Saturday, May 30, 2009


Rena Kopy
Agent Orange Committee Chair
On February 5th, 2009 I received an e-mail from a Vietnam vet named Paul Cox, that sent me hurling back to another place and another time, 25 years ago. Paul belongs to the Campaign for Conscience and Responsibility with regard to Agent Orange and its effects on the people of Vietnam. When I expressed surprise at being contacted, he told me that no matter which groups of Vietnam vets he spoke to, my name kept coming up; which created even more surprise because I was certainly a voice from the past. At the time of the contact I was still reeling from the death of my beloved husband, John, whose death at the hands of the chemical companies and the government use of herbicides, had just taken place on April 6th, 2008.

Paul wanted me to go to Paris, France, to testify before the International Tribunal of Conscience in May of 2009. At first the request was the same as someone asking me to go to the Moon and I politely said that while I would welcome the opportunity, there was no way that on a widow's pension, I could afford such a trip. I thought that the subject was closed until I received another email from the unrelenting Paul Cox, telling me that if I could go, all of my expenses would be paid for. After speaking to my sons, it was decided that I would be "jetting to Paris, in May"!!!!!!! More importantly, what that did for my deep depression over the loss of the person that made my life have meaning, was, that I could lash out against the forces that had taken everything from me.

As I prepared for my trip I began studying about the effects on the people of Vietnam; not the Viet Cong, the enemy, those horrible people, who never wanted us there in the first place, but the children, the grandchildren, the land they lived off of and the water that they drank. It was an eye-opening experience and one that suddenly had me by the scruff of my intellect and with a renewed anger that had governed my actions in the 70's and 80's, to a semi-successful end for the Vietnam vets, but with no success for the millions of vets' kids (like our own son) who were still dealing with their parents' service in Vietnam.
The biggest difference between our children and the children of Vietnam was, quite honestly, that we lived in the USA and so, as bad as our childrens' health problems were and are, we had medical help and a standard of living that made the problems they were born with somewhat easier to bear, than the children who lived in the mudhuts of Vietnam. Our children could eat food and vegatables that did not grow in dioxin laced soil or eat fish that swam in dioxin poisoned rivers. And so, off I went to Paris, France...

One of my greatest apprehensions was that to the French people, I would represent the "Ugly American" and to the Vietnamese, I would be considered "the enemy". Neither of the scenarios came to pass. The Frenchwoman, Marie Helene, who was to be my hostess, was generous, intellectually challenging and treated me as if we had known each other for years and years. The Vietnamese people, including the infamous Madame Bing, were accepting, caring and actually grateful that I had come so far to champion their cause. I also met, Merle Ratner from the Campaign office in New York and Veterans for Peace. She had worked hand in hand with Dave Cline for quite sometime. The only element that could have been better thought out was the fact that it did not stop raining the entire time I was in Paris; but, even the "mighty activist" cannot stop the rain in France.

The first day that I was in Paris, we went to a dedication on behalf of Ho Chi Minh at one of the most beautiful parks I had ever seen. It was such an exquisite surrounding that I didn't even mind that we were all getting soaking wet standing in the rain. We then went to the VAVA office (Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange) for a meeting in preparation for the Tribunal the following day. It was at that meeting that I met the Vietnamese Ambassador to France and Madame Bing, who was the Vice President of South Vietnam. There was an incredible feeling of cooperation and purpose even though their was an obvious language barrier.

After that meeting I was dropped off at the Hotel where the New York lawyers who had represented the Vietnamese in the lawsuit, which turned out to be another rape committed by Judge Jack Weinstein of the Federal Court. It was at that meeting that I met Frank Cochran, a member of VFP out of Philadelphia and an Agent Orange cancer survivor. One of the attorneys, John Moore, prepared us for what was originally going to be a Q&A type of testimony. After that meeting, Frank and I began what turned out to be a daily adventure of getting lost in the Metro system under Paris.

