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US prisoners claim Roosevelt left them in Philippines deliberately
DAVID Cox in New York
HUNDREDS of former US prisoners of war have begun a battle for compensation after uncovering documents that allegedly prove the wartime administration deliberately used them as a tool to whip up domestic support for war with Japan.
A former prisoner has uncovered papers in the US National Archive that she claims prove the government restricted the travel of 7,000 American citizens from the Philippines, while at the same time encouraging evacuation of Americans from other potential Japanese targets in China and south-east Asia.
A federal lawsuit filed yesterday in Washington, DC, alleges that the government at first wanted to keep Americans in the Philippines to discourage Japanese aggression, but later used them as a political tool.
A group of 500 former prisoners claim the plan was devised by the US wartime leader, Franklin D Roosevelt. with the approval of Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister, to cause outrage among American citizens unwilling to back a war on Japan.
Americans were denied passport and travel documents to let them flee. They were later captured by the Japanese and held in notorious camps under appalling conditions.
Marcia Fee Achenbach, one of those captured, was four when her camp was liberated by US soldiers in 1944. She discovered the papers while doing research in the National Archive. Among the evidence uncovered was a telegram that Francis Sayre, the high commissioner of the Philippines, had sent to the US state department urging an evacuation plan. The state department’s confidential reply read: "Visualise the remaining of Americans generally in the Philippines in an emergency, and plan accordingly."
Other evidence includes a letter from one of the commissioner’s secretaries indicating that officials were not to issue passports. The secretary states that she wrote more than 5,000 letters rejecting passport applications during the build up to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
In the notorious Philippine POW camps, starvation and disease were rampant, and hundreds died as internees were reduced to eating cats, dogs, rats and weeds to survive. Many of the camp’s leaders were executed by the Japanese as the US army advanced to recapture the islands. Ms Achenbach said: "I remember having to run around to get away from the shelling. I grew up thinking that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was angry and astounded to find out later I didn’t have to go through some of the things I went through."
Anthony D’Amato, the lawyer who filed the suit, believes the orders came directly from Roosevelt. He also thinks the US leader discussed his plans for the Philippines in telephone talks with Churchill.
Transcripts of those conversations were ordered to be sealed indefinitely by President Harry Truman, but Mr D’Amato is asking for them to be made public. "We believe this smoking gun is in those transcripts," he said.
Frances Cogan, a professor at the University of Oregon, said the government had other reasons for its actions. "It was thought that if they moved the Americans out of the Philippines, it would look like we were going to launch a war against Japan," said Prof Cogan, author of Captured: The Internment of American civilians in the Philippines 1941-1945. "Another reason was to keep the Filipino people from feeling they had been deserted and left to rot."
Regarding the actions of US officials, Prof Cogan said: "Certainly they lied. Certainly they kept them from leaving and getting transportation out. The effect was that people remained there, however they did it and for whatever reasons."
Even if the allegations are proved, legal experts say winning a suit against the government over a wartime event that that happened 60 years ago may not lead to the desired apology. One complication is that the prisoners have already received some financial recompense. After their release, former prisoners were paid one dollar for each day of internment from the proceeds of a sale of Japanese assets frozen in other countries. As part of that deal, the United States and other nations waived the rights of their citizens to sue Japan.
This article: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/international.cfm?id=820792002
Last updated: 30-Jul-02 01:00 BST