Friday, July 9, 2010

An Ugly Secret Unearthed by John McCain’s Primary Opponent

Senator John McCain’s primary opponent, J.D. Hayworth, is talking the 2008 Republican nominees’ many efforts to cover up the fact that the United States left hundreds of POWs behind in North Vietnamese hands. Tea Baggers are wrong about many things, but Hayworth is right on target about the abandonment of those American soldiers and McCain’s sordid role in the cover-up.

The United States signed a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese in Paris on January 27, 1973. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger promised the North Vietnamese $3.25 billion in reconstruction funds if they returned all of our POWs. At one point, the North Vietnamese said they had 368 captives, but they refused to provide a list. Kissinger signed anyhow. Then the North Vietnamese released 591 Americans, including John McCain. The Vietnamese retained the rest as bargaining chips to make sure they got their reparations money. After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, they held on to French captives until France paid reparations.

On February 2, 1973, President Richard Nixon wrote to Premier Pham Van Dong that we knew for certain that they held at least 317 Americans in Laos, and he complained that they had only released 10. Yet, Nixon told the public that all of the POWs had been released.

Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, knew that almost all of the known captives in Laos had not been returned and he said in 1992 that he wanted to resume bombing the north but that Nixon would not go along. He then sent a “back-channel” message about this to ranking officers, saying “Nixon and Kissinger are at it again.”

Ignored Evidence

There were sightings of prisoners and some electronic messages were received. The National Security Administration had a listening post in Saigon until 1975, when it fell. Thereafter, we relied upon the Thai to intercept electronic messages. They passed on much evidence about the POWS, but the authorities in Washington rejected it all because it came from a “third party.” On December 27, 1980, the Thais intercepted a North Vietnamese message that said that American prisoners were being relocated via air from a camp at Attopeu, Laos. Four days later, the CIA Bangkok station reported to Langley about this relocation and about other camps in Laos.

In early, 1981, the Vietnamese told the Reagan administration that it would return the remaining prisoners for $4 billion dollars. Robert Syphrit, a Treasury Secret Service Agent, eventually said he heard the offer being discussed in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. At the time, the Secret Service officer was wiring some equipment and was stunned by what he heard. Present were President Ronald Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush, William Casey, Richard Allen, and some cabinet officers. Allen, then national security advisor, testified about the meeting behind closed doors on June 23, 1992. He later retracted his sworn testimony. Somehow journalist Robert Caldwell learned about the meeting and published an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. He later recanted.

Two Secretaries of Defense, James Schlesinger and Melvin Laird, admitted under oath and on television that the United States left men behind in Vietnam. There have been 1,600 first hand sightings, and many of these people passed lie detector tests. There 14, 000 second hand reports. Satellite photographs show symbols US aviators had been taught to use to identify themselves. An outside consultant was paid to look at all of the photographs, and he said they were just grass and rice formations. But Bob Taylor, a highly regarded Senate staff investigator said,” If grass can spell out people’s names and secret digit codes, then I have a newfound respect for grass.”

In 1981 and 1982, there were two planned rescue missions that were to be led by Delta Force Sgt. Major Eric Hanley. Both were aborted.

As time passed, both the United States government and Vietnam came to share a common policy of denying that there were any remaining U.S. prisoners in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese wanted to gain a place in the community of nations. Some speculated that by 1990 the hostages were probably executed.

McCain’s War with the POW/MIA People

Senator John McCain played the role of the Pentagon’s point man in denying that prisoners had been left behind. Having been a prisoner for five and a half years, he was the perfect figure to lead the effort to keep the lid on this story. Time and again, he was successful in blocking efforts to bring the surface vital pieces of the missing POW story. But who could believe that this hero was not interested in helping these prisoners and their grieving families?

McCain took to attacking POW/MIA advocates, saying they were perpetrators of fraud and profiteers. In the 1970s, Air Force Lt. General Eugene Tighe, once head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was the main uniformed soldier who defended the efforts of the POW-MIA families to learn what happened to the missing soldiers. McCain became Tighe’s bitter enemy, and the general eventually went into retirement. Later, he attacked former Navy Captain Eugene “Red” McDaniel for drafting a letter against lifting the trade embargo on Vietnam. It was signed by fifty former POWs. Red McDaniel has been described as “one of the most tortured Americans in the history of war.” There seems to be no clear reason why McCain is so hostile to the POW/MIA advocates and opponents of Vietnam.

In 1990, at the urging of the families of the missing prisoners, Congress considered “The Truth Bill,” which McCain managed to kill. It was replaced in 1991 by the “McCain Bill, which did nothing to unseal records.

In August, 1991, the Senate Established a Select Committee to look into the problem. Senator John Kerry, who was deeply committed to normalizing relations with Vietnam, was chairman. Senator Bob Smith was vice-chairman, and Senator McCain – who had asked to be appointed chairman--was its driving force. The families demanded that records be unsealed, particularly those regarding a program called Pave Spike.

It involved dropping electronic motion sensors along the Ho Che Minh Trail. They had spikes on them and were supposed to stick in the ground. Their primary purpose was to alert Americans to enemy troop movements. However, they had another use. Americans on the ground could manually enter data, such as authentication numbers. Planes passing overhead would pickup the information from the devices. By 1974, twenty individual authentication numbers had been entered. There is no record that the committee looked into this.

