MIA Facts Site

Report of the
Senate Select Committee
on
POW-MIA Affairs:
Section 9

 Discussion

Orchestrated Confusion -- the DRV and Pathet Lao

Throughout the period between January 27 and the completion of
Operation Homecoming, there was both official and public confusion
about who controlled U.S. prisoners captured in Laos. As has been
stated, it does not appear that the prisoners on the DRV/Laos list
were ever under the control of the LPF. Rather, they were captured
in Laos by the North Vietnamese and, with one exception,
transferred expeditiously out of Laos to North Vietnam. The U.S.
POWs thought to be held in caves in northern Laos were not
released, nor was any accounting given for MIAs in Laos.

Confusion about this issue of control was apparent not only to the
public, but to some officials, as well. For example, the U.S.
delegation to the FPJMC, which was responsible for implementing the
accords, believed at least until mid-March that the prisoners on
the February 1 list were actually being held in Laos by the LPF.
The official military history of the U.S. delegation to the FPJMC,
written in 1974, refers to the American success in obtaining the
release of "the prisoners held by the Pathet Lao."

From the very beginning of negotiations, the DRV sought to maintain
the fiction that its troops were not in Laos and that it could not
take any action that affected Laos without consulting the Pathet
Lao. And yet, according to U.S. officials, the LPF was almost
wholly dependent on, and controlled by, the DRV. Ambassador
Sullivan, for example, estimated that the total number of armed LPF
forces did not exceed 500. Ambassador Godley testified that
"anything that Le Duc Tho said about Laos would be law in the
Pathet Lao areas."

Dr. Kissinger told the Committee that:

our perception of the Pathet Lao was that they were
stooges of Hanoi, that they had no independence
whatsoever, that they were totally controlled by the
communists in Hanoi. . . we had every confidence that
Hanoi could make the Pathet Lao do what they
wanted.

Ambassador Sullivan also ridiculed the controversial LPF spokesman,
Soth Petrasy, as a "figurehead and a nonentity who had no
communications himself with anything going on in the military
zone." Despite this, the U.S. found itself negotiating with
Soth Petrasy for the release of prisoners he had insisted that the
LPF had, only to be put off first with pleas for delay and
ultimately confounded by statements that the prisoners did not
exist.

During the period immediately prior to the signing of the peace
agreement, and throughout the 60 plus days leading up to the end of
Operation Homecoming, the DRV and LPF played an elaborate game at
American expense. The North Vietnamese made a show of "consulting"
with the LPF about U.S. prisoners who were jailed in the DRV's own
capital of Hanoi. The DRV promised Dr. Kissinger that it could
guarantee the release of U.S. prisoners held captive by the LPF,
but failed to do so. The LPF insisted it was not bound by North
Vietnamese commitments, although it was clearly dependent on the
DRV in almost every way. And time and again, LPF spokesmen teased
U.S. public and official opinion by discussing the prisoners they
claimed to be holding.

U.S. officials tried to break through the charade, but were left,
ultimately, trying to work around it. The U.S. was handicapped by
its reluctance to set a precedent by accepting as reality the fact
that North Vietnam could exercise what amounted to sovereignty in
parts of Laos and Cambodia. The charade reached its apparent climax
on March 28, 1973 when American officials accepted the prisoners on
the DRV/Laos list not from their North Vietnamese jailers, but from
the Pathet Lao.

The problem of who controlled Laos continued during the post-
Homecoming period when the Administration's focus shifted from the
possible repatriation of live prisoners to obtaining an accounting
for the missing. The dominance of North Vietnamese troops in Laos
meant that the DRV would logically know more than the LPF about
MIAs lost in that country. But since the DRV wouldn't admit to
knowledge about what happened in Laos, that avenue of inquiry was
foreclosed. Meanwhile, as described above, efforts to obtain
information directly from the Pathet Lao bore no fruit.

