Report by Jane and David Barton, “Indochina - Quang Ngai Province Five Months After The Peace Agreement” (June 20,1973)
Two Americans, Jane and David Barton, have worked for two years in the hospitals of Quang Ngai province in central Vietnam. In this sector as in others, the ceasefire and the accords ratified by the international conference have scarcely changed the life of the population controlled by the Saigon regime.' the prisons are full, the police continue to torture, the Americans finance and “advise” those who direct the systems of camps and prisons. We publish the testimony of Jane and David Barton.
Since the ceasefire agreements, the Saigon government continues to detain, to arrest, to interrogate, and to torture a large number of civilians in Quang Ngai. At present there are around two thousand political prisoners in the province. At the Provincial Interrogation Center, there are more than a thousand; a thousand are in the prison of Quang Ngai and hundreds of others are in the eight district detention centers. During two years' time, we have encountered hundreds of detainees. We have never seen a single prisoner arrested for a criminal offense. The detainees of Quang Ngai wear labels giving name and registration number; often the words “political prisoner” are written. At least 90% of these prisoners are political prisoners and not prisoners of war.
Since the January agreements, the number of prisoners has remained constant. The majority of the persons arrested before January have not been released. One example. Phan Thi Thi, a woman sixty-seven years old, was incarcerated on November 17, 1972 in the district of Mo Duc; she had transported 1 kilogram of rice into a zone considered “low security.” She was taken to the police headquarters of Mo Duc, interrogated, beaten, tortured. During this session, her brain was affected and half of her body is paralyzed. The first time that we saw her, in the prisoners' section of the hospital, she was lying on sheets of cardboard. She was naked, and under her a hole was cut out for her relief. She was greatly weakened, weighed about 35 kilos (77 pounds), and the others prisoners fed her (1). After the signing of the accords, the police took her to the district capital to interrogate her again, in spite of her paralysis and although she was hardly able to speak. After repeated requests, we were able to “transfer her temporarily” to the Quang Ngai hospital, but on April 14, when her health had become critical to the point that she was placed in an intensive care ward, the police refused to release her. Phan Thi Thi remains incarcerated.
This is also the case for women who have been imprisoned for much longer periods. Huynh Thi Tuyet, a thirty-six-year-old woman, was arrested in March, 1967. She says that she was taken with other villagers by the army close to her village, in the district of Son Tinh. Many other villagers were freed because the soldiers had had enough of watching the group of “prisoners,” but, she says, she was taken together with 18 persons, including a child of 7 and a man of 59, to the prison of Quang Ngai, where she remains ever since, without knowing of what she is accused. Marjorie Nelson, an American doctor, has examined her several times. Huynh Thi Tuyet continues to consider herself a forgotten prisoner who may remain so for a long time to come. Here are some other cases: Ho Thi Nhung, thirty-six-year-old woman, mother of a baby a few weeks old, suffering from respiratory difficulties. Phan Suong, 49, victim of advanced tuberculosis and pneumonia; Trinh Thi Cung, a young woman of 18, suffering from venereal disease after having been raped six times by men of the Saigon army; Nguyen Thi Nuoi, a woman of 42, with cancer of the lymphatic passages. Torture by Electricity
The authorities customarily take the “suspects” from the detention center to the interrogation center, a building located in the middle of the detention complex; there they are interrogated and often tortured. The situation has not changed at all since January. We were able to prove this by means of medical examinations, interviews, direct testimony of the prisoners, and also by means of X-rays and photographs. Phan Thi Nguyet, a nineteen-year-old woman, found herself in the interrogation center and in prison six months before the agreements. The police wanted to know whether her father, who left for the DRV when she was 9, had communicated with her, since rumor had it that he had returned to the sector. Nguyet was tortured on eight occasions before the accords; after the signing, she was taken from the prison back to the interrogation center where she was tortured by electricity; she was made to swallow soapy water and was beaten four times between the 2nd of February and the 23rd of March. Her nervous system was affected, and her left leg is paralyzed.
Several people arrested after the ceasefire have told us their stories. We encountered a woman, Nguyen Thi Sanh, on March 6, in the prisoners' section of the hospital. Her body was swollen all over and had black and blue marks; she was immobilized on her bed, her eyes swollen and almost shut. She is a native of Duc My, district of Mo Duc. Four days earlier, she left her house to go to the fields; the village chief stopped her, accusing her of wanting to make contact with soldiers of the P.R.C. She answered that she herself, her six children and her husband - a lieutenant of the Saigon army had fled the communists six times, but the village chief ordered the police to interrogate her and beat her. She was severely beaten at the district center and sent to the provincial interrogation center, but she arrived there in such a state that she was hospitalized. At this time she is in the Quang Ngai Interrogation Center.
