Tag Archives: Who Killed Hammarskjold?

Thank you, Hynrich Wieschhoff!

With gratitude, “The Elusive Truth About the Death of Dag Hammarskjold”, written for PassBlue by the son of Heinrich A. Wieschhoff. I’m sharing it here in full so everyone will read this, and know how the relatives truly feel about the UN investigation.

“My clock radio clicked on. The morning news bulletin announced that United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane was missing.

It was Sept. 18, 1961. I was 16.

Over the next hours, my mother and sisters and I learned that Mr. Hammarskjöld, accompanied by Dad and 14 others, had flown from Leopoldville, in the Congo, to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia); that the plane, a DC-6, had not landed at Ndola, its destination; that an unexplained 15 hours went by after the airliner passed over the Ndola airport and before its wreckage was found lying not far from the runway; that all on board save one were dead.

My father, Heinrich A. Wieschhoff, was one of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s political advisers. Their party was headed for talks with the head of the breakaway Congo province of Katanga in hopes of quieting the fighting that had broken out between UN peacekeeping troops and the largely mercenary-led forces backing Katanga’s secession. It was a dramatic moment in the history of this mineral-rich country — a year after it gained independence from Belgium and quickly became embroiled in a violent quagmire involving the interests of not only Belgium but also France, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States.

Days after the crash, we learned that the sole survivor had died. Now there was no one to shed light on what had occurred. My family’s experience was lived in one wrenching way or another by the families of the 15 other victims. The particulars were different; the pain was the same — and only worsened because no one could tell us why the plane had gone down.

From the outset, there were legitimate concerns about the possibility of foul play. Within months of the crash, three inquests were held in rapid succession. The report of a UN commission, relying to a large degree on groundwork done by the-then Rhodesian Federation, was inconclusive, as was a report by the federal civil aviation body. The report of a commission empaneled by the Federation arrived, by a curious turn of logic, at the convenient conclusion that the event was an accident.

At first we assumed the UN would be vigilant in looking for new clues and dogged in running them to ground, and for years that seemed to be the case. Dad’s UN associates fielded our questions about the results of the original investigations and new allegations of wrongdoing promptly and graciously.

Once those associates left the UN, however, I gradually began having doubts that anyone in a leadership position cared much, if at all. One exception was Jan Eliasson, the deputy secretary-general under Ban Ki-moon, who was seemingly alone in advocating a serious look at the death of his idol and fellow Swede, Mr. Hammarskjöld.

The UN’s public posture toward Mr. Hammarskjöld drips with veneration — naturally. Yet when it comes to actually unraveling the circumstances of his death, a certain callousness prevails, despite high-sounding pronouncements to the contrary. In my experience, concern about the other 15 victims is even lower.

One byproduct of this indifference has been a coming together of nearly all the families of the deceased. Partly as a result, I have sensed that the UN is paying more attention to their interests, at least in its public comments. Privately, I still encounter telltale signs that the organization views the search for answers as a housekeeping matter.

For instance, when a group of the relatives sent the UN Secretariat a copy of a letter thanking the UN members sponsoring a recent resolution bearing on the crash, the response was a form letter from the public inquiries team stating that “the matter you raise is one of domestic jurisdiction, and does not fall within the competence of the United Nations.”

In 2011, the inquiry hit a turning point. Susan Williams, who had no prior connection to the crash, published “Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa.” A sobering probe of information that the three post-crash inquests did not have, or had but failed to consider properly, it presented the UN with a chance to dig deep.

Dr. Williams, a historian and senior research fellow at the University of London, did not identify a likely cause of the disaster, but she did present a number of startling claims, including that US intelligence services allegedly eavesdropped as an unidentified plane attacked Mr. Hammarskjöld’s during its landing approach.

The book sparked hope that the UN would finally give the crash its due. First, however, a group of private citizens established a pro bono commission of four jurists to evaluate her findings. In 2013, they determined that significant new evidence could justify reopening the UN’s original investigation.