Within a year, the combination of DRV duplicity, LPF intransigence
and American frustration caused DIA to sum up the situation in a
memorandum which concluded that: "One can only speculate about the
current fate of the Americans who were known to have been held
captive by the Pathet Lao in previous years."

What Could the Administration Have Done?

Diplomatic Efforts

The obvious and most difficult question facing U.S. decisionmakers
during the 60 day period following the signing of the PPA was what
to do about apparent North Vietnamese violations. With respect to
the military issues of ceasefire, withdrawal of advisers,
withdrawal from Cambodia and Laos and arms supply, all sides
violated the agreement to some extent. But with respect to U.S.
POWs, the issue boiled down to whether the American side could
force or persuade the North Vietnamese to do more than it was
apparently willing to do to meets its obligations.

As documented above, top-level Nixon Administration officials were
advised by DIA and others throughout the 60-day period of the
possibility that there were live American POWs in Indochina who
were not on either the January 27 lists or the February 1 DRV/Laos
list. The area of greatest concern was Laos, but there were a
substantial number of discrepancy cases in North and South Vietnam,
as well.

At the time the agreement was signed, Administration officials were
unrestrained in expressions of American resolve to obtain full
compliance on POW/MIAs. Dr. Kissinger said the U.S. would "brutally
enforce" the return of prisoners. Our delegation to the
FPJMC in Saigon considered the release of U.S. POWs "the major
emotional motivating force for. . . Americans. It was probably also
the only issue over which the United States could justify a renewal
of bombing raids or other measures involving military force, should
the North Vietnamese clearly demonstrate their intent to violate
the provisions. . . "

Despite this, and despite the fact that air strikes were considered
and ordered on ceasefire and infiltration-related issues, nothing
in the records reviewed by the Select Committee indicates that the
President or Dr. Kissinger seriously considered overt military
action on the POW/MIA issue at any time after the signing of the
PPA.

A number of diplomatic actions were taken during the 60 day period,
but with marginal success. For example:

. the U.S. delayed delivery of President Nixon's letter on
reconstruction aid until the DRV came up with a list of
prisoners from Laos; the list was delivered but it was
disappointingly short and incomplete;

. the U.S. threatened to cancel Dr. Kissinger's trip to Hanoi
because of the incomplete nature of the lists, but did not do
so;

. during the Hanoi trip, Dr. Kissinger demanded an accounting of
discrepancy cases, but the demand was ignored;

. on March 20, the U.S. again protested to the DRV about the
failure to obtain an adequate list of prisoners from Laos, and
threatened "grave consequences" if the failure persisted; once
again, the protest was in vain; and

. U.S. diplomatic approaches to the Pathet Lao throughout
February, March and thereafter led nowhere.

Military Options

In mid-March, U.S. concern about continued DRV use of the Ho Chi
Minh trail caused the Administration to consider a two to three day
period of bombing in southern Laos. This course of action was
recommended to the President by the WSAG group and by Dr.
Kissinger. In his testimony, Dr. Kissinger says that the President
ultimately decided against this course of action and sought,
instead, another round of talks with Le Duc Tho.

The issue arose again in mid-April when DRV forces continued to
operate in northern Laos in violation of the PPA and the Laos
ceasefire agreement. This time, the U.S. went ahead with two days
of B-52 bombing raids inside Laos. This step led to an agreement
between the U.S. and the DRV to negotiate PPA compliance issues in
May and June, 1973. In Cambodia, meanwhile, heavy U.S. bombing
raids continued until Congress prohibited further funding for them,
effective August 15, 1973.

