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.
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,
Britainís Prime Minister, to cause outrage among American
citizens unwilling to back a war on Japan.
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.
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 departmentís
confidential reply read: "Visualise the remaining of Americans
generally in the Philippines in an emergency, and plan
Other evidence includes a letter from
one of the commissionerís 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 Japanís attack on Pearl
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 campís 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 didnít have to go through some of the things
I went through."
Anthony DíAmato, 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 DíAmato
is asking for them to be made public. "We believe this smoking
gun is in those transcripts," he said.
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.