153. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Kennedy 0


  • Appeal on Behalf of Allen Pope

It is expected that you will shortly receive, from Mrs. Allen Pope, a letter in which she will appeal to you to intercede, on behalf of her husband, with President Sukarno of Indonesia during his forthcoming visit to Washington.

Mr. Pope is an American pilot who has been in prison in Indonesia for nearly three years and whose sentence of death is now under review by the Indonesian Supreme Court. A decision is expected from this Court within the next six or seven weeks which, if adverse, will leave Mr. Pope with but one further recourse under Indonesian law, that of an appeal to President Sukarno for executive clemency. A brief history of Mr. Pope’s case is appended for your background information.

It is recommended that a reply be sent to any appeal to you from Mrs. Pope saying that you regard her appeal sympathetically and that you will seek an opportunity to raise Allen Pope’s case with President Sukarno when he calls upon you.

Dean Rusk



In November 1957 at a high level in our government approval was given to a special political action program in Indonesia calling for the maintenance as a force in being of the anti-communist, pro-West dissident movement established by anti-Sukarno military commanders in [Page 324] Sumatra and the Celebes. This program later authorized the provision of arms and other military aid to the dissidents including air support. Several C.A.T. pilots volunteered for this work, ostensibly took leave from their C.A.T. jobs and, as “Soldiers of Fortune” employed by the dissidents, undertook combat missions. On 18 May 1958 one of these pilots, Mr. Allen Lawrence Pope, was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and captured while making a bombing attack upon shipping in Ambon, Celebes.
Pope was tried before an Indonesian Military Tribunal in December 1959 on various counts of aiding the enemies of Indonesia and bearing arms against Indonesia. He was convicted and sentenced to death on 29 April 1960. A military appellate court upheld this decision in December 1960. An appeal is pending before the Indonesian Supreme Court. A decision may be announced at any time. Recent information from the Indonesian Prosecutor indicates that it may come prior to President Sukarno’s departure in late April 1961. If, as expected, the Supreme Court confirms the death sentence, Indonesian law requires a thirty-day delay before the execution of the sentence, during which Sukarno must personally concur in the execution of the sentence and Pope will be granted the opportunity to appeal for presidential clemency.
Throughout his many interrogations and the trial itself, Pope has maintained his story that he volunteered to fly for the dissidents of his own free will in the belief that in so doing he would be helping to fight communism. He has not implicated the United States Government in his activities. The Indonesian authorities, however, are by now well aware that the Dissident Movement was given support and encouragement by the governments of the United States [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].
Although preservation of Pope’s cover story has required considerable circumspection on the part of U.S. officials in dealing with Indonesian authorities on this subject, the U.S. Embassy in Djakarta has been able to maintain contact with Pope and with the Indonesian officials immediately concerned with his case. Following the imposition of the death sentence, both Secretary of State Herter and Ambassador Jones took appropriate opportunities to express to Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio their concern over the severity of the sentence and the damage which its execution might have on U.S.-Indonesian relations. In December 1960 Pope’s wife visited Indonesia and was granted a personal interview with President Sukarno in order to plead for Sukarno’s intercession on her husband’s behalf. Sukarno promised to give the Pope Case his “very deepest consideration.” At this meeting, Ambassador Jones presented to Sukarno a letter from President Eisenhower expressing a personal interest in the Pope case. In January 1961 U.S. Air Force General White expressed to Indonesian Air Force Chief of Staff Suryadarma the hope that the Indonesian Government might see fit to extend [Page 325] leniency to Pope as a gesture of good will toward the United States. Mrs. Pope has recently returned from Indonesia and has written to President Kennedy requesting his intercession on her husband’s behalf. She plans to return to Indonesia to be present when the Supreme Court decision is handed down.
Despite certain debatable aspects of the Indonesian legal proceedings, it is undoubtedly true that Pope was guilty of the major charges on which he was convicted. It is quite apparent, however, that the final disposition of the case will be determined on political rather than purely legal grounds. The expected timing of the Supreme Court’s announcement of its decision suggests a connection with the forthcoming meeting between President Kennedy and President Sukarno.
In my opinion2 Pope’s conduct both before and after his capture entitles him to our gratitude and any appropriate action to mitigate his sentence.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Indonesia, Pope Case. Confidential.
  2. Top Secret. A note on the source text indicates that the President read it.
  3. The first person in the memorandum is not identified.