Testimony of Michael D. Benge before the
House International Relations Committee
Chaired by the Honorable Benjamin A. Gilman,
November 4, 1999.
My name is Michael D. Benge. While serving as a civilian Economic
Development Officer in the Central Highlands of South Viet Nam, I was
captured by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive on January 28,
1968. I was held in numerous camps in South Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos and
North Viet Nam. I was a POW for over five years, and spent 27 months in
solitary confinement, one year in a "black box," and one year
in a cage in Cambodia. I served for almost 11 years in Viet Nam. I was
released during Operation Homecoming in 1973. I am a Board Member of the
National Alliance of Families for the Return of America's Missing
Servicemen. And, I am a POW/MIA activist; that is, I am one who is
actively seeking the truth regarding the fate of our Prisoners of War
and Missing in Action.
I was not tortured by the Cubans, nor was I part of the "Cuban
Program." There were 19 American POWs that I know of who were
tortured by the Cubans in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. These brave men
include Colonel Jack Bomar and Captain Ray Vohden, who will testify, and
also Commander Al Carpenter, who is with us today. They named their
torturers "Fidel," "Chico" and "Pancho."
The torture took place in a POW camp called the Zoo, and the Vietnamese
camp commander was a man they called the "Lump." He was called
that because of the presence of a rather large fatty tumor in the middle
of his forehead.
No, I was not tortured by Cubans in Vietnam, but I was interrogated
by the "Lump," and a person who appeared to be a Latino and
who spoke a few words of Spanish to the "Lump" during my
interrogation in the early part of 1970. Upon my return to the US, I was
shown a picture taken in Cuba of the "Lump," who was with an
American antiwar group. Yes, it was the same person who had interrogated
me in 1970. I was told by a Congressional Investigator that he was the
man who was in charge of funneling Soviet KGB money to American antiwar
groups and activists, such as Jane Fonda. After researching my paper,
this made more sense, for who would be better suited to liaison with the
Cubans. This was my first piece of the puzzle.
I decided to research the "Cuban Program" after repeated
claims by the Administration, Senators John McCain and John Kerry,
Ambassador Pete Peterson, and members of the Department of Defense (DOD)
that the Vietnamese Government was "cooperating fully" in
resolving the POW/MIA issue. This is far from the truth.
If the Vietnamese communists were fully cooperating as purported,
they would have told us the true fate of the 173 US servicemen who were
last known to be alive and in the hands of the North Vietnamese
communists. They would have helped us resolve the fate of over 600
American servicemen who were lost in Laos, of which over 80% were lost
in areas under the total control of the North Vietnamese. If the
Vietnamese were fully cooperating, we would not be here today, for they
revealed the names of the Cubans "Fidel," "Chico"
and "Pancho," who were responsible for the torture of 19
American POWs; beating one so severely that it resulted in his death.
Upon their return to the US, the POWs in the "Cuban
Program" were told by our government not to tell of their torture
by the Cubans, but they resisted, as they had in the "Cuban
Program, and some broke the silence. Regardless, the "Cuban
Program" was swept under the rug by the US Government.
Thus, I chose to research the "Cuba Program" -- one segment
of the POW/MIA issue--to prove my point that the Vietnamese communists
were not fully cooperating as purported. I first produced a draft paper
in 1996 for presentation at the annual meeting of the National Alliance
Commander Chip Beck, who at that time was with the Department of
Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), became interested in my
research, and tried to find out what DPMO knew. He was basically told by
DPMO to back off. Congressman Bob Dornan also became interested. He held
hearings, and requested that DPMO provide them with their analysis of
the Cuban Program. A compilation was presented, and Mr. Robert Destatte
from DPMO testified as to his and DPMO's analysis. Commander Beck also
testified; after which, he was told by DPMO that his services were no
With the release of DPMO's compilation and analysis, and the
declassification of additional documents related to Cuba's involvement
in Vietnam, I reassessed this information. In the DPMO compilation,
there were memoranda stating that the CIA had identified Cuban military
attaches Eduardo Morjon Esteves and Luis Perez Jaen with backgrounds
that seemed to correspond with information on "Fidel" and
"Chico" provided by returned POWs. Reportedly, Esteves served
under diplomatic cover as a brigadier general at the United Nations in
New York during 1977-78. Documents indicate that the FBI and DIA were
"tasked" to ID these people; however, neither the CIA, the DIA,
nor the FBI could produce a decent picture for identification by the
returned POWs. It makes one wonder as to their level of effort.
