The War Secrets Sen. John McCain Hides
Former POW Fights Public Access to POW/MIA Files
By Sydney Schanberg
NEW YORK (APBnews.com) — The voters who were drawn to John S. McCain in his run
for the Republican presidential nomination this year often cited, as the core of his
appeal, his openness and blunt candor and willingness to admit past lapses and release
documents that other senators often hold back. These qualities also seemed to endear
McCain to the campaign press corps, many of whom wrote about how refreshing it was to
travel on the McCain campaign bus, “The Straight Talk Express,” and observe
a maverick speaking his mind rather than a traditional candidate given to obfuscation
But there was one subject that was off-limits, a subject the Arizona senator almost
never brings up and has never been open about — his long-time opposition to
releasing documents and information about American prisoners of war in Vietnam and the
missing in action who have still not been accounted for. Since McCain himself, a downed
Navy pilot, was a prisoner in Hanoi for 5 1/2 years, his staunch resistance to laying
open the POW/MIA records has baffled colleagues and others who have followed his career.
Critics say his anti-disclosure campaign, in close cooperation with the Pentagon and
the intelligence community, has been successful. Literally thousands of documents that
would otherwise have been declassified long ago have been legislated into secrecy.
For example, all the Pentagon debriefings of the prisoners who returned from Vietnam
are now classified and closed to the public under a statute enacted in the 1990s with
McCain’s backing. He says this is to protect the privacy of former POWs and gives
it as his reason for not making public his own debriefing.
But the law allows a returned prisoner to view his own file or to designate another
person to view it. APBnews.com has repeatedly asked the senator for an interview for
this article and for permission to view his debriefing documents. He has not responded.
His office did recently send APBnews.com an e-mail, referring to a favorable article
about the senator in the Jan. 1 issue of Newsweek. In the article, the reporter,
Michael Isikoff, says that he was allowed to review McCain’s debriefing report
and that it contained “nothing incriminating” — although in a phone
interview Isikoff acknowledged that “there were redactions” in the document.
Isikoff declined to say who showed him the document, but APBnews.com has learned it was
Many Vietnam veterans and former POWs have fumed at McCain for keeping these and other
wartime files sealed up. His explanation, offered freely in Senate hearings and floor
speeches, is that no one has been proven still alive and that releasing the files would
revive painful memories and cause needless emotional stress to former prisoners, their
families and the families of MIAs still unaccounted for. But what if some of these
returned prisoners, as has always been the case at the conclusion of wars, reveal
information to their debriefing officers about other prisoners believed still held in
captivity? What justification is there for filtering such information through the
Pentagon rather than allowing access to source materials? For instance, debriefings
from returning Korean war POWs, available in full to the American public, have provided
both citizens and government investigators with important information about other
Americans who went missing in that conflict.
Would not most families of missing men, no matter how emotionally drained, want to know?
And would they not also want to know what the government was doing to rescue their
husbands and sons? Hundreds of MIA families have for years been questioning if concern
for their feelings is the real reason for the secrecy.
Prisoners left behind
A smaller number of former POWs, MIA families and veterans have suggested there is
something especially damning about McCain that the senator wants to keep hidden.
Without release of the files, such accusations must be viewed as unsubstantiated
speculation. The main reason, however, for seeking these files is to find out if there
is any information in the debriefings, or in other MIA documents that McCain and the
Pentagon have kept sealed, about how many prisoners were held back by North Vietnam
after the Paris peace treaty was signed in January 1973. The defense and intelligence
establishment has long resisted the declassification of critical records on this subject.
McCain has been the main congressional force behind this effort.
The prisoner return in 1973 saw 591 Americans repatriated by North Vietnam. The problem
was that the U.S. intelligence list of men believed to be alive at that time in
captivity — in Vietnam, Laos and possibly across the border in southern China
and in the Soviet Union — was much larger.
