The following excerpt is from veteran John “Top” Holland’s book, PERFIDY: The Government Cabal That Knowingly Abandoned Our Prisoners of War and Left Them to Die, published by AMERICAN FREE PRESS to document the history of United States government treachery when it comes to finding and bringing home American prisoners of war (POW).
In the 1980s, I had already spoken to a few Navy captains and Army colonels, most of whom either had a family member among the missing or had been a POW themselves. I had met them at issue meetings, but other than telling me about the court case in 1973 (that allowed dependents to attend the hearings) they all thought it would just be shoveling debris against the tide (an exercise in futility). They were convinced that even after a costly court case, only Congress can change laws. Not heeding their lack of interest, I began visiting the congressional office of any congressman I could get into. I was green as grass. I had no idea of how to go about it. I would go into an office and occasionally I would get to speak to an aide, but no more. They would listen to me, or at least act like they listened, take the copy of the law I would give them, say they would speak to the congressman, and hustle me out the door. In my spare time, I did this for a few months. However, I spoke about it to no one in the movement.
Finally one aide took pity on me and explained the facts of life. He informed me that I had best get to know someone who knew someone who knew a congressman, and thus get a personal meeting through this friend of a friend. Still naïve, I thought it wasn’t the way I believed it should work, but I figured that “When in Rome . . .”
I met Ted Shpak at a vigil, and he was also a member of the American Foundation for Accountability of POW/MIAs (AFFA). I traveled to Connecticut with Ted a time or two to visit a Veterans Outreach Program he had started. I also knew he had helped Congressman John Rowland (R-Conn.) get elected. I brought Ted up to date on what I had been doing, and he liked the idea of changing the law. I asked if he could get me in to see Congressman Rowland, and sure enough in about two weeks we had a meeting. At our first meeting Congressman Rowland expressed strong interest, but he stated that he would like to discuss it with another congressman or two.
A couple weeks later, Ted and I were called back to his office and were told to write the bill we wanted. That came as a total shock, as neither Ted nor I had ever seen a congressional bill, let alone wrote one. Ted and I went back to AFFA’s office and, with copies of a couple of other bills as guidance, we wrote what we thought would straighten out the Missing Persons Act of 1942 (MPA 1942). It took us a couple of weeks to get the format as correct as we possibly could and the wording the way we wanted it. (We admitted to each other that it was probably a miserable bill.) The congressman actually put the bill in as we had written it. It was late in that session of Congress, and we didn’t expect it to pass, but at least we had a bill and the assurance that it would be re-introduced in the next session.
At the start of the next session, Congressman Rowland called us back and asked if we could get anyone to help us write a proper bill. With that, I contacted Tom Birch, a lawyer in D.C. (and a Vietnam veteran who had been a Judge Advocate Officer for the 5th Special Forces Group). Tom had recently organized the Vietnam Veterans Coalition, a group of small Veterans organizations and several POW/MIA groups (of which AFFA was one). An associate of Tom, Bill Bennett, also a lawyer (and also a Vietnam veteran) whose area of expertise is writing documents, agreed to go with me to the Capitol Building and do it up properly. Congressman Rowland got us into the area where most of the bills were written, and where information of all sorts is maintained. In three days we had the “Missing Service Personnel Act” (MSPA) written pretty much as I had envisioned it. Congressman Rowland put the bill in the hopper immediately.
The MSPA received a lot of interest and wound up with nearly a hundred cosponsors. However, we could not get it into the Armed Forces Committee for consideration. After the session ended, we tried again in the next session, with the same results. All of the member groups, of the Vietnam Veterans Coalition, supported our efforts and most of them actively lobbied Congress with us.
During the second session that we had the bill, the National Headquarters of the American Legion got firmly behind us, and the Legion’s efforts were strongly felt in Congress, but still to no avail. I approached the National Headquarters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but they showed no interest in it. The reason they did not help us was a question I could not answer for some time, and I still have only suspicions. Most individual VFW posts, around the country, as well as some states and districts, were very strong in their support, but the national VFW helped us not.
HOLLAND BILL GETS PASSED
Someone in Congress, or close to Congress, was stymieing the bill, but we didn’t know who nor exactly why. We knew that the Defense Prisoners of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) did not like it, and actively fought against it. That we could understand! Bureaucrats work in that office, some in uniform and some as civilians, and this act would not only cause them to have to work harder, but to also accept responsibility. After his third term, Congressman Rowland left Congress, and we did not immediately get another congressman to introduce it. However, later that session, Congressman Murphy (D-Pa.), decided to introduce it again, written exactly as Congressman Rowland had introduced it.