Although the U.S. did not threaten or carry out air strikes over
the POW/MIA issue, it did on two occasions briefly suspend troop
withdrawals. The first instance was on February 26th when the DRV
failed to produce the list of POWs due to be released the following
day. Dr. Kissinger described the Administration's response this
way:

We responded very sharply by suspending American troop
withdrawals and mine-clearing operations in North
Vietnamese harbors. Secretary of State Rogers declined to
attend any sessions at the International Conference in
Paris. A terse message was sent to Hanoi simply informing
it of our actions. In addition, White House press
secretary Ronald Ziegler was instructed to read at his
noon briefing a tough statement making clear that the
release of American prisoners was an unconditional
obligation of North Vietnam not linked to any other
provision of the Agreement. A day later, I told Ziegler
that I was certain the pressures would work (in a
conversation that also clearly indicates my plan to leave
government soon): "A year from now when I'm out of here,
they're really going to put it to us. Not for that reason
but a year from now, they're going to be tigers but now
they're not ready." The POWs were released on
schedule.

On March 22, 1973, after the North Vietnamese threatened not to go
forward with the release of prisoners on the DRV/Laos list, and
after DIA reported that the LPF might well be holding other POWs,
the U.S. again decided to halt the withdrawal of American troops.
Initially, the U.S. demand was that the DRV guarantee the return of
the U.S. prisoners on the DRV/Laos list and all others held by the
Pathet Lao. This decision was modified the following day to make
full U.S. withdrawal contingent only upon the release of prisoners
from the January 27 and February 1 lists. Again, the DRV
essentially acceded to the U.S. demand.

Just prior to the completion of Operation Homecoming, Defense
Department staff produced for Secretary Elliot Richardson a series
of recommended options, including military options, intended to
increase pressure for the return of possible U.S. POWs in Laos. The
strongest options, including air strikes against Hanoi and Laos,
were not passed on by the Secretary to Dr. Kissinger. Secretary
Richardson did recommend consideration, however, of the movement of
a new carrier task force into the waters off Vietnam's coast and
the commencement of military air reconnaissance missions over Laos.
Neither step was carried out.

Restraints on the Use of Force. Despite the Administration's strong
concerns about the completeness of the POW release, there were a
number of factors arguing against a decision to suspend troop
withdrawals or move beyond that to the resumed use of military
force.

First, and foremost, the signing of the Accords and the
commencement of the ceasefire on January 27, 1973 had been welcomed
with enthusiasm by the American people and were viewed as marking
an end to U.S. involvement in a tragic and unpopular war. Any
action by the Administration to disrupt implementation of the peace
agreement would carry risks and might, unless clearly and
convincingly explained, prove unsustainable in the face of the
American public's desire for an end to the war. Nevertheless, the
U.S. did temporarily suspend troop withdrawals for short periods of
time without engendering public opposition.

Second, the Administration was concerned that any military action
taken during the 60-day period following the signing of the Accords
would imperil the release of the POWs whose names had been included
on North Vietnam's lists but who had not yet been released. This
appears to be the primary reason that President Nixon did not agree
to the WSAG's recommendation to bomb Laos in mid-March.

Third, the Administration could not be sure that resuming military
hostilities would lead to the release of additional U.S. POWs. The
available intelligence information was not sufficient to say with
certainty that any particular individual was alive and being held
in a particular location. This argued against rescue missions or
other military actions aimed at the release of specific POWs. More
general military actions, such as bombing Hanoi or the Ho Chi Minh
Trail, might have been more likely to create new POWs than to gain
the release of existing ones.

Balancing. Ambassador Lord told the Select Committee of his belief
that the Administration's decision not to use force or to attach
stronger conditions to troop withdrawals because of the POW issue
reflected a balancing of concerns about the possibility that live
POWs were being left behind against concerns resulting from the
deterrents to military action discussed above. As Ambassador Lord
testified:

The President in the end decided not to scuttle the
agreement and resume the war over the MIA question. It
was a very difficult decision. I believed then it was a
correct one. I believe that still. . .

Although we had strongly suggestive intelligence that the
lists [were] incomplete, the American society would have
blown apart if the President overturned the agreement and
resumed the fighting. It is doubtful that Congress would
have supported such a policy. Indeed, it would probably
have prevented it. Our remaining prisoners who were on
the lists would not have returned. More Americans and
Vietnamese allies would have been killed and
captured.

