"Cuban program" Hearings
of November 4, 1999
This page is one of several dealing with the "Cuban program." If
you have not read Mr. Robert Destatte's statement made for a Congressional hearing on
November 4, 1999, follow this link to that statement, read it
for background, then come back here.
The following material quotes three press reports of the November 4 hearings held by
the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations regarding the
November 5, 1999
U.S. POWs Recall Cubans Torturing Them In Vietnam
Tell panel of Air Force officer's death
By Audrey Hudson, The Washington Times
A Navy pilot told a House panel yesterday that he and other American
prisoners of war were brutally tortured, and one serviceman was killed, by
Cuban nationals during the Vietnam War.
"I was beaten three or four times a day until I became demoralized. ... I
didn't care if I lived or died," said retired Capt. Ray Vohden.
He and Air Force Col. Jack W. Bomar told the House International Relations
Committee they and approximately 20 other POWs were held at a prison camp in
Hanoi known as "the Zoo," and routinely beaten by interrogators they believe
were Cuban agents.
The POWs called it the "Cuba Program," which they believe was an
experimentation program of brutal interrogation methods sponsored by Fidel
Castro's regime. Air Force Capt. Earl G. Cobeil was beaten into a coma by
one of the Cubans and subsequently died.
A Defense Department official told the committee they first learned of the
Cuba program from newly released prisoners in March 1973 through
debriefings, and that those reports were quickly brought to the attention of
senior defense officials.
The Defense Department, in cooperation with those 20 POWs, has since
investigated several Cubans they believed may have been part of the torture
program, said Robert J. Destatte, a senior analyst in the department's
Prisoner of War and Missing in Action office.
Mr. Destatte said the Caucasian interrogators spoke fluent English with a
Spanish accent and were knowledgeable about Central America and the
southeastern United States.
"In an exchange with one of our POWs, a Vietnamese guard referred to the
Caucasian interrogators as Cubans. These and other factors led many of the
POWs and analysts to believe that the interrogators were Cubans, possibly
Cubans who had lived in the United States," Mr. Destatte said.
One of the prisoners, retired Air Force Col. Ed Hubbard, recently identified
as the leader of the group Cuban Gen. Fernando Vecino Alegret, whom the POWs
Gen. Alegret has been a member of the Communist Party Central Committee in
Cuba since 1975, and Cuba's minister of higher education since 1976.
The committee has asked the Clinton administration to investigate these
reports of war crimes, and whether Gen. Alegret was in fact the lead
"Survivors of the Cuba program have been eager to identify and trace the
Cuban agents who systematically interrogated them and tortured their fellow
Americans. Yet despite their efforts, a successful resolution of this matter
has not been achieved," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican,
who is the leading congressional advocate for these POWs.
Capt. Vohden told the committee that guards "stood around talking loudly,
laughing and yelling" as Capt. Cobeil was viciously beaten by "Fidel."
At that point, he said, Capt. Cobeil was "already pushed beyond the limit
from which he might have a chance to regain his sanity.
"As I stood there on my crutches, my heart and mind overflowed with emotion.
It was the most sickening feeling to hear what was going on and know there
was nothing I could do about it," Capt. Vohden said.
Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen has asked President Clinton to instruct the Central
Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, State Department,
Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate the
involvement of the Castro regime in the "Cuba Program."
Published Friday, November 5, 1999, in the Miami Herald
POW torture by Cubans recounted
BY SEAN GORMAN
States News Service
WASHINGTON -- Decades after the Vietnam War, former POW Capt. Ray Vohden
vividly recalled for a House panel Thursday the suffering that he said he
and fellow U.S. servicemen endured.
He particularly remembered the cruelty of a man called ``Fidel,'' believed
to be Cuban, who repeatedly slapped him and ordered him to write his
``Not a day went by when there weren't threats to all of us,'' Vohden told
the House International Relations Committee, which called the hearing to
delve into charges that three Cubans tortured POWs in a Hanoi prison in
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, is spearheading the probe in
an effort to uncover the identity of ``Fidel'' and two companions nicknamed
``Chico'' and ``Garcia.''
Eighteen U.S. servicemen were tortured at the prison, known as ``The Zoo.''
``They stood firm in the face of unrestrained brutality, intimidation and
humiliation 30 years ago,'' Ros-Lehtinen said of the POWs.
