An Enormous Crime: The Definitive Account of American POWs Abandoned in Southeast Asia

Posted: May 31st, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

Review by David Martin, Salon

If this 563-page heavily documented book by Bill Hendon and Elizabeth A. Stewart, published in 2007, doesn’t make your blood boil, you are either as cold blooded as a snake or you are completely lacking in reading comprehension skills.  Yes, we all know that soldiers are just expendable pawns in the game of politics, but condemning hundreds of your countrymen to a life of imprisonment far from home and pretending they are dead takes mistreatment of these pawns and their families and loved ones to a whole new level.

But could it really be true?  Why would the Vietnamese and the Laotians hang on to almost as many prisoners as they released?  What could they hope to gain?

Concerning the first question, that’s precisely why the anger must rise up inside you as you turn the pages of the book.  There is simply far too much evidence of American POWs having been seen by scores of witnesses, many of whom corroborate one another:  by former South Vietnamese sent to “re-education camps,” by defectors, by visiting businessmen, by many, many credible people who have no reason to lie.  Aerial surveillance has also picked up patterns stamped out on the ground and in foliage of secret distress symbols known only to American combat fliers.  Some of the prisoners have even been identified by names that correspond to those of missing U.S. servicemen.  U.S. POWs were also known by U.S. intelligence to have been used as human shields at certain bridges and power plants, while none of the prisoners actually released have recounted those particular experiences. Reports of sightings actually rose through the 1980s as refugees escaped from Vietnam and were debriefed by American military investigators.  Hendon and Stewart have drawn upon declassified transcripts of such briefings that had not previously been made public.

Now that this book has been written, to deny that the American government, in a cold and calculating fashion, left hundreds of prisoners of war behind in Southeast Asia is equivalent to denying that the Soviet Union had slave labor camps for political prisoners after Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago had been published.  Hendon, unlike Solzhenitsyn, has not been a prisoner; he hasn’t seen the prisons from the inside.  But he has seen the cover-up very nearly from the inside, as a Congressman (R-NC), then as a Pentagon consultant working on the POW issue, as a Congressman again, and finally as an intelligence investigator for the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.  His inquiries have taken him to South and Southeast Asia 33 times.  No one except the immediate perpetrators of the cover-up knows the subject better.

Hendon’s co-author, Ms. Stewart, is an attorney and the daughter of an Air Force colonel missing in action in North Vietnam.  She, too, has traveled extensively in Southeast Asia and has researched the POW/MIA question for more than 20 years.  Reading on pp. 376-377 a letter she sent then President George H. W. Bush, with its graceful prose so similar in style to the writing in the book, one gets the impression that the main division of labor in producing the book was researching by Hendon and writing by Stewart.

Welcome to the Cover-up Congress

Hendon, along with fellow freshman Congressman, John LeBoutillier (R-NY), had the life-changing experience of being present when Air Force Brigadier General Eugene Tighe, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), testified to Congress on June 25, 1981, some eight years after all of the POWs had supposedly returned to the United States. The two new Congressmen were members of the House POW/MIA Task Force, before which the testimony was made, and LeBoutillier was also a member of the task force’s parent committee, the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  Tighe, as DIA director, was, as they say, “the horse’s mouth,” when it comes to whether any POWs remained in Southeast Asia.

Tighe…stunned those in attendance by testifying in open, public session that he was “absolutely certain” that American POWs were still being held captive in Southeast Asia.  He also called for a renewed effort by the Congress and the administration to get the prisoners home ….

“[Hendon] and I were just totally blown away by Tighe’s testimony in public session that the men were still alive,” LeBoutillier later said, “We knew, of course, that they were [alive], but this was the director of defense intelligence testifying to the fact before the U.S. Congress in open session.  I’ll never forget it ─ ‘absolutely certain. ‘ “ LeBoutillier went on to say that he and Hendon were sure Tighe’s statement “would be big news the next day, not just on the Hill, but all across town and, via the media, all across America.”

To the congressmen’s surprise, however, Tighe’s statement did not appear the following day in the Post or any of America’s other major newspapers.  Nor, to their knowledge, the next day.  Nor the next, or the next, or the next.


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