The case against 'Hanoi Jane'
Lawyer, author Hank Holzer tells Metcalf actress committed treason

Posted: March 17, 2002
1:00 a.m. Eastern

Editor's Note: Though it has been 30 years since Jane Fonda's notorious visit to North Vietnam, many Americans have been unable to forget the actress's behavior in enemy territory. By cozying up to America's communist foe in the Vietnam War, Fonda earned the nickname "Hanoi Jane" and the contempt of U.S. soldiers and patriots. In a new book titled "Aid and Comfort: Jane Fonda in North Vietnam," lawyer Hank Holzer outlines the legal case against Fonda, saying the actress could have been indicted and convicted of treason. In an interview with Geoff Metcalf, as in "Aid and Comfort," Holzer recounts exactly what Fonda did in North Vietnam and the consequences her actions had on the morale of U.S. troops.

By Geoff Metcalf
Q: What prompted you to write this book? It has been a while since her gross behavior in North Vietnam.

A: It has bothered me for a long time. I'm a Korean War veteran, and in 1972, when she went, I was as appalled as you. I always wanted to do something about it. I began teaching law while I was practicing law, and it just got away from me, although it was never far out of mind. Then in 1999, "The Ladies Home Journal" decided to anoint the 100 most important women of the century, listing them in a coffee table book. Barbara Walters did a "20/20" show, and Fonda was one of the principles. It was simply the straw that broke the camel's back. Everything I knew about this was anecdotal, although I saw the picture of her on the anti-aircraft gun and I remember some of the reportage. I decided I needed to find out what really happened.

Q: It is fascinating that nobody else has done anything in 30 years.

A: That was one of the things I first researched. I wanted to see if anybody had done anything, and nobody had. As I developed the facts, it became pretty obvious to me based on what I know of treason that she had indeed committed the crime. I taught Constitutional Law for 22 years at Brooklyn Law School. I developed the facts. I got the broadcasts. I looked at the pictures and found out what she did. Then, logistically, I laid it next to the law of treason. When you look at the elements of treason, as defined by the Supreme Court, and you look at what she did, it is plain that she was indictable for treason -- and could have been convicted.

Q: What about that two-witness requirement that has been discussed recently in reference to the John Walker Lindh case?

A: We can get to that and then talk about Walker. As you may know, I've been writing a lot arguing that Walker could be indicted and convicted of treason; it's not as difficult a crime to prove as everybody thinks.

Q: We'll digress into Walker later. Let's stay on track with Hanoi Jane.

A: My wife (co-author of "Aid and Comfort" Erika Holzer) and I concluded that, indeed, she was indictable; there is absolutely no question about it. Of course, you can't make the ultimate verdict, so to speak, that it was treason, because that's a jury's decision. In terms of legal guilt, that has to come from a jury. The Constitution says that treason, other than levying war, consists of giving "aid and comfort" to the enemy. Specifically, it is defined as "adhering to the enemy, giving aid and comfort."

The Supreme Court says that means you have to prove four elements:

So the questions are: What were the overt acts, and could there have been two witnesses to whatever the overt acts were?

Q: Because it was not technically a declared war, but rather, an alleged "police action," does that cut her any technical slack at all?

A: It does not at all, for two reasons. First, the Supreme Court said in the late 1800s that hostilities were enough. So that is clear. And of course, we have to remember the Burr conspiracy: With Aaron Burr, there was no war then. And Burr was tried for treason. It does not require a declaration of war; hostilities are sufficient. In Vietnam, we had -- if you even needed it -- a virtual declaration of war in the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. And, indeed, if we weren't at war then, I don't know what a war is.

Q: Why didn't some radical, right-wing wacko try to press charges against her?

A: Unfortunately, the right-wing wackos that could have pressed charges were in charge of the Justice Department. That's who presses charges. And we found out why they didn't prosecute and explained it in the book "Aid and Comfort." I won't give it away here and run the risk of not selling some copies I might otherwise sell.

Q: Believe me, the book is so rich in detail and subtext, people will want to buy it. So tell us why they didn't prosecute.

A: She went to North Vietnam in July of '72. Once she went, there was a tremendous outcry and people were really leaning on members of Congress to do something about it. The House of Representatives Internal Security Committee decided to invite a representative of the attorney general to come down on Sept. 19, 1972, and testify about Fonda and about treason. They sent some fellow who was pretty high-ranking in the Justice Department, and he -- let's be charitable and say mistakenly -- told them what treason was all about. In my view, he made little or no effort to communicate to the committee that her actions were both indictable and convictable.

