Thursday, October 15, 2009

The POWs We Left Behind

This story has a personal connection with me, having served a year in South Viet Nam and played a small part in the search for POW's.  The official abandonment of our Viet Nam POW's will have a lasting and detrimental effect on how the US deals with current and future POW's.

The GWOT will certainly see more Americans and allied troops fall into the hands of Muslim terrorists, a fate at least as bad as any suffered by our troops in SE Asia.  How we react to rescue those troops will impact troop and civilian morale and how we are seen by the world at large.  Failure to make every effort to recover our people will brand us as weaklings and give the Islamists no reason to fear retribution.  

The POWs We Left Behind
by Jamie Glazov

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Lynn O’Shea, Director of Research for the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen

FP: Lynn O’Shea, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us what your Alliance is currently working on.
O’Shea: Currently, we are working toward the passage of House Resolution 111, calling for the formation of a Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in the House of Representatives.  It is our hope that the House Committee will pick up where the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs ended in 1993. When the Senate Committee published its final report, it contained several recommendations. One of those recommendations was that their work be ongoing. That has not happened. Since the Senate Committee ended, much new information has surfaced that requires in depth and objective review. Additionally, there is information within the records of the Senate Committee that did not make it into the final report. Some of this information directly impacts specific POW/MIA cases and how they should be investigated.

FP: The Senate Committee concluded in 1993 that “There is evidence, moreover, that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number, after Operation Homecoming…” (Operation Homecoming, was the 1973 return of POWs upon the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.)
What exactly did this mean?
O’Shea: It meant in all probability that American servicemen were left behind at the end of the war in Southeast Asia. When Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director James Schlesinger appeared before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, he was asked directly if the United States left men behind in Southeast Asia.  Schlesinger responded: “As of now, I can come to no other conclusion.”
What no one knew at the time was that when the Committee published its final report,
committee investigators had put together a list based on various sources of information, including admissions by Vietnamese officials, that some servicemen were in fact captured but not acknowledged by either the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong.

FP: What else has been discovered?
O’Shea: In 2006, we located two memos written by an investigator for the Senate Committee. The first dated July 22, 1992,  stated; “My review of JCRC (Joint Casualty Resolution Center) casualty files has surfaced several messages which list a total of nine American servicemen Vietnam has acknowledged were captured alive, all of whom are listed by DOD as having been declared dead while missing.  None are officially listed as ever having been a POW.  This information has come from Vietnamese officials a piece at a time over the past two years.”
The memo went on to say: ”this is the first admission from Vietnam that these nine were captured alive.” Of the nine servicemen named in this memo, only two have been accounted for.

The second memo dated August 1, 1992 expands on the earlier memo and increases the number of POWs from 9 to 19. That memo begins; “My review of POW/MIA case files disclosed DIA/JTFFA message traffic referring to individuals DOD now has information survived into captivity.” While these admissions have come from the Vietnamese government, our government continues to search for these men at their loss locations. Clearly, they will not be found at their loss locations unless the Vietnamese allow them to be found.

For years, we have speculated about the Senate Committee’s conclusion as to the “possibility of survival, for at least a small number after Operation Homecoming. We have asked: What is a small number? In August of 2008, we received our answer. That answer came in the form of another memo. This one was written based on a consensus of the investigators of the Senate Committee. This fifteen page memo began:  “In the fall of 1991 the Senate Select Committee identified one of its priority tasks as defining the universe of Americans who could have survived in captivity in Southeast beyond the end of Operation Homecoming in April 1973. This led to a recovery of major historical documents which confirm what the administration knew in 1973 and what it knows today.”