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May 01, 1968 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1968-05-01

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Wednesday, May 1, 1968

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Wednesday, May 1, 1968 THE MICHIGAN DAILY

SEEING, NOT BELIEVING:
Staged tour of Vietnam's POW camps

By STEVE D'ARAZIEN
News Analysis
BINH HOA, South Vietnam.
(CPS)-Recently the South Viet-
namese government organized a
tour of three of its six prisoner-
of-war (POW) camps for news-
men.
The big attraction was' an in-
terview with a group of POW's
but the interview never took place.
I went to Binh Hoa, which is
supposed to be a model prison
camp. Phu Quoc, the camp where
captured officers are incarcerated,
might have been the most in-
seresting to visit but it was not
on the tour.
CIVIL PRISONS
The six camps had been built
after December, 1965, and now
housed over 12,000 POW's. Prior'
to that, any captured soldiers of
the National Liberation Front
(NLF) or of the Democratic Re-
public of Vietnam (DRVN) were
considered insurgents and were
housed in civil prisons.
According to In the Name of
America, published by Clergy and
Laymen Concerned About Viet-
nam, the change resulted from
U.S. pressure. The POW's had
been frequently shot, mistreated
or tortured. Now that U.S. pilots
were being captured in large num-
bers, this became a liability and
the heat was put on the South
Vietnamese government.
The book also said that it is con-
trary to international law for the
U.S. to turn over its prisoners to
the South Vietnamese, which is
routinely done. The Hague Con-
ventions of 1907 and the Geneva
Conventions of 1949 both state
that prisoners are the responsi-
bility of the warring states.
EMBARRASSING QUESTIONS
Newsmen were asked to prepare
their questions in advance so that
the POW's would not be asked
anything embarrassing. We were
also told that the POW's names
would not be used and that only
group pictures would be allowed.
Arriving here we were subjected
to, an hour and a half briefing by
Captain Phat, the camp com-
mander. Both Phat and 'his lieu-
tenant are North Vietnamese, as
are most members of the South
Vietnamese government. T h e s e
Northerners are the strongest
anti-Communists.
Phat covered the subject of
POW's at length, using flow
charts and statistics, but saying
little of subject. But he did say
that out of 957 POW's at the
camp, only 196, or less than one-
fourth, were North Vietnamese
soldiers.
Either the soldiers of the DRVN
are much more wily than the NLF,
or the Administration is giving an

exaggerated impression of
number of North Vietnamese
:liers in South Vietnam.

the
sol-

After the briefing we had a
4uick tour of the POW camp. It1
was a depressing affair, of barbedI
wire fences and mazes. The pris-
oners were confined in long tin
sheds. The loose dirt and the con-
stant noise of the planes going
in and out of nearby Binh Hoa
airfield made it quite unpleasant.
We saw, but were not allowed to
talk with, three groups of prison-
ers. The first was sitting in a
reading room, trying to look in-
terested in propaganda (printed in
the United States).
Because we had been shown the
POW's schedule which had them
working (at brick-making) at that
time, I assume they were brought
there for our benefit. The schedule
also showed that all prisoners,
even the 13 year olds, put in an
eight-hour day.
A second group was preparing
the noon meal. The POW's re-
ceived three meals a day, rice sup-
plemented with meat, fruit and
vegetables. It is a normal diet for
Vietnam and costs the South
Vietnamese 23 piastres ($.17) a
day per prisoner.
SICK CALL
Although we saw only a small
portion of the camp, none of what
we saw suggested the prisoners
were either sick or undernourish-
ed. The camp physician holds
sick call every morning and the
POW's are submitted to detailed
physicals every six months. The
supplies in the infirmary were
made in the U.S. There were no
patients in the 20-bed dispensery.
On arrival the POW's are fin-
gerprinted, photographed, and as-
signed numbers. They are issued
four brown, made-in-the-USA un-
iforms painted sloppily with big
black TB's front and back. (It
stands for Tu Binh, prisoner.)
They are also issued a mosquito
net, a blanket, toilet items, and
other necessities.
The South Vietnamese officers
made a big point of the mail
privileges. They showed us forms,
one for the North Vietnamese, one
for the Southerners, who are al-
lowed to write once a month. None
:f the Northerners and only 20 of
the Southerners have ever written
home. No one could explain this.
Visitation is also permitted.
Over 10,000 visitors were received
last month, but each prisoner is
allowed only five minutes for all
of his visitors.
Much was made of the avail-
ability of religious services at the
camp. Initially it seemed the
camps had chaplains and that
Catholic and Buddhist services
were held. This was incorrect. In-

stead, the services would be madeI
available on request, but that no1
one had ever requested them. 1
Rehabilitation leading to re-
lease is available, and so far 27
prisoners have elected it. It is
quite probably that those released
will be drafted to serve ' in theI
South Vietnamese army (ARVN).
Perhaps that is why few have
chosen to leave via this routes
Other POW's have been re-
leased-240 because thev turn~r d

With no ventilation under the
hot sun, the prisoners must have
bean suffering: This, an American
advisor confided, was done to
break down the unruly prisoners.
The first big surprise had been
the Captain Phat's , insistence
that he knew nothing about the
scheduled group interview. The
second surprise came when, after
only a cursory examination of
the camp, we were told the visit
was terminated.

*A. rx .acu J v Wtu taly uUieu
out to be "friendly" civilians ORDER AND CONFUSION
rounded up by mistake. Others Most of the reporters seemed
have been released in exchange eager to pack their gear and head
for ARVN soldiers held by the iome. But Tom Fox of the Na-
NLF and DRVN. , tional Catholic Reporter was in-
A bulletin board outside the terested in seeing some of the 293
mess hall shows "VC atrocities." males and 21 females between the
.Curiously the United States is ages of 13 and 18 that the Captain
not shown in the depiction of the had said were there.
conflict between the ARVN and Phat wouldn't budge and we
the NLF. Perhaps this is because Left with the total impression of
the presence of the Americans in the visit that there had been con-
Vietnam, along with the puppet fusion where there should have
status of the ARVN, is one of the been order and order where there
things most objected to by the should have been spontaneity, and
NLF. that possibly more went unseen
The only visible sign of mis- and unsaid at Binh Hoa than
treatment that we saw was one of ought to have been.
the tin sheds which was sealed. But, of course, we can't prove it.
,-
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