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Official says hundreds of U.S. citizens likely died in gulags

A document from Russian archives lists American servicemen in Soviet custody in May 1945.
Prisoners of War
War and Society

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. military service members may have been imprisoned and died in Soviet forced-labor camps during the 20th century, according to a Pentagon report to be released Friday.

Researchers for the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIAs have been investigating unconfirmed reports of Americans who were held prisoner in the so-called gulags.

"I personally would be comfortable saying that the number [of Americans held in the gulags during the Cold War and Korean War] is in the hundreds," said Norman Kass, executive secretary of the commission's U.S. section.

The Soviet gulag system remained strong until the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1953. But some camps remained in existence for years afterward.

Soviet authorities imprisoned millions who were considered "enemies of the state" and forced them to perform hard labor in the network of camps in remote areas of the country.

The publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" in the early '70s focused the West's attention on the camps.

For more than a decade, Kass and his team have investigated dozens of reports about Americans spotted in the gulags.

"We have multiple lists of American servicemen missing and, of course, they are arranged by conflict," he said. "We have lists from World War II, from the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the various casualties during the Cold War."

Friday's 90-page Pentagon report is the fifth in a series of updates about the missing troops.

A separate internal Pentagon document has concluded "there is a high probability" that American citizens and U.S. and British prisoners of war died in the camps.

"We recognize that we may not be able to close a single page on the hundreds -- if I'm correct -- of people unaccounted for, but the importance of this program is the fact that we allow the process to go forward, and we draw attention to the importance of it, both for the nation and those in uniform who serve the nation," Kass said.

In one case, the daughter of a man imprisoned in a Siberian gulag told investigators in 2002 that her father had met an American named Stanley Warner. In 1957, another former prisoner reported having seen three U.S. soldiers there -- one of whom called himself Stanley Warner.

One roadblock to the U.S. efforts has been the Russian government's refusal to open its intelligence and security archives, Kass said in the report.

"To date, the results of these efforts have been less than encouraging," he said.

U.S. Defense Department officials are pressing the Russians open up these archives, hoping that documents could provide more information.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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