The following is a speech that was given before the American Legion National Convention in Salt Lake City on September 2, 1996: ( Extracted from the National Alliance of Families' Archives )







Thank you for that kind introduction. I remember the last time I attended your national convention -- it was in 1994 when you presented Senator Smith with your award for his work on the POW/MIA issue. That was a very proud moment for Senator Smith, and I was deeply honored to be there for that presentation.

Let me take a moment to thank Commander Bob Turner, John Sommer, Alan, Mike, Chic, -- all the legislative staff in your Washington DC office for the constant attention they have given to efforts to resolve the POW/MIA issue -- and I am referring to efforts these people have made to influence both the executive branch and the legislative branch.

I have worked closely with your Executive Director John Sommer for several years now on this issue, and I can tell you that, in my judgment, no one, in all the different veterans organizations represented in Washington, no one has shown more concern for unaccounted for POWs and MIAs than John Sommer -- and no veterans organization has been more involved with this issue, in my judgment, than the American Legion. Every Legionnaire can be proud of the efforts which have been made by the leaders of the American Legion to bring about the fullest possible accounting of missing servicemen.

Let me also say that you're not going to hear any criticism from me this morning of the young men and women in uniform from Joint Task Force (full accounting) who are working under difficult conditions in Southeast Asia. They're doing their job. They're doing what they are told to do -- following orders -- you've been there. You know what it's like.

I also want to say a word about Carl Ford. He talked about honesty and telling the truth. I remember back in 1991, when we were trying to get the Senate Select Committee established. Carl came up and gave a briefing -- Senator Dole was there, Senator Smith, and others. And someone had provided Carl a little bit of misinformation for one part of that briefing. Senator Smith called him on it. About a week later, up came the letter from Carl Ford in which he apologized and acknowledged that he had been given inaccurate information. He told the truth. He didn't try to cover up the mistake which had been made. I wish we had more people in our government that would tell the truth. The list is not long on this issue -- I've worked with a lot of people over the years. The list is not long, but Carl is on that list, and I just wanted to say that.

So I am pleased to be here with you this morning to give you my own perspective (which is somewhat similar to Carl Ford's views) on where we are with the POW/MIA issue, what needs to be focused on, and what needs to be done if the key questions surrounding this issue are ever going to be resolved -- and don't let anyone tell you that some of our questions will never be resolved. I don't subscribe to that, and I'll tell you why in a moment.

I'm going to get into some detail here, and I'll go quickly because of limited time this morning. You've asked me for some specifics on areas where we need more cooperation, and I want to give you a few examples.

But first, let me say that I am very pleased that General Campbell has been here this morning to listen to Carl Ford's assessment. And I am appealing to him to listen carefully to what I will be saying, because General Campbell, even though you have only been on the job for less than two months, I have enormous respect for our men and women in uniform. Senator Smith serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and I've been honored and privileged to help him there from time to time. Based on what I've heard, I think that you, General Campbell, are willing to approach this issue with an open mind. At least that's my hope. You have a unique opportunity to refocus some areas of your investigation.

And if you do that, and if you report the results of those renewed, refocused efforts, and what cooperation, if any, is received from Vietnam or Laos, then I think the White House, the State Department, and other policy makers in Washington will have a clearer, more complete picture than the one I fear your staff has put together for you to present on these large slide screens here this morning. And this will be important the next time the President tries to tell the American people that Vietnam is cooperating "in full-faith" on the POW/MIA issue as he did this past May. This was a legislative requirement which Senator Smith and others had passed into law as a condition for spending taxpayer funds on normalization of relations with Vietnam. We had hoped for stronger language, but the point is that we had heard all the rhetoric about splendid, superb cooperation. But we wanted the President to put that certification in writing over his signature. And unfortunately, he did that this past may.

So maybe your efforts, General Campbell, in these areas I will be discussing, can lead to a better negotiating strategy which recognizes that Vietnam and Laos have not provided full disclosure on unaccounted for POWS and MIAS. And maybe then, just maybe, the President will stop giving Vietnam everything Vietnam wants without getting everything we want in return.

I am convinced, along with Senator Smith, Carl Ford, and others, that many of the answers we seek on the fate of our POWS and MIAS are, in fact, known to certain high-level Communist officials in China, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. And I am further convinced that if we had a better negotiating strategy, a better focus, and a better commitment from high-level officials in our own government, we could find more answers.

So the first question -- the only real first question -- that is still unresolved in the minds of many Americans, and I know in the minds of many members of the American Legion, is not whether we will ever get answers to some of our key questions -- it's whether our own government has the will and determination to aggressively seek out these answers. We can debate the question of whether it's possible to ever find conclusive answers to some of our questions on the fate of POWS and MIAS. But we should do that after our government has shown us by its actions, not just its words, that it has truly left "no stone unturned", "no clue overlooked" as Vice-President Al Gore pledged to the VFW two weeks ago in Kentucky. Those were his words. Many of you know the questions I am talking about that keep this issue alive, but let me go through maybe one or two of them this morning, and then I think it will be clear what needs to be done if we're ever going to get more complete answers for the POW/MIA families. Again, you've asked me for some details so I want to give you just one or two examples --

I'm mainly focusing here on the Vietnam War, but I'll certainly take any questions you might have afterwards on the status of the POW/MIA issue with North Korea, China, or Russia. I have followed those areas closely as well.

1. The first question that really keeps the POW/MIA issue alive in the minds of so many Americans is what happened to the American POWS who were captured in Northern Laos and held by North Vietnamese and/or Pathet Lao Communist forces? None of the American POWS captured and held in Northern Laos starting in the mid-1960's have ever been returned or even accounted for. None. Anyone who tries to tell you anything different doesn't know what they're talking about.

The evidence was clear during the war -- The CIA knew where the American POWS were being held in Northern Laos. Our Ambassador in Laos knew. We have copies of some of the intelligence reports; we have official evaluations of those reports; we have wartime photographic evidence; we have transcripts of enemy communications which were intercepted; we have sworn testimony from American officials who were there during the war. In fact, we were careful not to allow bombing missions in some of these areas in northern Laos. We didn't want to hit the areas where the POWS were being held. Even Ross Perot was briefed on that fact during his visit to Laos in 1969 when he was trying to get the Christmas packages to the POWS. And he was told the number of POWS we thought were being held in Northern Laos at that time -- and remember, none of these POWS have ever been accounted for. And remember the definition of accounting, which is still used by General Campbell's Command -- the return of a live American, the return of his remains, or convincing evidence as to why neither is possible.

The Pathet Lao knew where these Americans were being held. They said so at the time. The North Vietnamese knew where they were being held. In fact, we know the name of the North Vietnamese General who was briefed on the POWS being held in Sam Neua -- which was the headquarters of the Pathet Lao. We know the names of the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao military units operating in the area at the time. Moreover, we had intelligence during and after the war that many, not all, but many of the POWS held in northern Laos were actually turned over to North Vietnamese forces by the Pathet Lao at a later date and moved into Northern Vietnam. Yet, again, none of these American POWS originally held in northern Laos have ever been accounted for by either Vietnamese or Laotian officials. NONE.

So that's the first question. What happened to these American servicemen originally held alive in northern Laos, and why haven't they been accounted for? and why do government officials on our side continue to allow Vietnamese and Lao Communist officials to look them in the eye and say "we don't know what happened to them. You'll have to investigate with us, and pay us millions of dollars to go search and chase down leads..." -- and Senator Smith, Congressman Dornan, and Congressman Gilman have asked the Defense Department Inspector General to do an audit and review of some of these expenditures -- your tax dollars -- because we think there have been some abuses.

But again, how could the Vietnamese and Lao not know what happened to these Americans? They were held in the caves in the backyard of the Pathet Lao, and several of them, according to CIA and DIA wartime intelligence reports, were subsequently moved into North Vietnam's backyard?

And when was the last time our government really pressed Vietnam and Laos at a high level on that specific issue? Every week, I read the situation reports filed by General Campbell's command. That may come as a surprise to General Campbell. I've tried to keep track of virtually every high-level meeting in southeast Asia since General Jack Vessey's first meeting in Hanoi in 1987 -- 9 years ago. That's no easy task, but I've tried to do it, because this issue is so important to Senator Smith, and we've tried to exercise the most effective congressional oversight possible because we know that this issue still troubles a lot of Americans, a lot of veterans, and of course, the POW/MIA families.

But I must tell you, I have never seen or read of any instance in the last several years where the executive branch of our government has really pressed the Vietnamese or the Lao in the strongest possible terms on the question of American POWS from Laos.

Let's review where we've been on this so everyone's clear. You've asked me for specifics. I want to give you some. In 1973, president Nixon said, in a secret cable to the Vietnamese, that it was "inconceivable" that there were not more POWS from Laos being returned, other than the nine U.S. Personnel on the list turned over in Paris. (And those 9 people had all been immediately moved to North Vietnam following their capture, and none of them had been held in northern Laos in the Pathet Lao strongholds -- specifically the Sam Neua area.) So president Nixon said it was inconceivable that there were not more POWS -- that's a quote. He didn't say it publicly at the time -- many now wish he had -- but he said it in secret communications to North Vietnam's leaders.

Retired general Richard Secord, who knew this issue inside and out, since he was in Laos during the war running the air war and tracking POWS -- he told our Senate Select Committee in 1992 that it was "absurd" to think that all the POWs had been returned from Laos. That was his quote. "Absurd."

Admiral Depoix, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1973, said that the list of the nine U.S. Personnel from Laos on the POW list was "ridiculously low." That was his quote -- "ridiculously low."

And some of you may recall the famous top secret memos from March, 1973 which our Senate Committee discovered in 1992 -- in those memos to the White House, which were written as the last acknowledged POWS were being returned to the United States following their release in Hanoi, -- in those memos, the Defense Department wanted the North Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao to be told "unequivocally", and I'm quoting here, "that we still hold them responsible for the release of U.S. Prisoners being held in Laos... The U.S. will no longer play games with the POW issue in Laos. The Pathet Lao should be told that we know they hold U.S. prisoners, and we demand their immediate release." END QUOTE.

So we had words like absurd, inconceivable, ridiculous, no longer going to play games -- that's what our government told the Communists after the acknowledged POWS were released in 1973.

And there has been a whole host of government officials -- military and civilian -- through the years that held that position, which was based on hard facts -- you don't hear about that often now -- you probably won't see that in the slide presentation coming up -- but we should remember that this view was shared by men like

Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff in 1973

Jim Schlesinger, The Director Of The Central Intelligence Agency in 1973

George Carver, his deputy at CIA in 1973;

Elliot Richardson, Secretary Of Defense in 1973

General Gene Tighe, Head Of Cincpac Intelligence in 1973 and later Director Of The Defense Intelligence Agency

Admiral Jerry Tuttle, another former DIA director

General Richard Secord, who served in Laos and later headed the Laos Desk At The Pentagon

Dr. Roger Shields, the Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense in charge of the POW/MIA issue in 1973 -- he wrote a memo on this as well

Larry Eagleburger, who was Assistant Secretary Of Defense in 1973 and later Secretary Of State -- he wrote a memo

The former Director Of The National Security Agency, Admiral Bobby Ray Inman

And the list goes on, and it included:

President Nixon himself, even though he didn't share that view with the public at the time, as I said earlier. Many wish he had.

But my point is that we haven't seen words like absurd, inconceivable, ridiculous, used by our government in recent years concerning the continued claim by Communist officials in Vietnam and Laos that all the POWS were released in 1973 and they can't account for the rest." Again, and more importantly, despite all the activity you hear about in southeast Asia in recent years (and you'll hear about that on these slide screens later), despite all the reports of successful high-level visits, despite all the rhetoric in the last few years about unprecedented, "full-faith" cooperation (as it's now called) on the POW/MIA issue, despite all of this -- not a single one of the POWS held in Sam Neua (now known as Houaphan Province in northern Laos) -- not a single one of them has ever been accounted for, dead or alive. Not one in the last 23 years. Given that fact, it's clear to me that Vietnam and Laos, and the United States government, sadly, are continuing to "play games" on the POW issue. And that's something our leaders told the Communists in 1973 that we were not going to do, so it's a sad commentary about our government's commitment to this aspect of the POW/MIA issue.

The last time this issue of POWs from Laos was raised with the Vietnamese in a very hard-hitting way, as far as I can tell, was in Hanoi in the summer of 1993. I know because I was there with Senator Smith, and Senator Smith was the one who pressed them on the POWS from Laos. Prior to that, Vietnam had always played the game with us telling us we had to talk to the Lao government about POWS from Laos, even though we knew that over 80 percent of the losses in Laos occurred in areas controlled by North Vietnamese forces during the war. And we knew the Pathet Lao were stooges or a puppet government of the North Vietnamese as Dr. Kissinger had pointed out so many times during the Paris peace talks.

But we played the game, too, several years ago unfortunately. General Vessey's charter did not even include Laos, and he rarely, if ever, brought up that issue with the Vietnamese. I know. I've read the detailed reports from those meetings.

