To the Editors:
Following is a letter written by Vietnamese women whose children are in jail. I have met and talked with these women. They are mostly very poor, supplementing their family’s income by selling in the market place or working as laborers. They want to know what has happened to their children since they were arrested.
“Please help me to find out if my child is alive or dead,” one woman asked with tears running down her cheeks. “I must know what happened to him before I die.”
Eighty women, all who have children in jail as political prisoners, met from 6 P.M. until 9 P.M. on the night of August 27 to try and find a way to get decent treatment for their children. With them was Mrs. Ngo Ba Thanh, an internationally known lawyer with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, who has herself spent over two years in jail for speaking out for peace.
The women decided to take advantage of Vice President Agnew’s visit to write him a letter asking for basic prison reform. “The United States must share the responsibility for torture and injustice within the Vietnamese prison system,” the women said. After all, their children had been arrested by police paid by the US (the US spends more than twice the amount on “Public Safety” that it does on education in its economic program for Vietnam), the tear gas and other tools of repression are “made in USA,” the US-financed Phoenix program and US military operations are responsible for the arrests of many of those imprisoned.
When the women have talked with the few who have been released from the prisons, they are told of the American advisers in the prisons. The women wrote Vice President Agnew:
The role of the American advisers should be to improve the prisoners’ conditions, not merely watch the tortures done to our children who suffer from hunger, thirst, disease, and survive in agony in jail.
But they could not meet Vice President Agnew—or even get their letter to him before he left Vietnam. When they went to the US Embassy on Friday morning, the American MPs would not let them into the embassy…. The MPs would not telephone anyone inside to come out and meet the women. Nor would they accept the letter and take it inside for the women “No is no,” one of the MPs told Mrs. Thanh….
At 3 P.M. an officer at the US Embassy received the following letter from the women whose children are in jail. But the Vice President had left four hours earlier. When I met the women at 7 P.M. that night after they had learned that their letter had not reached Vice President Agnew before he left, they were sad and angered….
I promised them that I would tell my friends in the US and Europe about their letter.
c/o JUSPAO Press Mission
APO San Francisco 96243
Chairman of the Presidential Committee
To Mr. Spiro Agnew
of the United States of America
c/o the US Embassy
Dear Mr. Vice President,
We know that your visit to Vietnam is connected with the making of important decisions. We also know that you are a father, the head of a family. As a father you have deep love towards your children and you have experienced moments of anxiety when your children are in danger. As a leader of your country, you have many concerns on the South Vietnamese Government action. It is with this knowledge that we are taking the liberty to write to you this letter.
We are the Mothers of the political prisoners detained in the various prisons of South Vietnam. None of our children is convicted of crime or robbery. All of them are being imprisoned because they have dared speak of Peace and Independence, a most profound desire of all the Vietnamese People after years and years of war. Our children were arrested and barbarously tortured. They have been denied food and drink, even medicine when they are sick. The limited amount of medicine provided to the prisoners by the American aid have been continuously smuggled or stolen by the prisons’ authorities. We only learn about the terrible living conditions of our children through statements by recently released prisoners and report made by the US Representatives Anderson and Hawkins after their investigation of Con Son Tiger Cages and the living conditions of the prisoners.
However, up to the present time, we still have not been allowed to visit or keep in touch with our children despite renewed requests. We have no means to send food to them at all. Only one exception has been given to those mothers who were allowed to visit their children once on August 25th, 1970, at the Chi Hoa prison. We have witnessed our children’s health situation. After continuous beatings, their bodies were swollen; when they were allowed to see us, they could not even walk and had to be helped by two guards. Such is the actual result of our government system of repression.
Most of our children were tried by the Military Field Court, a Court which was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Yet, our children have not been released. Some of them have never been tried at all.
As a father, as a leader, you are coming to Vietnam to understand our people’s aspirations for peace and justice. We, the Vietnamese Mothers, want to speak out the terrible sufferings of thousands of mothers who have their children being tortured and ill-treated in jail. We wish to directly inform you about the crimes committed under the prison system of South Vietnam. We hope to have privilege of meeting you while you are here.