Nonetheless, just from my reading the documents in the DPMO
compilation, I found the profile of a man that that seemed to match
almost perfectly the POWs' description of the Cuban called
"Chico." However, this profile also partially fit the POWs'
characterization of "Fidel." The profile was that of Major
Fernando Vecino Alegret.
On August 22, 1999, the Miami Herald published an article on the
"Cuban Program" based partially on my report. However, the
reporter got it wrong and said that I believed Raul Valdes Vivo, the DGI
agent attached to COSVN (ref. my submitted report), might be
"Fidel." Independent of my report, a Cuban exile in the Miami
area identified Fernando Vecino Alegret as "Fidel," based on
information emanating from contacts within the exile community and Cuba.
He also produced a picture of Alegret that
was subsequently identified by Col. Hubbard, who said he was 99% sure he
was "Fidel." Alegret is now Cuba's Minister of Education, and
Fidel Castro has issued a denial that Alegret was ever in Vietnam.
However, DIA documentation in DPMO's compilation proves otherwise.
In Mr. Destatte's testimony, he claims he "was never responsible
for any investigations or analysis related to the "Cuban
Program." "Responsible" is the key word here that Mr.
The Administration and the Department of Defense POW/Missing
Personnel Office (DPMO) has mastered the art of obfuscation. I grew up
on a farm in the West, and I used to try to catch greased pigs at the
county fair, and I can assure you that trying to pin down DPMO to
truthful facts is sometimes much more difficult than trying to catch a
Mr. Chuck Trowbridge of DPMO is also implicated as participating in
the investigation and analysis; however, it has never been revealed who
was in fact in charge. One would hope that someone at DPMO is in charge.
Mr. Destatte testified to DPMO's conclusions and that the "Cuban
Program" was nothing more than a program "to provide
instruction in basic English to PAVN [North Vietnamese Army] personnel
working with American prisoners."
I have taught English to Vietnamese, and have been tortured by the
Vietnamese, and I can tell the difference between the two. One might
conclude from Mr. Destatte's testimony that neither he nor Mr.
Trowbridge know the difference. I can also read English and understand
what I read. One might also conclude that they may have a problem here
too. Perhaps they should have taken basic English instruction from the
Mr. Destatte also had the audacity to testify that the Vietnamese
high-command was unaware that the Cubans were torturing American POWs,
and it was stopped once they found out. However, it is crystal clear
from the POW debriefings, as well as the Air Force Intelligence
Analysis, that the "Cuban Program" was sanctioned by the
Vietnamese. This then leads one to ask, "How did Mr. Destatte reach
Mr. Destatte reached his conclusion by asking North Vietnamese
communist Colonel Pham Teo, who told Destatte he was in South Viet Nam
in 1967-68 and knew nothing of the "Cuban Program." However,
he had heard rumors that it was an English language instruction program
that had "gone awry." Mr. Destatte testified that the
Vietnamese explanation "is...fully consistent with what we know
about the conduct of the Cubans in question."
Evidently, Destatte chose to believe a Vietnamese communist colonel
over American POWs who had been brutally tortured in the "Cuban
Program" and had clearly stated in their debriefings that the
Vietnamese were well aware of and participated in their torture.
Destatte choses to believe a member of a draconian regime, which had
systematically murdered 70-80,000 political prisoners after they took
over power in Vietnam in 1975, and who had broken every agreement ever
made with the US and South Vietnamese governments.
What bewilders me, as it should you, is that Destatte's superiors at
DPMO had the audacity to let him testify before Congress to this
foolishness. This exemplifies the quality of DPMO's investigation and
analysis of the "Cuban Program."
I am neither a trained investigator nor an analyst, but I do know how
to research. And I have concluded that at best, DPMO's investigation and
analysis of the "Cuban Program" was not up to professional
standards, and DPMO's conclusions are shameful! However, they did a
great job of obfuscating the issue.
Since the "Cuban Program" was sanctioned by the Vietnamese,
what then was the diving force behind it?" According to POW
debriefings, supported by CIA and other reports, the "Cuba
Program" was part of a Hanoi medical university's
"psychological study." It was conducted to obtain full
compliance from the American POWs, and to force them to make propaganda
statements against the American government and the war in Vietnam. The
real reason for the termination of the "Cuban Program" was so
"Fidel," "Chico" and "Pancho" could return
to Cuba as planned in time to prepare a presentation for the October
18-21, 1968, Communist Internationale Second Symposium Against Yankee
Genocide In Vietnam. This symposium in Cuba was a continuum of the
Bertrand Russell War Crimes Tribunal kangaroo court and dog-and-pony
show held in Denmark the previous year.
