Forgetting Those Left Behind: Considering That John McCain Himself Was a POW during the Vietnam War, Why Is He So Dismissive of the Evidence That Other POWs Remained in Captivity after the War's End?

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"When the Senate created the Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in midsummer 1991," writes Vietnam veteran and POW activist Ted Sampley, "a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed 69 percent of Americans surveyed believed Americans remained captive in Southeast Asia and 75 percent said the U.S. government was not doing enough to bring them home."

Like the many Americans seeking a thorough accounting of our POWs and MIAs, Sampley had reason to hope that the newly formed Senate committee might succeed in breaking through official coverups that had kept vital information on known live POWs secret since the end of the war in Vietnam. It was an issue that had refused to die. In 1973, the communist North Vietnamese regime released 591 American POWs. With this "Operation Homecoming," the U.S. government intended to close the books. But more than 2,400 POWs were still unaccounted for, and there was good reason to believe many of them were still alive. Thousands of POW family members, as well as U.S. veterans groups, refused to write them off as dead, which is precisely what many bureaucrats and politicians, along with businessmen eager for commerce with Vietnam, were willing to do. Leading that effort to "put the war behind us" was Henry Kissinger, who negotiated the "peace" settlement with Vietnam.

Since the war, both Democrat and Republican administrations have maintained the political line that all leads have been investigated and everything has been done to account for our POWs and to bring back any live POWs and/or the remains of any who died in captivity. However, time and again, the truth has seeped through a well-constructed web of lies to show otherwise. Particularly notable in this regard were the findings of Lieutenant General Eugene F. Tighe.

Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 1978-1981, General Tighe was subsequently placed in charge of a Pentagon investigation into the live POW issue. After conducting the most extensive review of the POW matter since the end of the war, Tighe was extremely critical of the government's actions--and inaction. Tighe's commission found extensive compelling evidence that American POWs remained alive in captivity in Indochina, but it also discovered that analysts and bureaucrats assigned to POW work almost uniformly displayed "a mindset to debunk" live-sighting reports and all other evidence pointing toward live POWs. In other words, no matter how solid the intelligence, and no matter how many different sources corroborated it, some objection would always be contrived to dismiss the evidence as inconsequential, untrustworthy, or suspect. According to Tighe, "Some people have been disclaiming good reports [about live POWs] for so long it's become habit forming."

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This "mindset to debunk" would continue to appear over and over again. In March 1991, Colonel Millard A. Peck, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Special Office for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action, walked off his job in protest, charging that Bush (Sr.) administration officials were trying to discredit and perhaps even cover up reports of sightings of live POWs. The colonel, a decorated veteran who had served three tours of duty in Vietnam, charged: "The mindset to 'debunk' is alive and well. It is held at all levels, and continues to pervade the P.O.W.-M.I.A. office."

Ted Sampley, a highly decorated Special Forces combat veteran in Vietnam, has been, since 1983, one of the most ardent and well-known champions of the POW/ MIAs. He is the publisher/editor of (and a writer for) the U.S. Veteran Dispatch newspaper and website, and was chairman of the Last Firebase Veterans Archives Project. His new book, Vetting John McCain, is a scathing expose of the too-little-known story of Senator John McCain's decades-long collaboration with those in both Democrat and Republican administrations who led the efforts to debunk all live POW/MIA reports, and to push for normalization of relations and trade with--and aid to--Vietnam. …