Cablegate: Mennonite Torture Claims Do Not Appear Credible

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) HCMC 106; B) HCMC 189; C) HCMC 493

1. (SBU) Summary: Following her amnesty in late April, we met on
May 10 with Mennonite activist Le Thi Hong Lien and her father
(both strictly protect) to investigate claims that torture in
prison led to her mental collapse. Our lengthy interviews of Lien
and her father and follow-up discussions with the doctors who
treated her lead us to question seriously these claims. There are
many inconsistencies in Lien's and her father's depiction of her
treatment in prison. There also are troubling indications that
Lien's father, perhaps on the instructions of the local Mennonite
church, was "doctor shopping" to find someone who would confirm
allegations of abuse; none have thus far. Our follow up appears
to confirm our original judgment (ref A) that this is not a case
of organized, willful abuse, but a very tragic situation involving
an emotionally fragile and vulnerable young person. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On May 10 we met with Le Quang Du father of "Mennonite 6"
prisoner Le Thi Hong Lien, and later with Ms. Lien herself at
their very modest home in HCMC's District 2 (both strictly
protect). We went to check on her status following her late April
amnesty and release from the criminal ward of the Bien Hoa mental
hospital. Per ref B, Lien was transferred in mid-February from
HCMC's Chi Hoa prison to the hospital following an extended stay
in the prison infirmary. Press releases circulated on the
internet by California-based "Compass Direct" and other websites
report that: "the current physical and mental health of Le has
completely broken down due to the severe torture and abuse in the
prison. Le was reported to have difficulty using her jaw, which
was broken by beatings and left untreated." According to the
Internet reports, Lien's parents said that she had "lost her mind"
because of abuse. One web site claimed that Lien "has survived
after enduring terrible torture in the prison such as drug
injections, frequent and severe beatings, electric shock, food
deprivation and verbal abuse."

3. (SBU) Du told us that Lien's personality and health had changed
after her 10 months imprisonment. Before her arrest, she had been
an outgoing 19-year old Sunday school and summer camp teacher for
small children; now she is withdrawn and sullen. Du claimed that
Lien was in this state because of physical abuse in prison that
culminated in a "nerve problem" that left her jaw "out of
alignment." As a result Lien was in constant pain and unable to
eat properly. Du said that he first noticed Lien's jaw problem
when he visited her in the Chi Hoa prison infirmary in early
December 2004, about three weeks after her trial. Du was evasive
as to whether or not Lien suffered any weight loss while in
prison. When we asked him why he did not mention Lien's jaw issue
in our initial meeting on January 26 (ref A), Du replied, "you
didn't ask." (Note: we did ask -- repeatedly -- about any abuses
or problems that Lien might have had. During our January meeting,
Du also said that his daughter did not have any problems eating.
End Note.)

4. (SBU) Du told us that after Lien's release, he took her to
three different private doctors for seven medical exams. CT
scans, X-rays, urine, blood and thyroid tests were performed in
addition to physicals. The local Mennonite Church of imprisoned
Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang paid for the tests. Du also showed us a
bagful of medicine that he said the doctors had prescribed for
Lien, including two muscle relaxants (Diantalvic and Tolperisone)
and Xanax, an anti anxiety drug. Du told us that he did not
understand the results of the exams and would not discuss the
medical reports further. Neither Chi Hoa prison, nor the mental
hospital in Dong Nai province where she was sent in February
provided the family with medical records. We told Du that we
wished to contact the doctors to discuss Lien's condition. Du
said he would support our follow up.

5. (SBU) Du said that Lien continues to attend services at Pastor
Quang's house church. Lien has been among those 15 to 20
parishioners whom local police have detained for three to four
hours over the past few Sundays. District police stop the service
and charge the group with holding an illegal gathering. Despite
her experience in prison, Lien does not show any fear or hysteria
while in police custody, according to her father. (Comment: this
is the only case of police intervention to block house church
services in HCMC in the past few months. It appears to stem from
the bitter relationship between the Mennonite church and local
district authorities. We have registered our concern over
continued harassment of the Mennonite church both with the HCMC
External Relations Office and the HCMC Committee for Religious
Affairs (CRA). The CRA said it would try and work with local
authorities to find a way to ease tensions in coming weeks. End

6. (SBU) After meeting with Du for an hour, we were introduced to
Lien. She was lethargic and had some difficulty talking. Her
father was with her at all times and, on occasion, appeared to try
to prompt her answers. Lien said that she was not beaten before
her trial, although she suffered from periodic "psychological"
abuse and was denied food and clothes that her parents brought
her. She could not remember her trial. She told Poloffs that she
was not sexually abused either in prison or in the mental
hospital. However, she privately told Pol/Econ FSN specialist
that she believed that there was one incident when male prison
guards leered at her when she was naked and restrained on her bed
in the prison infirmary.