The stage was set, at long last, to bring this unhappy affair to a definitive close. Unfortunately, instead of insisting that further exploration be unlinked from the agendas of individual member states, and Secretary-General Ban be given a free hand to deal with the crash as he saw fit, the office of the secretary-general solicited the views of certain members of the Security Council. Predictably, influential members signaled their lack of enthusiasm for a full-fledged re-opening of the investigation.

In other words, the UN ducked — in my view, avoiding discomfiting questions about the roles of Belgium, France, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Britain and the US in events related to the crash, and possibly about the UN’s own handling of its original investigation and subsequent new evidence as well.

What followed was five years (and counting) of a piecemeal, woefully ineffective process fashioned to give the impression of rigor. Through resolutions organized by Sweden, the General Assembly first relegated the crash to a “panel of experts” for yet another assessment of new information (2014), then to an “eminent person,” the former chief justice of Tanzania, Mohamed Chande Othman, for follow-up (2016).

The resolutions asked member states to search their archives for relevant material and to declassify sensitive records, namely intelligence and military files. But genuine cooperation from the key players has been slow and halting. Russia and the US, as of a recent date, failed to comply fully with the General Assembly’s resolutions, and South Africa and Britain appeared bent on frustrating the process altogether. To my knowledge, the UN has rarely generated information on its own, so that leaves Chief Justice Othman to rely heavily on private sources.

As far as I am aware, the Secretariat has not engaged at a high level with recalcitrant member states to get them to adhere to the General Assembly resolutions. It has done little to publicize the activities of the chief justice. It has been slow to fully declassify its own archives and still refuses to release some documents.

In their Dag Hammarskjöld Lectures, in Uppsala, Sweden (Mr. Hammarskjöld’s home base), Secretaries-General Ban and António Guterres each mentioned the search for the truth about the crash but at the tail end of their presentations, almost as an afterthought. Instead of taking a meaningful stand, they repeated the hollow refrain: the UN was doing all it could do to find answers and member states should comply with the call to declassify relevant records.

Equally revealingly is the fact that in 2017, Secretary-General Guterres’s office sought to end the Judge Othman probe. Thanks to Sweden’s insistence, the General Assembly renewed his appointment. Did the secretary-general tip his hand last year when, rather than appear in person before the General Assembly, he sent a subordinate to present Judge Othman’s interim report?

His findings were impressive, especially considering his meager support. For his current engagement of about 15 months, Judge Othman has only himself and an assistant, working part time and in different countries, on a budget so small that nearly a third will go toward translating his reports into the UN’s official languages.

The opportunity presented by Dr. Williams and the jurists’ commission still stands. And we may learn more from Judge Othman’s final report, due this summer. I worry, though, that unless that report or a new sense of purpose by the UN can pry the facts out of Britain, the US and other key states, what happened and why will once again fade unanswered into the past.”

Misleading Conduct? US and UK Intelligence Obstruct Justice of UN Investigation

Vlado's casket Geneva Lutheran Church

From Julian Borger’s Guardian article, 24 August 2016, “Dag Hammarskjold: Ban Ki-moon seeks to appoint investigator for fatal crash”:

“[…]Ban [Ki-moon] noted that the UK had stuck to its position last year that it had no further documentation to show the UN investigation. He appended a letter sent in June by the British permanent representative to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, saying “our position remains the same and we are not able to release the materials in question without any redactions”.

Rycroft added “the total amount of information withheld is very small and most of the redactions only consist of a few words”.

The wording of the letter echoed a similar letter, turning down the UN request for more information, the UK sent in June 2015, which said that “no pertinent material” had been found in a “search across all relevant UK departments”.

In reply the UN legal counsel, Miguel de Serpa Soares, reminded Rycroft of the shared responsibility of the UN and its member states “to pursue the full truth” about Hammarskjold’s death, and asked him to confirm that the search of “all relevant UK departments” included security and intelligence agencies.

