Sydney H. Schanberg, "a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter ... [who] has reported extensively on the POW story ... " tells the story how John McCain has for years blocked information on military personnel "missing in action" in Vietnam.
In an article, "Why Has John McCain Blocked Info on MIAs?", which appeared in The Nation on September 17, 2008, Schanberg details McCain's inexplicable efforts "to hide from the public stunning information about American prisoners in Vietnam who, unlike him, didn't return home. McCain has quietly sponsored and pushed into federal law a set of prohibitions that keep the most revealing information about these men buried as classified documents."
This is very strange, says Schanberg.
And there is a great deal of material. "The sum of the secrets McCain has sought to hide is not small. There exists a telling mass of official documents, radio intercepts, witness depositions, satellite photos of rescue symbols that pilots were trained to use, electronic messages from the ground containing the individual code numbers given to airmen, a rescue mission by a Special Forces unit that was aborted twice by Washington and even sworn testimony by two defense secretaries that 'men were left behind.' This imposing body of evidence suggests that a larger number--probably hundreds--of the U.S. prisoners held in Vietnam were not returned when the peace treay was signed in January 1973 and Hanoi released 591 men, among them Navy combat pilot John S. McCain."
From what Mr. Schanberg says, it appears that the issue snowballed out of control for various reasons until it simply wasn't politic to release the accumulated information. For example, a transcript of a senior North Vietnamese general's briefing of the Hanoi Politburo noted that "Hanoi was holding 1,205 American prisoners but would keep many of them at war's end as leverage to ensure getting reparations from Washington."
On February 1, 1973, President Richard Nixon, in a formal letter to the Pham Van Dong, Hanoi's premier, "pledged $3.25 billion in 'postwar reconstruction' aid."
The North Vietnamese didn't believe Nixon and held back prisoners. The pledge was never honored.
Although a huge mass of evidence was collected down through the years that a number of prisoners were indeed "left behind," that evidence was covered up and played down. Nobody wanted to fess up to such a scandal. And the man in the middle of the cover up was John S. McCain.
"An early and critical attempt by McCain to conceal evidence involved 1990 legislation called the Truth bill, which started in the House. A brief and simple document, the bill would have compelled complete transparency about prisoners and missing men. Its core sentence said that the 'head of each department or agency which holds or receives any records and information, including reports, which have been correlated or possibly correlated to United States personnel listed as prisoner of war or missing in action from World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam conflict, shall make available to the public all such records held or received by that department or agency."
The bill was "bitterly opposed" by the Pentagon and McCain. It was introduced the following year but disappeared. Then McCain came up with a new bill, which "created a bureaucratic maze from which only a fraction of the documents could emerge--only the records that revealed no POW secrets. The McCain bill became law in 1991 and remains so today."
Additional legislation in following years which would have provided information about POWs was also fought by McCain, including the Missing Service Personnel Act. McCain was able to attach "a crippling amendment to the act, stripping out its only enforcement teeth, the criminal penalties, and reducing the obligations of commanders in the field to speedily search for missing men and report the incidents to the Pentagon."
Not only has McCain fought transparency and openness with regard to Vietnam's missing POWs, but "has insisted again and again that all the evidence has been woven together by unscrupulous deceivers to create an insidious and unpatriotic myth. ... He has regularly vilified those who keep trying to pry out classified documents as 'hoaxers,' 'charlatans,' 'conspiracy theorists' and 'dime-store Rambos.' Family members who have personally pressed McCain to end the secrecy have been treated to his legendary temper. In 1996 he roughly pushed aside a group of POW family members who had waited outside a hearing room to appeal to him, including a mother in a wheelchair."
McCain's motive for this behavior is unknown. He claims he is afraid releasing POW information "would only stir up fresh grief for the families..." But that makes no sense. The families have been dealing with grief all along and merely want closure. Most of them say not knowing is what grieves them.
The mainstream media has largely avoided this story for unknown reasons. But it is an important story, and the POW-MIA problem is still an open wound for hundreds of our citizens. McCain's role in hiding pertinent information should be publicized and McCain should be questioned as to his motives, and the information should be released. We are a long way from 1973!
There is much more in Schanberg's article, and you can read it all here.