7. (SBU) Lien recounted one episode -- she was not clear as to
whether this was in her cell or in the prison infirmary -- when
she lost consciousness. After that incident, she was always
handcuffed by one hand to her bed. Lien said that she was only
released once a day -- at 7 in the morning. As a result, she had
to urinate and defecate in her bed.

8. (SBU) Lien claimed that during her two months in the prison
infirmary she was physically abused regularly. Between three and
10 men would come into the infirmary and beat her "all over her
body" on an almost daily basis with police batons or broomsticks.
No one would treat her for the injuries she sustained and there
was blood "everywhere." She experienced no abuse in the mental
hospital. (Note: per ref A, in our interview with Du on January
26, he told us that he saw no evidence of physical abuse. Prison
guards and another inmate in the infirmary said that Lien had
become violent and "lost her mind." We understand that
restraining patients who might even pose a slight threat to
hospital staff is common practice in Vietnam. End Note.)

9. (SBU) We asked Lien what the reaction of the doctors in the
mental hospital was to her injuries and bruises when she was
admitted. She then retracted her claim that the beatings had
opened wounds. She added that hospital staff saw no bruising
because all her injuries had "healed quickly." Lien said that she
could not pinpoint when her jaw was injured, but it had been
hurting for "a long time."

Follow up with Lien's Doctors

10. (SBU) On May 11 and 12 we spoke with a general practitioner at
Columbia Asia hospital (protect), one of HCMC's leading and most
reputable private clinics. Before speaking to us, the doctor
sought to obtain permission from Lien's father to discuss the case
with us. Much to our surprise, the doctor told us that Du had
denied permission. We recontacted Lien's father, who initially
told us "he wanted to get the results himself," but then agreed to
allow the doctor to work with us. The doctor told us that she
conducted a complete physical work up of Lien, including a blood
chemistry, and CT scan. Lien's brain function, thyroid and other
hormone levels appeared normal, although Lien's speech and
comprehension were slower than the general norm.

11. (SBU) We told the doctor that when we visited Lien, we met
Lien's younger brother who had severe mental and physical problems
from birth. The doctor was surprised, particularly because she
had asked Du if Lien had a preexisting condition or if there was
any other family medical or mental history that would be helpful
in understanding Lien's case. Du said there wasn't.

12. (SBU) The doctor told us that Lien's father specifically told
her that he was looking for evidence that beating or abuse in
prison led to her jaw problems. The doctor concluded that with
the exception of Lien's inability to open her jaw wide, the
results of the exams showed nothing abnormal, nor was there any
evidence of physical abuse. Of the drugs that Lien is taking, she
had prescribed Xanax and medicine for Lien's skin problems. The
doctor opined that the combination of the Xanax and the two other
muscle relaxant medicines that Lien is taking could contribute to
or cause Lien's lethargy. The doctor recommended to Du that Lien
consult a psychiatrist for further evaluation. When we asked
Lien's father about a psychiatric follow up, he told us that it
was up to the church to decide what additional medical or
psychological follow up Lien would receive.

13. (SBU) On May 12 we spoke with a facial specialist who
evaluated Lien's jaw. The doctor told us that Lien's father also
sought confirmation that the problem was caused by impact from a
"hard object." The doctor told us that the jaw joint suffered
from excessive mobility, but could not confirm the cause. An x-
ray of the jaw indicated that the jaw was not broken. The doctor
said that the problem could be stress induced, although he could
not rule out that it was caused by abuse. Du did not tell the
specialist that he had another child with serious birth defects.

14. (SBU) On May 13, we spoke with Lien's attending physician in
the Bien Hoa mental hospital (strictly protect). The doctor said
that Lien suffered from "adjustment disorder" to the stress of a
prison environment. She was given Xanax to ease stress but
received no other treatment in the mental hospital. The doctor
saw no evidence of physical abuse. He thought that Lien's jaw
problem could be congenital.

15. (SBU) Based on our interview with Lien and discussions with
three doctors we can say with some confidence that she suffered a
mental collapse in prison. We likely will never learn exactly
why. The shock of prison alone may have been enough; Lien may
have been unusually susceptible.

16. (SBU) Available information does not support claims of
sustained physical abuse or denial of appropriate medical
treatment. There are significant inconsistencies in Lien's and
her father's depiction of events, particularly how and when Lien
was allegedly beaten. We also are troubled by indications that
Lien's father appeared to be shopping around HCMC for a doctor who
would be prepared to confirm his assertion that she was physically
abused. We will continue to press the GVN to defuse tensions
with the Mennonite Church of Pastor Quang. However, once again
it seems that Pastor Quang's followers have distorted the truth in
order to draw foreign attention.


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