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In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we have assembled a panel of four distinguished guests to reveal the tragic truth about what really happened to our POWs. Our guests today are:
Dr. Joseph Douglass, an investigator who has been engaged mainly in learning what happened to thousands who were left behind in the hands of various Communist captors. His work led to the identification of the one former Communist official who was personally involved in the efforts to capture American soldiers and what their captors did to them and correlating this with other information. He is the author of the book Betrayed, a comprehensive account of the abandonment of American POWs and their subsequent betrayal by the U.S. government.
Jay Veith, the author of Code-Name Bright Light: The Untold Story of U.S. POW Rescue Efforts During the Vietnam War. He has appeared on Fox News and other radio and TV stations, and testified twice on the POW/MIA issue before the U.S. House of Representatives. He has been invited to speak at the American Legion National Conference, the National League of POW/MIA Families and National Alliance of Families annual meetings, and many other venues. His latest book, Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75, will be published in November 2011 by Encounter Books.
Michael D. Benge, a former POW in North Vietnam (1968-1973). He is now a board member of the National Alliance of Families for the Return of America’s Missing Servicemen and Women WWII – Korean – Cold War – Vietnam War – Persian Gulf. The organization is having its annual meeting on July 21-23, 2001 at the Holiday Inn National Airport, Washington, DC.
Bill Dumas, a filmmaker in Los Angeles and former Fellow at the American Film Institute. He is the producer of Missing, Presumed Dead: The Search For America’s POWs.
FP: Dr. Joseph Douglass, Jay Veith, Michael D. Benge and Bill Dumas, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Jay Veith, let’s begin with you.
What is the best way to start a panel discussion on America’s missing POWs? Share with us your expertise on this issue and what your research has led you to discover.
Veith: I think there are several threads one must review concurrently to understand this tragedy. First, what do we know of Communist policy regarding POWs? Were they trying to exploit them for propaganda or other security related areas? If so, what does that mean for post-war releases or non-releases? Second, what evidence do we have for the Communist’s withholding American POWs after the end of various conflicts? Lastly, how cooperative have these Communist governments been over the years in providing answers about our missing men? I think that if one looks at this great mystery from those perspectives, i.e., motive, evidence, and lack of cooperation, one is led to the conclusion that American POWs have been secretly held back by different regimes for different purposes. One can get lost in a maze trying to unravel what happened to various individuals, but if you step back and look at the whole picture, I think a clear outline emerges of a deliberate policy to hold back prisoners. I’m curious what my colleagues think.
FP: Bill Dumas, how would you begin to approach the pertinent questions Jay Veith raises?
Dumas: These are three key points that Jay raises. The question is, on what stage does this discussion take place? As Joe Douglass states in my documentary film, our government doesn’t acknowledge leaving POWs behind, therefore there’s nothing to look for (nothing to talk about.) It’s remarkable that so few of our legislators know so little (if anything) about the POW/MIA issue. And when they become informed and sincerely try to investigate the situation they almost always hit a wall and drop their pursuit. That “wall” is usually the Pentagon’s DPMO (Defense Department POW/Missing Personnel Office.)
DPMO has two main functions. One is the recovery of remains mostly in SE Asia and North Korea. Many dedicated individuals at DPMO do a great job in that capacity. The other function of DPMO (performed by what could be referred to as the “shadow DPMO” – the long-term bureaucrats who handhold the revolving door, Presidentially appointed DASDs [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense] who operate as figureheads of the office.) Their mission is to ensure the American public (and maybe more so, the currently serving military personnel) that we do not leave soldiers behind.
Last year I received an email from Ron Paul asking if I would talk to Congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina (I was a senior staffer for the Ron Paul 2008 Presidential campaign and I inspired Ron to talk about POW/MIAs in several campaign rally speeches). Rep. Jones had just learned that POW/MIAs were abandoned in SE Asia and N. Korea. He was outraged and was intent on getting to the bottom this issue. We had a long phone conversation and I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of the POW/MIA story. Rep. Jones went to lengths assuring me that he is the kind of person that will not back off of an issue he commits himself to. He said that absolutely he would do what he had to do to resolve this enormous national tragedy.
