Sydney Schanberg: John McCain Blocked Info on Fellow POW’s


Photo from Google Earth from Ocean Park, CA.

“Americans…whose earthly resting place is known only to God.”

So says the dedication stone of the MIA/POW gardens in the National Cemetary of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The remains of four marines who disappeared in Vietnam when their helicopter was shot down have now been located, according to the POW/Missing Personnel Office of the DOD on November 5. Lance Cpl. Kurt E. La Plant, of Lenexa, KS, and Lance Cpl. Luis F. Palacios, of Los Angeles, CA were individually identified. Two others, were recovered only as “group remains”–Lance Cpl. Ralph L. Harper, of Indianapolis, IN and Pfc. Jose R. Sanchez, of Brooklyn, NY. That means, according to the National Leage of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, that there have been

837 US personnel accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. 90+% of the 1,746 still missing from the Vietnam War were lost in Vietnam itself or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control.

Democracy Now interviewed journalist Sydney Schanberg today about his October 6 article in The Nation, “Why Has John McCain Blocked Info on MIAs?” (longer version here at The Nation Institute.

Schanberg wrote,

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.

The Nation, in an editor’s note, lets us know it has published pieces with a conflicting vision by H. Bruce Franklin, a Rutgers American studies prof (email, web page) and author of MIA or Mythmaking in America. His article, “Who’s Behind the M.I.A. Scam – & Why ($ archive) in the December 7, 1992 issue, argued that the “devastating economic and political warfare” on Vietnam has been justified from 1969 through 1992 by the

The POW/MIA myth…kept alive by politicians such as Richard Nixon, Ross Perot and Jesse Helms since 1969. However, there has never been any credible evidence that US prisoners are being held in Vietnam, and Vietnam has taken unprecedented steps to account for all missing in action.

Then in “M.I.A.sama” ($ archive) in the May 10, 1993 issue, he adds that

Pres George Bush made two attempts to normalize relations with Vietnam, and each time sudden new ‘evidence’ of American prisoners was released to the media. The same thing has now happened to the Clinton administration, although the media release is filled with obvious flaws.

Whenever normalization of relations with Vietnam seems imminent, a media blitz suddenly features brand-new “evidence” about P.O.W.s in Indochina. Eventually the evidence turns out to be fraudulent, but few Americans ever learn about the expose.

I wish that some donor to The Nation would have made these articles available free of charge for comparison. And Goodman could have done us a solid by having both gentlemen on her program to discuss their alternative views. Readers here know I’m a fan of Goodman, but, as is often the case with advocacy journalism, I’m not sure her point is solely light, but also heat, in the time leading up to the election.

As it is, we’re left to read Franklin’s October 15 letter to the editor and Schanberg’s response . Both are exhibits in name-calling. Franklin describes Schanberg’s article as a

recycled and thoroughly discredited right-wing fantasy about Vietnam holding US POWs after the war…

and decries

Schanberg’s disgraceful role in promulgating [the POW myth] for decades?

Schanberg, in turn, calls Franklin a “desperate” ” ideologue” whose has in the past made “fact-starved claims” and now write a “pompous letter” which is a “foolish way” to deal with their disagreements. He ends,

It’s obvious that the best way to get to the bottom of the POW story is to press our government to release all the POW files that have been suppressed for thirty-five years.

That statement appeals to me, even despite another insult he hurls to the effect that his critics have not campaigned for such because they are afraid to find out what’s in the records. What’s most interesting to me, however, is another piece I discoverd by Schanberg, when I was looking for his emaill address. In a commentary for Neiman Watchdog on October 15, “The silent treatment regarding Vietnam POWs,” he writes,

Before The Nation accepted it, I tested the mainstream waters to see if the boycott had possibly been eased. The piece was rejected by everyone from The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times magazine to prominent Web sites like Salon and Talking Points Memo. One magazine editor said that because I had written on the subject before, it was “a retelling”and thus unsuitable. Others said they were too stacked up with McCain stories for the campaign season. None of the brush-offs were any more convincing than that. I appealed to them to tackle the story with their own reporters to set the historical record straight. Silence again.

Once the piece appeared, Schanberg writes that one the piece appeared, he began e-mailing again.

I wrote personal notes to the editors of The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. No response. I did the same with other editors and reporters and columnists and ombudsmen at those papers and many more. Also to television news and commentator shows and to press-beat reporters like Howard Kurtz. The list has grown now to more than 100.

He only got four responses that he can recall, one of which was from a reporter at a major paper who

was seized by the story, immersed himself in the issue and pitched it to his editors, who blew him off saying there wasn’t enough time to research the story and, besides, they said, they had questions about its credibility.

He offers any “any reader – editor, reporter, layman” “links to my earlier writings on this issue” and “guidance on where to go for more information.” For, as he notes,

Election Day isn’t the cutoff point. Even if John McCain doesn’t make the White House, he’ll still be in the Senate, suppressing POW files.

The public information is available through the Library of Congress at its Vietnam-Era Prisoner-of-War/Missing-in-Action Database. The information at the National Archives can be found through its Finding Aid to Records Relating to American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action from the Vietnam War Era, 1960-1994. See also the resolution to esetablish a Congressional committee, H. Res. 111 (2007)

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