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February 25, 2004

Uncommon Pusillanimity

Uncommon Pusillanimity - We all remember the POW/MIA movement, back in the eighties and early nineties.

"Never forget", they exhorted us.

The evidence seemed, at the very least, interesting:

What was the body of evidence that prisoners were held back? A short list would include more than 1,600 firsthand sightings of live U.S. prisoners; nearly 14,000 secondhand reports; numerous intercepted Communist radio messages from within Vietnam and Laos about American prisoners being moved by their captors from one site to another; a series of satellite photos that continued into the 1990s showing clear prisoner rescue signals carved into the ground in Laos and Vietnam, all labeled inconclusive by the Pentagon; multiple reports about unacknowledged prisoners from North Vietnamese informants working for U.S. intelligence agencies, all ignored or declared unreliable; persistent complaints by senior U.S. intelligence officials (some of them made publicly) that live-prisoner evidence was being suppressed; and clear proof that the Pentagon and other keepers of the "secret" destroyed a variety of files over the years to keep the P.O.W./M.I.A. families and the public from finding out and possibly setting off a major public outcry.
And then - nothing.

Why?

Sydney "Killing Fields" Schanberg ties the disappearance of the issue to Kerry. Long money quote:

In the committee's early days, Kerry had given encouraging indications of being a committed investigator. He said he had "leads" to the existence of P.O.W.'s still in captivity. He said the number of these likely survivors was more than 100 and that this was the minimum. But in a very short time, he stopped saying such things and morphed his role into one of full alliance with the executive branch, the Pentagon, and other Washington hierarchies, joining their long-running effort to obscure and deny that a significant number of live American prisoners had not been returned. As many as 700 withheld P.O.W.'s were cited in credible intelligence documents, including a speech by a senior North Vietnamese general that was discovered in Soviet archives by an American scholar.

Here are details of a few of the specific steps Kerry took to hide evidence about these P.O.W.'s.

  • He gave orders to his committee staff to shred crucial intelligence documents. The shredding stopped only when some intelligence staffers staged a protest. Some wrote internal memos calling for a criminal investigation. One such memo?from John F. McCreary, a lawyer and staff intelligence analyst?reported that the committee's chief counsel, J. William Codinha, a longtime Kerry friend, "ridiculed the staff members" and said, "Who's the injured party?" When staffers cited "the 2,494 families of the unaccounted-for U.S. servicemen, among others," the McCreary memo continued, Codinha said: "Who's going to tell them? It's classified."

    Kerry defended the shredding by saying the documents weren't originals, only copies?but the staff's fear was that with the destruction of the copies, the information would never get into the public domain, which it didn't. Kerry had promised the staff that all documents acquired and prepared by the committee would be turned over to the National Archives at the committee's expiration. This didn't happen. Both the staff and independent researchers reported that many critical documents were withheld.

  • Another protest memo from the staff reported: "An internal Department of Defense Memorandum identifies Frances Zwenig [Kerry's staff director] as the conduit to the Department of Defense for the acquisition of sensitive and restricted information from this Committee . . . lines of investigation have been seriously compromised by leaks" to the Pentagon and "other agencies of the executive branch." It also said the Zwenig leaks were "endangering the lives and livelihood of two witnesses."

  • A number of staffers became increasingly upset about Kerry's close relationship with the Department of Defense, which was supposed to be under examination. (Dick Cheney was then defense secretary.) It had become clear that Kerry, Zwenig, and others close to the chairman, such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, a dominant committee member, had gotten cozy with the officials and agencies supposedly being probed for obscuring P.O.W. information over the years. Committee hearings, for example, were being orchestrated to suit the examinees, who were receiving lists of potential questions in advance. Another internal memo from the period, by a staffer who requested anonymity, said: "Speaking for the other investigators, I can say we are sick and tired of this investigation being controlled by those we are supposedly investigating."

  • The Kerry investigative technique was equally soft in many other critical ways. He rejected all suggestions that the committee require former presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush to testify. All were in the Oval Office during the Vietnam era and its aftermath. They had information critical to the committee, for each president was carefully and regularly briefed by his national security adviser and others about P.O.W. developments. It was a huge issue at that time.

  • Kerry also refused to subpoena the Nixon office tapes (yes, the Watergate tapes) from the early months of 1973 when the P.O.W.'s were an intense subject because of the peace talks and the prisoner return that followed. (Nixon had rejected committee requests to provide the tapes voluntarily.) Information had seeped out for years that during the Paris talks and afterward, Nixon had been briefed in detail by then national security advisor Brent Scowcroft and others about the existence of P.O.W.'s whom Hanoi was not admitting to. Nixon, distracted by Watergate, apparently decided it was crucial to get out of the Vietnam mess immediately, even if it cost those lives. Maybe he thought there would be other chances down the road to bring these men back. So he approved the peace treaty and on March 29, 1973, the day the last of the 591 acknowledged prisoners were released in Hanoi, Nixon announced on national television: "All of our American P.O.W.'s are on their way home."
If true - and we'll see, although Schanberg's record of presenting stories that seem to horrible to be true is a good one - then this is a record of perfidy that the American people need to know about.

It needs to be followed up.

(Via Powerline)

Posted by Mitch at February 25, 2004 05:05 AM
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