Knowing that Rep. Jones would be contacting DPMO for the official government position on the status of our POW/MIAs (i.e. “There are none except those who died on the battlefield.”) I wrote an email to Rep. Jones giving him a primer on the function of DPMO and the reasons to be cautious of their PR narrative. I also sent him supporting documents, my documentary film DVD and a document I wrote a while back titled, “Korean War POW/MIA Peace Treaty Initiative” which proposes that no peace treaty be signed with North Korea before the POW/MIA issue is negotiated and resolved (this was the main unresolved issue that prevented a peace treaty from being signed in 1953). I also told him it was imperative that H. Res. 111 be brought to the floor for a vote, which if passed, would create a House select committee to investigate the POW/MIA issue. Hopefully a House Select Committee would complete the job that the Senate Select Committee in the early 1990s refused to do but instead skimmed over the evidence and swept it back under the carpet. And by the way, many were able to blame Nancy Pelosi for not bringing this bill to the floor for a vote even though the bill continues to acquire over 260 co-sponsors year after year. But why is John Boehner following in her footsteps?
Rep. Jones said we would talk again on the phone after he reviewed all the materials I was sending. That was over a year ago. I never heard back from Rep. Jones. I finally wrote him a long letter asking for an explanation of his abandoning his investigation and I had Ron Paul hand deliver the letter to him. Still I received no response. The only word I received from Rep. Jones’ office was copy of a letter he authored that was sent to David Gompert, Acting Director of National Intelligence, requesting the declassification of all documents pertaining to POW/MIAs. The letter was also signed by Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich and Jim McGovern.
That letter was dated June 23, 2010. I never heard anything more about the letter or any response from David Gompert.
The nagging question for me is, what is the mechanism that completely shuts down any attempt by our legislators to take up the POW/MIA issue? What does DPMO say to inquiring Congressional leaders that stops them in their tracks? And not just legislators but also top-tiered journalists excited to find such a potentially explosive story. I’ve seen this scenario repeated over and over to the same end.
So, back to Jay’s points. These are critical issues in beginning the dialogue that will hopefully resolve the POW/MIA dilemma. Unfortunately, what we have is more of a monologue than a dialogue. We know the issues, we have the evidence and documentation. But we don’t have the government participants for a dialogue.
I’d like to throw that ball to Dr. Douglass who also stated in the documentary that any solution to finding abandoned POW/MIAs would have to happen outside of government. (Perhaps later we can talk about private missions underway today in the search for POW/MIAs – without jeopardizing those operations – at least the legitimate ones.)
I have had encouraging dialogue with Sen. Dick Lugar’s staff as has my uncle Bob Dumas whose brother was last seen alive in N. Korea when the war ended but never came home. Last week I received a statement written by Lugar and read at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, DC by foreign relations staffer Keith Luse. It called on North Korea to account for POW/MIAs including live POW/MIAs. It’s very rare to hear any government official even imply the possibility there is a live POW/MIA being held anywhere in the world.
Lastly, yesterday in the LA Times Sen. John Kerry called for direct negotiations with the North Koreans and they should start with the recovery of POW/MIAs remains. There seemed to be a hint of including the issue of live POWs, though you’d be hard pressed to make that argument. This position by Kerry is rather ironic since he was such an obstacle in the Senate select committee hearings on POW/MIAs that he chaired in the early 1990s. During those hearings Bob Dumas testified that the only way to communicate with the North Koreans is through one-on-one dialogue on the Executive level. He should know, he’s probably had more conversations with the North Korean ambassadors to the DPRK U.N. Mission than any other American. And now, twenty years later our government may be starting to understand how to communicate with the North Koreans.
Benge: It’s unfortunate that so many nations don’t play by the Marcus of Queensbury rules or those of the Geneva Convention on POWs. There are too many nations which in the first place socially/culturally have little regard for human life in the first place, and then this inhumanity is compounded by the brutality of political regimes such as Nazism, communism, and jihadism and then superimposed upon this societal weakness. Then to add fuel to the fire you have individual vindictiveness with the desire to make people suffer even more by seeking revenge for some perceived wrong against themselves, their people or their country.
