Anyone who has had an adversarial relationship with John McCain will tell you that there are few with less self-control than the senator from Arizona. Many have questioned his ability to maintain a clear head in a time of crisis. For those of us who have seen these sparks of insanity from McCain, we know all too well that what lies beneath is something dark, ominous and certainly not presidential. John McCain makes reference to his service to our great nation by almost daily reminding us of his five and a half year captivity in the Hanoi Hilton. Yet few have been able to look beyond McCain, the POW, to examine his political record, as if it were taboo somehow to be critical of a former prisoner of war. But what about this former prisoner of war and his criticism of the very same people who fought to bring him home from the dark dank cell he likes to remind us about so much? – The POW/MIA Families of those less fortunate than McCain, those who still have yet to be returned to the soil they gave their lives for.
Since his return from Hanoi, McCain has …
~Ignored pleas of POW/MIA Family Members for his political influence in the overall POW/MIA Issue as well as with their individual cases
~Verbally abused POW/MIA Family Members in public and private
~Attempted to negatively influence those who testified before the 1992 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs
~Diminished legislation that gave oversight and protection to the families
~Dismantled protection to any future servicemen that go missing.
Yes, John McCain, the American politician, the man who many think would and should be the primary advocate and activist for the POW/MIA Issue is in fact the Issue’s primary adversary. You read correctly, the Issue’s primary adversary. John McCain has not provided one positive contribution to these same families that fought along side the first Mrs. McCain for close to six years to bring home all of those who were known to be captured by the Vietnamese. One would think that McCain would feel almost beholden to these fine American military families who united in one of their darkest hours to keep the POW/MIA Issue in the forefront of the War in Vietnam. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
Cruel Encounters with McCain by POW/MIA Family Members
In the beginning, when McCain’s political aspirations began to pan out at the national level, many POW/MIA families made the erroneous assumption that John McCain would be a logical ally as they still fought with the Department of Defense for answers on the fate of their loved ones. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. There are many very well known encounters between John McCain and POW/MIA family members. Here we will quickly focus on three of these encounters. The first is with the family of fellow Air Force pilot David Hrdlicka’s wife Carol and Jane (Duke) Gaylord, mother of missing civilian Charles Duke.
Col. David Hrdlicka, USAF while in captivity
A recent statement put out in January of 2008 by Mrs. Hrdlicka’s attorney reads;
According to Mrs.Carol Hrdlicka, when POW/MIA family members confronted Sen. John McCain in the halls of Congress after the conclusion of the Committee’s Report, he shoved the wheelchair of handicapped POW mother Jane Gaylord out of his way knocking it into her niece who was behind the chair attending to her aunt and she was pushed up against a wall. Subsequently Mrs. Gaylord filed a complaint for assault against the Senator but the matter was squelched by the powers that be. As Senator McCain attempted to jump on an elevator to make a quick escape from the POW/MIA family members gathered, he shouted at Mrs. Hrdlicka, “You don’t know what I’ve been through”(indicating he was a former POW and inferring Mrs. Hrdlicka had no comparable experience or appreciation of his great suffering and sacrifice). As the door to the elevator began to close around the cowering Senator who was making good his get-a-way, Mrs. Hrdlicka raised a large photo of her POW husband Col. David Hrdlicka and thrust it at the elevator doors to show the Senator that she did indeed share in the suffering of POWs and family members and shouted that she had clear proof her husband David was still alive in captivity. Unfortunately, Mrs. Hrdlicka’s cries and pleas for help from government officials bent on closing the chapter on POWs fell on deaf ears and blackened hearts!“
The 1991-92 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs
Victor J. Apodaca, Jr., USAF
Another incident and most likely the most disturbing occurred in 1992 while McCain was an outspoken member of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. The senator from Arizona continually interrupted, argued with and ridiculed testimony given by various governmental employees involved in the POW/MIA Issue as well as family members. In fact, he brought the sister of a missing Air Force pilot to tears during one of his confrontational rants, Dolores Apodaca Alfond. Her testimony (p.379) at a hearing of the POW/MIA committee Nov. 11, 1992, was revealing. She pleaded with the committee not to shut down in two months, as scheduled, because so much of its work was unfinished. Also, she was critical of the committee, and in particular Kerry and McCain, for having “discredited the overhead satellite symbol pictures, arguing there is no way to be sure that the [distress] symbols were made by U.S. POWs.” She also criticized them for similarly discounting data from special sensors, shaped like a large spike with an electronic pod and an antenna, that were airdropped to stick in the ground along the Ho Chi Minh trail. These devices served as motion detectors, picking up passing convoys and other military movements, but they also had rescue capabilities. Specifically, someone on the ground — a downed airman or a prisoner on a labor detail — could manually enter data into the sensor pods. Alfond said the data from the sensor spikes, which was regularly gathered by Air Force jets flying overhead, had showed that a person or persons on the ground had manually entered into the sensors — as U.S. pilots had been trained to do — “no less than 20 authenticator numbers that corresponded exactly to the classified authenticator numbers of 20 U.S. POWs who were lost in Laos.”