Admiral Moorer echoed Ambassador Lord's testimony. Asked why the
United States completed the withdrawal of its troops without
insisting that the Pathet Lao first release the U.S. POWs they were
believed to be holding, Admiral Moorer stated:

When this started and the POWs [on North Vietnam's lists]
came back and so on, and there was a very euphoric
reception, and the President gave a party on the White
House grounds, and all the wives of POWs came and so on,
and press release after press release were that we were
withdrawing the troops, at that point, no President could
have said, "Oops, we're not going to withdraw the troops
because these people won't agree with us. They're not
carrying out their part." At that point in history, we
didn't have the stomach for doing what you're asking me
why we didn't do it. . .

Don't forget, [the President] was getting tremendous
pressure from the Congress, the public, and the New York
Times, and the Washington Post, everyone you could think
of. They had had a belly-full of this whole war. I
think we almost would have had a rebellion if we had
turned around and started fighting like hell in Laos
again. That's my explanation of it.

During his testimony before the Select Committee, Dr. Kissinger
blamed Congressional opposition to further U.S. involvement in the
war for the Administration's inability to obtain DRV compliance
with the POW/MIA and others provisions of the peace agreement:

In theory, we had three sources of leverage available;
bombing the north, offering economic aid to Hanoi and
giving military and economic aid to Saigon to deprive
Hanoi of the hope of military victory. The Congress took
all three levers away, denying us both the carrot and the
stick. When the Congress eliminated our leverage, we were
trapped in the classic nightmare of every statesman. We
had nothing to back up our tough words, but more tough
words. Under such conditions, we had no bargaining
position left. . .

the Paris Peace Accords contained clear and binding
commitments that all prisoners throughout Indochina would
be accounted for and returned. If the Vietnamese violated
these provisions, it was not because of any omission by
responsible U.S. officials, even less any cooperation
with them, but because we were stripped of the weapons we
might have used to impose that commitment.

Former President Nixon views are similar:

As it became clear to the North Vietnamese that the
Congress would not permit a resumption of the bombing to
enforce the Paris Accords, their incentive for complying
with the agreement regarding MIAs and POWs as well as
other provisions was completely destroyed. The return of
all our POWs and an accounting of all our MIAs was
difficult to achieve because of the intransigence of the
North Vietnamese and the substantial sentiment in the
country and in Congress for an unconditional withdrawal
from Vietnam in advance of any North Vietnamese
commitment to return our prisoners and account for our
missing. . .

Former Defense Secretary Elliot Richardson, on the other hand,
expressed puzzlement and skepticism about the Administration's
failure to act on the limited military options his Department had
recommended immediately prior to the conclusion of Operation
Homecoming:

I don't believe that a degree of uncertainty as to the
numbers or the firmness of the information, given the
totality of the information, should have affected what we
did up to at least the resumption of bombing or the use
of force, and the recommendations in this memorandum
represent in substance the most effective combination of
measures that Larry Eagleburger and Colonel Secord and
Admiral Bigley and those of us who reviewed this
memorandum could come up with. . .

I think if I had been involved at that time, I would have
argued for some use of force. After all, you don't have
to restart the whole war to authorize some air strikes as
a way of conveying that we meant business. But those are
tough calls. . .
I can't even give you conjectural explanation as to the
failure to follow up the recommendations in my memorandum
to Kissinger. . . I can only say that had I known the
steps called for in the memorandum to Kissinger were not
being pursued, if they weren't, I think I would have
raised hell about it. . .

The Congress

During the Committee's hearings, it was contended by Dr. Kissinger
and some Members of the Committee that Congressional attitudes
would have precluded any Administration effort to respond
forcefully to the DRV's failure to provide an accounting for
missing American servicemen. These Members of the Committee believe
that their contention is supported by the Senate's rejection on May
31, 1973 of an amendment offered by U.S. Sen. Robert Dole. The Dole
amendment would have permitted the continued U.S. bombing of Laos
and Cambodia if "the President finds and forthwith so reports to
the Congress that the Government of North Vietnam is not making an
accounting, to the best of its ability, of all missing in action
personnel of the United States in Southeast Asia or is otherwise
not complying with the provisions of article 8" of the Paris Peace
Agreement.

