWs who had witnessed
Garwood's collaboration and who testified against him in his court-martial read the book
and found it to be filled with lies, half-truths and, worse, false claims about their
behavior as POWs. One of these men, Dr. Harold Kushner, sued the author and her
publishers (Norton and Avon). In late 1999, the suit was settled in Kushner's
favor. If you have not done so, you may want to go to this page
and follow the links from there to read the letter sent to the author and her publishers
by Kushner's attorney. That letter lists the specific slanderous statements made
The following are the details of the settlement.
- The author and her publishers are to pay a cash settlement to Dr. Kushner.
- The author is to publish in the New York Times and in Dr. Kushner's
hometown newspaper an admission that Garwood was her sole source for the statements about
Kushner and that those statements are false.
Dr. Kushner has stated that he will share the cash settlement with other former POWs
who were slandered by Monika Jensen, as well as making a donation to the Disabled American
Veterans and to the NAMPOW scholarship fund for the children of men who remain missing.
Update: Ms. Jensen-Stevenson's statement is
scheduled to be published in the NYTimes on 12/24/99.
The following statement, signed by Monika Jensen-Stevenson, author of Spite
House, will be published as required by the settlement .
I am the author of the book, Spite House, which includes a description of certain events at a prisoner of war
camp during the Vietnam War. The book makes two statements concerning F. Harold Kushner,
MD which Dr. Kushner strongly denies. I would like to clarify my position on those
In particular, at pp. 146-7 of the paperback edition, the book
states Robert Garwood's position that Garwood "discovered Kushner was hoarding the
medicine and not giving it to those [prisoners] who were the sickest." On p. 147 of
the paperback edition, the book states that Kushner performed "surgery" on
Garwood, consisting of pulling "the nail of Garwood's big toe on [his] infected foot
and the nail of his other [uninfected] big toe as well."
Both of these passages were derived from information provided
by Robert Garwood. Although I did interview a number of the twelve surviving POWs, none of
these survivors could provide corroborating evidence for these assertions, which Dr.
Kushner considers injurious and damaging to his reputation.
Dr. Kushner reports that he instructed other prisoners to feign
symptoms of illness, particularly malaria and dysentery, so that the POWs could accumulate
a supply of medicine when it was dispensed by their captors. He states that he kept this
medicine, particularly quinine, to distribute to the prisoners when they were sick, and it
was not forthcoming from the Vietnamese. He further reports that his holding the medicine
was a strategy to provide it to the sickest prisoners when it was not available from the
Vietnamese, and did not hoard medicine for his personal gain. The surviving POWs have
reported to Dr. Kushner that they were aware of this strategy and have told Dr: Kushner
that they have relayed that information in their still-classified debriefs. I requested an
opportunity to review these classified de-briefs, but access was denied.
Dr. Kushner reports that Mr. Garwood suffered from an infected
ingrown toenail. He asked Dr. Kushner to remove it, and he (Garwood) provided Novocain, a
local anesthetic, and the instruments for the surgery. Dr. Kushner reports that he removed
Mr. Garwood's infected toenail with Garwood's instruments and anesthesia, at Garwood's
request, and did not remove the healthy nail. Dr. Kushner further reports that Mr. Garwood
thanked Dr. Kushner for his assistance and gave him tobacco for this service. According to
Dr. Kushner, the camp cadre were not involved. Again, this passage was derived from
information provided by Robert Garwood. Although I interviewed a number of survivors, no
survivor could corroborate Garwood's version. Dr. Kushner reports that the survivors are
well aware of what really happened and will testify on his behalf if necessary.
My intent in relaying those incidents, as told to me by Robert
Garwood, was not to vilify Dr. Kushner or any American prisoner. I meant only to convey
the horrible conditions that were experienced by all those prisoners, Dr. Kushner
included. I certainly had no intention of attacking Dr. Kushner's ethics or
I apologize to Dr. Kushner for any distress he may have felt from my reporting
of Mr. Garwood's recollections.
I can't let this go without a few comments.
In her statement admitting libel and slander, Ms. Stevenson
continues to bob and weave and duck the truth. Her statement also reveals what she
did not state explicitly, namely that she refused to include in Spite House
information that did not fit her conclusions.
Note these quotes from her statement: