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Accountability

The Missing POW’s of America.

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In the movie Rambo: First Blood Part II, Sylvester Stallone’s character lands in Vietnam to rescue American POWs left behind after the conclusion of the war in 1973. Was this based in fact however? No, said successive US governments, starting from Richard Nixon’s Republican period, 1973. Sociology professors agreed, labeling the “MIA myth” as mass conservative hysteria, a psychological unwillingness to let go of Vietnam as a hopeless cause.

Yes, said an awful lot of US soldiers and intelligence agents, starting with US Marine Bobby Garfield.

Garfield was captured by the Viet Cong in 1965 and released in 1979 – that is, five years after the US government had assured the nation that all MIAs and POWs had been accounted for. Families of MIAs/POWs then asked the Pentagon for declassified documents about their loved ones – only for the Pentagon to reclassify these documents. When the wife of one MIA wrote to President Reagan, he replied that his administration had planned a rescue raid for the MIA by Green Berets under the command of Colonel Bo Gritz in 1981. Eh?

The official line was that no US MIA remained alive in Indochina. Some sense of the contradictions and denials of the White House was made by the authors Monika Jensen-Stevenson and William Stevenson in their 1990 book Kiss the Boys Goodbye. The Stevensons reported that Dr Henry Kissinger negotiated a secret clause in the Paris Peace Accord (which ended the war in Nam) whereby the US would pay North Vietnam $4 billion in reparations in return for POWs held by Hanoi.

The US then reneged on the reparations – and the POWs stayed in Vietnam. “We had thousands of Americans after the release of 1973,” a Vietnamese secret police chief informed the Stevensons. Confirmation of the Stevensons’ case came in 1992 with the testimony of Richard Allen before Senator John Kerry’s Senate Select Committee on the fate of the American MIA. Allen informed the Committee that in 1981 Vietnam had offered to free the POWs it still held – some dozens – if the US handed over the $4 billion it had originally promised.

The offer was rebuffed by the Reagan government because it was not willing to pay ransom money for hostages (a piece of high-mindedness that apparently ended at the border of Iran; in 1987 Reagan confessed on TV that he had traded arms for American hostages and funnelled the funds to the Contras in Nicaragua – see Iran-Contra Scandal). Some observers, however, considered that the Reagan rebuff was simply because his administration wanted to close down the MIA/POW issue for fear of exposing the US’s illegal operations in Laos, bordering Vietnam, where many POWs were believed held.

According to whistle-blowing CIA agents, there were any number of embarrassing schemes operated by the agency in Laos, from drug-running to arms sales, waiting to be turned into headline news by the media. Better, then, to sacrifice the POWs and keep newshound noses out of Laos. So John Rambo had it right.

There were MIAs/POWs left behind in Vietnam. Possibly a lot of them and they were left to die by White House Presidents.

Sadly, the chances of any POWs also being left alive today, after 30+ years of privation and imprisonment, are extreamly remote.

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