In reply, Rycroft simply quoted the former UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond telling parliament that the foreign office had “coordinated a search across all relevant UK departments”.

“I think the British response is extraordinary. It’s very brisk and curt and evasive,” said Susan Williams, a British historian at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, whose book Who Killed Hammarskjold: The UN, The Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa, revealed new evidence that helped persuade the UN to open a new investigation into the crash near Ndola, in what was then the British colony of Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.

Part of that evidence was a report from a British intelligence officer, Neil Ritchie, who was in the area at the time of the crash and who was trying to organise a meeting between Hammarskjold and a rebel leader from neighbouring Congo, where the UN secretary general was trying to broker a truce.

“This was British territory and they had a man on the ground. It doesn’t make them responsible for the crash but it does indicate they knew a lot of what was going on,” Williams said, adding it was “highly unlikely” that Ritchie’s report which she found in an archive at Essex University, was the only British intelligence report coming the area at the time.”

On 28 August 2016, Dr Mandy Banton (Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies), Henning Melber (Senior adviser/director emeritus, The Dag Hammarskjold Foundation), and David Wardrop (Chairman, United Nations Association Westminster Branch) published letters together in the Guardian, “UK’s lack of transparency over plane crash that killed Dag Hammarskjold”. From Melber:

“The US and British responses to the efforts by the United Nations to further explore the circumstances of the plane crash at Ndola should be an embarrassment to all citizens in these countries (and elsewhere), who have an interest in seeking clarification of what happened. The reports so far already present sufficient evidence that there is more to it than what the official government responses are willing to admit.

This form of denial through non-compliance with legitimate demands for access to information is tantamount to obstruction and sabotages the sincere efforts to bring closure to one of the unsolved cases involving western states and their security operations. Such an arrogant attitude further dents the image of those who claim to be among civilized nations then and now.”

From 2 September 2016, here is an excerpt from Justice Richard Goldstone’s letter to the Guardian, “Hammarskjold case is not yet closed”:

“[…]it is highly likely that some member states of the UN, especially but not only the US, hold records or transcripts of cockpit transmissions in the minutes before the plane came down. If so, these may well put the cause of the crash, whatever it was, beyond doubt. But neither the US National Security Agency, which has gradually resiled from its admission to our commission that it held two relevant records, nor, as Dr Banton’s letter (29 August) suggests, the UK government, has so far responded with any vigour to the secretary-general’s plea for cooperation.”

From the 6 September 2016 New York Times, “Release the Records on Dag Hammarskjold’s Death”, written by The Rt. Hon. Sir Stephen Sedley:

“There was also evidence that the N.S.A. was monitoring the airwaves in the Ndola region, almost certainly from one of two American aircraft parked on the tarmac. Our inquiry therefore asked the agency for any relevant records it held of local radio traffic before the crash. The agency replied that it had three records “responsive” to our request but that two of those were classified top secret and would not be disclosed.

At its close, my commission recommended that the United Nations follow up this lead. The General Assembly appointed a three-person panel, which repeated our request to the N.S.A. This time, the agency replied that the two documents were not transcripts of radio messages as Southall had described and offered to let one of the panel members, the Australian aviation expert Kerryn Macaulay, see them. This she did, reporting that the documents contained nothing relevant to the cause of the crash.

This makes it difficult to understand how those two documents were initially described as “responsive” to a request explicitly for records of radio intercepts, or why they were classified top secret. It raises doubts about whether the documents shown to Ms. Macaulay were, in fact, the documents originally identified by the N.S.A. The recent denial that there is any record of United States Air Force planes’ being present at Ndola increases the impression of evasiveness.”

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From the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) website, “What You Should Know About Obstruction of Justice”:
“Q: Does obstruction of justice always involve bribery or physical force?
A: No. One particularly murky category of obstruction is the use of “misleading conduct” toward another person for the purpose of obstructing justice. “Misleading conduct” may consist of deliberate lies or “material omissions” (leaving out facts which are crucial to a case). It may also include knowingly submitting or inviting a judge or jury to rely on false or misleading physical evidence, such as documents, maps, photographs or other objects. Any other “trick, scheme, or device with intent to mislead” may constitute a “misleading conduct” form of obstruction.”

