MIA Facts Site

Author Admits
Garwood Was
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.

Background

Monika Jensen-Stevenson first published Spite House in March 1997.  (NoteThere 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 about Kushner. 

The Settlement

The following are the details of the settlement.

  1. The author and her publishers are to pay a cash settlement to Dr. Kushner.
  2. 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 Statement

The following statement, signed by Monika  Jensen-Stevenson, author of Spite House, will be published as required by the settlement .

horizontal rule

Begin statement

EXHIBIT A

AUTHOR'S CLARIFICATION

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 statements.

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 professionalism.

I apologize to Dr. Kushner for any distress he may have felt from my reporting of Mr. Garwood's recollections. 

                                                                                    MONIKA JENSEN-STEVENSON

End statement

horizontal rule

Comment

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:

bullet"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."
bullet"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."
bullet"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."

Note Ms. Jensen's remark:  "I apologize to Dr. Kushner for any distress he may have felt from my reporting of Mr. Garwood's recollections." ". . . my reporting of Garwood's recollections" ??  What does she mean ". . . my reporting of Garwood's recollections?"  I admit to not having written a book of my own, but, I always thought that an author's goal was to report the results of research and the search for truth, not "Garwood's recollections."  

In two places she admits that she did interview returned POWs who were in the camp with Kushner and were aware of the incidents she related.  She claims that she tried to read their debriefings but was refused permission to do so.  Two points:

bulletHiding behind the fact that she could not read the debriefs is dissembling.  The returnee debriefs are classified because of a pledge made to the returnees that such would be the case.  That way, men were able to speak freely about their own experiences and things that may have been embarrassing to them, even though what they did was done under extreme, inhumane duress.
bulletShe states that her stories are based on ". . . my reporting of Garwood's recollections."  She says that she interviewed the returned POWs.  Why did she not include their recollections also?  Why did she accept "Garwood's recollections" but feel the need to read the debriefs of the others?

Could it be that the "recollections" by the US POWs were inconvenient for her and did not fit her script?

In the fifth paragraph, she states: "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. " No one corroborated Garwood's version?   Well, I'm shocked and surprised to hear that.  Why did that not tell her something?  Or, did she realize that Garwood was lying to her, yet, she decided to charge ahead and simply report "Garwood's recollections?"  I do not have access to her notes, but, I will bet that not only did the others "not corroborate" what Garwood said, they more than likely totally refuted "Garwood's recollections." 

This whole affair should say something to those who still believe that Ms. Stevenson's Kiss The Boys Goodbye is gospel.   Finally, read this article on the attempts to clean up Garwood.

 

Summary of Links

Background on libel and slander by Monika Jensen-Stevenson
Author's statement admitting Garwood is sole source (this page)
Letter from Dr. Kushner's attorney, laying out details of suit, page 1
Letter from Dr. Kushner's attorney, laying out details of suit, page 2
Letter from Dr. Kushner's attorney, laying out details of suit, page 3
Article describing attacks on Dr. Kushner after suit was filed.
First of five articles:  Official report on Garwood's case
Analysis of Garwood's claims to have seen US POWs in Vietnam post-1973
Article on fraudulent trip to Vietnam by Senator Smith and Robert Garwood

 

This article posted on December 15, 1999.