My paper is based partially on what DPMO gave to Congressman Dornan's
Committee, as well as on documents obtained from the DIA and the
CIA through the Freedom of Information Act, and it is thoroughly
referenced. I would like to submit a copy of it and the referenced
material to the Committee at this time for the record.
However, I have just scratched the surface, but I found enough
documents to indicate that there should be a plethora of others related
to the Cuban involvement in Vietnam if they are ever declassified as 2
US Presidents have decreed. I also recommend that this matter be
thoroughly investigated by professional investigators, not DPMO
Besides evidence contrary to DPMO's stated position on the
"Cuban Program," the documents I examined reveal:
the possibility that a number of American POWs from the Vietnam War
had been held in Los Maristas, a secret Cuban prison run by Castro's G-2
intelligence service. The Cuban who claims to have seen them later
escaped and made it to the United States, and was reportedly debriefed
by the FBI;
a Cuban Official had offered the State Department to ransom some
American POWs from Vietnam, but there was no follow up;
that Cubans, along with Russians, guarded a number of American POWs
the Cubans photographed a number of American POWs in Vietnam, Laos
that besides the "Cuban Program," the Cubans were very
heavily involved in Vietnam. They had several thousand
"engineers" in Vietnam constructing, repairing and guarding
the Ho Chi Minh Trail where a large number of Americans disappeared;
the possibility that American POWs were "treated" in Cuban
hospitals in Hanoi;
the Cubans had a permanent DGI agent assigned to the COSVN
headquarters in Cambodia, the North Vietnamese command center directing
the war in South Vietnam. This is a fact not found in the history books
on the Vietnam War. He was assigned there on the insistence of Rauol
Castro, the head of Cuba's military and the brother of the real Fidel.
This fact belies Mr. Destatte's testimony that "the Soviet and
Cuban governments did not successfully dictate policies or actions to
the North Vietnamese government;"
two unrelated documents telling of American POWs being taken from
Vietnam to Cuba;
the Cubans were also actively engaged in subversive activities,
infiltrating a number of communist youth into the US, and were funneling
KGB money through Vietnamese communist agents to antiwar groups and
individuals in the US;
as recent as 1996, the Vietnamese trained Cuban Special Forces to
undertake limited attacks in the USA
Instead of hiring analysts at DPMO, DOD should hire some good
professional investigators, such as former FBI or police investigators,
and some people who know how to do systematic research. However,
everytime DPMO gets good ones, it seems to find a way to get rid of
My paper raises more questions than it answers, but only history will
prove me right or wrong; however, I think I am on the right track. Only
through full disclosure by the US government agencies, which were
gathering information on the depth of Cuban involvement in the Vietnam
war and with American POWs, will we know the truth.
As you can see from my document, the Cubans were heavily involved in
the Vietnam War. They were in charge of building and maintaining a good
portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Recently, I was invited as a
representative of the National Alliance of Families to a briefing at
DPMO by its head, Bob Jones. Among things he discussed was his proposal
for DPMO to sponsor a meeting between the US, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos
to discuss American Servicemen lost along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I
suggested to Mr. Jones that he should also invite Cuba to the
conference, for they were heavily involved. He told me that I was
ridiculous, for the Cubans weren't involved in Vietnam. I recommended to
him that he read both the material presented to Congress on the Cuban
Program and Raul Valdes Vivo's book.
I was brought up with old fashion values. My mother taught me at a
young age that no matter how hard you search for the truth, you won't
find it unless you want to.
We are not seeking revenge. We will leave that issue to the courts.
We are also not seeking to get someone fired, we leave that up to you to
judge. We are only seeking an honest accounting for the POW/MIAs. We,
like every American should, only seek honest answers from our government
and its representatives, and competent investigations as to the fate of
the POW/MIAs so that their families might find closure to their long
Ignorance? Arrogance? Disinterest? Lack of caring? Incompetence?
Obfuscation? I rest my case.
Michael D. Benge
2300 Pimmit Dr.,
#604-W Falls Church, VA 22043
Ph: (703) 875-4063 (W) (703) 698-8256 (H)
For efforts in rescuing several Americans prior to capture, he
the State Department's highest award for heroism and a second one for
valor. He also received three of South Vietnam's highest medals for