Lam is twelve. He was arrested after the ceasefire and sent to the interrogation center. When the police apprehended him, he carried two viols of penicillin in his pocket; he was accused of carrying medicine to the P.R.C. He now remains at the interrogation center; still, the authorities know that his father is a nurse at the Quang Ngai hospital. His father has stated to the police that Lam was carrying the medicine to a sick aunt.
Loc is seventeen. He is a student. He was arrested by the military police and incarcerated at the provincial interrogation center. Yet his identification papers were in order and he is too young to serve under a flag. The police gave him the choice between enrolling or remaining in the interrogation center for one year, at which time he will be old enough to become a soldier. All of these acts occurred after the ceasefire.
Since January, the Saigon government has scarcely demonstrated a spirit of reconciliation The festival of Tet came shortly after the signing of the accords. The government authorities of Quang Ngai clearly showed their intentions in the instructions published regarding family reunions. Trucks equipped with loudspeakers announced to the in habitants that if members of their families who worked for the P.R.G. or the Northerners attempted to return home for the festival, the neighbors should beat them to death.
Harsh measures were taken by the police and the army in order to strictly control and limit movements of the population (2). Once again it was announced by loudspeakers mounted on trucks to the tens of thousands of refugees of the provincial capital and vicinity that it was forbidden on penalty of death by gunfire to go onto the ancestral lands and into ancestral homes. Since the signing of the accords, no movement has been authorized between zones.
Thousands Of Shells
On May 1st, Nguyen Quy, a grandfather 74 years old, deaf and nearly blind, was arrested and imprisoned in the detention center of Son Tinh. We learned this from a person who worked at the hospital. His house was located in the region of My Lai (scene of one of the most “famous” massacres); almost a year ago, fighting was going on there. He sought refuge with his ten-year-old granddaughter on the island of Ly Son. After that, he decided to return to the mainland and to pay a visit to friends in the camp for refugees from the My Lai region. The refugee camp is made of tents set up on a sandy point of the Tra-Khuc river, just outside of Quang Ngai. On his arrival, he was arrested by the police, who did not believe his story; they took him away, leaving his granddaughter alone and in tears in the camp. Friends came to ask us to help him. The chief of the 'special police” (in fact specialized in torture) of the district of Son Tinh declared that the old man presented a potential danger, since he might have stayed in a zone that had come under the control of the P.R.Q. Although he had valid identification papers and had worked for the government in the past, it was necessary to interrogate him. It took us four weeks of constant efforts to have him freed.
At the rehabilitation' center of the provincial hospital, more wounded have been admitted since the ceasefire than during the same period last year. Most of the wounds are attributed to Saigon artillery shells, to exchanges of fire and to mines. Almost every evening since the ceasefire, we have heard government artillery. An American diplomat told us that at Hue, the Saigon forces fire thousands of shells every week because “the more they fire, the more the Americans replace their munitions.
Human Mine Detectors
Liem is a little girl of twelve, a native of Mo Duc; Phuong is a boy of 10, a native of Son Tinh; both of them are paraplegics because they were wounded by shells that fell near their home one night in February. Le Nam is 50; his right leg had to be amputated above the knee; on February 24, he was working in his rice paddy several hundred meters from a P.R.G. flag when a helicopter of the Saigon army fired at him several times. On February 7, on the 5th day of Tet, a man of 70 named Vinh left the Binh Son district refugee camp early in the morning to cultivate his sweet potatoes. Both his legs were cut off by a government army mine that had been set the night before and not deactivated. On February 15, Buoi, a 14-year-old boy, lost his left leg below the knee in a grenade explosion.
We also received first-hand reports from persons from the Batangan peninsula who were forced at gunpoint to lower a P.R.G. flag. Luckily, this time, the ground was not mined, but the Saigon soldiers told the people that they were using them as mine detectors. The story was told to us by Tran Lam, 57 years old, a native of Phu Quy. The incident, he told us, took place on March 27. Tran Lam was going from the market of Binh Son towards Binh Duc. He told the soldiers that he was old and did not want to die; the soldiers laughed out loud and said that they were young and that he had to die for them....
We also want to say that the United States must be held responsible for these injuries after the ceasefire, for these incarcerations, for the repressive system in which the refugees are held and which the Americans have been financing for years, while Americans advise the Saigon person-net We hope that the ceasefire will be respected, that all the prisoners will be released, and that the Vietnamese will be able to return to the land of their ancestors. Then, if the killing stops, if the prisoners are set free, if the peasants return to their land, the Vietnamese will finally have the possibility of freely determining the future of their country.
(1) Hospitalized prisoners are chained.