SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

July 17, 2013

Our view: Repairing a 'dysfunctional' MIA program


The Salem News

---- — In the urgency and chaos of battle, the fallen are often left behind.

That’s certainly been true in earlier eras of warfare, when transportation options were limited and the ability to deal with comrades killed in battle interfered with ongoing missions.

This is why the number of Americans listed as missing in action in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War totals 83,348. For various reasons, the remains of most of these soldiers never will be recovered.

But some are. And in fact the United States government has an aggressive program that strives to locate and identify the remains of those killed in action, and return these soldiers to their families.

It’s a noble, if frustrating, goal that has limited success. For instance, at the end of the Korean War, 8,200 Americans were listed as missing in that conflict. Today, that number stands at 7,910, indicating minimal progress.

The effort to recover the remains of fallen soldiers is a somber mission for the military. It’s something you might suspect is undertaken with the utmost determination and aggressiveness. One needs only look to the effort taken to first correctly identify and then bring home to Salem the remains of Army Staff Sgt. Mieczyslaus Miaskiewicz, shot down over Bosnia during World War II, almost 70 years ago.

Then how do you explain a recent internal report from the Pentagon that describes the MIA recovery program as “acutely dysfunctional,” full of waste and mismanagement?

This document, authorized by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, paints a troubling picture of a system that is slow to assess evidence, relies too little on science to confirm its finding and even allows itself to be victimized by foreign governments running scams.

A key example of this in the report involved North Korea, where it was determined battle sites were “salted” with the remains of dead Americans. Later examinations showed the bones recovered from these sites had drill holes in them, indicating the North Koreans had been using the skeletons for lab specimens.

The implication here was the North Korea was running a big con operation, charging the Pentagon big bucks to gain access to sites and then making sure the U.S. seemingly got its money’s worth.

Interestingly, this report is one that was never to have seen the light of day. The commander of the MIA program ordered that it not be used for any purpose, and repeated efforts to have it released under the federal Freedom of Information Act were thwarted.

However, The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report, along with two memos outlining the attempts to censor it. One can certainly understand why certain officials would want to keep this information quiet.

One can also understand why anyone who cares about Americans who are still listed as missing in combat would be outraged by these findings. So what are the Pentagon, the Obama administration and Congress going to do about it?