WASHINGTON -- The chief of the Pentagon agency charged with tracking down prisoners of war has resigned, accusing the government of ignoring or covering up leads on Americans in Vietnam.
Army Col. Millard A. Peck said that his office was being used as a " 'toxic waste dump' to bury the whole 'mess' out of sight and mind in a facility with limited access to public scrutiny." Peck made the accusations in a scathing five-page memorandum and farewell note that his co-workers found stapled to his office door after his resignation.
Peck's allegations come as momentum is building within the Bush administration to normalize relations with Vietnam. A major stumbling block to that effort, however, is the failure to resolve the fates of the more than 2,000 Americans still listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia.
President Bush has insisted that the POW-MIA issue remains "a matter of highest national priority."
Instead of pursuing leads about POWs and MIAs, officials concentrate on "finding fault with the source" of the information, he wrote. "The mind-set to 'debunk' is alive and well."
However, he did not offer evidence suggesting that POWs or soldiers listed as MIAs might be alive or in captivity.
Peck, who is still on active duty, has been reassigned to the Military District of Washington.
His complaints are the subject of "an internal management inquiry," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Ned Lundquist said yesterday.
The families of the missing have long contended that the government, preoccupied with the political imperative of putting the Vietnam War behind it, has not given sufficient attention to reports of live sightings and other information suggesting that Americans were left in Southeast Asia.