You would have to agree that the US Government somehow has to be held jointly responsible for the prison system in South Vietnam, since:
—The police forces which arrest and repress our children are being paid by the Americans.
—The equipment used by the police to repress, torture and jail our children are part of the US aid. The tear gas, the rockets used to repress them are “made in USA.” We actually witnessed the terrible repression being carried out right in front of the US Embassy when we and our foreign friends demonstrated against the prison system on July 11th, 1970.
—The Phoenix operation, the result of which a great number of “suspected” Vietnamese people have been arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned directly by American authorities in Saigon.
—In the military operations, US and Allied Forces have arrested and tortured many innocent Vietnamese farmers at the Intelligence Agencies or turned them to the South Vietnamese government for further detention without any “due process of law.”
—Our children witness the presence of American advisers at the prisons. They know that more aid is being given to build more and bigger prisons.
Before such evidence it would be hard to deny and just say that the US is not responsible for the prison system of South Vietnam. The role of the American advisers should be to improve the prisoners’ conditions, not merely watch the tortures done to our children who suffer from hunger, thirst, disease, and survive in agony in jail.
We wish to meet you and let you know more specifically about our concern. May we ask you to convey to President Nixon, the American Government and the US Congress our requests that urgent improvement on the prison system can be done. Our requests are primarily the following:
1.) No citizen shall be arrested without lawful grounds.
2.) All prisoners should be provided with proper food and drink, and should be given appropriate care when they are sick.
3.) The prisoners’ relatives should be allowed to correspond, visit and send extra supplies to the prisoners.
4.) The prisoners should be allowed to write to their families.
5.) Relatives of prisoners should be immediately reported when the prisoners are arrested.
6.) Corruption practice in prison should be immediately abolished so that our children’s food rations are not taken away.
7.) The present policy of using non-political prisoners (criminals, thieves…) to watch political prisoners should be immediately abolished.
8.) Our children should be allowed to do some reading in jail for their own culture.
9.) The prisoners whose jail terms have expired must be immediately released.
10.) Those prisoners who have not been tried should be released or put on further trial by a constitutional, civil court.
11.) Those prisoners who were tried by the Military Field Courts should be released or retried by a civil court if they are supposed to be guilty.
12.) The old, sick and under-age prisoners should be released.
13.) There should be a change in the jail staff system.
14.) Tiger cages, cattle cages, mysterious caves, separate cells, discipline cells and rooms used for inhumane tortures should be abolished, not only at Con Son but also in all the prisons throughout South Vietnam.
15.) The “Coolies of the battle-fields” system used for military prisoners and “released” political prisoners should be abolished.
16.) When a prisoner dies, his body should be returned to his family for proper burial.
We also ask you to urge the American authorities to immediately end their acts of cruelty toward political prisoners and instruct them about our above mentioned requests.
In short, we want our children to have enough food, drink and medicine; their physical as well as moral life to be decently dealt with. They are not criminals but young courageous people who dared to stand up and voice for Peace. PEACE IS THE DEEPEST ASPIRATION OF ALL THE VIETNAMESE PEOPLE. Therefore, our children who are struggling for the cause of peace and have been arrested and barbarously tortured should be considered as “PEACE HEROES.”
Hoping that thanks to your responsible and efficient intervention, our children will soon be removed from the present inhuman prison system of South Vietnam, may we convey to your family our best wishes of luck and happiness.
Representatives of the Mothers whose children are being detained in the various prisons throughout South Vietnam, in the Tiger Cages, in the Disciplinary Cells…without trial or tried by unconstitutional courts, or have served their jail term or have been arrested during military operations (US, VN, Allied).
Mrs. Ngo Ba Thanh
Chairman of the Presidential Committee
For the Committee of Women Action for the Right to Live
[The letter was signed by the mothers and relatives of twenty-four young people in Con Son prison; the names of the prisoners were listed along with their signatures.]
November 5, 1970