Former President Harry Truman told reporters two days after Dag Hammarskjöld’s death on Sept. 18, 1961 that the U.N. secretary-general “was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said ‘when they killed him.’”
The mystery of the second U.N. secretary-general’s death festered until the 2011 book Who Killed Hammarskjöld? by British researcher Susan Williams, who uncovered new evidence that pointed to the likelihood that U.S., British and South African intelligence had a hand in his death in a plane crash in Northern Rhodesia, today’s Zambia. He was on his way to negotiate a cease-fire in Katanga’s separatist war from the Congo.
Williams’ findings led to an independent commission that called on the U.N. to reopen its 1962 probe in the killing, which ended with an open verdict. “The possibility … the plane was … forced into descent by some form of hostile action is supported by sufficient evidence to merit further inquiry,” the commission concluded.
The U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 30, 2014 passed a resolution establishing a panel of experts to examine the new evidence and called on nations to declassify any relevant information. In July 2015, the panel reported that it received limited cooperation from U.S. and other intelligence agencies.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the time noted that “in some cases, member states have not provided a substantive response, have not responded at all or have maintained the classified status of the documents in question despite the passage of time.”
To this day the U.S. and other governments have continued to stonewall the U.N. investigation. The National Security Agency says it has files but are refusing to turn them over, 60 years after the event. In November last year, The Observer in London revealed that a Belgian mercenary pilot, who died in 2007, confessed to a friend that he had shot down Hammarskjöld’s plane.
Consortium News Editor Joe Lauria wrote a series of three articles for The Wall Street Journal, including the first story in the United States about the new evidence. We are republishing the series here on the 60th anniversary of Hammarskjöld’s death.