Q: Why? Was it because she was a member of the elite "royalty"?

A: That's part of it. If you remember in September of '72, Nixon was running for reelection.

Q: Not only was it in all the papers, it was the first real big story I covered professionally.

A: He was trying to end the war. They had, not too many years before, the experience of the Chicago Seven trial, arising out of the 1968 Democratic Convention. And I can tell you this categorically, because we prove it in the book, the Justice Department and the Nixon administration were afraid to bring a prosecution. They were afraid to bring it because they were concerned it would turn into a circus, just the way the Chicago Seven trial had turned into a circus with all of the hard-left, anti-war, communist people represented by lawyers of the same ilk. They just didn't want the trouble. During our research, somebody who knows what happened said, "We were afraid. We, the government, were afraid that she would make a monkey out of us."

Q: When I first started reading the book, I said, "Oh, no. This sounds like it's going to end up being an apology for the poor little rich girl." You go into what a difficult childhood she had, and even when she was 30-something living in France she was still a kind of vacuous, pretentious, messed up woman. What helped radicalize her?

A: Let me say one thing first. Geoff, the reason we went into those first two chapters dealing with her background was to show her motive and to show the distinction, legally, between motive and intent. Motive is wholly irrelevant to the question of whether one committed a crime or not. The motive of a contract killer is to earn a fee. The question is whether he has an intent to kill the victim. And those are two very different things. So we wanted to establish the motive. Although at the beginning it sounds like it's going to be sympathetic, the story was necessary to differentiate it from what comes later, which is the intent.

Q: You include what a difficult childhood she had, how her father was not attentive and how she became promiscuous and was bouncing around with all these men. It was really Roger Vadim and Simone Signore and those folks in France that really indoctrinated her.

A: That's right. What happened was this -- and the two chapters on motive show this: She was basically an empty vessel. She had no values. She had no sense of identity. She had no self-esteem. She was truly an empty vessel. So she was trying to fill it, to "be somebody." When she was married to Vadim and lived in Paris, she was influenced by those French Marxists and communists like Yves Montand, who was a communist virtually all his life. They wrote on this blank tablet. She was a friend of Vanessa Redgrave, for example, who filled her with all these ideas. So you have the combination of someone with no self-esteem and no value system who is an empty vessel with all these people who are very ready to pour their ideas into that empty vessel. In a nutshell, that is what radicalized her. She became interested in the Vietnam situation, and then she took up with Tom Hayden, who was really the catalyst that sent her to Vietnam.

Q: I didn't realize she had actually done some promo piece for military recruiting.

A: She was the poster girl for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

Q: I don't know how I missed that.

A: Most people missed it. I had, too, until I started doing the research. But that really proves what I'm saying: that there really was nobody home in the values sense. I mean, somebody said, "Why don't you do this; it's a good idea." So she did it. I'm oversimplifying, of course, but somebody said, "Why don't you go to North Vietnam?" And she said, "That's a good idea!"

Q: When she got into heavy philosophic debates with those heavyweight communists in France, she was taking a nail file to a gunfight.

A: She was no match for them. They were sophisticated; they were steeped in Marxism and communism. And remember the French colonial experience in Indo-China. They were burned by that. I don't have to tell you, generally speaking, what the French attitude is toward America and Americans. All of that writing on her blank slate led the way to her trip to Vietnam.

Q: How did that trip ever come about? Who sponsored it? Who put it together?

A: It's still a little vague. It was not long after she met and took up with Hayden that it happened. She got involved with him in, roughly, the spring of '72, and he became a tremendous influence on her. It was shortly thereafter, in July, that she went. I have no documentation on who paid the bills, but I can tell you that she traveled to Hanoi incognito. She traveled to Hanoi on a passport with the name Jane Seymore Plemanikov, which was Vadim's real name. When the plane landed in Laos, she didn't get off it and, of course, it was via Moscow: Paris, Moscow, Laos and then Hanoi. She surfaced in Hanoi, and then began virtually a three-and-a-half week tour of the country. That, of course, is where the overt acts occurred.

Q: Were the propagandist broadcasts part of the package, or were they a target of opportunity once they had her there?

