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Rambo .. Fact or Fiction ........ ?
May 28 - 30, 2010|
Vietnam MIAs: Ghosts Return to Haunt McCain and the US Press
By ALEXANDER COCKBURN
The ghosts that haunt Senator John McCain are about 600 in number and right now they are mustering for an onslaught. McCain, one of America's foremost Republicans and President Barack Obama's opponent in 2008, is currently locked in a desperate bid for political survival in his home state of Arizona. After 20 years of immunity from challenge from his fellow Republicans, he's now involved in a close primary battle with J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman turned radio broadcaster who sports the Tea Party label. Hayworth says McCain is a fake Republican, soft on issues like immigration. The polls have been tightening, and if McCain got bludgeoned by some new disclosure, it could finish him off.
That very disclosure is now bursting over the head of McCain, the former Navy pilot who was held in a North Vietnamese prison for five years, and returned to the US as a war hero. His nemesis is Sydney Schanberg, a former New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer prize for his reporting from Cambodia that formed the basis for the Oscar-winning movie, The Killing Fields.
In recent years Schanberg has worked relentlessly on one of the great mysteries of the Vietnam War, one that still causes hundreds of American families enduring pain. Did the US government abandon American POWs in Vietnam? By 1990 there were so many stories, sightings, intelligence reports, of American POWs left behind in Vietnam after the war was over, that pressure from Vietnam vets and the families of the MIAs prompted the formation of a special committee of the US Senate to investigate. The chairman was John Kerry, a Navy man who had served in Vietnam. McCain, as a former POW, was its most pivotal member.
Down the years Schanberg has pieced together the evidence, much of it covered up by the Senate committee. In 1993, an American historian unearthed in Soviet archives the record of a briefing of a Vietnamese general to the Soviet politbureau. The briefing took place in 1973, right before the final peace agreement between the US and Hanoi. What the Vietnamese general told the Russians was that his government was intent on getting war reparations, $3.25 billion in reconstruction money, pledged by the US in peace negotiations headed on the US side by Henry Kissinger. The general told the Russians that Hanoi would hold back a large number of POWs until the money arrived. It seems the Vietnamese had successfully used the same tactic with the French, to elicit promised funds, after which POWs were transferred.
But Nixon and Kissinger had attached to the deal a codicil to the effect that the US Congress would have to approve the reparations – which the two knew was an impossibility in the political atmosphere of the time. Thus they effectively sealed the POWs fate. On signature of the 1973 treaty Hanoi released the names of 591 POWs scheduled to be returned. , At the time there was widespread consternation in the US – in the New York Times for example -- at the unexpectedly low number. In fact, as top official in the US government knew, about 600 POWs were being held back, against delivery of the promised $3.25 billion.
All of this was suppressed by the Kerry-McCain committee, with the complicity of the US press, enamored of both McCain and Kerry. McCain was particularly vicious in mocking what he and his press allies suggested were the fantasies of MIA families and Vietnam vets.
"In a private briefing in 1992,” Schanberg writes, “high-level CIA officials told me that as the years passed and the ransom never came, it became more and more difficult for either government to admit that it knew from the start about the unacknowledged prisoners. Those prisoners had not only become useless as bargaining chips but also posed a risk to Hanoi's desire to be accepted into the international community. "The CIA officials said their intelligence indicated strongly that the remaining men - those who had not died from illness or hard labor or torture - were eventually executed."
Schanberg stigmatizes the indifference of the press:
“In recent years, I have offered my POW stories to a long list of editors of leading newspapers, magazines, and significant websites that do original reporting. And when they decline my offerings, I have urged them to do their own POW investigation with their own staff under their own supervision. The list of these news organizations includes the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, New York magazine, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, Salon, Slate, Talking Points Memo, ProPublica, Politico, and others. To my knowledge, none have attempted or produced a piece. Their explanations for avoiding the story have never rung true. … Some said they didn’t have enough staff to do the story. Others said the story was ‘old’ —even though we have never found out what happened to the missing prisoners. …
“I asked these editors about the mountain of hard evidence attesting to the existence of abandoned men. In particular, I asked about the witness evidence, the 1,600 firsthand live sightings of American prisoners after the war. Did these journalists believe that every last one of the 1,600 witnesses was lying or mistaken? Many of these Vietnamese witnesses were interrogated by U.S. intelligence officers. Many were given lie-detector tests. They passed. The interrogators’ reports graded the bulk of the witnesses ‘credible.’
“I would run through the long gamut of known intelligence—official radio intercepts of prisoners being moved to and from labor camps in Laos, satellite photos, conversations overheard by Secret Service agents inside the White House, ransom offers from Hanoi through third parties, sworn public testimony by three U.S. defense secretaries who served during the Vietnam era that ‘men were left behind.’ The press wasn’t and isn’t interested.” In late 2008 The Nation published a shorted version of Schanberg’s investigation, and Hamilton Fish put a much fuller account up on the National Institute’s website."