Possibly hundreds of men larger. The State Department stated publicly in 1973 that
intelligence data showed the prisoner list to be starkly incomplete. For example, only
nine of the 591 returnees came out of Laos, though experts in U.S. military intelligence
listed 311 men as missing in that Hanoi-run country alone, and their field reports
indicated that many of those men were probably still alive. Hanoi said it was returning
all the prisoners it had. President Nixon, on March 29, 1973, seconded that claim,
telling the nation on television: “All of our American POWs are on their way
home.” This discrepancy has never been acknowledged or explained by official
Washington. Over the years in Washington, McCain, at times almost single-handedly, has
pushed through Pentagon-desired legislation to make it impossible or much harder for
the public to acquire POW/MIA information and much easier for the defense bureaucracy
to keep it hidden.
The Truth Bill
In 1989, 11 members of the House of Representatives introduced a measure they called
“The Truth Bill.” A brief and simple document, it said: “[The] head
of each department or agency which holds or receives any records and information,
including live-sighting reports, which have been correlated or possibly correlated to
United States personnel listed as prisoner of war or missing in action from World War
II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam conflict shall make available to the public all
such records and information held or received by that department or agency. In addition,
the Department of Defense shall make available to the public with its records and
information a complete listing of United States personnel classified as prisoner of war,
missing in action, or killed in action (body not returned) from World War II, the Korean
conflict, and the Vietnam conflict.”
Opposed by Pentagon
Bitterly opposed by the Pentagon, “The Truth Bill” got nowhere. It was
reintroduced in the next Congress in 1991 — and again disappeared. Then, suddenly,
out of the Senate, birthed by the Arizona senator, a new piece of legislation emerged.
It was called “The McCain Bill.” This measure turned “The Truth Bill
” on its head. It created a bureaucratic maze from which only a fraction of the
available documents could emerge. And it became law. So restrictive were its provisions
that one clause actually said the Pentagon didn’t even have to inform the public
when it received intelligence that Americans were alive in captivity.
First, it decreed that only three categories of information could be released, i.e.,
“information … that may pertain to the location, treatment, or condition
of” unaccounted-for personnel from the Vietnam War. (This was later amended in
1995 and 1996 to include the Cold War and the Korean conflict.) If information is
received about anything other than “location, treatment or condition,”
under this statute, which was enacted in December 199l, it does not get disclosed.
Second, before such information can be released to the public, permission must be
granted by the primary next of kin, or PNOK. In the case of Vietnam, letters were sent
by the Department of Defense to the 2,266 PNOK. More than 600 declined consent
(including 243 who failed to respond, considered under the law to be a “no”).
Hurdles and limitations
Finally, in addition to these hurdles and limitations, the McCain act does not
specifically order the declassification of the information. Further, it provides the
Defense Department with other justifications for withholding documents. One such clause
says that if the information “may compromise the safety of any United States
personnel … who remain not accounted for but who may still be alive in captivity,
then the Secretary [of Defense] may withhold that record or other information from the
disclosure otherwise required by this section.”
Boiled down, the preceding paragraph means that the Defense Department is not obligated
to tell the public about prisoners believed alive in captivity and what efforts are
being made to rescue them. It only has to notify the White House and the intelligence
committees in the Senate and House. The committees are forbidden under law from
releasing such information.
At the same time, the McCain act is now being used to deny access to other sorts of
records. For instance, part of a recent APBnews.com Freedom of Information Act request
for the records of a mutiny on merchant marine vessel in the 1970s was rejected by a
Defense Department official who cited the McCain act. Similarly, requests for
information about Americans missing in the Korean War and declared dead for the last
45 years have been denied by officials who reference the McCain statute. (Read a denial
Another bill gutted in 1996
And then there is the Missing Service Personnel Act, which McCain succeeded in gutting
in 1996. A year before, the act had been strengthened, with bipartisan support, to
compel the Pentagon to deploy more resources with greater speed to locate and rescue
missing men. The measure imposed strict reporting requirements.
