MIA Facts Site

Spite House:
Libel and Slander


Summary. The author of the book Spite House -- purporting to be the true story of convicted Vietnam-era collaborator Robert Garwood -- has now admitted that the book is libelous and slanderous and is based only on "Garwood's recollections.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 who had witnessed his collaboration with reprehensible -- if not criminal -- actions while in captivity.  One of these men read the book and sued for libel and slander.  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.  Read on.


Monika Jensen-Stevenson 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.  Read on.

Garwood:  Collaborator

Briefly, Garwood was a U.S. Marine in Vietnam who disappeared from his unit in 1965.   As time went on, reports from US and South Vietnamese POWs who had encountered Garwood and other information made it clear that Garwood was a willing collaborator with the North Vietnamese.  For the complete Garwood story, start with the article linked here and read all six Garwood articles. 

Revising the Garwood Story

There is a small group of "MIA activists" who continue to try to overturn Garwood's conviction because they want to prove that he really was a POW not released at the end of the war and, if there was one (Garwood), then there must be more.  The truth of Garwood's collaboration is inconvenient to them, so, somehow Monika Jensen was co-opted to produce a book that claimed to tell the truth about Garwood.  Follow the link to this article to read some comments about attempts to rehabilitate Garwood's image.

McKenney Gets Religion

The chief sources quoted in Spite House are Garwood and a former USMC LTC Thomas McKenney.  McKenny claims that he was part of a unit that was sent to find and assassinate Garwood.  Garwood tells lie after lie about his experience, trying to portray himself as a POW, longing to come home, but denied by his captors.  McKenney is more difficult to figure out.  Sometime, either while still a Marine or after leaving the Corps, McKenny had a religious conversion and he now portrays himself as a converted sinner, trying to atone for the evil that he did against Garwood.

US POWs Know the Truth -- even though Monika does not

In the course of his collaboration, Garwood encountered a number of US POWs.  He spied on them and carried tales to the North Vietnamese captors that resulted in US POWs being "punished" brutally.  At least once, Garwood hit a US POW who was not being cooperative with the North Vietnamese.  Garwood undoubtedly went armed on operations against US forces.  One of the POWs who had considerable experience with Garwood was US Army Captain Harold Kushner, M.D.  Kushner left the Army as a colonel and is in private practice.  When he read the charges against him made by Garwood in Spite House, he sought the advice of several other people and finally lodged a libel and slander suit against Monika Jensen and her publishers, W. W. Norton and Avon Books (who published the hardback and paperback versions, respectively).  During the course of the suit, Kushner received support from every other US POW who encountered Garwood as well as various government officials about whom Garwood lied in Spite House.  ( Find a copy of the book Survivors by Zalin Grant; it includes the testimony and experiences of the US POWs who witnessed Garwood's collaboration first-hand. )

Monika 'Fesses Up

Now the truth is public.  Norton, Avon, and Monika have agreed to a settlement.  (Monika was discovered in Toronto, penniless, after attempting for some time to avoid Kushner's attorney.)  Under the terms of that settlement, Norton, Avon, and Monika will pay a cash award to Kushner and -- this is the best part -- Norton, Avon, and Monika will publish a statement in the New York Times and in Kushner's local paper. 


Ms. Jensen-Stevenson's statement was published in the New York Times on december 24, 1999.  You have two choices if you wish to read the statement.

  1. Follow this link to read Monika's statement.  This is a text file and loads quickly.  From that file, you can come back to this page.
  2. Follow this link to see a scanned copy of the NYT article.  This is a jpeg file and it takes a couple of minutes to load.

Kushner's Charges

Dr. Kushner charged Monika with printing information that was libelous, in general, and slanderous toward him specifically.  The framework of the case was laid out in a letter from Kushner's lawyer to W. W. Norton (publishers) in January 1999; the letter is part of the public record of the suit.  I scanned the letter; it is three jpeg files and I have posted all three pages starting with this link.  These pages contain large jpeg files and each page takes a couple of minutes to load.

Based on the outcome of this suit, it is clear the Monika totally disregarded the truth to publish a book -- and her publishers did not bother to check the facts.   Too bad she will not admit that Kiss The Boys Goodbye is as worthless as Spite House.

As soon as Dr. Kushner filed suit, he was attacked mercilessly by various MIA activists.  For a description of the calumny that was piled on Kushner, read this article.


Summary of Links

Background on libel and slander by Monika Jensen-Stevenson (this page)

Author's statement admitting Garwood is sole source
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.