But Senator Smith confronted the Vietnamese on it in a very graphic way in 1993 -- I'll never forget that meeting three years ago. It was a summer night in Hanoi -- the tension was high -- and we weren't about to play games. We brought with us a stack of documents from the National Security Agency, which had only been declassified a few months earlier at Senator Smith's request -- these were copies of North Vietnamese radio communications in Laos that our intelligence intercepted during the war. And they showed the names of the North Vietnamese units operating along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos -- the types of American planes they were shooting down -- the status of the pilots -- whether they had been captured or killed -- the date, the location, etc...

And Senator Smith read through some of those documents in front of the Vietnamese. And you should have seen the Vietnamese -- caught with their proverbial pants down -- their ministry of defense and their foreign ministry officials had their notepads out, and they frantically scribbling away the details of every intercept message we were reading to them.

That was the first time the Vietnamese were told, in such a graphic way, stop playing the game of telling us that we have to talk to the Lao government about POWS or MIAS from Laos, because Laos was a separate country. When the Vietnamese left the room that Saturday night three years ago, I think they started to realize that their game was over on Laos. They knew we had hard, reliable evidence (their own radio transmissions) hard reliable evidence about POWs and mias who came under their direct control in Laos. But of course, no one in our executive branch had shared those documents with them before. They were just playing the game. It took Senator Smith to do it.

And here's where it gets really interesting -- six weeks later in 1993, after Senator Smith and I had returned to Washington, the Vietnamese put together and turned over to the United States a summary listing of cases of POW/MIA s in Laos involving North Vietnamese forces. What a surprise! The most significant information they had ever shared on Laos. It's known as the 559 document, because 559 was the Vietnamese unit which operated in Laos during the war.

They turned this document over on September 1, 1993. They knew two weeks later, President Clinton was going to be making a decision on the trade embargo on Vietnam. This just proved to me that it's only when the pressure is on, that these kinds of things happen.

And this document reinforced what we already knew. Again, what did we know -- in 1973, the DIA had estimated, and I quote, that "DIA has reason to believe that the Communists should have information on at least 215 Americans in Laos. This is based on such known evidence (from time of downing) as a good chute, beeper on the ground, or voice communications which often ended with the man on the ground announcing that he was being captured." that was the quote in 1973 from DIA.

Now let's jump up 20 years -- after this 1993 document from Vietnam was reviewed, the defense department analysts in Washington revised that 215 number. It went up. Let me quote from the congressional testimony provided by the defense POW/MIA office last November -- only 10 months ago.

Quote -- "Now comes the 559 document (the 1993 disclosure) and the Vietnamese say, we have knowledge of these incidents in Laos. It's a very significant document from a knowledgeably standpoint. They are saying they had information on these losses. So the number is over 250 with regard to knowledgeably that the Vietnamese and the Pathet Lao knew about." -- end quote

So we now know that there are over 250 unaccounted for Americans from Laos where the Vietnamese and the Lao should be able to tell us what happened -- that's the sworn testimony under persistent questioning from Congressman Dornan last year, (and I'm wondering if you'll see that in the slide show coming up). But you know what, the summary document they turned over in 1993 didn't give us all the information -- it was just a summary -- we still have not received the original documents from Vietnam which were used to compile the listing that was turned over to us in 1993 after Senator Smith and I had gone to Hanoi.

Why haven't we received these documents which would help us resolve these cases? I'm concerned that Vietnam believes they can get away without revealing that information, because they seem to be getting what they want -- aid, trade, and recognition -- without divulging that information. Unless they feel the pressure, why would they do it.

It's taken me several minutes now to get through that first question -- what happened to the Americans captured in Laos. I think it's clear that Vietnamese and Laotian officials have the ability unilaterally to give us answers on many of these cases. But instead, we've put the majority of our focus on this issue in southeast Asia into the joint crash-site excavations and the other joint field work being done by the fine young men and women under General Campbell's command. Some of that work is fine -- it's brought answers to some families -- but that work is not going to resolve the issue of POWS held in Laos who are still unaccounted for.

The proof is in the pudding -- JTF-FA has been up and running for over four years -- four years, yet no answers on these POWS. Where is the strategy to get the Vietnamese and the Lao to come clean on the POWs who were originally held in northern Laos? Where is the strategy? I don't see it.

And again, you have to ask yourself why our government would give these Communist officials what they want -- aid, trade, recognition -- without getting what we want in return on this key issue -- the POWS who were held in Laos.

And there are plenty of other unanswered questions on the POW/MIA issue, where the answers must be known to Vietnamese officials, they just haven't told us and we just haven't pressed them at a high level with a serious negotiating strategy --

I don't have time to get into too much detail here, but let me briefly reference a couple more examples. -- I've already mentioned Laos, so here's another one.

