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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A prisoner or a patient?

An American defector who has languished in Russian psychiatric hospitals for nearly 30 years has captured the attention of two U. S. congressmen.


Senator Sam Nunn and Representative Norm Dicks have both expressed in interest in helping bring home Victor Norris Hamilton, an American who defected to the Soviet Union in 1962 and was recently discovered by a prisoner-of-war search group.


Hamilton, 75, was found by the Ark Project, a nonprofit group that searches for American POWs, on May 21 in Special Hospital No. 5, about 50 kilometers southwest of Moscow. Hamil ton had been a code analyst at the U. S. National Security Agency until he was dismissed in 1959 for psychiatric reasons. According to The Associated Press, his family said he was showing symptoms of mental illness when he defected in 1962.


Susan Mesinai, director of Ark Project, said that before Hamilton can return to the United States, "he needs psychiatric counseling to help him accept the idea that his family is alive and wants him back. We're talking about a man whose belief and joy of life was strong but has been stripped away". "I am hopeful that he will be released soon, but have no idea when that will happen", she said. "The question is: Is he a prisoner as well as a patient? "


A U. S. Embassy spokesman said that legal questions surrounding Hamilton's return would be resolved once he decided for certain that he wanted to go to the United States "The U. S. Embassy is interested in seeing him", the spokesman said.


Hamilton is believed to have been institutionalized shortly after he defected. Mesinai said he has been at Special Hospital No. 5 since 1971.


According to Hamilton's private journal, he was subjected to torture that resulted in some damage to his optical nerves, she said. He is acutely sensitive to light and reflections.


According to AP, Hamilton's wife in Atlanta, Georgia, said the State Department told her in the 1980s that Hamilton might still be alive and was still considered a U. S. citizen.


Mesinai said Hamilton's wife last heard from him in 1973 and, over the years, assumed he had died.


Hamilton was discovered as the result of a tip to Ark after two members of Ark appeared on the Russian TV program "Top Secret" and appealed for information on missing Americans.


"A doctor called and said there was a patient 'K' at the hospital several years ago when he had worked there, and that he was sane in the early days", Mesinai said.


Mesinai and Boris Yuzhin, Ark's co-founder and assistant director, had no difficulties arranging to see the patient. "The hospital and the doctors were very cooperative", she said.


"Victor cannot believe that his family is still alive and wants him back", Mesinai said. "We need to help him accept the idea of leaving. Right now, he isn't able to get on a plane".


Ark is seeking a psychiatrist who will help him deal with the realities of leaving the institution. "It's similar to experiences POWs had in Japan after World War II who had to be coaxed for five weeks to leave their cells", she said.


According to a 1991 U. S. Senate report, U. S. POWs may have been languishing in the Soviet Union since 1945.


Ark Project was formed two days before the August putsch and is supported by the Russian Relief Fund of Connecticut.