Photos of Hammarskjold

Several months ago, I was sent something serious that has been troubling me, and I have been reticent to write about it, because I wanted to be more informed before giving my opinion.

The anonymous source that sent me the scans of letters from the archive of Roy Welensky (I have three, one of them is published here), also sent photos of the crash site and wreckage of the Albertina in Ndola. Some of the photos I recognized from Susan Williams book Who Killed Hammarskjold?, but many I had never seen before.

In one photo, labelled “Offloading wreckage of DC-6B SE-BDY prior to burial at Ndola airport”, you see white men standing around, talking to each other, while black men work to offload the wreckage from the back of a truck into a pit, which has been made by a nearby bulldozer that is preparing to flatten everything before burying it all. I don’t understand why the plane had to be buried, it makes no sense to me. Is it normal to bury planes like this? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

In another photo, labelled “Location of levelled site with “burial party” Messrs. J.D. Williams (Ndola Airport Manager) H.C. Bowell (Aircraft Engineer) M.C.H. Barber (Director of Civil Aviation) and M. Madders (Chief Aircraft Engineer)”, you see these four white men, standing side by side in the bulldozer tracks of the freshly covered grave of the Albertina, smiling, hands on hips, a pipe in the mouth of the Ndola Airport Manager. They look rather pleased with themselves.

But the most troubling thing I received were the autopsy photos of Dag Hammarskjold, six of them. I don’t know how many people have seen these photos, but they are shocking, and very sad. The post mortem of Hammarskjold makes no mention of the playing card that was placed in his shirt collar (an ace of spades, supposedly, which was from decks of playing cards found scattered at the scene) but there it was, very clearly seen in the three photos taken at the crash site. The card also appears to have been adjusted to its side in one photo. Even if it was placed there as a sick joke, it certainly lends a sinister note to the whole macabre scene. The three photos from the crash site show him on a stretcher, his clothes unburned and intact, his face streaked with blood, and the other three were taken in the mortuary, but there is no photo evidence of the actual place where Hammarskjold’s body was found. I wish I could publish these photos, so people could see for themselves, but I’ve been asked to keep them private.

Having seen them, I found myself very upset at Brian Urquhart after reading this passage he wrote in his biography of Hammarskjold:

“Hammarskjold was thrown clear of the wreckage and alone among the victims, was not burned at all. Although the post mortem showed that he had probably lived for a short time after the crash, his injuries–a severely fractured spine, several broken ribs, a broken breastbone, a broken thigh, and severe internal hemorrhaging–were certainly fatal. He was lying on his back near a small shrub which had escaped the fire, his face extraordinarily peaceful, a hand clutching a tuft of grass.”

Did Urquhart look at the same photos I did? Because the face of Hammarskjold does not look “extraordinarily peaceful” to me, it looks beaten and bloodied. And just like the post mortem report, Urquhart makes no mention of the obvious playing card. What was the point of this omission, if not to cover up the horror of the situation? These are just my observations.

Unfortunately, Urquhart was of the opinion that the testimonies of African witnesses who saw the Albertina followed closely by smaller planes just before the crash, and any other theory of murder, were just “fantasy”, as he writes in the epilogue of the biography:

“Although there is a large–and still growing–literature on Hammarskjold’s death, it is significant that none of those who cling to the idea that he was murdered in one way or another have seen fit to demand a new inquiry or to present serious evidence. The main conspiracy theories put forward are mutually exclusive–if one is true, all the others must be false–and so far none of them is backed by anything more than rumor, speculation, and fantasy.”

Urquhart wrote this back in 1972, but I wonder if he still holds the same opinion after reading Susan Williams book, and the September 2013 Report from the Hammarskjold Commission. After all these years have gone by, I have to ask, why is there still so much secrecy about what happened to Hammarskjold?