McCain amended the heart out of the statute. For example, the 1995 version required a
unit commander to report to his theater commander within two days that a person was
missing and describe what rescue and recovery efforts were underway. The McCain
amendments allowed 10 days to pass before a report had to be made.
In the 1995 act, the theater commander, after receiving the MIA report, would have 14
days to report to his Cabinet secretary in Washington. His report had to “
certify” that all necessary actions were being taken and all appropriate assets
were being used “to resolve the status of the missing person.” This section
was stricken from the act, replaced with language that made the Cabinet secretary, not
the theater commander, the recipient of the report from the field. All the certification
requirements also were stricken. ‘Turn commanders into clerks’ “This,
” said a McCain memo, “transfers the bureaucracy involved out of the field
to Washington.” He argued that the original legislation, if left intact, “
would accomplish nothing but create new jobs for lawyers and turn military commanders
In response, the backers of the original statute cited the Pentagon’s stained
record on MIA’s and argued that military history had shown that speed of action
is critical to the chances of recovering a missing man. Moving “the bureaucracy
” to Washington, they said, was merely a way to sweep the issue under a rug.
Chilling effect cited
One final evisceration in the law was McCain’s removal of all its enforcement
teeth. The original act provided for criminal penalties for anyone, such as military
bureaucrats in Washington, who destroy or cover up or withhold from families any
information about a missing man. McCain erased this part of the law. He said the
penalties would have a chilling effect on the Pentagon’s ability to recruit
personnel for its POW/MIA office.
McCain does not deal lightly with those who disagree with him on any of these issues or
who suggest that the evidence indeed shows that a significant number of prisoners were
alive and cached away as future bargaining chips when he came home in the group of 591
released in 1973.
Over the years, he has regularly vilified any group or person who keeps trying to pry
out more evidence about MIAs. He calls them “hoaxers” and “charlatans
” and “conspiracy theorists.” He decries the “bizarre rantings
of the MIA hobbyists” and describes them as “individuals primarily who make
their living off of keeping the issue alive.” Before he died last year of leukemia,
retired Col. Ted Guy, a highly admired POW and one of the most dogged resisters in the
camps, wrote an angry open letter to the senator in an MIA newsletter. In it, he said
of McCain’s stream of insults: “John, does this include Senator Bob Smith
and other concerned elected officials? Does this include the families of the missing
where there is overwhelming evidence that their loved ones were ‘last known alive?
’ Does this include some of your fellow POWs?”
McCain has said again and again that he has seen no “credible” evidence
that more than a tiny handful of men might have been alive in captivity after the
official prison return in 1973. He dismisses all of the subsequent radio intercepts,
live sightings, satellite photos, CIA reports, defector information, recovered enemy
documents and reports of ransom demands — thousands and thousands of pieces of
information indicating live captives — as meaningless. He has even described these
intelligence reports as the rough equivalent of UFO and alien sightings.
In Congress, colleagues and staffers who have seen him erupt — in the open and,
more often, in closed meetings — profess themselves confounded by his behavior.
Insisting upon anonymity so as not to invite one of his verbal assaults, they say they
have no easy way to explain why a former POW would work so hard and so persistently to
keep POW/MIA information from coming out. Typical is the comment of one congressional
veteran who has watched McCain over many years: “This is a man not at peace with
himself.” McCain’s sense of disgrace
Some McCain watchers searching for answers point to his recently published best-selling
autobiography, Faith of My Fathers, half of which is devoted to his years as a prisoner.
In the book, he says he felt badly throughout his captivity because he knew he was being
treated more leniently than his fellow POWs owing to his propaganda value as the son
of Adm. John S. McCain II, who was then the CINCPAC — commander in chief of all
U.S. forces in the Pacific region, including Vietnam. (His captors considered him a
prize catch and nicknamed him the “Crown Prince.”)
