September 14, 1999
HAVANA, Sept 13 (Reuters) - A senior Cuban official laughed off on Monday allegations in U.S. media that he had led a small Cuban security unit responsible for the torture of American soldiers captured during the Vietnam War.
Higher Education Minister Fernando Vecino Alegret said he had never visited Vietnam, let alone participated in an alleged secret programme there three decades' ago to break the will of U.S. prisoners.
``What do you think? Do I look like a torturer? Look at me,'' he told foreign correspondents in Havana who asked him about allegations in the Miami Herald and its Spanish-language sister newspaper El Nuevo Herald.
``I would like to be able to visit this brother country (Vietnam), because I have never been able to go there,'' Alegret said, dismissing the accusations.
He said those making the claims against him and other Cuban officials ``know perfectly well what they are saying is untrue.''
The Miami newspapers, quoting former U.S. troops, have alleged that Cuba sent up to four security agents to Vietnam to run an interrogation unit responsible for torturing 19 Americans between August 1967 and August 1968. One died of his injuries, the Herald said.
The reports cited a survivor, retired air force Col. Ed Hubbard, as identifying Alegret as the leader of the alleged torturers who the prisoners nicknamed ``Fidel.''
Alegret, speaking on the fringes of a Cuban National Assembly meeting, said he and other Cubans were used to foreign-led campaigns of lies against them. ``We are always at risk,'' he said.
His comments were the first public comment from Havana on the torture claims, although other Cuban officials privately dismissed the reports when they first appeared several weeks ago.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.
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