A: I think it was planned. As a matter of fact, one gets to the question of "aid and comfort" when hearing a tremendously revealing quotation from one of the chief North Vietnamese propagandists. It's in the book, and I'll just read you a couple of lines from it because it's kind of a lengthy quotation. By the way, this fellow was the first one to the presidential palace in South Vietnam when South Vietnam fell.

That's one side of it. I have a lot in the book about the impact all this had on the POWs and on her audience, including naval airmen on carriers -- people who are not yet POWs. It had a tremendously adverse effect on morale. One POW is quoted in the book, saying in a rather naive and touching way, "Who would have ever expected this from Henry Fonda's daughter?" Henry Fonda had played President Abe Lincoln and was in "The Grapes of Wrath." He was seen as "Mr. America."

Q: There was a story floating around the Internet years ago that was debunked, and then the debunking was debunked. Allegedly, when she was introduced to a bunch of POWs, they reportedly had small little messages about their horrific treatment and even their Social Security numbers.

A: That's the slips of paper story.

Q: Right -- that they palmed the notes to her, and that she subsequently turned around and gave them to the North Vietnamese. True or false?

A: False. It's a hoax. It is attributed to Jerry Driscoll, and I have an e-mail from him saying it never happened. And I make the point in the book that there is enough to indict her both literally and figuratively for what she did rather than to circulate these false stories.

Q: There are a whole lot of splendid endorsements for this book. Actually, the foreword is written by Col. Bud Day. Hank, please talk us through what happened in North Vietnam: the horrific impact her propaganda broadcasts had on our troops both in the Hanoi Hilton and elsewhere and the guys on the ships. What did she actually do when she was there?

A: In no particular order -- and I'll save the broadcasts for last -- she met with senior communist, military and civilian, leaders and berated, attacked, denigrated and insulted the United States.

Q: Did she have any idea how she was being used?

A: I think so. I think it was for her trade-off to do what she did to get what she was getting.

Q: What was she getting, besides eternal contempt and antipathy?

A: This feeling of what I call pseudo self-esteem. You have to understand, and your readers have to understand, that she gave the communists propaganda that American POWs in some cases died not to give up, and in other cases, suffered unimaginably not to give up. They wanted POWs to do a hundredth of what she did, and they wouldn't do it. For that, some of them were in solitary darkness for years.

Q: Rocky Versace gave up his life rather than give them what they wanted.

A: We're digressing, but let me tell you something about Rocky Versace. Fonda named her daughter after Vanessa Redgrave. Her son's name -- he's an actor -- is Troy, and his last name is Garrity. His name didn't start off as T-r-o-y. It started off as Troi. There was a Vietnamese saboteur/assassin whose name was Troi, who tried to mine a bridge that McNamara was going to cross and kill him. They caught Troi, and they killed him. And that's who Fonda's son was named after. It is believed -- not proved -- by people much more knowledgeable about this part of it than I am that Rocky Versace was killed by the communists in retaliation for the South Vietnamese killing of the saboteur

Fonda also met seven American POWs, at least five of whom were there reluctantly. The stories that they were tortured to meet her cannot be corroborated, but at least five of them were not there willingly. She harangued them, she insulted the president, she called them criminals, she told them that they had been bombing hospitals and pagodas and dikes -- all of which was untrue. Then she came home and said they were all sorry, regretted what they did and wanted peace. You can imagine she even called a family or two. She called one guy's wife, whom she met with, and told her, "Don't worry, he's doing fine. He's great." When the wife told her, "How can he be doing great where he is and with what they are doing to him?" Fonda hung up on her. She gave the North Vietnamese countless photo opportunities, not the least of which was the cover of our book: Fonda on the triple-A gun. When they came back and began telling of the torture, she called them liars and hypocrites. She said that men who were tortured don't walk off an airplane -- she was talking about when they were repatriated -- and salute smartly.

Q: Tell us about the broadcasts. How many where there?

A: Six or seven. They were taped and played incessantly in the POW compounds. There are quotes in our book to that effect and the effect it had on the POWs. For example, a pilot who had not yet been shot down -- although he was later -- said when he heard these broadcasts and saw the picture of her in "Stars and Stripes" on the triple-A gun, his morale was completely shot. I'll tell you another thing I learned from oral histories at the Air Force Academy: Some of these guys had been shot down before the anti-war movement began. They had no idea of the protests. So here comes Henry Fonda's daughter, this celebrated actress, who is saying these guys were bombing dikes, using chemical bombs and toxic gases, that they were war criminals, that the communist proposal for ending the war was "fair, sensible, reasonable and humanitarian." She encouraged "fragging," which was the killing of American officers by enlisted men. She encouraged desertion and on and on.