Also in the book, the Arizona Senator repeatedly expresses guilt and disgrace at having
broken under torture and given the North Vietnamese a taped confession, broadcast over
the camp loudspeakers, saying he was a war criminal who had, among other acts, bombed a
school. “I felt faithless and couldn’t control my despair,” he writes.
He writes, revealing that he made two half-hearted attempts at suicide. Most tellingly,
he said he lived in “dread” that his father would find out. “I still
wince,” he says, “when I recall wondering if my father had heard of my
After McCain returned home, he says he told his father about the confession, but “
never discussed it at length.” The admiral, McCain says, didn’t indicate he
had heard anything about it before.
McCain’s father died in 1981. McCain writes: “I only recently learned that
the tape … had been broadcast outside the prison and had come to the attention of
McCain wasn’t alone — it’s well-known that a sizeable percentage of
prisoners of war will break down under torture. In fact, many of his supporters view
McCain’s prison travails as evidence of his overall heroism. Fears unpublished
But how would McCain’s forced confession alone explain his endless campaign
against releasing MIA/POW information?
Some veterans and other McCain watchers have speculated that McCain’s
mortification, given his family’s proud military tradition (his grandfather was
also an admiral), was so severe that it continues to haunt him and make him fear any
opening up of information that could revive previously unpublished details of the era,
including his own nagging history.
Another question that defies easy explanation is why there has never been any
significant public outcry over the POWs who didn’t come home or about the
machinations of public officials like McCain who carefully wove a blanket of secrecy
around this issue. It can only be understood in the context of what the Vietnam War did
to the American mind.
Forgetting the Vietnam War
It was the longest war in our history and the only one in which we accepted defeat and
brought our troops home. It had roiled the country more than any conflict but the Civil
War — to the point where almost everyone, regardless of their politics, wanted to
get away from anything that reminded them of this bloody failure. Only a small band of
Americans, led by Vietnam veterans and MIA families, kept asking for more information
about the missing men and demanding that the government keep its promise to do
everything possible to bring them home. Everyone else seemed to be running away from
all things Vietnam.
Knowledgeable observers note that it’s quite possible that Nixon, leading the
country’s withdrawal, accepted the peace treaty of Jan. 27, 1973, while telling
himself that somehow he would negotiate the release of the remaining POWs later. But
when Congress refused to provide the $3 billion to $4 billion in proposed national
development reparations that National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had dangled as
a carrot to Hanoi, the prospects for the abandoned men began to unravel.
Observers also point out that over the years that followed, Washington continued to
reject paying what it branded as ransom money and so, across six presidencies,
including the present one, the issue of POWs who may have been left behind remained
unacknowledged by the White House and the Pentagon. Hanoi refused to correct the
impression that all the prisoners had been returned, and Washington, for its part,
refused to admit that it had known about abandoned POWs from the beginning.
PART 2 OF 2
Mainstream press indifferent
Of course, the government and many mainstream scholars reject this theory. And whether
any such prisoners remain alive to this day is impossible for the outsider to know.
Intelligence sources privately express the belief that most of the men had either died
or been executed by the early 1990s. Presumably, these sources say, the POW’s
lost their bargaining value to Hanoi as time passed and ransom dollars never
materialized. Eventually Hanoi began seeking another path to the money — the
renewal of relations with Washington. Diplomatic ties were restored by President
Clinton in 1994, and American economic investment quickly followed.
One factor in the nation’s indifference to the POWs was the stance of the
national press. From the very start to the present, the mainstream media showed little
interest. With just a smattering of exceptions, the journalistic community, like the
rest of the country, ran away from the story. During the war, thousands of American
journalists poured into Vietnam in shifts; now only a handful cover the country, most
of them filing business stories about Nike and other conglomerates opening up factories
to avail themselves of the cheap labor.
Even reporters who had covered the war came to view the MIA story, in the years
afterward, as a concoction of the far right. Without doing much, if any, first-hand
reporting, such as digging into the available documents in the National Archives,
nearly all these journalists dismissed the MIA story as unfounded.