Believe it or not, Congressman Murphy introduced it in two sessions, in the same format, and it still was not accepted for consideration by the Armed Forces Committee, although each time we had over a hundred co-sponsors. Murphy then left Congress and the next congressman to pick it up was Congressman Bob Dornan (R-CA). That same session, in 1994, Sens. Bob Dole (R-KS) and Charles (Chuck) Grassley (R-IA) introduced a companion bill in the Senate, and we finally got the MSPA passed and signed by the president early in 1995.
The final law was not exactly what I had started out to get, but I knew it was as close as I would ever come. The law finally gave all family members the right to attend all of the hearings, and allowed the service personnel to designate someone besides a family member to represent them (naturally, they had to make such choice before they went missing).
A missing service person could not be declared dead solely because of passage of time, until 50 years had passed. For the first time, missing American civilians accompanying the armed forces, under orders, in combat areas, would have their absences explained by the Defense Department, rather than be treated like wandering tourists by the State Department. Proof had to be given that the area where the missing service person disappeared had been searched, and, if the war was over, the records of the national power, or other element that had occupied that area at the time of the incident, had been searched for information pertaining to the incident. Rather than having one officer with no special qualifications, every hearing had to have a group of officers assigned to it, and they had to have certain qualifications, including a person qualified in the same field as the missing service person, and if the person was missing while in transit, there had to be a person on the board that was qualified in that type of transport.
Each missing service person was assigned legal representation and additional legal representation could be hired by the family if desired. All findings of the hearings could be appealed. Also there were punitive instructions for anyone who intentionally withheld information from the records of the individual missing persons. There were also provisions for survivors of Missing Personnel (going back to WWII) to request full hearings on their loved one’s case.
Overall, it was a very good law, and it satisfied most every complaint that the Issue family members and activists had against the MPA of 1942. There were no big announcements in the newspapers or on TV, like there is when the president signs some sort of law that gives the government more power. The fact that a bad law, that was responsible for a long lasting problem of “great national interest,” had finally been rectified was not noted by the national media. In retrospect, I know now that we should have called a press conference and had the senators and congressmen responsible for introducing the act announce it to the public.
To be honest, we activists thought that the battle had been won, and we were the victors. I guess that it just goes to show exactly how naïve we still were. The act was signed into law early in 1995, but, unknown to us, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill in February 1995 that gutted our law. Senator McCain’s new bill remained unknown to us for nearly a year before we learned about it from one of the few people in DPMO who was “friendly” to us activists and our subject. Senator McCain could get very few other Senators to co-sign his bill, and no one in the House put in a companion bill. Senator McCain finally got the bill passed through what I believe is a very furtive method, even though it is considered legal. Normally, to pass a bill into law, each house of Congress must vote on the bill that is passed by each respective house. Seldom are these two bills written exactly the same in their language. Once the two companion bills are passed, they must go to what is called a conference committee, which is where a number of chosen congressmen and a number of chosen senators discuss the bills. They then re-write the bill to include as much of each individual bill as they decide should be included in the final bill. This final bill then goes back to each House, where it is again given a vote, but the vote is either yes or no, and no additions, no reductions to the bill can be introduced. In fact, very few of these final bills are ever read by the majority of the two houses, as they rely on the original bill as it was passed.
This method is understandable because otherwise nothing would ever get done. However, there is “a fly or two in the ointment.” The conference committee has the right to add anything they wish to the bill, and it will be passed by both Houses without discussion. However (and here is where honor comes into play) a person of contemptible nature can slip into the final bill any other piece of legislation that he knows will not bear discussion by the individual committees, or the entire Congress. (In fact, this is how most earmarks are inserted) I have heard, from people who should know, that even the other members of the conference committee did not know that Senator McCain had added his bill (the one that gutted the MSPA) to the bills they were discussing. In light of what happened next, I firmly believe this.
As soon as we learned that Senator McCain, acting alone, overrode both houses of Congress, we went to Congressman Dornan, who immediately put in House Resolution 4000, which would override McCain’s nefarious activities. The year was 1996, and it was the last day of the congressional session, with congressional elections coming in a month or so. At the end of a congressional session, it is possible to pass a bill in what is called “cloture.” If a bill is passed in one House of Congress, and it passes with no one voting “nay,” it goes immediately to the other House, where, if it is written in the exact wording as the bill that passed in the first House, and again it passes with no one voting “nay” it is ready for the president’s signature. Thus, when a bill is passed, in cloture, in both Houses, it does not go to a conference committee. HR 4000 passed the House of Representatives 410 to 0, and the Senate was waiting for it to reach the floor, where arrangements had been made to get quick approval of all of the senators. But, something happened! It never reached the Senate floor. Remember, all it took to stop this cloture bill from passing, and going to the president to be signed into law, was for one senator to stand up and say “No.” But as I said, it never reached the floor. Why? I did not learn the reason for about two months when a “little bird” told me to read the Congressional Record for, I believe, September 23, 1996, or a date close to that. Why did it not reach the floor, where Senator McCain could have stopped it by publicly voting “No”? Remember, that one little vote would have exposed Senator McCain to be the enemy of the POW/MIA issue that we activists had long believed him to be. He had clandestinely submitted not one, but two long amendments to this bill, thus shutting it off from the cloture vote! Remember, the wording had to be exactly the same on both bills. Rather than expose himself to public scorn by voting “No,” he sneakily bypassed the entire Senate and the entire House of Representatives, and in so doing he flaunted his position as a U.S. senator and thumbed his nose at the entire electorate! All of us! If we the people are not his boss, who does he work for? The fact of the matter is, his chicanery does not stop here! Within a year he pulled the same stunt and got away with it again. This time it was against his fellow ex-POWs!
