One year ago, the Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations assigned members of the Minority Staff to investigate the following three questions:
(1) Whether the United States Government has received and still possesses valid information concerning living prisoners of war/missing in action--POW /MIAs --in Southeast Asia;
(2) Whether the U.S. Government has failed to act on such information; and,
(3) Whether the U.S. Government has acted improperly to intimidate and discredit sources of such information.
The primary purpose of this investigation has been, and will continue to be, to determine whether the U.S. government has handled the question in a truthful and effective manner. But if it results in a determination that even one POW may still be alive, it will result in a dividend of blessings.
The inquiry remains on-going. It is based not only on the review of thousands of classified and non-classified documents, but also upon hundreds of telephonic and face-to-face interviews with government officials and those affected by their decisions with regard to POW /MIAs . A full report will require much additional investigation and analysis. The following, however, represents an interim report at the conclusion of one year's work. It allows the presentation of some preliminary conclusions.
The U.S. Government states it has no evidence that POWs were left behind in Southeast Asia. The official policy asserts that it is open to investigation of all reports. For example, the official Department of Defense (DOD) POW -MIA Fact Book, issued July, 1990, states:
`Although we have thus far been unable to prove that Americans are still detained against their will, the information available to us, precludes ruling out that possibility. Actions to investigate live sighting reports receive and will continue to receive necessary priority and resources based on the assumption that at least some Americans are still held captive. Should any report prove true, we will take appropriate action to ensure the return of those involved.'
Notwithstanding this professed openness to new evidence, the U.S. Government has insisted since April 12, 1973, that it has no evidence of living POWs . In fact, on that date--at the conclusion of Operation Homecoming, which brought home 591 POWs --Dr. Roger Shields, then Assistant Secretary of Defense, stated that the DOD had `no evidence that there were any more POWs still alive in all of Indochina.'
This assertion has been consistent. For example, last July, Col. Joseph A. Schlatter, then chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Special Office for POW /MIAs , was saying that `If we look at everything we collected during the war and everything we've collected since the war, we don't find any evidence that Americans are captive.'
Furthermore, as late as October, 1990, an unnamed `senior State Department official' was quoted in the press as saying the U.S. Government has `no evidence' of living American prisoners in Southeast Asia.
However, to say that the U.S. Government has `no evidence' is not the same as saying that no evidence exists. After all, there have been nearly 11,700 reports relating to POW /MIAs over the years, including 1,400 firsthand, live-sighting reports. The question is whether every single one of these reports can be dismissed from the category of credible evidence.
The U.S. Government position makes sense only if every single one of these reports can be shown to have been fabricated, erroneous, or not relating directly to a POW /MIA --for example, some reports may relate to Europeans in the area. In fact, DIA analysts have have rejected the evidence of all these reports, except for a small pool of less than 150 still considered `unresolved.'
The preliminary conclusions presented by staff for review by Senators are as follows:
(1) After the conclusion of Operation Homecoming in April, 1973, brought the return of the 591 POWs , official U.S. Government policy internally adopted and acted upon the presumption that all other POWs were dead, despite public assertions that the government was still open to investigating the possibility of discovering the existence of living prisoners.
(2) Following the adoption of an internal policy in April, 1973, that all POW /MIAs were presumed dead, the U.S. Government, convened commission in each military service to consider each case on the POW /MIA list in order to make a statutory declaration of presumption of death.
(3) While there is no reason to believe that the majority, if not most, of the declarations of presumptive death are incorrect, staff review of livesighting reports files at DIA found a disturbing pattern of arbitrary rejection of evidence that connected a sighting to a specific POW /MIA or U.S. POW /MIAs in general.
(4) The pattern of arbitrary rejection resulted in a declaration of presumptive finding of death for every such individual case, except one.
(5) The internal policy that all POW /MIAs were presumed dead resulted in an emphasis on finding and identifying remains of dead personnel, rather than searching for living POW /MIAs .
(6) The desire to identify specific sets of remains with specific names on the POW /MIA list led DOD to an exaggeration of the capabilities of forensic science, and identification based on dubious presumptions and illogical deductions rather than actual physical identification--a process which resulted in numerous misidentifications of remains.
