This is the first of a series of “open letters” to the young people (say, aged 14 to 25) of America. To the young people that today constitute the HOPE of the world for survival. Survival of the world? Sounds like an exaggeration. Not so, and this is why:
1. There is a significant probability for an accidental error in relation to nuclear weapons.
2. The US has discarded the Kyoto Protocol (an Agreement to start saving the earth). Meanwhile the ice on earth is melting, especially in the glaciers of Nepal.
3. The US has declared that the Nuremberg Tribunal does not apply to US criminals against humanity.
To change that, the US youth should know what has been going on in the world. The series of these “open letters” is an effort, from this part of the earth, to help them gain this knowledge.
On February 21, 2005 Seymour Hersh won the George Polk magazine award for his accounts in the New Yorker of the torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. Hersh in 1969, 35 years ago, revealed the massacre at My Lai, a hamlet in South Vietnam, where the American soldiers murdered all its inhabitants. For that story he got his first George Polk Award. The present one for Abu Ghraib is his fifth.
The My Lai story was uncovered by a young American soldier, in his early 20s, named Ronald Ridenhour. The Abu Ghraib story was uncovered by Joseph Darby, another American soldier. These cases indicate that young people in America can change things. Also, compare the “moral values” of these two young men to the “(Christian) moral values” of Barbara Bush and her son George W., or of Rumsfeld, of Ashcroft, of Condoleezza Rice, of Wolfowitz, etc.
But, who was George Polk? Why an Award was established in his honor?
George W. Polk was born in 1913 in Texas. After Pearl Harbor, he fought as a fighter pilot in the Pacific, was downed twice and after staying for a year in various hospitals he returned to the US. After the war as a CBS correspondent he covered the Nuremberg Trial, in 1946.
In 1947 Polk came to Greece as a CBS correspondent. In September of the same year he married, Rea Kokkonis, a Greek woman. “Seen together he with his strong, blond head and she softly and darkly vivacious, they made an enviable couple, a union, one might think, of all that was most attractive in the Nordic and Mediterranean races,” writes Kenneth Matthews, a friend of the couple, in his book “Memories of a Mountain War” (Longman, 1972).
A few months after his marriage, on May 7 or May 8, 1948, George Polk was assassinated by a gun-shot at the back of his head. His body was found on May 16, a Sunday, floating in the port of Salonika, 50 yards from the water-front. Today, 57 years after the assassination, it is widely accepted that Polk was murdered by the US government.
[Note: Salonika, or "Thessaloniki" in classical Greek, a city in northern Greece, was founded 315 BC and was named after a half-sister of Alexander the Great (the murderous role model of Hitler and... of Hollywood). About AD 50 Paul the Apostle after visiting Salonika sent two letters to the "Thessalonians" , now found in the Bible.]
As one can expect, any young American today will ask (or should ask): WHY did the US government rob Polk, a 35- year-old American citizen, of his life a few days before he was to return to the US and to a fellowship at Harvard?
The answer is that Polk was a victim of the (historically) permanent US policy of resolving conflicts through violence (bloody wars) instead of peacful and honest negotiations. The latest examples: Bush Father attacks Iraq while Saddam is practically begging Bush not to attack him. Clinton attacks Yugoslavia while Milosevic is trying to avoid the bloodshed. Bush Son attacks Iraq while Saddam, once more, tried in vain to avoid war.
In 1948, the year of Polk’s murder, the US was putting the foundations of the post-World War Two phase of the Cold War. Polk “was the first victim of the Cold War”, as I.F. Stone, a great and honest American, said at the time. Greece was under Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1944. In December 1944, the British (with the assistance of the US Air Force) attacked the Greek Resistance army, their ally against the Nazis, to prevent the victory of the Left in the coming elections and the formation of a government by the Greek Left. The British forced the Resistance army to disarm and then with the help of the Greek rightists and the former Greek collaborators of the Nazis they started executing and torturing the members of the Resistance or any Greek that was not “with us” (“us” being the British and the Americans) by the tens of thousands.
As expected the people could not bear this barbarity any longer and in 1946 they revolted. This armed rebellion, with the communists as the vanguard, is known to the world as the Greek “civil war” of the 1940s. By 1947 the British (being broke) handed the leadership to the US, the emerging imperial power. The leader of the revolted was Markos, a communist.
Polk defended the American intervention in Greece, but in his broadcasts and in his articles he criticized strongly the policy of the US that was intent to use violence against the revolt and were extremely harsh against the corrupt US controlled Greek government. Being an honest person Polk, as millions of other Americans, strived for a peaceful settlement of the conflict and for an end to the bloodshed. For the US elite that was a mortal mistake on his part.
As a matter of fact it was “the American press which particularly worried U.S. officials.” (“American Intervention in Greece, 1943-1949,” Lawrence S. Wittner, Columbia U. Press, 1982, p. 156). “In a message to Drew Pearson, the American columnist, [Polk] complained of receiving threats that ‘someone was going to be hurt’ ” (Matthews, p. 185). To defend his case for a peaceful settlement Polk decided to meet Markos, the leader of the revolted, in the Mountains close to Salonika and interview him. He arrived in Salonika on May 7. A few hours later he was murdered.
“Skeptical of the outcome of any investigation of Polk’s murder by the Greek authorities, the (US) Overseas Writers Association initiated one of their own, headed by General Donovan. His chief investigator, (was) Colonel James Kellis of the U.S. Air Force…” (Wittner, p. 159).
But, who was Major General William J. Donovan, also known as “Wild Bill Donovan”? “… Donovan was the point man of the force that led to America’s emergence as a superpower. Many of his associates would regard him as the greatest American of his time… he introduced the principles of modern war into Washington, conceiving a multipronged method of waging war at every level of human endeavor.” (“Wild Bill Donovan the Last Hero”, Anthony Cave Brown, Times Books, 1982, p.11).