NUMBER TWO. We've had no access to Vietnam's wartime central committee records on POWS. No access to these records. These would have been the briefings to the senior leaders of Vietnam during the war on how many POWS had been captured. No access to these records. We could send 1,000 search teams into the jungles of Vietnam for days, weeks, months -- but that's not where these records are.

Another related example. NUMBER THREE -- We've had no serious follow-up in Vietnam concerning the documents from the Communist archives of the former Soviet Union which we obtained in 1993. These wartime documents were speeches given by North Vietnamese officials in secret to the North Vietnamese Politburo. And the authors indicated in these speeches that Vietnam held more POWS from both Vietnam and Laos than those who were returned at the end of the war. We've talked about Laos. I think the number in these Russian documents was 43 captured from Laos -- which is very similar to the number 41 which was referenced in the transcripts of secret white house meetings from that same time period. So the numbers weren't that outrageous, compared with what we expected or hoped for.

But there's been no serious follow-up in Vietnam on these Russian documents . Senator Smith and Senator Kerry brought it up once during their visits, and Senator Smith has pursued it for three years. He's on the joint U.S./Russian Commission -- he's been pursuing it from that end -- but no administration official has really pressed the Vietnamese for a credible explanation on these documents. We haven't even asked to speak to one of the Vietnamese authors of these reports who is leaving in retirement in Vietnam. I think that is inexcusable. And it won't be on the slides.

The reluctant conclusion I come to is that these credible leads have been brushed aside because they don't fit with the pretty picture you're about to see on the screen here from General Campbell's Command. But you know, that's what bothers me. You are all veterans. War's not pretty. You know that. So for the life of me, I don't know why some people insist on making this look so pretty and tidy -- everything's fine, nothing to worry about. I wish I would have brought my slides and my statistics, and we really could have had a back and forth discussion. Maybe we'd even make some progress on this issue right here at your convention.

And there are other questions and other examples.

There are over 500 cases of unaccounted for Americans involving Vietnam and Laos where our government says the next step must come from Vietnam or Laos unilaterally -- the evidence is clear by the Pentagon's own internal analysis. The next step must come from Vietnam and Laos. Joint field work is not the answer. Over 500 cases. I have the list. It took us two years to get it, and it came under threat of subpoena. Senator smith wrote an amendment which was passed into law -- it said we had to get the information in 45 days. But it took more than 2 years. It's remarkable when you consider all the rhetoric about the great cooperation we have received, and then you look at this list. And that's only based on what we know. As Carl said, there are a lot of other MIA cases where just because we don't have any leads, doesn't mean Vietnam does not know what happened.

I want to close with two quotes that get to the heart of this problem -- We hear a lot of rhetoric, but you know firsthand, because you fought for this country, that actions speak louder than words.


Vice-President Al Gore, in April, 1993 said this on the NBC TODAY Show -- "I'll tell you this. The great push towards normalization of relations (with Vietnam) is strong, and a lot of other countries are moving there, but it's not going to go forward until we're satisfied that the Vietnamese government has been totally forthcoming and fully cooperative in giving every last shred of evidence that they have on the POW/MIA issue. We're very concerned about."

Bill Clinton, on veterans day in 1992 said --"I have sent a clear message that there will be no normalization of relations with any nation that is at all suspected of withholding any information on POWS or MIAS."

Well, I think we all know that these promises made turned out to be promises broken when the trade embargo was lifted and diplomatic relations were established last year. And anyone who tells you anything different hasn't looked at our own government's database on this issue, and hasn't looked into the questions I've raised this morning. And if they have, I don't know how they can come to any other conclusion.

Two weeks ago, the Vice-President Al Gore told the VFW members at their convention that our government will leave "no stone unturned, no clue overlooked until our missing comrades are accounted for."

I hope I've laid out a few clues this morning about where our focus should be.

General Campbell, it's now up to you. Your actions will speak a lot louder than any more words from this administration.

And I'm not limiting my criticism to this administration alone. This problem has gone on for far too many years.

The point is that actions, not words, will determine whether we get the answers to our key questions on the POW/MIA issue. Again, I want to thank the American Legion for keeping the faith with our missing servicemen. I can assure you that Senator Smith remains absolutely committed to this issue.

Thank you very much, and I would be happy to take any questions you might have. I know some people asked me earlier about the ambassador nomination and North Korea, so I'd be happy to respond. Thank you.