211. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • The Williams Case

You will recall the Williams case in the Philippines, in which an Air Force sergeant at Clark Field was accused of complicity in an attempted rape case in the nearby town of Angeles, and was inadvertently allowed by his military supervisors to depart on reassignment while Philippine judicial procedures were pending against him.

The Williams case has now become a major issue in US-Philippine relations. As Ambassador Byroade had feared, hostile elements in the Philippines have picked it up as an affront to Philippine sovereignty and used it as a rallying point to inspire a mob assault against our Embassy in Manila—see the memorandum from State at Tab A, which reports a telephone conversation between Ambassador Byroade and DCM Wilson and the Philippine Country Director.2 According to Ambassador Byroade, two-thirds of the anti-foreign speeches at a mass demonstration prior to the attack on the Embassy referred to the Williams case, and were used as one means of getting part of the crowd to move to the Embassy.

In the period since the confrontations developed between Marcos and discontented student groups, Byroade has been concerned over the possibility that the US might get caught in the middle and catch part of the blame for the situation. He feared, in fact, that the Philippine [Page 449]Government might deliberately attempt to draw in the US in order to deflect attention from the pressing economic and social issues behind the confrontation with the students. The Williams case impressed him as a perfect vehicle for this purpose, and indeed Foreign Secretary Romulo actually intended to use this ploy but was deterred by some extremely effective bare-knuckle diplomacy by Byroade. I attach (Tab B) a telegram reporting Byroade’s conversation with Romulo to this effect.3

While Byroade was able to influence Romulo’s behavior to some extent (though the absence of any police protection prior to the attack on the Embassy indicates a degree of Philippine Government duplicity), he was of course in no position to influence the leftists. There are many extremists who would like nothing better than to drag the US through the mud, and the Williams case has provided a perfect starting point. Filipinos of all descriptions are susceptible to propaganda charging the US handling of the Williams case as having violated Philippine sovereignty, especially since this is not the first case of this nature.

Meanwhile, the question of issuing orders to Williams to return, as urgently requested by Ambassador Byroade, has become stuck in Defense. State has asked the Air Force to issue the orders on foreign policy grounds, and the Air Force is willing to go along. However, higher authority in Defense is not, and is balking, due both to apprehensions over the prospect of adverse reaction on the Hill, and to the very good chance that Williams, if returned, would not receive a fair trial. Defense also believes that Williams might be able to resist return by seeking a legal writ. I understand that Justice is perfectly willing to take the case through the US courts if orders are issued to Williams and he employs legal procedures to resist; Justice also believes that it could win the case. It is not willing to take an official position on the matter at this time, though.

I believe that you will wish to consider the implications of the Williams case very carefully. Our position in the Philippines appears to be vulnerable, and if Williams is not returned, our whole relationship with the Philippines could be greatly complicated, including the tenure of our bases. According to our Military Bases Agreement with the Philippines, we have no grounds to keep Williams out of Philippine judicial process, even though some of these processes have typically been bent and stretched by the Filipinos in their handling of this and other cases. On the other hand, the possible US domestic repercussions, particularly those on the Hill, could be troublesome.

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Even returning Williams at this time will not solve our problems, since we will appear to be operating under Philippine pressures rather than honoring our treaty relationship, but we can at least ease the criticisms on this score by claiming that the matter was under review by the appropriate authorities and action has been taken in accordance with standard procedures. Sending Williams back might also help to get us more into the background when Filipino tempers are running high. We could use any breathing-space gained to press the Filipinos for improvements in their judicial handling of criminal cases involving Americans, particularly at Clark Field.

Recommendations

That you inform Secretary Laird that orders should be issued to Williams sending him back to the Philippines.4

Alternatively, that you agree with Defense in not ordering Williams to return.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 338, HAK/Richardson Meetings, January 1970–March 1970. Secret. Sent for action. The President wrote on the first page: “I hereby order an immediate 1/3 cut in military personnel in Philippines (Clark Field).” A notation in Butterfield’s handwriting reads: “Henry—the President approved this action recommendation on this condition:” with an arrow drawn to Nixon’s aforementioned note.
  2. At Tab A was a February 18 covering memorandum from Eliot to Kissinger that transmitted a memorandum of a February 18 telephone call between Byroade and Wilson; attached but not printed. According to the memorandum of telephone conversation, a group of demonstrators broke away from a larger demonstration on the night of February 18 and marched to the U.S. Embassy, broke through the outer gates of the complex, and threw rocks and firebombs at the windows. Because there was no police protection at the Embassy, Ambassador Byroade telephoned President Marcos directly, emphasizing that “the Embassy had no protection. President Marcos said he would take care of it right away. Riot police arrived within half an hour and very quickly brought the situation under control.” Several situation reports describe the demonstration in greater detail. (Ibid., Box 556, Country Files, Far East, Philippines, Vol. II)
  3. Document 209.
  4. Nixon initialed the approve option. However, in an attached February 21 note to Kissinger, Haig wrote: “I’ve done nothing on this. It will require direct discussions with Laird in my view.” Kissinger returned the note to Haig with the following handwritten notation: “Make sure I take up with President.”