POW report put on hold by Senate panel Members divided over whether POWs still remain

January 04, 1993|By McClatchy News Service

TACOMA, Wash. -- The Senate's POW committee has bee forced to delay the release of its final report, with senators still deeply divided over the possibility that U.S. prisoners of war remain alive in Southeast Asia and whether top U.S. officials, including Henry Kissinger, in effect abandoned the men.

The report -- the conclusion of a 15-month investigation that cost an estimated $1.9 million -- was due tomorrow. Its delay seems sure to fuel allegations that the Senate investigation raised more questions than it answered.

One Senate POW investigator says the committee is frantically trying to achieve some sort of consensus in the final report to avoid inflaming the already emotional and divisive POW issue.

"People look at this and say: 'Who's right? What did these [Senate] guys do? They've been at it for a year and a half and they can't agree,' " says the investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The committee tried to put a positive spin on the delay in a statement released late last week. "The release date for the committee report has slipped," wrote spokeswoman Deborah DeYoung.

Ms. DeYoung attributed the delay to requests by senators to "discuss" the larger-than-500-page report, along with the results of recent overseas trips by committee members.

That explanation is contested by two Senate investigators, who say serious disagreements among committee members have pushed back the report by at least a week.

The second investigator, also speaking on the condition his name not be used, says committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and vice chairman Bob Smith, R-N.H., still cannot agree whether U.S. POWs survived in Vietnam and Laos after 1973.

"That's where we were when we started the committee. Wow! That's progress," says the investigator.

The investigators say Mr. Kerry and Mr. Smith, along with most of the other 10 members of the committee, would likely agree that some Americans were left alive in 1973.

"The issue is: What happened to them?" an investigator asks.

Mr. Smith, along with some other senators and a number of committee staffers, believes American prisoners survived until recent years, a position supported by new intelligence reports from 1991 and 1992, the investigators say.

Mr. Kerry, along with a possible majority of committee members, reportedly remains unconvinced that American prisoners were kept alive for years after the war.

Other issues also divide the committee, including the validity of growing evidence that some American prisoners were shipped from Southeast Asia to Eastern Europe.

Partisan issues also have intruded in the debate. Democratic senators are said to be taking a hard line on the role of Henry Kissinger, then national security adviser, in the 1973 Paris Peace Talks that ended the Vietnam War.

The Democrats believe Mr. Kissinger, representing the Republican Nixon administration, failed to press the communist side hard enough for a full POW accounting, an investigator says.

"The Republican side says: 'Don't come down so hard on Henry.' I don't know why they're so sensitive about Henry. Henry can take care of himself," the investigator says.

The problem, both investigators say, is a belief that the Senate committee has not completed its task.

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