Other Members of the Committee believe that the amendment offered
by Senator Dole, which was an amendment to another amendment
offered by Senator Mark Hatfield, was aimed far more at authorizing
President Nixon to continue prosecuting the war in Southeast Asia
than at gaining an accounting for missing Americans.

Former President's Nixon view is that:

The responsibility for denying to our Administration the
means to force the North Vietnamese to comply with the
agreements concerning the accounting for MIAs lies
squarely on those who opposed the use of military force
to bring the war to a conclusion and who later sabotaged
our efforts to enforce the peace agreement by drastically
reducing American aid to South Vietnam and prohibiting
the resumption of the bombing in order to enforce the
Accords.

During the Committee's hearings on the Paris Peace Accords, Senator
Dole testified that:

When you line up the culprits who got us where we are
today, the Senate itself should enjoy a prominent place
at the front of the line. . .It was the Senate who sent
Henry Kissinger to a gunfight at the OK corral, but gave
him only blanks.

Watergate

A final, highly important factor inhibiting President Nixon's
ability to respond forcefully to DRV violations of the PPA was the
emerging Watergate scandal. Several witnesses told the Select
Committee that, by early spring 1973, much of the President's time
and attention was devoted to this subject. In Admiral Moorer's
words, for example, "Watergate was bubbling like mad." And Dr.
Kissinger's memoirs include numerous references to the President's
lack of focus during this period:

It was a different Nixon in March 1973. He approached the
problem of the violations in a curiously desultory
fashion. He drifted. . . Nixon clearly did not want to
add turmoil over Indochina to his mounting domestic
perplexities.

The normal Nixon would have been enraged beyond
containment at being strung along like this, but
Watergate Nixon continued to dither. . .

Nixon was simply unable to concentrate his energies and
mind on Vietnam. The records show that he was engaged in
incessant meetings and telephone calls on Watergate.
The ill omens did not cease, the most extraordinary being
an intelligence report I received while en route to Paris
(in May, 1973). It was a North Vietnamese account that
described how the Viet Cong leaders were briefing their
subordinates in the field. The report confirmed our
knowledge of Hanoi's buildup, referring to a "general
offensive" that was in preparation. But it was being
postponed, the briefing stated, to give Watergate an
opportunity to complete the paralysis of our Presidency
and the demoralization of our South Vietnamese ally. It
accurately predicted that the wounded President now
lacked the authority to retaliate against North
Vietnamese transgressions.

Nixon could have taken his case to the American people,
arguing that we could not abandon what 50,000 Americans
had died to preserve. A Nixon re-elected by one of the
largest majorities in history might well have prevailed,
as he had so many times before. In the swamp of
Watergate, the President's political strength drained
away and this option did not exist at all.

The executive paralysis stemming from Watergate had several
effects. It meant that the President had less time to focus on
complicated political/military issues such as responding to the
possibility that prisoners might be left behind in Laos. (Indeed,
a transcript of the Oval Office tapes for the critical date of
March 23, 1973 indicates that the President spent a significant
part of that day discussing Watergate with his closest aides.)

Watergate almost certainly diminished the President's willingness
to undertake difficult and controversial initiatives, while also
reducing the likelihood that his actions would be accepted at face
value and supported either by Congress or the public.