Q: There is one thing I have difficulty grasping: I know the woman is very easily manipulated, that she has always had some dominant male figure who basically directed her for her whole life, even up to the most recent chapter with Ted Turner. But I can't understand how she could be so willingly manipulated and basically just play a role that the communists told her to play.

A: I think only because she wanted to. Only because she was getting something out of it. After all, everybody does things because they get something for it.

Q: Didn't she have any concept that she was positioning herself as the Tokyo Rose of Vietnam?

A: I don't think so. And that's why the so-called apologies in later years were so hollow and empty. Some people believe she apologized. She did not. The closest she ever got to it was saying the triple-A gun picture was "thoughtless." Well, you're damn right it was thoughtless. The year after she said that to Barbara Walters in '88, she made a statement in that she "was proud that she had gone." Indeed, she never acted like she was sorry. She never did anything to show she was sorry. She never tried to help the people she hurt. Indeed, she called them "liars and hypocrites" when they were repatriated, some of them after seven and eight years in that hellhole.

Q: By the way, in an appendix to the book, you have the transcripts of the broadcasts she gave. Readers can find the book at

A: They can also contact the publisher directly at 800-253-2187.

Q: You have already touched on the House Committee on Internal Security and the Nixon administration DOJ and how they swept this under the rug. But I've got to ask you: Can she ever be indicted?

A: Yes. There is no statute of limitations on a capital crime, which treason is. But as a practical matter, if she wasn't indicted in '72, she won't be indicted now -- at least not legally. However, we see this book as a moral indictment. Because this book contains the entire case against Fonda, nobody will ever, I hope, be in doubt any longer about what she did and what the legal meaning of her actions are. That was our goal. We wanted to make a legal case but from the moral perspective.

Q: But there isn't any procedural legal impediment to prevent someone from choosing to indict her for treason?

A: There is not. Except, like the Walker case, it would have to be approved at the highest level.

Q: And that ain't gonna happen.

A: Technically, some U.S. Attorney somewhere, if he or she had jurisdiction in that district, could bring it, but he or she wouldn't last very long as a U.S. Attorney there. Since they didn't indict Walker for treason, which in my view is a slam-dunk case, they're certainly not going to go back and indict Fonda.

Q: What about Bud Day, Fred Kiley, any of the POWs -- they'd have standing, wouldn't they?

A: No. It would have to be a prosecution initiated by the government. It's not like a civil case. However, I've heard anecdotes about when these people were POWs; they talked about bringing some kind of a case against Fonda. That's how deep the resentment is.

Q: You are a law professor. This is a legal delineation of stanza and verse. If any of those people -- Bud Day, Fred Kiley, any of those folks from the POW/MIA groups -- in the wake of reading your book said, "Hey, we can't let her get over on this," could they bring something civilly against her?

A: No.

Q: Why not?

A: In the first place, there was no direct tort done to them by her. What she did was indictable as a criminal offense, but it's not like an assault and battery on them. Secondly, since it's civil, the statute of limitations on that is long gone.

Q: I've read the praise that people like David Horowitz have given your book. What about the other side? Have there been any reactions from the defenders of the indefensible, or haven't they even seen it yet?

A: I think the latter; I don't think they've seen it yet. There was some reaction when I was first talking to agents and publishers that it's stale, that nobody cares. It's an old story. Who's concerned any longer?

Q: Fred Kiley, Bud Day, anybody who wore the uniform.

A: You and me and Horowitz and an awful lot of other people. I think maybe one or two of them were honest, and they were young and didn't know the importance of this from a moral perspective. But I think a lot of it was political. People don't have a lot of trouble with all these books coming out once in a while on Saco and Vanzetti, Eugene V. Debbs -- somehow that's OK. But on Fonda, no. I expect that the mainstream media will either ignore this or attack it.

Q: Have you sent a manuscript to Jane?

A: No, for a couple of reasons. One is she can buy one if she wants it. Another is that, as far as I'm concerned, she is a non-person. You can't read this book and want even that kind of arms-length postal service contamination from this woman. What she did is -- putting aside the legal aspects of it -- about as obscene and immoral as anything I can conceive of an American citizen. When you read what our prisoners endured and what they wouldn't give up -- sometimes at the cost of their lives -- and that she gave to the enemy gratuitously and willingly, you can have nothing but contempt for this woman.