To the Editors:
Readers of The New York Review should know that Don Luce, who is a correspondent for the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Press Service, has recently lost his accreditation in South Vietnam. The straw that apparently broke the camel’s back was the exposé of the Con Son tiger cages used to house political prisoners. Luce is not the only person deserving credit for that story, but it seems that were it not for him, the cages would not have been discovered.
Rather than revoke his accreditation, the Saigon authorities chose to let it lapse in October and refused Luce the customary renewal. The Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO) in Saigon followed suit by also refusing to renew Luce’s accreditation with American authorities.
In Vietnam, this action means several things. First, accredited journalists can use military flights to reach the scene of an event quickly and without cost. The alternative is to fly Air Vietnam, which commonly has a waiting list of a week to ten days and is costly. Second, without credentials it is obviously much more difficult for the journalist to gain access to the people he needs to talk to but does not know personally. Third, and most important, it will be easier for the Saigon authorities to refuse to extend Luce’s visa, when that comes up for renewal in mid-February of this year, and effectively force him out of Vietnam.
Far from intervening on Luce’s behalf—something they are used to doing for establishment journalists—agents of the US embassy in Saigon have been investigating Luce’s acquaintances for evidence of “direct contacts with the NLF.”
Don Luce’s first eleven years in South Vietnam were spent with International Voluntary Services, first as a volunteer, and later as director of the Vietnam program. He resigned that post in 1968, along with a score of volunteers, in protest over the war. Since then he has been writing some of the most humane and courageous articles to come out of Vietnam. To the American authorities in Saigon, Luce is both a great nuisance and a great mystery—the latter because he has a most un-American love for the Vietnamese people.
I am sending copies of this letter to Senator Kennedy, who has been concerned with the state of refugees in South Vietnam, and to Congressman Augustus Hawkins, who saw the tiger cages at Con Son and deserves much credit for their exposure. They should speak out in support of Don Luce’s right to accreditation. So should all concerned readers; by doing so they will at least let those who would silence him know Luce is not alone and unknown.