Do the other senators have to accept part of the blame for what he has done? I believe they do. In a continuing show of unity, all senators jointly (but sometimes grimly) protect fellow senators at all cost. I believe they go far beyond what is acceptable to the American people! I believe this method would end if the American public were made clear on how it works. Until Senator McCain snuck another of his notorious stealth bills through a conference committee the initial post-release statements of all ex-POWs had been open for public scrutiny, as are all government documents that are (and should not be) classified.
After McCain’s bill was passed, the only people who can see these statements are the ex-POWs themselves, and they are not allowed to make copies of them, or even have a means to write down what they are reading. Since Senator McCain went against the public laws, and common sense, all of these original debriefings are now classified forever!
How could such a bill have been made into law? It is illegal to classify any information “forever.” Under our laws, all classified documents are to be reviewed on a regular basis, and classification must be reduced after a given length of time (with certain exceptions for National Defense secrecy). Furthermore, why should any statement made by an ex-POW be classified? For sure, the enemy who held them already held that knowledge. Again, the enemy already knows what the ex-POWs know and can make it public anytime they wish. The sole purpose of classifying any government document is to ensure that it does not reach the hands of an enemy. There is no authorization to classify anything just to keep it out of the hands of the American public.
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A little aside here. I have worked many years with classified documents, and at one time I was very familiar with the laws and regulations that govern why they are classified and how they should be handled. I have never seen nor heard of authority to classify a document simply because it might embarrass someone. Documents that contain embarrassing information are usually kept out of the distributions system and handled with discretion. Normally, such documents are hand-delivered to whomever they are intended. One must wonder: did McCain take advantage of his position in the Senate to ensure that no one ever looks at his initial debriefing statement, made after his return from a POW prison in Vietnam? Did he admit to making radio broadcasts for the North Vietnamese? There is certainly a widespread belief that he did. Did he admit to breaking the Code of Conduct for U.S. POWs? He did on more than one occasion. Did he admit to accepting favors for giving information that he should not have given? It is another well-known, but unspoken fact, that he offered to give information for proper medical care. Did he offer up information about the Order of Battle of the U.S. Forces? (Order of Battle information is knowledge of where certain service personnel are, and what capabilities certain units or ships have). This is another widely shared belief.
There have been other issue bills to go through Congress, but the MSPA is still as it became after McCain’s stealth bill. The portions of the MSPA that were left in the law have been responsible for Captain Spiecer (MIA in Desert Storm since 1991) having his status changed from dead back to MIA, and it has been responsible for Matt Maupin not being declared dead until his remains were found in 2008.
For whom does McCain work? To whom is he responsible? If we can answer those questions we can settle the POW/MIA issue in a manner that ensures that our nation will never again be faced with such a disgrace as the MSP 42 brought.
One last thought about the POW/MIA issue, McCain is not the only villain! No, he is not the sole person responsible for the failure of our government to properly explain the absences of our Missing Service Personnel. The POW/MIA Issue was an old scandal long before he came onto the scene. There were, and are, many “highly respected” individuals, many of whom are dead, who were, and are, responsible for this scandalous fiasco. Reputations of such dastardly people should not be considered.
Their stellar reputations are based on lies and misrepresentations. They caused the imprisonment of innocent people, for long periods of time, and undoubtedly caused the early deaths of many, just as they will cause a slow lingering death for most of the remainder. At this date, there is a probability that a few still live in various countries where they have been imprisoned all of these years. We must bring all living Americans home, and punish those who caused and supported such misery and pain to the personnel they have abandoned.
We are a nation of laws, and these laws should be written to make our government a clear and open book so all can see and understand its daily operations.
John “Top” Holland entered the Marines after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He served in Korea and Vietnam as well. He has worked tirelessly for decades to rescue those veterans who have been abandoned by the U.S. government. He is the president of Concerned Americans Working to Return American POW/MIAs to America!