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A New Inquiry Into the Assassination of Dag Hammarskjold


Dag Hammarskjold was a diplomat and humanitarian, and a truly great man who dedicated his life to public service just as his parents had for generations, but was also an educated, athletic, cultured, sensitive man.  Biographies of him are here and here.  He was Secretary-General of the United Nations when he died in 1961 in an airplane crash in Africa, somewhere in the protectorate of Northern Rhodesia, in an area that is now part of Zambia.  Fifteen others including the pilot and crew were also killed.  There has been speculation for years that he was assassinated, but evidence surrounding the crash has been suppressed and in some cases, ignored.  The United Nations recently established a committee to review evidence which has been brought forward regarding the plane crash.

The Guardian published an article in 2011 that detailed eyewitness testimonies and explained the motives behind the assassination, if not the identities of the assassins.

Hammarskjold was in Africa with a UN military mission responding to the request of a newly independent country, the Congo.  A province of the Congo, Katanga, had rebelled with the support of a large European mining company (which was interested in the huge mineral deposits in the region) and the secret support of Belgium, the United States and Britain.  The Secretary-General, Hammarskjold, ordered UN troops to intervene in a military operation against the rebellious province, Katanga.  The leader of Katanga, Moise Tshombe, had made signals that he wanted to talk peace and Hammarskjold was flying to a meeting with him when his plane was shot down.  Rebel mercenaries may have been responsible for sending the plane that shot down Hammarskjold’s DC-6.  North Rhodesian troops, answering to a white-minority government, sealed off the crash site and prevented any investigation.

There was one survivor of the plane crash, and he was apparently alert afterwards, but a doctor who cared for him stated that he died of kidney failure five days later.  The man could have been saved if he had been transferred to a larger hospital with dialysis capability, but he was left to die.  He would have been able to provide critical testimony that the airplane he was riding in crashed because it was shot down rather than because of pilot error, which was the official conclusion.

The New York Times also published articles recently about the UN report and other details.  A US signals intelligence station in Cyprus picked up a transmission, reported by Charles Southall, a naval aviator, which appeared to be from another airplane which seemed to be saying that it shot down the Hammarskjold plane.  This report has never been secret, but for unknown reasons has been largely ignored.  Charles Southall is 80 years old, still alive, and he confirmed the report in an email exchange with a New York Times writer.

The New York Times also describes the eyewitness testimony.  The incident was witnessed by “…four charcoal burners who were in the forest the night of the crash… The charcoal burners described slightly different memories of seeing two planes in the air and one of them catching fire…[after the other plane shot at it]”

The article also repeated the revelation that “…The report also said the panel had learned that the cryptographic machine used by Mr. Hammarskjold had been “intentionally designed” to allow the N.S.A. and “other select intelligence agencies” to listen in. …”

The conclusion of the eyewitnesses was that there were two planes in the air, and one of them was shot down by fire from the second.  One of the  articles in the New York Times is here.

The official crash report, compiled under British supervision, concluded that the plane crashed due to mechanical failure or pilot error.

The United Nations established a panel which published a preliminary report this month stating that there was some evidence that the airplane was shot down by ground fire or another jet, and additional evidence that a sabotage attempt was made on the airplane.  The report states that the US, Britain, and South Africa are holding documents which they have not released, which bear directly on the issue.  The New York Times published another article on the UN report recently, which is here.

The political situation at the time allows for several groups to have motives to assassinate Hammarskjold, including the Soviet Union, the US, and certain mining companies which had operations in the area.  The UN Secretary General Hammarskjold was trying to repair a cease-fire in the civil war between newly independent Congo and secessionist forces in which the Soviet Union, as well as Belgium, the US and Great Britain on the other side, were involved.   Civil war continued in the Congo from 1960 to 1965; ultimately the country became a dictatorship under Joseph-Desire Mobutu until 1997.

After Hammarskjold was killed, President John F. Kennedy called him “the greatest statesman of our century.”





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