To further compound the problem, in past conflicts/wars much of the time, the US has not been the clear winner, leaving us with little or no bargaining power. Although the US and its allies won the war against the Germans in WWII, we capitulated to the Russians regarding the US and Allied POWs that were captured by the Germans and recaptured by the Russians in their sector of operations. There was/is little bargaining power with the Koreans/China on recovering POWs because that war was a stalemate. Regarding the Vietnam War, although the US pretty well won it militarily, we lost it politically; therefore, we were in a very weak position to bargain further for our POWs, and the politicians again sold out the POWs and basically sent the message to the Communist Vietnamese that the U.S. government was pretty well satisfied with what we got. After all, weren’t the POWs just expendable, since none of them were sons of major politicians? Few could care less (e.g., Eisenhower’s decision regarding American POWs captured in Germany by the Russians). We have the DPMO (The Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office) on record that they will not ask the North Koreans about live POWs, since their mission is a humanitarian one for the recovery of remains.
While I was a POW, the NVA repeatedly told me that they were going to hold some of us forever and someday try us in a Nuremberg-like trial for our war crimes. Did I believe the vindictive bastards? “You betchum Red Rider.” After I was released, I was told that my name did not appear on the first couple of NVA lists of POWs at the Paris conference. Do I believe POWs were left behind. “Yes.” Are some still alive? Chances are, yes. How many? Who knows, for DOD has told so many lies about the number of MIAs/POWs. Are they being held in Vietnam? I do not believe so. More probable they are being held in NVA-held territory in Laos, to give Hanoi plausible deniability. However, I can assure you they aren’t being held in Billy Hendon’s so-called underground prison in Hanoi. The facility he is talking about is the standard issue for all communist and fascist regimes that are aided by Russia in the form of a deep hardened bunker for the top Echlon of communist governments, such as the one for Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq.
DOD is not looking for POWs, only remains, and many of their staff were/are enablers who provided cover for the NVA, and should never have received security clearances for those positions. After Bill Bell testified on live POWs at the Kerry/McCain charade, he was fired from his position as head of the POW/MIA office in Hanoi. Bill tried to get funds to buy information and photographs on POW/MIAs, on the cheap, but DOD wouldn’t give him any. Rather, DIA collaborated with the NVA to write the book “Inside Hanoi’s Archives” and much of what was in it Bill could have bought “on the street.”
There were a bunch of snakes, posing as investigators, working for DOD on the POW/MIA issue both in Washington and in Hanoi. Several of them quit and received high paying jobs in Hanoi working for American companies in Hanoi, such as Caterpillar and GE, when it was illegal for them to do business in Hanoi. Another one was married to a North Vietnamese “honey pot,” who’s sister (I believe) was married to a French defector who worked for the Bureau for Enemy Proslitization that was in charge of POWs. Another evaluated the “Cuban Program” in which a number of American POWs were severely tortured by the Cubans, and said it was just an English Language instruction program that had gone awry. Then you have the liars Kerry, McCain and Pete Peterson (former POW and US Ambassador to Hanoi), who repeatedly testified and stated that Hanoi was fully cooperating on resolving the POW/MIA issue. To this day, DPMO’s investigators have never gotten the records of, nor access to, the archives of the Bureau for Enemy Proslitization.
Gentlemen, it’s a stacked deck.
Douglass: “Stacked deck” is a good way to describe the problem.