Generated a hero aura
In McCain’s recently suspended campaign for the presidency, it was almost as if,
in the press’s eyes, he was to be treated differently and quite gingerly because
of the hero aura generated by his POW experience. None of his political opponents ever
dared criticize him for his legislative history on withholding POW information, and the
press never brought itself to be direct enough to even question him on the issue.
It’s not that he didn’t give reporters plenty of openings to ask the right
Vietnam questions. For one thing, he used his history as a Vietnam prisoner as a
constant campaign theme in his speeches. Rarely did he appear without a larger-than-
life photo backdrop showing him in battle gear as a Navy pilot before he was shot down
over Hanoi in 1967.
Here is a passage typical of the soft, even erroneous reporting on McCain — this
from a March 4 story in The New York Times: “His most striking achievement came
when he joined with another Vietnam veteran, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of
Massachusetts, to puncture the myth that Vietnam continued holding American prisoners.
” The piece went on to speak with admiration about “his concern over the
prisoners-of-war issue” — but, tellingly, it offered no details.
Tepid veterans’ vote
The press corps, covering the state-by-state primary vote, made an assumption, based
apparently on sentiment, that McCain, as the war hero, would capture the significant
veterans’ vote by stunning margins. Actually, he didn’t capture it at all.
He carried veterans only in the states that he won, like Michigan and New Hampshire,
but was rejected by them in the larger number of states that he lost, like New York,
Ohio and California. Added together, when the states were tallied up, the veterans’
vote went to George W. Bush.
The Washington press corps had gone openly soft once before on the prisoner issue,
again benefiting McCain. That was in 1991-93, during the proceedings of the Senate
Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. McCain starred on that committee, working hand
in hand with his new ally, Sen. John Kerry, the panel’s co-chairman, to play
down voluminous evidence that sizeable numbers of men were still held alive after
the prisoner return in 1973. One example: At the time of the committee’s hearings,
the Pentagon had received more than 1,600 firsthand sightings of live American prisoners
and nearly 14,000 secondhand reports. The intelligence officers who gathered these
reports from refugees and other informants in the field described a large number of
them as “credible” and so marked the reports. Some of the informants had
been given lie-detector tests and passed.
But the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, after reviewing all the reports,
concluded that they “do not constitute evidence” that men were still alive
at the time.
McCain and Kerry endorsed the Pentagon’s findings. They also treated both the
Pentagon and the CIA more as the committee’s partners than as objects of its
inquiry. As one committee staff investigator said, in a memo preserved from the period:
“Speaking for the other investigators, I can say we are sick and tired of this
investigation being controlled by those we are supposedly investigating.”
McCain stood out because he always showed up for the committee hearings where witnesses
were going to talk about specific pieces of evidence. He would belittle and berate
these witnesses, questioning their patriotism and otherwise scoffing at their
credibility. All of this is on record in the National Archives.
Confrontation with witness
One such witness was Dolores Apodaca Alfond, chairwoman of the National Alliance of
Families, an all-volunteer MIA organization. Her pilot brother, Capt. Victor J.
Apodaca, out of the Air Force Academy, was shot down over Dong Hoi, North Vietnam,
in the early evening of June 8, 1967. At least one person in the two-man plane survived.
Beeper signals from a pilot’s distress radio were picked up by overhead
helicopters, but the cloud cover was too heavy to go in. Hanoi has recently turned over
some bone fragments that are supposed to be Apodaca’s. The Pentagon first
declared the fragments to be animal bones. But now it is telling the family —
verbally — that they came from the pilot. But the Pentagon, for unexplained
reasons, will not put this in writing, which means Apodaca is still unaccounted for.
Also the Pentagon refuses to give Alfond a sample of the fragments so she can have
testing done by an independent laboratory.