(7) Despite adherence to internal policies and public statements after April, 1973 that `no evidence' existed of living POWs , DIA authoritatively concluded as late as April, 1974 that several hundred living POW /MIAs were still held captive in South East Asia.
(8) Although the Pathet Lao declared on April 3, 1973, that Laotian Communist forces were holding American POWs and were prepared to give an accounting, nine days later a DOD spokesman declared that there were no more American prisoners anywhere in South East Asia. No POWs held by Laotian Communist forces ever returned. The evidence indicates that the U.S. Government made a decision to abandon U.S. citizens still in the custody of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, at the conclusion of U.S. involvement in the Second Indochina War.
(9) U.S. casualties, including POW /MIAs in South East Asia, resulting from covert or cross border operation, may not be included on the list of those missing.
(10) The executive branch has failed to address adequately the concerns of the family members of the POW /MIAs , and has profoundly mishandled the POW /MIA problem.
DEFINITION OF POW /MIA
The subject of POW /MIAs requires some definitions. After the Second Indochina War--popularly known as the Vietnam War, even though Thailand, Burma, Laos and Cambodia saw U.S. combat action--hundreds of POWs returned alive, notably in Operation Homecoming, which concluded in April, 1973
Those who did not return home are classified by the Department of Defense into two categories: POW /MIAs --that is, those for whom there is some documentation that they were captured but never repatriated; and KIA/BNRs--that is, those believed to have been killed in action, but whose bodies were not recovered. For the latter, there is no evidence of their death except DOD's evaluation of the circumstances, even though no physical evidence of death may be available.
In April, 1973, DOD reported that 2,383 personnel were unaccounted
for: 1,259 POW /MIAs , and 1,124 KIA/BNRs. This study assumes that both categories of the unaccounted for deserve review. Since 1973, DOD has announced the return of 280 sets of remains, diminishing the over-all number by that amount.
In addition, there could well be an equal number of military personnel missing in action from various U.S. covert actions during the war. Since DOD files on covert actions have not been opened, and the participants in such actions never publicly identified, this inquiry could not establish any number for covert POW /MIAs . However, public source books and interviews with participants suggest that the issue of covert operations adds a substantial, but unknown, dimension of the MIA question which has received no scrutiny.
REVIEW OF LIVE-SIGHTING DOCUMENTS
In this inquiry, staff has reviewed hundreds of U.S. Government classified, declassified, and open-source documents. In addition, Senator Grassley and Committee Minority staff were given access to, and have reviewed personally, hundreds of classified live-sighting reports (accounts by Southeast Asians of live POWs in Southeast Asia) in the files of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). According to DIA, this is the first time that either a United States Senator or any United States Congressional Committee staff have been given access to the raw intelligence contained in the 1,400 live-sighting reports.
Out of the 1,400 live-sighting reports, approximately 1,200 are considered by DIA to be `resolved.' Each of the so-called `resolved' sightings was resolved by concluding that the live-sighting report did not pertain to U.S. POWs present after April 1979. Staff felt that in some cases such a conclusion was correct, but that in many it was not supported by the facts.
Staff began by first examining so-called resolved cases in order to study DIA methodology by which a conclusion of `resolution' was reached. Since the guidelines set by DIA for access to the files were extremely restrictive, the time available allowed review of only about one-quarter of the so-called `resolved' cases, and none of those in the category of `unresolved.' Nevertheless, staff concluded that a significant number of the `resolved' cases reviewed showed that the DIA methodology was faulty, or that the evidence did not support the DIA conclusion in the case, or both.
The information collected and reviewed to date by the staff shows that the position held by the United States Government--namely, that no evidence exists that Americans are still being held against their will--cannot be supported. Rather, the information uncovered during this inquiry provides enough corroboration to cast doubt upon the veracity of the U.S. Government's conclusion.
Without revealing classified information, staff believes that the review of the classified live-sighting reports reinforces that doubt. Although more information remains to be reviewed, the evidence this inquiry has thus far uncovered shows that:
(1) Living U.S. citizens, military and civilian, were held in Southeast Asia against their will after the U.S. Government's statement on April 13, 1973, that no prisoners remained alive; and
(2) The information available to the U.S. Government does not rule out the probability that U.S. citizens are stil being held in Southeast Asia.