The congresswoman called for the State Department, CIA, FBI and other
agencies to investigate the tortures known as the ``Cuba Program.''
But federal officials at the Director of Defense Prisoner of War/Missing
Personnel Office warned that having that agency take part in war crimes
investigations could hurt its primary mission of accounting for roughly
2,000 Americans still missing in Southeast Asia.
A congressional hearing was held on the Cuba Program in the 1980s by
California Republican Rep. Bob Dornan, Ros-Lehtinen said.
But she said the end of the Cold War has led to the opening up of older
communist countries, which means that new information is now available to
help identify those responsible for the tortures.
``I am hopeful we will get the investigation reopened,'' Ros-Lehtinen said.
Thursday November 4 9:20 PM ET
POWs Seek Names of Torturers
By PAULINE JELINEK Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. government should launch a new investigation -
and press Vietnam to help - to learn the identities of three men alleged to
have tortured American servicemen during the Vietnam War, former POWs
The House International Relations Committee invited witnesses to dig up
details about what has come to be called the Cuban Program because POWs
believe their tormentors were Cubans working with or advising fellow
``They stood firm in the face of unrestrained brutality ... 30 years ago,''
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said of former prisoners who testified.
``They are demonstrating their courage once again by working with us to
ensure ... that justice is served.''
She said the hearing aimed to get information on who the torturers were and
declassification of U.S. government records for a new joint probe by State
Department, Defense Department, FBI, CIA and the immigration service.
Others hope the investigation might lead to indictments of the men for
human rights abuses.
Witnesses said 19 Americans were brutally beaten with rubber strips,
tortured psychologically, held often in solitary confinement and repeatedly
interrogated from August 1967 to August 1968 by three unidentified men the
prisoners nicknamed Fidel, Chico and Pancho because of their accented
Though the goal of the treatment remains unclear, witnesses speculated it
may have been to test torture and interrogation methods or perhaps to choose
prisoners for use in communist propaganda.
Luis Fernandez, spokesman at Cuba's small diplomatic mission in Washington,
dismissed the allegations as ``part of the usual campaign'' by Cuban exiles
in America to damage Cuba's image.
``It is something that is completely false,'' he said. ``Cuba would not
have been involved in that kind of thing.''
CIA investigations turned up possible names for Fidel and Chico in the
mid-1970s. But the investigations ``either ruled them out or proved
inconclusive,'' partly because prisoners couldn't identify pictures of the
suspected men, Robert J. Destatte, senior analyst at Defense's Prisoner of
War and Missing in Action Office, said in a statement prepared for
``I would call up (U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam) Pete Peterson and say 'Hey -
ask the Vietnamese who this guy is,'' Retired Air Force Col. Jack Bomar, a
former POW, testified. ``Put pressure on our ambassador to put pressure on
Fellow POW, retired Navy Capt. Ray Vohden, suggested getting a better photo
of another man they suspect - current Cuban Education Minister Fernando
Vecino Alegret. Prisoners complained they were shown photos outdated by
years or of people with beards and other distracting changes in appearance.
Destatte said officials two days ago ``discovered a still-classified
September 1973 report that described'' Alegret as director of a Cuban
military institute from September 1966 to January 1973, leaving ``little
chance (he) could be the interrogator 'Fidel.'''
Alegret, a lifelong military man who holds the rank of brigadier general,
had denied the allegations against him, saying he was never in Vietnam.
Cuban President Fidel Castro repeated the denial in a lengthy appearance on
Cuban national television Monday night, saying that no Cubans ever tortured
prisoners of war in Vietnam.
Here are links to other articles in
- Follow this link to a copy of Bob Destatte's testimony on
November 4, 1999. It is an excellent summary of the "Cuban program."
- Follow this link to an article about former
Congressman Bob Dornan and his venture into the "Cuban program." This link takes you to a copy of a "special
orders" speech made by Dornan, attacking Bob Destatte.
- Follow this link to an article regarding CDR Beck and
- Follow this link to a collection of items from the
official record of a previous Congressional hearing.
- Follow this link to an attempt by author Al Santoli to
make something out of nothing.
- If you have a copy of the book Honor
Bound: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia, 1961 - 1973, you can
read about the "Cuban program" on pages 394 - 407
This article prepared November 5, 1999.