On May 15th, 2009, the first day of the Tribunal, it became very obvious that everything I had learned about the problems created by Agent Orange in Vietnam, was merely a scintilla of the real story. Over 3 million children and grandchildren, not only of those veterans who served during the war, but, anyone who lived in the spray zones, were effected and the number was growing on a daily basis. Children, who survived birth, were born with missing or deformed limbs, missing eyes, brains and other vital organs and major neurological impairments, just to provide an idea of the extent of the problems. Mothers who were agent orange victims themselves were nursing babies with dioxin contaminated mothers' milk and had no choice but to provide this tainted nutrition because that was all they had to offer.
There was also two other widows of Vietnam vets who testified about their loss and, quite honestly, the world's loss of two positive activists, three if you count my beloved husband, John. Both of these men had returned to Vietnam to give back to the people, for what they perceived that their government had taken away.

When I was called to give my testimony, it felt very strange that here I was in this foreign land, and that the calling of my name, exacted applause from the attendees. I later realized that, although I had been out of the fight for over 20 years, my friend and mentor, Dave Cline had never left the stage and with every speech that he gave, he honored my husband's fight to survive and the child we had together, by saying "my dear friends, John and Rena Kopystenski" or as Merle had told me, he referred to John and I as "the real deal" when it came to Agent Orange activists. So, it was not me they were applauding, it was Dave Cline and all he had done.

Instead of Q&A testimony, those who were to testify provided their own, mostly written speeches, including me. What I did before all else was to stand a picture of my husband John on the table before me and to introduce everyone in attendance to the subject we were discussing. I actually took a great amount of strength and confidence in having him right next to me. When I was done speaking I was amazed to look up through teary eyes, to see a standing ovation for the words I had spoken, even some of the judges were in tears and I was prompted by the reception, to state "I will not stop, I will not go away." I had remembered later that I had said those exact words during the testimony I gave before the Federal court in 1984.

The following day was filed with medical and scientific testimony as well as that of some of the Agent Orange victims of Vietnam. It was heartbreaking to hear from a father who had all of his sons die at a young age or the Korean vet who had to migrate to Amsterdam for the health care and the illnesses of his children. What become ever more clear was that the United States has taken no interest in what can only be recognized, under the Geneva Convention, as a war crime. Nor have they taken what this host nation seemed to take, moral indignation against such crimes when discussing the actions of another country, but not our own. How much money did the United States spend in reparations for Japan, or are presently wasting in Iraq? Does the fact that the chemicals sprayed, with full knowledge of their contaminated state, not only remains in the soil, water and atmosphere, and how it has accelerated in strength and damage done, not seem like a war crime to the politicians in Washington D.C.?

One of the points that I brought up and that was embraced by all, including the attorneys, was that the only lawsuit that stands a chance of succeeding, is a suit by the children of the Vietnam vets and the children of Vietnam against the chemical companies and the United States for war crimes. Children of our vets are not encumbered by the Ferros doctrine and the sovereign nation status will probably not hold up when dealing with birth defected children.

After the speakers were finished and the tribunal adjourned to await the verdict of the judges, Frank Cochran and I set out to do some sightseeing. I was leaving for home on the following day, early, and so it was decided that we would try to see as much of Paris as we could. I had declined staying any additional time because the concept of walking around Paris without Johnny held absolutely no appeal for me. Moreover, the idea of going to Paris without my husband seemed to make no sense. I had never expected to be made to feel so welcome by the French or the Vietnamese, nor did I expect to feel so comfortable with the French people, who were the most courteous and helpful people I have ever met. In a way, I regretted my decision to leave so soon after the tribunal ended, but I did have a family that had never been without me since the death of their father and grandfather.

Frank and I, in keeping with our new found tradition, immediately got lost. We had to constantly sit at one of those outside cafes to regroup over a 1664 beer (the French brand of lager) and share stories of our fight for the cause and our experiences over the years. It was as if we had known each other for a zillion years and we laughed so much we had to have another beer!!!!! And another one!!!!! We ended up forgoing a whole lot of sights and decided to walk toward where I was staying, which neither of us had a clue of which direction we were going to take. Frank was really in love with the Siene and we walked over it so many times that I think we were going to circles. Paris was lovely and one of the things that we kept doing is stopping our walk to both say, "My Lord, I'm in Paris!!!!!!" Boy, did we portray hard line activists or what?