Alfond’s testimony, at a hearing of the POW/MIA committee Nov. 11, 1992, was
revealing. She pleaded with the committee not to shut down in two months, as scheduled,
because so much of its work was unfinished. Also, she was critical of the committee,
and in particular Kerry and McCain, for having “discredited the overhead
satellite symbol pictures, arguing there is no way to be sure that the [distress]
symbols were made by U.S. POWs.” She also criticized them for similarly
discounting data from special sensors, shaped like a large spike with an electronic
pod and an antenna, that were airdropped to stick in the ground along the Ho Chi Minh
These devices served as motion detectors, picking up passing convoys and other military
movements, but they also had rescue capabilities. Specifically, someone on the ground
— a downed airman or a prisoner on a labor detail — could manually enter
data into the sensor pods. Alfond said the data from the sensor spikes, which was
regularly gathered by Air Force jets flying overhead, had showed that a person or
persons on the ground had manually entered into the sensors — as U.S. pilots had
been trained to do — “no less than 20 authenticator numbers that
corresponded exactly to the classified authenticator numbers of 20 U.S. POWs who were
lost in Laos.”
Other than the panel’s second co-chairman, Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., not a single
committee member attended this public hearing. But McCain, having been advised of
Alfond’s testimony, suddenly rushed into the room to confront her. His face angry
and his voice very loud, he accused her of making “allegations … that are
patently and totally false and deceptive.” Making a fist, he shook his index
finger at her and said she had insulted an emissary to Vietnam sent by President Bush.
He said she had insulted other MIA families with her remarks. And then he said, through
clenched teeth: “And I am sick and tired of you insulting mine and other
people’s [patriotism] who happen to have different views than yours.”
Brought to tears
By this time, tears were running down Alfond’s cheeks. She reached into her
handbag for a handkerchief. She tried to speak: “The family members have been
waiting for years — years! And now you’re shutting down.” He kept
interrupting her. She tried to say, through tears, that she had issued no insults. He
kept talking over her words. He said she was accusing him and others of “some
conspiracy without proof, and some cover-up.” She said she was merely seeking
“some answers. That is what I am asking.” He ripped into her for using the
word “fiasco.” She replied: “The fiasco was the people that stepped
out and said we have written the end, the final chapter to Vietnam.” “No
one said that,” he shouted. “No one said what you are saying they said,
Ms. Alfond.” And then, his face flaming pink, he stalked out of the room, to
shouts of disfavor from members of the audience.
As with most of McCain’s remarks to Alfond, the facts in his closing blast at her
were incorrect. Less than three weeks earlier, on Oct. 23, 1992, in a ceremony in the
White House Rose Garden, President Bush — with John McCain standing beside him
— said: “Today, finally, I am convinced that we can begin writing the last
chapter in the Vietnam War.”
The committee did indeed, as Alfond said they planned to do, shut down two months after
Cannot discuss it
As for her description of the motion sensor evidence about prisoners in Laos,
McCain’s response at the hearing was that this data was in a 1974 report that
the committee had read but was still classified, so “I cannot discuss it here.
… We hope to get it declassified.”
The question to the senator now is: What happened to that report and what happened to
the pilots who belonged to those authenticator numbers? Intelligence sources in
Washington say the report was never declassified. It became clear over the months of
hearings and sparrings that the primary goal of the Kerry-McCain alliance was to clear
the way for normalization of relations with Vietnam. They did it in two ways —
first, by regularly praising Hanoi for its “cooperation” in the search
for information about the unaccounted-for prisoners and then by minimizing and
suppressing the volume of evidence to the contrary that had been unearthed by the
committee’s staff investigators.