In fact, classified and unclassified information all confirm one startling fact: That DOD in April, 1974, concluded beyond a doubt that several hundred living American POW's remained in captivity in Southeast Asia. This was a full year after DOD spokesmen were saying publicly that no prisoners remained alive.
Evidence uncovered in the several hundred cases reviewed thus far clearly demonstrates that, in a disturbing number of cases, DOD made significant errors in drawing conclusions about live-sighting reports, the presumed deaths of individuals, or about individuals that were unaccounted for at the conclusion of the war. Although many cases were resolved correctly
based upon the files, there were too many errors apparent to rule out the need to undertake and complete the review of the `unresolved' cases.
Staff also concluded that DOD spent an excessive amount of effort in discrediting live-sighting reports, while exaggerating or mishandling forensic data in order to confirm a presumptive finding of death. DOD appeared to be more anxious to declare a presumptive finding of death than in following up reports of sightings with creative investigative work.
Furthermore, there is evidence of insensitivity on the part of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government in providing complete and accurate information to the next-of-kin of missing American servicemen.
The classified evidence in DIA files suggests a pattern by a few U.S. Government officials of misleading Congressional inquiries by concealing information, and misinterpreting or manipulating data in government files. Interested Senators and staff with proper clearances no doubt will want to review the classified files themselves and draw their own conclusions.
THE 1973 POLICY DECISION
Those who have not dealt with the POW /MIA issue may find it difficult to understand how DOD's analysis of the information could be in error. Unfortunately, staff believes that DOD has allowed its precedures to be dictated by a pre-conceived policy finding.
The New York Times reported on April 12, 1973, as follows:
`Washington, April 12 (AP)--The Pentagon, two months after the first American prisoners of war began coming home, said today that it had no evidence that there were any more prisoners still alive in all of Indochina.
`Despite the fact that interviews with all returning prisoners are nearly complete, a Pentagon official, Dr. Roger Shields, said that none of the 1,389 Americans listed as missing were now technically considered prisoners. `We have no indication at this time that there are any Americans missing alive in Indochina,' Dr. Shields said at a news conference.'
Dr. Shields was at that time Assistant Secretary of Defense, but he was following guidance issued on that date by the Department of State in a memorandum to DOD which stated that `There are no more prisoners in Southeast Asia. They are all dead.' This directive was issued immediately after the return of the last POWs in Operation Homecoming. This finding was made despite that the fact that none of the hundreds of POW /MIAs that the Pathet Lao publicly acknowledged holding were ever returned from Laos. There were hundreds of live-sighting reports on file in 1973. Thousands of such reports have continued to be received since then.
PROCESS FOR `PRESUMPTION OF DEATH'
Since it was official policy, then, that all MIAs were dead, it became a bureaucratic necessity for all `unresolved' cases to be resolved in favor of a presumed finding of death.
Each respective military service from time to time convenes its own special commissions to pronounce on individual cases. Such a commission had before it at least three categories of information: The first is intellegence-related information concerning the individual. The second is eyewitness accounts of the loss event. The third is the so-called `incident report'--the official report of the loss incident.
If a year passes without new information, the respective military service can convene a commission to determine whether a presumptive finding of death should be delared.
The April, 1973, statement of policy was a political statement, rather than a finding according to statutory authority. As a result, the military services subsequently reviewed each individual case of those who previously had been declared dead en masse. And in every case except one, the commissions made a determination of a presumptive finding of death.
Because of this procedure, the bureaucratic necessity arose for discrediting any evidence that might cast doubt on the mass presumptive finding of death of April, 1973. From the standpoint of law and military regulations, the procedure followed in each case gave a legal affirmation to the original political statement.
Therefore, in order to discredit any information which might undermine the political thesis, the analysis of intelligence files fell into a systematic pattern of debunking information contrary to the thesis.
This systematic debunking included discrediting of reports, possible intimidation of witnesses, dismissal of credible evidence through technicalities, and--if all else failed--the arbitrary disregard of evidence contrary to the thesis.
DOD'S WORKING HYPOTHESIS
An analysis of DOD's working hypothesis for fully accounting for American MIAs is the key to understanding the discrepancies between DOD's position on the POW issue and the evidence uncovered by the staff.