McCain got into an argument with Dolores Alfond, the sister of a missing airman, woman who wanted the files de-classified. The senator, whose conduct was ugly and shocking, reduced her to tears. His approach was that anyone who disagreed with him impugned his honor and patriotism. Biu Tin, a former North Vietnamese colonel and interrogator of prisoners, appeared at the hearings to say that all the POWs had been sent home in 1973. Mc Cain hugged him. Bin Tin had also told an interviewer that McCain had never been tortured.

Ronald Reagan refused to talk to the Select Committee, and the panel never asked Presidents Nixon and Bush to appear. Vice Chairman Smith spoke to Henry Kissinger by telephone, and a footnote on page 91 of the report indicates that Kissinger said there was a time when Nixon considered bombing Vietnam to retrieve prisoners. Senator Mc Cain fought mightily to remove the note, but it remained. Buried in the report is the estimate that between 150 and 600 might retained by the Vietnamese. The official conclusion was that “a small number” could have been left behind. The Kerry committee essentially accept with little complaint the failure of the Pentagon and Langley to provide critical files. At the time, Richard Cheney was Secretary of Defense and Robert Gates was Director of the CIA.

Congress passed the Missing Personnel Act in 1996, but Mc Cain added an amendment that rendered it unenforceable. A group of about 15 POW/MIA supporters awaited McCain in the Russell Senate Office Building on June 20, 1996 to ask him to drop the amendment. When he realized who they were, his face reddened aqnd he exploded in anger, brushing aside a woman in a wheelchair. These folks thought he had assaulted the lady and filed charges with Capitol Police.

Bell Bell, former head of the Office of POW/MIA Affairs, relates how he was in Hanoi in 1993 with McCain and Ambassador Bill Peterson. Bell said that both Mc Cain and Peterson were very interested in reaching an agreement that POW records from the war never be made public.

Also in 1993, Stephen Morris, a Harvard researcher, found the transcript of a Hanoi politburo briefing in May, 1973. General Tran Van Quang reported that the army held 1,205 prisoners, and noted that they had only admitted to having 368. He said that more than that would be returned, but that a large number would be retained until the United States paid reparations. Since the Vietnamese returned 591, this would mean that they retained 614. The government of Vietnam said the document was a forgery, but it did not explain who produced it and was able to place it in the Soviet archives.

The Defense Intelligence Agency has a Special Office fir Prisoners of War and Missing in Action. Critics have long said that its function was to bury leads about what happened to our missing men. In 1990, Colonel Millard Peck asked to be made head of the office. He intended to what went on there and to see that all leads were thoroughly investigated. He resigned and retired on February 12, 1991, calling the office a “black hole” that was involved in “ a cover-up.” He said he was never really in control of the office and noted that officers who “rocked the boat quickly come to grief.”

What Can Be Learned from this Sad Story?

For decades, the mainstream press has ignored this story. Sydney Schanberg, the Pulitizer Prize winning journalist, has consistently followed it in his Newsday and in The Nation and American Conservative. The present piece is grounded in his hard work. He has written about his failures to interest other many other publications in this cause. He concludes that mainstream journalists are simply lazy. But more is involved. There is a clear pattern of ignoring stories and evidence that would anger the powers that be and the Right. The reader might look into what happened to the journalists who exposed the Iran/Contra Scandal to find examples.

This tale also underscores how people like John McCain own to the press for favorable treatment. His days as an irresponsible young pilot wrecking planes and possibly causing a massive carrier fire have not been carefully explored. Though he was the key player in the Keating Five Scandal, an adoring press helped transform his image to that of a fighter for integrity in the Senate. When he ran for president, there was no exploration with ties with criminal elements or the possibility that his intense interest in gambling made him the wrong person to regulate Indian casinos.

J.D. Hayworth probably will not take the Republican nomination away from McCain. To the extent that he focuses on McCain and the POWs, he is making a great contribution to the public discourse and showing why it is sometimes necessary to distrust government. The trouble is that to date, Tea Baggers have very rarely questioned militarism and imperialism.

McCain’s Democratic opponent in the general election should talk about this case. So long as the nation’s chief priority is serving its military machine, there will be too few resources to rebuild here at home. So long as Democrats fail to demand an end to our wars, their domestic agenda is imperiled.

This is the story of a militarist who cares little about what war does to soldiers or to this nation. Voters need to take off their rose-colored glasses and begin to see that reality is quite different from what is presented in the mainstream media and in the so-called conventional wisdom. John Mc Cain has been one of the chief spear carriers for the military industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned about. The economy is remains in serious peril now because of the de-regulatory policies that McCain pushed at the behest of corporate America.

McCain’s conduct in this matter is as old as history, going back to that of the Roman aristocrats who cared little for what happened the ordinary men in the legions. In this case, a man born to privilege suffered in a prisoner of war camp but, once liberated, he commanded the effort to discredit those who sought answers about the Missing in Action and the POWs who were never repatriated. As one might expect, his record on veterans concerns is indifferent to so-so. He was not there when they most needed him. He refused to co-sponsor the Agent Orange Bill in 1984 or the Gulf Veterans Health Care Act of 1998. Today, he is the chief spokesman for continuing the Afghan War indefinitely.
Mc Cain says he does not like war, but American promotes it more. But as the prototypical militarist, John Mc Cain shows too little interest in the cost of war and what it does to its victims.

Some say McCain’s recent postures show he no longere has integrity. Maybe he lacked it all along.

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