Recasting the issue
Kerry and McCain also tried, at every opportunity, to recast the issue as a debate
about how many men could still be alive today, instead of the real issue at stake: How
many men were alive in 1973 after the 591 were returned? Although much evidence was
kept out of the committee’s final report in January 1993, enough of it, albeit
watered down by the committee’s majority, was inserted by the determined staff
to demonstrate conclusively that all the prisoners had not come home. Still, if the
reader didn’t plow through the entire 1,223-page report but scanned just the
brief conclusions in the 43-page executive summary at the beginning, he or she would
have found only a weak and pallid statement saying that there was “evidence
… that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number”
after the repatriation of 1973. On page 468 of the report, McCain provided his own
personal statement, saying that “we found no compelling evidence to prove that
Americans are alive in captivity today. There is some evidence — though no proof
— to suggest only the possibility that a few Americans may have been kept behind
after the end of American’s military involvement in Vietnam.”
Two defense secretaries
And even these meager concessions were not voluntary. They had been forced by the sworn
public testimony before the Senate committee of two former defense secretaries from
the Nixon Administration, Melvin Laird and James Schlesinger. Both these men testified
that they believed in 1973, from strong intelligence data, that a number of prisoners
in Vietnam and Laos had not been returned. Their testimony has never been challenged.
Schlesinger, before becoming defense secretary, had been the CIA director. During his
committee appearance, Schlesinger was asked why Nixon would have accepted the prisoners
being held back in 1973. He replied: “One must assume that we had concluded that
the bargaining position of the United States … was quite weak. We were anxious
to get our troops out and we were not going to roil the waters …” Then he
was asked “a very simple question. In your view, did we leave men behind?”
‘Some were left behind’ “I think that as of now,” replied the
former Pentagon secretary, “that I can come to no other conclusion [that] …
some were left behind.” The press went along once again with the debunkers. The
Schlesinger-Laird testimony, which seemed a bombshell, became but a one-day story in
the nation’s major media. The press never followed it up to explore its
implications. On Jan. 26, 1994, when a resolution ardently backed by McCain and Kerry
came up in the Senate calling for the lifting of the two-decade-old economic embargo
against Vietnam, some members — in an effort to stall the measure — tried
to present new evidence about men left behind. McCain rose to his feet and, offering
no rebuttal evidence of his own, proceeded to chide “the professional
malcontents, conspiracy mongers, con artists and dime-store Rambos who attend this
issue.” The resolution passed, 62-38. ‘Isolated Personnel’ These
days, the Pentagon seems to be moving toward closing its POW/MIA books completely.
In recent statements and reports, it has begun describing prisoners not as POWs but as
IPs — Isolated Personnel.
And in a 1999 booklet, the Pentagon said: “By the end of the year 2004, we will
have moved from the way the US government conducts the business of recovery and
accounting [now] to an active program of loss prevention, immediate rescues, and rapid
post-hostility accounting.” More important, there seems to be no allocation of
funds in 2004 for the task force that now conducts POW/MIA investigations, searches
for remains and does archival research.As for McCain, he continues to stonewall on his
own POW records. Through numerous phone calls, faxes and letters to his office,
APBnews.com has been trying since late January to interview the Senator and get his
permission to view his POW debriefing. The response has been that the senator has been
occupied by his campaign schedule.
Call for openness and disclosure
During the campaign, McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, had to
address a controversy over queries he had made to the Commerce Department on behalf of
a major campaign contributor. To deal with the press interest, he announced he was
releasing all of his correspondence with the Commerce Department, not just the letters
involving the one case. In addition, to show his full commitment to openness and
disclosure, he called on every other government agency to release his communications
with them. On Jan. 9 on the CBS program Face the Nation, he announced: “Today,
we are asking the federal government to release all correspondence that I’ve
had with every government agency.”
McCain’s staff has acknowledged that this request includes the Pentagon. But the
Pentagon says it needs an official document from McCain designating a surrogate before
it can show his debriefing report to anyone else. APBnews.com has repeatedly asked the
senator for this waiver. He does not respond.
Sydney H. Schanberg is the editor of APBnews.com’s investigative unit. He was
awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his 1975 coverage of political and social chaos in
Cambodia. His news reports and a best-selling book about his experiences in Southeast
Asia became the basis for the Academy Award-winning film The Killing Fields.