Finally, the Watergate scandal disrupted the focus and attention
not only of the President, but of key federal agencies, as well.
During the first six months of 1973, for example, four different
men served as Secretary of Defense or Acting Secretary of Defense
and three as Director of Central Intelligence. This left the
POW/MIA issue at Defense primarily in the hands of Deputy Secretary
Clements who was among those most skeptical of the possibility that
any live U.S. POWs remained after Operation Homecoming. As for the
CIA, James Schlesinger, who was the DCI from January through May,
1973, told the Committee that he was not involved in the POW/MIA
issue during that time. Rather, he spent literally "90 percent" of
his brief tenure as DCI trying to determine the extent of his
agency's possible involvement in Watergate.

Pro and Con/Were POWs Left Behind?

The range of information available to the Committee about the
possibility that American POWs were left behind after Operation
Homecoming goes beyond that gathered during the Committee's
investigation of negotiations surrounding the Paris Peace Accords.
Thus, no judgment on this critical point is made in this section of
the Select Committee's report. It seems useful, however, to
summarize briefly the information obtained and the testimony
received on this subject, including the opinions of expert
witnesses.

Indications That Americans May Have Been Left Behind

As discussed elsewhere in this report, the United States had hard
evidence that some Americans who were held captive by the North
Vietnamese or the Pathet Lao did not appear on the DRV's
December, 1970 list of prisoners. This evidence was publicized
widely by Nixon Administration officials, especially Secretary
Laird, and was raised directly with the DRV both during the public
peace negotiations and by Dr. Kissinger during his February, 1973
visit to Hanoi.

The possibility of live U.S. prisoners being held back, especially
in Laos, was taken seriously enough by high-level Administration
officials to justify a short-lived decision to halt troop
withdrawals required by the peace agreement, and led to
recommendations from the Department of Defense for military action.

Notwithstanding the evidence that some individuals who had
certainly or probably been held captive were not being returned,
the United States did not have hard, current information that
particular Americans were being held in particular locations.

Witness Assessments

The witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee during its
investigation of issues related to the Paris Peace Accords included
those best informed and best positioned to make judgments about the
degree of likelihood that live American POWs may have been left
behind after Operation Homecoming.

In some cases, these individuals based their judgments entirely on
their recollection of contemporaneous knowledge, while others
relied on a combination of memory and exposure to information and
documents only recently released.

Dr. Henry Kissinger, for example, told the Committee that "I think
it's improbable that any (U.S. POWs) are alive today. I honestly
did not think there were any alive in Vietnam when the war ended.
I have always kept open the possibility in my mind that there were
some. . . in Laos."

Dr. Roger Shields' reply to the question of whether any Americans
were left behind was: "I do not know and I did not know in April,
1973."

Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger's
judgment was that: "I have a high-probability assessment that
people were left behind in Laos, and a medium-probability
assessment with regard to Vietnam."

Former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird told the Committee that
"it was my gut feeling that there were more" U.S. POWs than those
admitted to by North Vietnam.

Major General Richard Secord expressed the view that Americans had
been kept behind in Laos:

Gen. Secord: . . .I had a lot of years of experience with
Laotian matters. . . I served in the Central Intelligence
Agency in the field in Laos for 1966, '67 and '68 and was
back there again briefly in '69 and then I was the Laos
desk officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense
International Security Affairs for awhile in '72, and
then by the time you're talking about here, I guess I was
the head of the Southeast Asian branch. . .

. . . what was going on with respect to the POWs is we
were tracking as carefully as we could all the
intelligence information on POWs, especially after it
became clear that there was going to be a Paris accord.
. . .

Sen. Smith: So, based on your tracking, then, there were
confirmed POWs in Laos during the war?

Gen. Secord: Indeed. You've mentioned some of their names
this morning. . .

Sen. Smith: When you say POWs in Laos, a number, you are
obviously referring to a larger number than the nine.

Gen. Secord: In addition to those nine. . .

Sen. Smith: And did all of those people come home that
you were tracking?

Gen. Secord: None of them that I know of have been
located or even heard from since the Paris accords, but
we did know to, I think, a reasonable level of certitude,
that there were more. . .

Sen. Smith: Do you believe that there were people there
after Operation Homecoming, based on what you knew?