Other than the panel’s second co-chairman, Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., not a single committee member attended this public hearing. But McCain, having been advised of Alfond’s testimony, suddenly rushed into the room to confront her. His face angry and his voice very loud, he accused her of making “allegations … that are patently and totally false and deceptive.” Making a fist, he shook his index finger at her and said she had insulted an emissary to Vietnam sent by President Bush. He said she had insulted other MIA families with her remarks. And then he said, through clenched teeth: “And I am sick and tired of you insulting mine and other people’s [patriotism] who happen to have different views than yours.”
One of the many faces of John McCain
Here is the link to the video, just posted on YouTube
By this time, tears were running down Alfond’s cheeks. She reached into her handbag for a handkerchief. She tried to speak: “The family members have been waiting for years — years! And now you’re shutting down.” He kept interrupting her. She tried to say, through tears, that she had issued no insults. He kept talking over her words. He said she was accusing him and others of “some conspiracy without proof, and some cover-up.” She said she was merely seeking “some answers. That is what I am asking.” He ripped into her for using the word “fiasco.” She replied: “The fiasco was the people that stepped out and said we have written the end, the final chapter to Vietnam.” “No one said that,” he shouted. “No one said what you are saying they said, Ms. Alfond.” And then, his face flaming pink, he stalked out of the room, to shouts of disfavor from members of the audience. As with most of McCain’s remarks to Alfond, the facts in his closing blast at her were incorrect. Less than three weeks earlier, on Oct. 23, 1992, in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Bush — with John McCain standing beside him — said: “Today, finally, I am convinced that we can begin writing the last chapter in the Vietnam War.”
The committee did indeed, as Alfond said they planned to do, shut down two months after the hearing. It is highly recommend that you take a few moments to follow the link provided below which will take you to the Library of Congress website and the specific record of the hearings from the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. To give you a sampling of McCain’s treatment of witness who appeared before the Committee, click on the November, 1991 hearings and proceed to page 437 of the record where Mr. Tracy Ursry, the Minority Staff chief investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with regard to legislative inquiries on the POW/MIA Issue, is “cross-examined” by McCain. McCain’s segment begins on p. 443. After reading that portion, you will see that McCain did not sit on the Committee with an open mind but with a methodical agenda, that of giving then President Clinton the necessary cover to re-establish trade with Vietnam at the expense of the full and accurate accounting of our missing servicemen. Make no qualms about it, a few years later both McCain and Sen. John Kerry were there by design for the photo op with President Clinton when the official announcement regarding lifting the trade embargo with Vietnam was made public.
Re-establishment of Trade with Vietnam at the expense of our missing men
The Truth Bill
In 1989, 11 members of the House of Representatives introduced a measure they called “The Truth Bill.” A brief and simple document, it said: “[The] head of each department or agency which holds or receives any records and information, including live-sighting reports, which have been correlated or possibly correlated to United States personnel listed as prisoner of war or missing in action from World War II, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam conflict shall make available to the public all such records and information held or received by that department or agency. In addition, the Department of Defense shall make available to the public with its records and information a complete listing of United States personnel classified as prisoner of war, missing in action, or killed in action (body not returned) from World War II, the Korean conflict, and the Vietnam conflict.” Bitterly opposed by the Pentagon, “The Truth Bill” got nowhere. It was reintroduced in the next Congress in 1991 — and again disappeared. Then, suddenly, out of the Senate, birthed by the Arizona senator, a new piece of legislation emerged. It was called “The McCain Bill.” This measure turned “The Truth Bill ” on its head. It created a bureaucratic maze from which only a fraction of the available documents could emerge. And it became law. So restrictive were its provisions that one clause actually said the Pentagon didn’t even have to inform the public when it received intelligence that Americans were alive in captivity. First, it decreed that only three categories of information could be released, i.e., “information … that may pertain to the location, treatment, or condition of” unaccounted-for personnel from the Vietnam War. (This was later amended in 1995 and 1996 to include the Cold War and the Korean conflict.) If information is received about anything other than “location, treatment or condition,” under this statute, which was enacted in December 199l, it does not get disclosed. Second, before such information can be released to the public, permission must be granted by the primary next of kin, or PNOK. In the case of Vietnam, letters were sent by the Department of Defense to the 2,266 PNOK. More than 600 declined consent (including 243 who failed to respond, considered under the law to be a “no”).