There has been a national policy going back to the 1920s to hide the crimes of the Communists, especially Russian Communists. One of the best statements of this is found in the Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press 1997). This was a book based on the investigation of half a dozen French academics, all former Communists or close fellow travelers. As stated by the lead editor, Stephane Courtois, in the introductory chapter:
“The extraordinary attention paid to Hitler’s crimes is entirely justified. It respects the wishes of the surviving witnesses, it satisfies the needs of researchers trying to understand these events, and it reflects the desire of moral and political authorities to strengthen democratic values. But the revelations concerning Communist crimes cause barely a stir. Why is there such an awkward silence from politicians? Why such a deafening silence from the academic world regarding the Communist catastrophe, which touched the lives of about one-third of humanity on four continents during a period spanning eighty years?”[i]
To better understand what lies behind the cover-up, consider what is implicit in the silence of politicians and academics. When the politicians are silent, there is a reason. They know that speaking out will not bring them good press and, indeed, may signal the end of their careers. Just consider what has happened to the careers of those whom the news media labeled “anti-Communist.” Similarly, when the academics are not addressing an issue of such a magnitude, there is also a reason. In this case, there are several reasons; to wit, major foundations that sponsor their research – for example, the Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie foundations – are not funding anti-Communist research, main-stream publishers are not publishing anti-Communist works, and the news media are not reviewing the books nor promoting the issue.
Additionally, silence is only one of the problems, equally in use to hide the crimes are lies, deception, burying data, and simple denial, as demonstrated in the efforts of CIA officials in the 1970s and 1980s to kill consideration of the Soviet role in organizing and supporting international terrorism.
Another example of this policy was White House directives not to confront the Russians respecting the missing American prisoners of war during and following World War II. The policy stated that with respect to Americans liberated from German prison camps by the Russians, there would be “no criticism of treatment by the Russians.”[ii] This was followed by a direction on April 1 that there would be no retaliatory action to Russian failure to cooperate.[iii] None of these were spur-of-the-moment decisions. The United States and British had known at least since October 1944 that the Russians were most unlikely to turn over more than a token number of American prisoners of war.[iv]
As described in Moscow Bound[v] and Soldiers of Misfortune[vi], the moment of truth came only weeks after V-E day when American, British, and Soviet negotiators met at Halle, Germany, to negotiate the prisoner of war problem. The conference ended on May 22. The Americans were permitted to visit the POW camp at Reisa. Permission to visit four other German POW camps where Americans were held was rescinded the next day. Only 4,165 American prisoners, all from Reisa, were released out of 25,000.
What took place afterwards is succinctly described in Soldiers of Misfortune as follows: “After the Halle exchange ended, the United States and Britain knew that documents must be manufactured to downgrade the numbers. They had to provide a plausible explanation that would stand the test of time and permanently bury the 23,500 Americans and 31,000 British non-returnees.”[vii] These are directives signed first by President Roosevelt, and later by President Harry Truman.
Lower level directives have been identified from the Korean War and from President Nixon following the Vietnam War when he stated that all our POWs had been returned, although this was clearly known to not be the case.
Following the “end” of the Cold War in 1989-1991, U.S. policy as explained by Robert Gates in an interview with Robert Buchar in Reality be Damned. The U.S., in coordination with talks with First Secretary Gorbachev, agreed to remain silent and “not get involved” in the Soviet Union to Russia transition, because they (U.S. leaders Bush, Gates, and Rice) did not want to risk upsetting the transition to a “democratic” Russia. To further cement-in this policy, the head of the CIA’s Operations Directorate was directed to close down listening posts, safe houses, and associated intelligence collection directed against the former Soviet Union and related Eastern European satellites. Likewise, the FBI removed 1000 of its agents from their tasks in watching the Soviet Union and reassigned them to the ever present street crime task. The fight against Communism and its history of crimes came to a swift and quiet end.
What was also killed in the process was work underway to expose a myriad of covert Russian intelligence operations to attack and destroy the U.S. during the Cold War, or perhaps more realistically, under cover of the Cold War. These attacks were designed to destroy the U.S. from within, via numerous mechanisms such as narcotics trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, and a wide array of various attacks that, in effect, constituted a broad-base Cultural War designed to undermine from the inside American strengths such as our industries, religious beliefs, education, unions, law& order, and political processes to facilitate the growth of corruption, crime, and compromise within the U.S., including within the leadership elite. Major propaganda offensives were unleashed in parallel to mask the source of these activities and seriousness of their growth, which has continued following the so-called “end of the Cold War.”
