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Righting a 65-Year-Old Wrong

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Science  02 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5987, pp. 30-31
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5987.30

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In July 1944, at a labor camp on the outskirts of Jakarta, several hundred Indonesian forced laborers, or romusha, were injected with what was claimed to be a cholera-typhoid-dysentery vaccine produced at an institute run by the Japanese military, which then occupied Indonesia. Within a week, every last romusha was dead. A few months later the Kenpeitai, Japan's military police, arrested Achmad Mochtar, director of another research center—the Eijkman Institute—and most of his staff. On 3 July 1945, with the war in the Pacific nearing its end, Mochtar was beheaded. But was Mochtar innocent? Over the past several months, J. Kevin Baird, director of the Eijkman-Oxford Clinical Research Unit at the present-day Eijkman Institute of Molecular Biology, and Mochtar's successor at Eijkman, molecular biologist Sangkot Marzuki, have unearthed evidence that exculpates Mochtar, one of Indonesia's leading scientific lights in the early 20th century. They believe the deaths were the result of a medical experiment by the occupying forces.