Protest.Net: Did the CIA Poison Paul Robeson?

Malcolm X and ML KingPaul Robeson, the black actor, singer, and political radical, may have been
a victim of CIA chemist Sidney Gottlieb’s MK-ULTRA program. We have
previously noted Gottlieb’s death and outlined his career of infamy. In the
spring of 1961, Robeson planned to visit Havana, Cuba to meet with Fidel
Castro and Che Guevara. The trip never came off because Robeson fell ill in
Moscow, where he had gone to give several lectures and concerts. At the
time, it was reported that Robeson had suffered a heart attack. But in fact
Robeson had slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt after suffering
hallucinations and severe depression. The symptoms came on following a
surprise party thrown for him at his Moscow hotel.

Robeson’s son, Paul Robeson, Jr., has investigated his father’s illness for
more than 30 years. He believes that his father was slipped a synthetic
hallucinogen called BZ by U.S. intelligence operatives at the party in
Moscow. The party was hosted by anti-Soviet dissidents funded by the CIA.

Robeson Jr. visited his father in the hospital the day after the suicide
attempt. Robeson told his son that he felt extreme paranoia and thought
that the walls of the room were moving. He said he had locked himself in
his bedroom and was overcome by a powerful sense of emptiness and
depression before he tried to take his own life.

Robeson left Moscow for London, where he was admitted to Priory Hospital.
There he was turned over to psychiatrists who forced him to endure 54
electro-shock treatments. At the time, electro-shock, in combination with
psycho-active drugs, was a favored technique of CIA behavior modification.
It turned out that the doctors treating Robeson in London and, later, in
New York were CIA contractors. The timing of Robeson’s trip to Cuba was
certainly a crucial factor. Three weeks after the Moscow party, the CIA
launched its disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. It’s
impossible to underestimate Robeson’s threat, as he was perceived by the
U.S. government as the most famous black radical in the world. Through the
1950s Robeson commanded worldwide attention and esteem. He was the Nelson
Mandela and Mohammed Ali of his time. He spoke more than twenty languages,
including Russian, Chinese, and several African languages. Robeson was also
on close terms with Nehru, Jomo Kenyatta, and other Third World leaders.
His embrace of Castro in Havana would have seriously undermined U.S.
efforts to overthrow the new Cuban government.

Another pressing concern for the U.S. government at the time was Robeson’s
announced intentions to return to the United States and assume a leading
role in the emerging civil rights movement. Like the family of Martin
Luther King, Robeson had been under official surveillance for decades. As
early as 1935, British intelligence had been looking at Robeson’s
activities. In 1943, the Office of Strategic Services, World War II
predecessor to the CIA, opened a file on him. In 1947, Robeson was nearly
killed in a car crash. It later turned out that the left wheel of the car
had been monkey-wrenched. In the 1950s, Robeson was targeted by Senator
Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist hearings. The campaign effectively
sabotaged his acting and singing career in the states.

Robeson never recovered from the drugging and the follow-up treatments from
CIA-linked doctors and shrinks. He died in 1977. Robeson, Jr. has been
pushing the U.S. to release classified documents regarding his father. He
has already unearthed some damning stuff, including an FBI “status of
health” report on Robeson created in April of 1961. “The fact that such a
file was opened at all is sinister in itself,” Robeson recently told the
London Sunday Times. “It indicates a degree of prior knowledge that
something was about to happen to him.”

Robeson’s case has chilling parallels to the fate of another black man who
was slipped CIA-concocted hallucinogens, Sgt. James Thornwell. Thornwell
was a U.S. Army sergeant working in a NATO office in Orleans, France, in
1961 (the same year Robeson was drugged), when he came under suspicion of
having stolen documents. Thornwell, who maintained his innocence, was
interrogated, hypnotized and harassed by U.S. intelligence officers. When
he persisted in proclaiming his innocence, Thornwell was secretly given LSD
for several days by his interrogators, during which time he was forced to
undergo aggressive questioning, replete with racial slurs and threats. At
one point, the CIA men threatened “to extend the [hallucinatory] state
indefinitely, even to a point of permanent insanity.” The agents apparently
consummated their promise. Thornwell experienced an irreversible mental
crisis. He eventually committed suicide at his Maryland home. There was
never any evidence that he had anything to do with the missing NATO papers.

–Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn

via Protest.Net: Did the CIA Poison Paul Robeson?.

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