Gen. Secord: Well, yes, of course I believed there were
people after Operation Homecoming.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Clements, however, testified
to his belief around the time of Operation Homecoming that
unreturned U.S. POWS were "in all probability dead." This belief
grew stronger during the remainder of his service with the
Department of Defense due to DIA's failure in Mr. Clements' opinion
to uncover even "one iota's evidence that there was a single POW in
Vietnam or anywhere in the Southeast Asian theater of
operation."

Finally, Ambassador Winston Lord wrote in a letter to the Select
Committee on October 27, 1992 that:

President Nixon did not knowingly leave American
prisoners behind when he implemented the Paris Agreement.
. . The discrepancies with our intelligence were very
disturbing, but we had no conclusive proof that any
prisoners were being left behind.

Laos: Complicating Factors

Three hundred and fifty Americans remained unaccounted for in Laos
after Operation Homecoming. Of these, the DIA had informed
policymakers in February and March, 1973 that approximately 215
disappeared under circumstances where some accounting for their
death or survival should be possible. Of these 215, there is
evidence that a small number of specific individuals did survive
their incidents, and that some number of other individuals, not
clearly identified, also survived.

One of the great tragedies and frustrations of the POW/MIA story is
that so few of those lost in Laos ever returned. The Committee's
analysis of why this occurred would not be complete without
consideration of the special challenges faced by any U.S. airman
downed in that country. In that connection, William Sullivan, who
served as Ambassador in Laos from 1964 to 1969, made these
observations to the Committee:

A lot of the casualties taken in Laos were taken in that
Ho Chi Minh trail area by these young fellows who went in
on what I always regarded as suicide missions. . .

I would say that the chances of anyone surviving as a
POW, in my judgment, pretty nil, although some were sent
back up the Ho Chi Minh Trail. . .

In that brutal environment, anybody captured there was
pretty soon disposed of with a bullet in the head. So
that would account for in my judgment the high ratio of
nonreturnees from people who might have been captured in
the area. The second area we had were air missions in
Laos and air missions going toward North Vietnam. . .

the pilots. . . were usually shot down in very terrible
jungle. They were usually captured, depending to some
degree on the season, because if it was the dry season,
the North Vietnamese regulars might have been in there.
If it was the rainy season, they would be captured by
their irregular forces, highly undisciplined forces and
my guess that a lot of them even after capture were
either tortured to death, starved to death, treated in
such a way that they developed dysentery and died. . .

And I think that accounts in some measure for the high
ratio of people who didn't return after either we got a
beeper from them and knew they were on the ground or we
even had a sighting and knew they were on the ground. .
.

I was in Paris when the Vietnamese finally disclosed that
the number from Laos was ten. . . and there was enormous
disappointment. Admiral Moorer, had a figure and I can't
remember where he got it, but it was somewhere around 40
that he was anticipating, so we thought there was a
shortfall even given. . . the filter of all these
considerations I've just made, we felt there was a
shortfall of possibly somewhere around 30. But the
measure of hope and the quality of hope we had for
anybody who got knocked down in Laos was not terribly
high.

Dr. Roger Shields explained his uncertainty about the possibility
that any Americans might have remained behind after Operation
Homecoming by emphasizing the limited extent of U.S. knowledge
about Americans taken captive in Laos. According to Dr. Shields:

the Dept. of Defense carried only four individuals as
prisoner in Laos who were not released during Homecoming.
. .

One of these individuals I think we entered into a
prisoner status mistakenly. That's George Clark. . .

Another one, a civilian, Eugene DeBruin, was last heard
from directly as he escaped. He never returned to U.S.
control. And I think that the intelligence groups feel
they have very good information that he died.
So that would leave two individuals carried as prisoner
in Laos, and the evidence of their capture and
imprisonment is undeniable. . . David Hrdlicka and
Charles Shelton.

After their capture, though, information was very, very
sparse and was very negative about their continued
survival. . .