My trip home seemed to take forever and with a 6 hour layover in Atlanta, I had made plans with Elton and Lynn Manzione to meet at the Atlanta airport, which even though we were both in place, could never get together because of the size of the airport. So, unlike Paris where everyone was so helpful, even with the language differences, I realized that I was back in the United States when I couldn't even get one American to assist me with finding where we had decided to meet and spend the first time in 25 years together. Final proof of the American experience of today's world is that when I finally landed in Las Vegas, the airline couldn't find my luggage.

WELCOME HOME?????????????????

Agent Orange Tribunal-Paris, France: Executive Summary

Ed Note: My friend and fellow VVAW Contact, Billy X, sent this e-mail out to the VVAW Contact list, for Memorial Day, referencing "collateral damage" of combat; the systematic destruction of societies and cultures that extends beyond the wounds of the warriors, in this case, through chemical warfare. I am sharing it here with y'all because of the "collateral damage" perspective, relating directly to our government's use of the defoliant known as Agent Orange, during the Vietnam war. VVAW was one of the initiators of the Agent Orange "movement", way back before the "settlement", as it has come to be known.
One of VVAW's own has been in the fight for political as well as very personal reasons, for a very long time. That person is Rena Kopy, widow of John Kopystenski, VVAW member and Agent Orange victim. Rena was recently selected to present at an International Tribunal re Agent Orange. Billy has shared the Executive Summary of the Tribunal with us, along with his personal thanks to Rena, for her persistence, and her courage in travelling so far, on behalf of the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. We will be sharing Rena's thoughts on her participation, here on our pages, in the days to come, as well.WH
Billy's E-Mail:
I know this is a day to remember those who gave their lives in service, but I needed to get this out of my remember those others that gave their all ...without their consent. The collateral damage of war and things done in our name.

Rena Kopy, long time peace activist, mother and member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, has been touched very personally by that war. She was invited to testify at the recent hearings in Paris about the consequences of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange used widely in Vietnam.

I wanted to share the results of those hearings and publicly thank Rena, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and Peace Activists everywhere. Please keep working.

Billy X. Curmano

Art Works USA
Winona, MN 55987
The Summary:
Paris, May 18, 2009

The International Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange met on May 15 to 16 2009 in Paris to hear evidence of the impact of the use of Agent Orange by the US military in Vietnam from 1961 and 1971. A summons and complaint announcing the Tribunal was sent to the United States Government, and the Chemical Companies which manufactured Agent Orange. Despite notice neither the Government nor the firms responded.

The Tribunal was constituted by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL). The Judges of the Tribunal came from every part of the globe: Jitendra Sharma, India; Judge Juan Guzman, Chile; Judge Claudia Morcom, USA; Professor Marjorie Cohn, USA; Dr. Gavril Chiuzbaian, Romania; Prof. Adda Bekkarouch, Algeria; and Attorney Shoji Umeda, Japan.

The Tribunal received evidence and testimony from 27 people including victims and expert witnesses. The testimony from the victims was very compelling and the testimony of the experts tied the damages that these victims suffered to their exposure to Dioxin. Testimony also described the extent of the spraying, the millions of persons exposed, the jungles and forests destroyed and families devastated.

After examining the evidence the Tribunal found that the United States Government and the Chemical manufacturers were aware of the fact that Dioxin, one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man, was present in one of the component parts of Agent Orange; yet they continued to use it and in fact suppressed a study which showed in 1965 that Dioxin caused many birth defects in experimental animals. It was not until the results of that study were released by a leak from concerned citizen that the use of Agent Orange was stopped.