Why there was a special effort to “help” the POW/MIA issue die a slow death was the underlying magnitude of the issue – thousands of American GIs an officers knowingly left behind and the truth of what happened to them, which was their valuable use as human guinea pigs to the Russian and Chinese intelligence services to test ability of U.S. soldiers to withstand the rigors of nuclear war (which involved extensive physical and mental torture), to test the effectiveness of new chemical and biological warfare agents on U.S. soldiers, to train hundreds of trained agents to insert back in the U.S., and to learn more about the effects of atomic radiation on the human body and exposing scores of Americans to actual atomic boom effects. How could anyone associated with such knowledge not undertake whatever was required to bury such horrible information? All such knowledge had to be suppressed.
FP: Thank you Joe Douglass.
In this last round I would like our guests to comment on the contributions of the others, to give some more evidence of what they know about our missing POWs and, finally, to tell us what, if anything, can still be done – and what those who want to make a change can do.
Veith: My fellow contributors all make valuable points. I’ve always focused more on the perpetrators, i.e., the Communist governments, rather than on the enablers, i.e., the United States government bureaucracy and elected officials. After so many years in this issue, I agree with my old friend Dr. Douglass that the best option for uncovering the truth lies in private missions. Despite the great opportunity for fraud inherent in such operations, if you think about it, most of the stunning POW/MIA revelations of the last twenty years have come from private investigators. Think of the 1205 document and many others. Bob Dumas’ long search for his brother, and his attempts at interaction with North Korean officials, are also commendable and quite frankly, awe-inspiring.
I also agree that not only is the deck stacked, but would propose that since the Senate Select Committee, interest in the POW/MIA issue has dramatically dropped. How then, to revive it? It seems to me that well-defined, on-going research that produces documented evidence of these crimes is one way. Perhaps HR 111, if finally enacted, might be another. I had great hopes that the JCSD (Joint Commission Support Directorate, the section that searches for evidence that American POWs were taken to the Soviet Union) might uncover evidence in Russian archives, but the DPMO (Defense Prisoner Missing Personnel Office) managed to derail that effort. Perhaps my fellow contributors are unaware that the new head at the Defense Prisoner Missing Personnel Office, Robert Newberry, recently defunded what was becoming a promising inquiry by JCSD within Ukrainian military archives. Moreover, the US government just spent several million dollars on a new software system to help facilitate information sharing between the JPAC (Joint Prisoner/Missing Accounting Command, the unit based in Hawaii that conducts the investigations and crash site investigations), and DPMO, a project that simply boggles my mind.
Lastly, in terms of private efforts, there are several organizations dedicated to locating and helping JPAC recover crashed aircraft, mostly of the WWII variety. Moore’s Marauders, Bent Prop, and a few others are doing work in this area. I also know of several people doing research on Korea and elsewhere, but they are lone individuals doing it on their own time and money. Perhaps what is needed is for someone to attempt to bring everyone together to share research and knowledge.
FP: Jay Veith, what is the 1205 document?
Veith: The 1205 document was a report discovered in the Russian archives shortly after the Soviet Union disintegrated. The report, ostensibly by a North Vietnamese general named Tran Van Quang to the Politburo, claimed that they held 1205 American prisoners. This was far greater than was generally acknowledged at the time, and far more than was released in 1973.
FP: Bill Dumas, your final comments? And tell us why something like 1205 document isn’t a huge story — an undying huge story — throughout our media and literary culture, which it should be.
Dumas: It’s difficult to understand why the discovery of the 1205 document doesn’t make the day’s top story in the media. When we talk about our free press, those of us working on issues that are stamped “conspiracy theory” understand that we have a limited free press, something I wouldn’t have believed when I received my BA in journalism in the late ’70s.
When we engage in a discussion about the media suppression of the POW/MIA issue we inevitably point fingers at the CFR (Counsel on Foreign Relations) as an explanation of the kind of an all-encompassing entity that can actually control the fourth estate. Most journalists would discount this censorship notion even as their stories (should they happen upon a forbidden subject such as POW/MIAs) are squelched by their editor/publishers.
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