Friday, September 19, 2008

Did John McCain Block Release of POW Documents?

Check this out:

Sydney H. Schanberg, the longtime New York Times reporter and editor and Newsday columnist -- and author of "The Killing Fields" -- has written a 9000-word investigative piece on John McCain and his longstanding efforts to, as Schanberg asserts in his lede, "hide from the public stunning information about the live Vietnam prisoners who, unlike him, didn't return home."

Or better yet, check out the whole article in the Nation.

John McCain, who has risen to political prominence on his image as a Vietnam POW war hero, has, inexplicably, worked very hard to hide from the public stunning information about American prisoners in Vietnam who, unlike him, didn't return home. Throughout his Senate career, 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. Thus the war hero people would logically imagine to be a determined crusader for the interests of POWs and their families became instead the strange champion of hiding the evidence and closing the books.

Almost as striking is the manner in which the mainstream press has shied from reporting the POW story and McCain's role in it, even as McCain has made his military service and POW history the focus of his presidential campaign. Reporters who had covered the Vietnam War have also turned their heads and walked in other directions. McCain doesn't talk about the missing men, and the press never asks him about them.

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 large number--probably hundreds--of the US prisoners held in Vietnam were not returned when the peace treaty was signed in January 1973 and Hanoi released 591 men, among them Navy combat pilot John S. McCain.

The Pentagon had been withholding significant information from POW families for years. What's more, the Pentagon's POW/MIA operation had been publicly shamed by internal whistleblowers and POW families for holding back documents as part of a policy of "debunking" POW intelligence even when the information was obviously credible. The pressure from the families and Vietnam veterans finally produced the creation, in late 1991, of a Senate "Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs." The chair was John Kerry, but McCain, as a POW, was its most pivotal member. In the end, the committee became part of the debunking machine.

It's well worth reading the whole article. This should be a blockbuster, if anybody dares to listen, but the sensitivity of it remains. But if one worries about McCain's sensitivities, maybe we should consider the sensitivities of others.

On November 11, 1992, Dolores Alfond, sister of missing airman Capt. Victor Apodaca and chair of the National Alliance of Families, an organization of relatives of POW/MIAs, testified at one of the Senate committee's public hearings. She asked for information about data the government had gathered from electronic devices used in a classified program known as PAVE SPIKE.

Should be reasonable enough. But catch this:

The devices were primarily motion sensors, dropped by air, designed to pick up enemy troop movements. But they also had rescue capabilities. Someone on the ground--a downed airman or a prisoner on a labor gang--could manually enter data into the sensor, which were regularly collected electronically by US planes flying overhead. Alfond stated, without any challenge from the committee, that in 1974, a year after the supposedly complete return of prisoners, the gathered data showed that a person or people had manually entered into the sensors--as US pilots had been trained to do--"no less than 20 authenticator numbers that corresponded exactly to the classified authenticator numbers of 20 US POW/MIAs who were lost in Laos." Alfond added, says the transcript: "This PAVE SPIKE intelligence is seamless, but the committee has not discussed it or released what it knows about PAVE SPIKE."

McCain, whose POW status made him the committee's most powerful member, attended that hearing specifically to confront Alfond because of her criticism of the panel's work. He bellowed and berated her for quite a while. His face turning anger-pink, he accused her of "denigrating" his "patriotism." The bullying had its effect--she began to cry.

After a pause Alfond recovered and tried to respond to his scorching tirade, but McCain simply turned and stormed out of the room. The PAVE SPIKE file has never been declassified. We still don't know anything about those 20 POWs.

Sound familiar? That anger thing? And this is the guy we're supposed to elect to be President of the United States? Is anybody listening?


Anonymous said...

Just when you think no one is listening. I read it and believe every word of it. It is funny that you posted that because someone was telling me a little about that today and I also heard a little something about it on the radio.
Not sure I would want to push the button by his name next month. And he's not able to conceal his tiny temper.
His running mate is not much of a prize herself, she doesn't even have the sense to know that she's a token.

Omyma said...

Thanks for your comment. Let's hope that most people hear both sides and don't believe all the lies being pushed by the McCain campaign.