Considering that this Tribunal finds:
1) that the evidence presented to the Tribunal has established that during the war of USA against Vietnam, from 1961 to 1971, military forces of the United States sprayed chemical products which contained large quantities of Dioxin in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives;
2) that the chemical products which were sprayed caused damages to the people, the land, the water, the forest, the ecology and the economy of Vietnam that this Tribunal can categorize as:
  • direct damages to the people: The illnesses produced directly to the people who have been exposed to Dioxin include cancer, skin disorders, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity, as well as nervous disorders;
  • indirect damages to the children of those exposed to Dioxin, including severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases and shortened life spans;
  • damages caused to the land and forests, water supply, and communities. The forests and jungles in large parts of southern Vietnam have been devastated and denuded, and may either never grow back or take 50 to 200 years to regenerate. Animals which inhabited the forests and jungles have become extinct, disrupting the communities which depended on them. The rivers and underground water in some areas have also been contaminated. Dioxin will persist in the environment for many years; and
  • erosion and desertification necessarily will change the environment contributing to warming the planet and the dislocation of crop and animal life.

Considering also that this Tribunal finds:

1) that the US war in Vietnam was an illegal war of aggression against a country seeking national liberation: the illegality is based on Articles 2(3) and 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations which require countries to peacefully resolve their disputes. The massive spraying of Agent Orange/Dioxin on the southern part of Vietnam and the massive bombardment of the northern part of Vietnam clearly demonstrates that the United States violated the UN Charter mandate to refrain from the use of force in international relations;

2) that the Nuremberg Principles define a war of aggression as a crime against peace punishable under international law;

3) that the use of Dioxin was a war crime because it was a poisoned weapon outlawed both in customary international law and by the Hague Convention of 1907. [Hague Convention 23(a)]. Violations of the customs and laws of war are considered war crimes under Principle VI b of the Nuremberg Principles. The Chemical companies knew how their Dioxin- laced products would be used in Vietnam; yet they continued to manufacture and supply these agents with very high levels of Dioxin to the US government. By providing poison weapons the companies were complicit in the war crimes committed by the US government;

4) that the use of Dioxin was a crime against humanity as defined by VI c of the Nuremberg Principles, because it constituted an inhuman act done against a civilian population in connection with a crime against peace and war crimes;

5) that the use of illegal weapons in an illegal war has caused the devastation described above. These crimes have produced so much pain, suffering and anguish to at least 3 to 4 million people and their families. The effects of these crimes will be felt for generations to come; and

6) that the time has come to provide an adequate remedy to the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and their families and to repair as much as possible the environment of Vietnam.


This Tribunal finds:x

I. that the United States Government is guilty of the offenses listed above and determines that the damage to the environment of Vietnam can be defined as “ecocide”;

II. that the Chemical companies who were charged in the summons and complaint are guilty of complicity in the offenses listed above; and

III. that the United States Government and the Chemical companies which manufactured and supplied Agent Orange must fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange and their families. The US Government and the Chemical companies must also repair the environment to remove the contamination of Dioxin from the soil and the waters, and especially from the “hot spots” around former US military bases.

To complete the above task of compensation and repair, the Tribunal recommends that the Agent Orange Commission be established to assess the amount of compensation to be allocated to each victim, family group, and community.

The Agent Orange Commission will also determine the amount necessary to provide specialized medical facilities and rehabilitation and other therapeutic services to the victims and their families.

The Agent Orange Commission will also estimate the costs of the necessary studies of contaminated areas and the cost of environmental repair in the future.

The Agent Orange Commission will also determine the amount to be paid to the State of Vietnam to indemnify it for monies it has expended to support the victims and repair the environment.

The Tribunal urges the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to forthwith constitute such Agent Orange Commission of people of eminence in the fields of medicine, science, engineering, law, epidemiology, agriculture, toxicology, ecology, public administration, and representatives of civil society. The Agent Orange Commission shall make its recommendations within one year of its constitution.

Once the Agent Orange Commission has established the requisite amounts, those monies shall be paid by the United States Government and the Chemical companies jointly and severally to a trust fund specially created for present and future victims and their families, and repair of the environment. The amount of $1.52 billion a year being paid by the United States Government to the US Vietnam veteran victims of Agent Orange can be employed as a guide for the calculations performed by the Agent Orange Commission.

The full report of the Tribunal along with this Executive Summary shall be submitted to the Vietnamese Government within 4 weeks and will be published in full and widely distributed in the International community.