The DIA believed, as I recall, that three other
individuals may have been captured, although the services
carried these men as missing. And of these men, the
remains of one were found associated with the wreckage of
his aircraft. . .

No one who was actually held in Laos ever wrote a letter.
. .

Photos of David Hrdlicka and EuGene DeBruin in captivity
came into our possession and a short broadcast made by
David Hrdlicka was also heard. And all of this occurred
very substantially a long time before Operation
Homecoming.

Now, Secretary Schlesinger testified this week that our
intelligence information regarding Laos was good. . . if
that is true, then it is clear that very few men, and
perhaps even none as some people believe, and I don't
include myself in it, were taken prisoner in Laos.

Now this supposition is supported, to some extent, by the
far greater number of combat rescues which occurred in
Laos than in North Vietnam. . . we actually recovered
more men from Laos through rescues or returnees than we
had out of North Vietnam. And I think that says something
about the status of the missing in action, because they
were the more difficult cases, where our rescue aircraft
were not able to get in. . .

most of the intelligence about suspected prison camps or
U.S. prisoners in Laos, received while I was in the
Pentagon, was very vague and impossible to verify. And
the fact remains that we knew, and I believe know today,
very little specifically about our men missing in
Laos.

Questions of Continued Links between U.S. Aid and POW/MIAs

The Committee looked into questions which have been raised over the
years concerning the extent of any linkage between United States
economic assistance to Vietnam and U.S. efforts to obtain the
fullest possible accounting of missing servicemen.

As noted earlier, there were indications that the North Vietnamese
were linking these issues during the peace negotiations. After the
signing of the Paris Peace Accords, Vietnam continued to attempt to
use their obligations under the accords to provide information on
POW/MIAs as leverage to extort U.S. economic assistance. The U.S.
steadfastly rejected the Vietnamese position.

Documents to support the contention that the Vietnamese have
consistently linked the issues of U.S. aid and accounting for
POW/MIAs were compiled by the Committee's Vice Chairman and were
included in the official record of the Committee's hearing on
September 21, 1992.

Conclusions

As stated at the beginning of this chapter, the primary purposes of
the Committee's investigation of the Paris Peace Accords were to 1)
uncover information bearing on the possibility that U.S. POWs were
left behind in Southeast Asia after Operation Homecoming; and 2)
determine whether there were factors involved in the negotiation of
the agreement, in the agreement itself, or in subsequent public
characterizations of the agreement that affected our ability to
obtain the fullest possible accounting of our POW/MIAs or that
otherwise contributed to the ongoing controversy over the POW/MIA
issue.

Nothing in this chapter, or in this report, should be interpreted
in any way as diminishing the historical responsibility that the
Government of North Vietnam bears for its failure to live up to the
POW/MIA provisions of the peace agreement. If American prisoners
were, in fact, held back after the war, the responsibility for that
and for failing to provide an accounting for the missing rests with
those in power in Hanoi and in Laos, not with American negotiators
or the opponents or proponents of U.S. involvement in the war.

The Committee believes that its investigation has contributed
significantly to the public record of the negotiating history of
the POW/MIA provisions of the Paris Peace Accords, and of the
complications that arose during efforts to implement those
provisions both before and after the completion of Operation
Homecoming. That record indicates that there existed a higher
degree of concern within the Administration about the possibility
that prisoners were being left behind in Laos than had been known
previously, and that various options for responding to that concern
were discussed at the highest levels of government.

The Committee notes that Administration statements at the time the
agreement was signed may have understated the foreseeable problems
that would arise during implementation and that this may have
raised public and family expectations too high; and that statements
made after the agreement was signed may have understated U.S.
concerns about the possibility that live prisoners remained,
thereby contributing in subsequent years to public suspicion and
distrust. However, the Committee believes that the phrasing of
these statements was intended to avoid raising what were believed
to be false hopes among POW/MIA families, rather than to mislead
the American people.

 

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