DOD's premise, beginning in April, 1973, has been that all MIAs are dead; the corollary, therefore, is that DOD must never find any evidence that any MIA is alive. The best evidence, in DOD's opinion, is a set of physical remains that can be identified as a specific individual on the POW /MIA list. Once such an identification has been made, the case of that individual can be removed forever from the list. This is an easier task than to accept live-sighting reports that might point to a living POW , thereby necessitating appropriate follow-up action.
It is a reasonable assumption to remove POW /MIAs from the list when remains are identified, if the identification is correct. But the fact is that in a significant number of cases, such identifications have been made on the basis of inadequate physical evidence, using presumptive deductions that may or may not be true. The pressure to identify sets of remains even has resulted in specific cases where caskets have been buried with full military honors as the `remains' of the individual when, in fact, the casket is empty.
Therefore, DOD acts on its premise by vigorously investigating for the remains of dead MIAs . The list of MIAs presumed dead following the conclusion of the war totalled 2,383. DOD has received and claimed to have identified a total of 280 sets of remains since 1973.
Any full accounting of MIAs , according to DOD's working hypothesis, would necessarily involve only those cases in which either a presumptive finding of death could be made, or else full or partial remains could be discovered. As each presumptive finding of death is declared or set of remains is identified, DIA would remove, as accounted for, the names that matched those on the original MIA list. In this respect, DOD claims that DIA has vigorously investigated and resolved hundreds of such cases.
The policy of DOD is to focus attention on the cases where some evidence, no matter how small, of physical remains can be recovered. But even while DOD enthusiastically and vigorously investigates remains case--no matter how fragmentary--it just as vigorously discredits live-sighting and other witness accounts. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of thousands of Asians fled Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. These refugees provided many first-hand reports, or knew by second- or third-hand reports, of American prisoners being held in their respective countries.
To date, over 11,700 accounts have been received by DOD; 1,400 of these are first-hand, live-sighting reports. DIA claims to have analyzed fully each of these live-sighting reports, and to have left `no stone unturned' in searching for living prisoners. After analyzing the live-sighting reprts, DIA has concluded that the majority are not related to living American POWs , with the possible exception of a small percentage of reports that DIA describes as `unresolved.'
However, no `resolved' case has ever concluded that an American POW remains captive in Southeast Asia. In this way DIA concludes that there is no evidence of Americans currently being held captive in Southeast
Asia. This contention is consistent with both the working hypothesis described above and with DIA's apparent success at removing from the MIA list names that involve only those cases in which remains are identified, or a finding of death declared.
Insofar as these discrepancies relate to the 1,400 first-hand reports of living prisoners, DOD's original premise comes into question. Numerous live-sighting reports have been erroneously discredited by DIA analysts. Moreover, staff has reason to believe that DOD has misidentified the remains of scores of MIA's , and has incorrectly presumed dead many others.
This analytical bias is typical of a bureaucracy defending an established policy at all costs, even if it means denying the obvious. It is also a typical characteristic of an out-moded paradigm that can no longer explain the real world or real facts. If the original premise of DOD had been that at least some of the 2,383 MIAs were alive, then DOD would have been forced by circumstance to view the evidence collected, including the hundreds of live-sighting reports, from an objective standpoint. The relevance and validity of each report could have been judged on its own merits rather than whether it supported a pre-determined hypothesis that no living POW /MIAs remained.
Unfortunately, DOD choose to make its own analysis, without proper legislative oversight. Claiming extreme sensitivity and possible threats to sources and methods of intelligence gathering, DOD evaded the proper oversight that would have assured the objectivity of their process. The result has been a disservice to the POW /MIAs , their families and the American people.
IMPORTANCE OF THE PROBLEM
The resolution of these questions is important not only to any MIA /POWs who may be still alive, but also to the families involved. It is also important to the fate of any possible POWs in a future military action. With 200,000 U.S. troops now deployed to the Persian Gulf, the question of possible prisoners of war once again becomes an urgent matter.
Moreover, the resolution of issues relating to Southeast Asia is a key priority of our nation's foreign policy. Secretary of State James A. Baker III stated recently that the POW /MIA issue is the last remaining obstacle to resumption of relations with the government of Vietnam. But if it turns out that Vietnam has been concealing the existence of POWs , then it would be a complicating factor in initiating relations with the present regime.