During WWII Donovan headed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the “mother” of the CIA. And naturally was “present at the creation” of the CIA. Donovan “founded a dynasty of American spymasters that still dominated the American intelligence and special operations community as late as 1982.” (Brown, p. 12). Therefore, if we assume that Polk was murdered by the government of the US, then it is reasonable to assume that the CIA was involved with its “special operations” division. If the CIA was involved it is reasonable to assume that Donovan at least knew what happened to Polk. These assumptions are supported by the following facts:
- In 1948 Colonel James Kellis, Donovan’s investigator, among a list of ten suspects, “chooses” Grigoris Staktopoulos (see below) as an accessory in the assassination of Polk. In 1978, thirty years later, Kellis goes to the Greek Consulate in New York and voluntarily submits a deposition, under oath, in which he states that Staktopoulos was innocent and that the CIA was implicated in a cover-up of the murder.
- In 1948 Kellis was asked to meet with Karl Ranking, the US charge d’ affairs in Athens, who told him: “I do not see why you are breaking your back trying to uncover who killed this correspondent.” (Wittner, p. 159).
- Polk’s 19-year-old brother, William, was in Greece during the Staktopoulos trial and “asked Donovan bluntly if it were not important to get at the facts. ‘Why are you asking such difficult questions and making things so complicated?’, the former intelligence chief retorted in exasperation. ‘Don’t you understand we are in the middle of a war? You are a smart young man….If you keep on, you will ruin your career’ ” (Wittner, p. 160).
- In the mid-fifties, Vasos Tsimbidaros, a Greek journalist, handed an outline of a film script on the Polk murder to Spyros Skouras, the Greek-American Hollywood Mogul and president of 20th Century-Fox. Donovan had known Skouras through legal business since before WWII. A week later, Tsimbidaros contacted Skouras. The latter, handed him back the script and told him: “Forget it. Donovan does not wish this. There is nothing I can do and I am sorry for the trouble I gave you.” (Kostas Papaioannou, “Political Assassination”, Pontiki, 1993, p. 10).
- In Brown’s biographical 981-page book on Donovan the name of the “first victim of the Cold War”, George Polk, does not appear in the Index of the book! Why?
So, to cover-up the assassination of Polk the US used its local Greek proxies. Leading among them was Nikos Moushoundis, the head of the Salonika security police. As all the policemen in the world, he was an expert in the use of torture and of violence. Moushoundis chose two Salonika communists, Adam Mouzenidis and E. Vazvanas, as the physical perpetrators of the murder. Grigoris Staktopoulos (a Greek journalist and correspondent for the “Christian Science Monitor” in Salonika) was chosen (by Kellis) as an accessory.
In the October 18, 1948 issues of the “New York Herald” and of the “New York Times” there is a news-item confirming that Mouzenidis died one month BEFORE the assassination of Polk. Vazvanas was tens of miles far from the site of the murder during the time of the act.
Staktopoulos was tortured continuously for six weeks by Moushoundis inside a police station. Also he threatened to have Staktopoulos’ mother “killed in a Salonika street”. Finally he “confessed” and Moushoundis started coaching him for his day in court.He also was telling him that he should accept his fate out of … patriotism! Staktopoulos tried to commit suicide twice, while in custody.
Moushoundis turned a room of the police station into a prison cell and kept Staktopoulos there incommunicado for four years. The secret of the police station room was uncovered by chance and Moushoundis was forced to sent Staktopoulos to a regular prison to do the life term he had been condemned to.
Staktopoulos stayed in prison for 12 years. Finally he was released through the efforts a 78-year-old rightist lawyer, who could not bear the injustice done to Staktopoulos. When Staktopoulos mentioned to the lawyer that Moushoundis was talking to him about patriotism and duty to the country, the old rightist and nationalist lawyer (but honest human) retorted: “I shit on this kind of a country!”
Staktopoulos was released in 1960. For the next 38 years up to his death he, an innocent man, had to live among the people as the man who helped murder Polk. He could not bear that. In 1977 he made an appeal to the Greek Supreme Court to stand again to trial so that he could prove his innocence. His appeal was rejected. In 1978 Kellis sent a letter to the Supreme Court testifying about the innocence of Staktopoulos. The letter was ignored. In 1965 Staktopoulos married Theodora Zisimopoulos. After his death, his widow files another appeal to the Supreme Court, in 1999. The Supreme court rejects the appeal. In 2002 the widow files an appeal once more. The Supreme Court rejects the appeal once more.
These rejections accept as a fact that Polk was killed by, Mouzenidis, a man who died one month before he killed Polk. To think that the Greeks try to continue the cover-up by themselves is naive. The cover-up is carried out now by Donovan’s epigones. Which shows what kind of democracy the Iraqis will have decades from now if Bush Son wins in Iraq as Truman did in Greece, in the 1940s.
[Note: I met Staktopoulos twice. To this day I have the vivid impression of a polite, gentle, and extremely sad human being.]
During the next decades hundreds (if not millions) of young Americans will climb to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, etc. If while up there they walk to the south side of the Acropolis (the side where the Dionysus theater is) they will see a patch of green about 3/4 of a mile from the Acropolis. That patch is the First Cemetery of Athens. In this cemetery there is a grave with the inscription: GEORGE W. POLK, LIEUTENANT USN. I feel that a visit by these young Americans to that grave will be a tribute to Polk and to Staktopoulos.
Finally, these young Americans should understand that half a century ago Moushoundis was torturing humans as a “subcontractor” of the US government. Today, Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, etc, do the same thing, only they call it “extreme rendition”. Also, they should understand that someday the Nuremberg Tribunal should hold for the American elites too. It is up to these young Americans that this will happen.