At the time, Greg Rodriquez did not think twice when a Japanese doctor held a feather under his nostrils. And Frank James was only a little suspicious when his captors ordered him to take the bodies of specific fellow prisoners to a table for dissection.
But Herman Castillo knew something was terribly wrong when men in white coats stuck needles in his arms, threw him into a tiny wire cage and said, “Now you’re a carrier for life.”
Now, a half-century after Japan’s surrender ended World War II, a declassified U.S. military file indicates American intelligence agents failed to pursue abundant leads that American prisoners of war in Manchuria were the victims of grotesque biological warfare experiments.
The file contains at least four documents from independent intelligence sources alleging that American prisoners were used as human research subjects. While the assertions are not proof this occurred, the file clearly shows that U.S. military officers maneuvered to suppress the reports. Their unwillingness to pursue the allegations apparently stemmed from a secret deal granting the Japanese immunity from prosecution in exchange for tissue samples and reports on human experimentation that might help give the United States a germ warfare advantage over the Russians.
The San Jose Mercury News obtained the 137-page counterintelligence file from Rodriquez’s son, Greg Jr., 46, a Washington-based researcher who recently discovered it at the National Archives. It had been declassified two years ago after a Japanese researcher’s Freedom of Information Act request.
The documents focus on Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army. Western historians think the unit killed at least 200,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians with “field tests” of germ warfare.
Historians have documented that the Japanese routinely used Chinese, Russian and Korean POWs for medical experiments. The live test subjects were called “maruta” - “logs of wood” - and were injected with bubonic plague, typhoid, cholera, syphilis and other diseases. The prisoners often were dissected alive without anesthesia to see the effect of the diseases on their vital organs.
Many of the 1,500 American soldiers who were captured in the Philippines and taken to Mukden, Manchuria, long have suspected that they, too, were victims of germ-warfare experiments. Dozens of Mukden survivors contend that Japanese and U.S. officials have covered up the experiments on Americans for 50 years.
Both governments, however, have maintained there is no evidence to support such an allegation - a position they still hold.
Evidence to the contrary is found in a file from the military’s counterintelligence corps of the Supreme Commander of Allied Powers, headed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Its most damning documents make it clear that U.S. intelligence agents not only covered up war crimes against Americans but also aggressively protected the architect of those crimes, Lt. Gen. Shiro Ishii.
“What fascinates me the most about this file is that there was no visible interest expressed in following up about the Americans,” said historian Gavan Daws of Honolulu, an authority on Allied POWs in the Pacific, who recently was shown the document by the Mercury News. “And it’s clear from the file that there is a wish and a directive that nothing should be done.”
Sheldon Harris, author of “Factories of Death,” a 1994 book on Japanese biological warfare, agreed. “It’s almost assumed that Americans were victimized, and it didn’t bother them in the least,” Harris said of the intelligence agents. “This file brings a lot of things together. It’s really a shameful story.”
At the request of Nationalist Chi nese officials who heard about “bacteriological experiments upon Chinese and Americans as human guinea pigs,” the U.S. counterintelligence corps prepared a report on Ishii, the head of Unit 731, according to a Sept. 6, 1947, memo.
The document makes it clear that a high-level U.S. intelligence officer, Col. Philip Bethune, quashed the report after informing his agents that it involved “a top-secret matter.”
The agent who wrote the memo, identified only by the initials “WSC,” also wrote that “Col. Bethune desires no further action be taken in this case. No further action was taken.”
The newly discovered file dovetails with an April 18, 1947, report from the legal section of MacArthur’s headquarters, specifying that the Unit 731 investigation was “under direct Joint Chiefs of Staff order.”
“Every step, interrogation or contact must be coordinated with this section,” said the report by Lt. Neal Smith. “The utmost secrecy is essential in order to protect the interests of the United States and to guard against embarrassment.”
One of the great ironies of the data-for-immunity deal was that the Americans never got much out of it, said Harris, a history professor emeritus at California State University, Northridge. It turned out that the United States was far more advanced than Japan in biological warfare research, he said. xxxx