Finally, in addition to these hurdles and limitations, the McCain act does not specifically order the declassification of the information. Further, it provides the Defense Department with other justifications for withholding documents. One such clause says that if the information “may compromise the safety of any United States personnel … who remain not accounted for but who may still be alive in captivity, then the Secretary [of Defense] may withhold that record or other information from the disclosure otherwise required by this section.” Boiled down, the preceding paragraph means that the Defense Department is not obligated to tell the public about prisoners believed alive in captivity and what efforts are being made to rescue them. It only has to notify the White House and the intelligence committees in the Senate and House. The committees are forbidden under law from releasing such information. At the same time, the McCain act is now being used to deny access to other sorts of records. For instance, part of a recent APBnews.com Freedom of Information Act request for the records of a mutiny on a merchant marine vessel in the 1970s was rejected by a Defense Department official who cited the McCain act. Similarly, requests for information about Americans missing in the Korean War and declared dead for the last 45 years have been denied by officials who reference the McCain statute.
The 1995 Missing Service Personnel Act
In the years following the 1992 –93 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, the POW/MIA Community along with family members began working with concerned legislators and crafted legislation to strength their battles with the Department of Defense as they have little if any oversight from anywhere within the government when they were deceived or even outright lied to by POW/MIA agencies. Wanting to shield future military families from the pain they had suffered for close to three decades they included language that would make the reporting of an MIA more responsive. McCain, in short ordered weakened this act if not stripped it entirely making it almost worthless.
In the 1995 act, the theater commander, after receiving the MIA report, would have 14 days to report to his Cabinet secretary in Washington. His report had to “ certify” that all necessary actions were being taken and all appropriate assets were being used “to resolve the status of the missing person.” This section was stricken from the act in 1996 by McCain and replaced with language that made the Cabinet secretary, not the theater commander, the recipient of the report from the field. All the certification requirements also were stricken. ‘Turn commanders into clerks’ “This, ” said a McCain memo, “transfers the bureaucracy involved out of the field to Washington.” He argued that the original legislation, if left intact, “ would accomplish nothing but create new jobs for lawyers and turn military commanders into clerks.”
One final blow in the law was McCain’s removal of all its enforcement teeth. The original act provided for criminal penalties for anyone, such as military bureaucrats in Washington, who destroy, cover up or withhold from families any information about a missing man. McCain erased this part of the law. He said the penalties would have a chilling effect on the Pentagon’s ability to recruit personnel for its POW/MIA office. Well, this writer would have to questions this line of thinking as we, thankfully live in a democracy where we all are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, these criminal penalties would have to be proven before any penalties could be enforced. Just as with anyone accused or suspected with a crime, if you are innocent and have nothing to hide, then there should be no grounds for concern. Does McCain no have faith in our federal judicial system?
Cpl. Greg Harris, USMC
This last portion of McCain’s heartless manipulation of this legislation has some present day ramifications. Case in point, that of Marine Corporal Greg Harris. During a recent meeting with the case analyst, the family has reported that they were lied to and deceived by their case analyst in an attempt to cover up a report that confirmed Harris’ captivity. The report was kept from the family and reported to them in writing and again during the meeting as being hearsay information. Yet, the family had obtained the report without the knowledge of the analyst. The report clearly stated that the information was a firsthand account of Harris’ capture yet the case analyst, with no fear of repercussions, knowingly lied to the family trying to pass off the contents of the report as hearsay thus belittling its value. According to family members who were present at this meeting, when the case analyst was confronted with this contradiction between “firsthand” and “hearsay” reporting, she simply replied, “Well, it says firsthand, but it doesn’t mean firsthand”. If McCain had not purposefully taken away the prosecutorial clause in the original Missing Service Personnel Act, the Harris case analyst would have been much less likely to lie to the family knowing the ramifications. Yet, with no oversight whatsoever, case analysts and any other government official involved with the POW/MIA Issue can do and say what they like with the knowledge that John McCain has covered their six.
If indeed actions do speak louder than words, then the measure of the man that is John Sidney McCain is one of questionable character. Being a former POW himself, knowing the pain and agony that his own family members and first wife went through during his captivity, how can he, in good conscience, prolong and even in some cases make more excruciating that same pain his loved ones endured? Does what has been referenced here give Americans a sigh of relief or cause for grave concern with regard to a potential McCain Presidency? Do the families of the four missing American soldiers in Iraq know how John McCain weakened their position and took control of their son’s fate from those on the ground and transferred it to the political spin doctors in Washington? This is the measure of the man and he simply does not measure up.
P.S. – Although not POW/MIA related, here is another “measure of the man” during a visit to a wounded warrior at Walter Reed. Major Z is indeed a true American Hero!