Did America Abandon Vietnam War P.O.W.'s? Part 2

A closer look at an ugly issue

This directly paralleled the Soviet "1,205" document, which said that only some of the prisoners would be returned "at this time." The others, it said, would not be freed until Washington made political concessions and granted economic aid. "Nixon must compensate North Vietnam for those enormous losses which the destruction caused," it said, adding, "These are the principles on the basis of which we are able to resolve the question of the American prisoners of war."

Secondary camp system


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Another very significant aspect of both these reports was the assertion that Hanoi had established a covert secondary network of prison camps, where unacknowledged prisoners were held. The Pentagon has always insisted there was only one prison system, a relatively small number of facilities where the 591 returned prisoners were last held. It has vehemently rejected the possibility that a "second-tier" system existed, where other prisoners could have been hidden.

Here, too, the evidence clearly challenges the Pentagon's position. Newly declassified reports, from both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, record eyewitness sightings of live American POWs being held between 1976 and 1980 in at least five prison camps in North Vietnam, from which no POWs ever returned. The Vietnamese witnesses also report that they saw 81 graves clustered around the five camps, and they drew diagrams of the burial sites. They said these Americans had died of disease, malnutrition, and rigorous labor conditions, and some of the sources said they actually witnessed burials.

The sources were deemed credible by the intelligence investigators. Some were given polygraph tests; they passed. There is no notation in any of these reports of a source who failed a polygraph. The five camps in these reports (not the only camps named in "second-tier" evidence) were Quyet Tien, Thanh Phong, Bai, Ha Son Binh, and Tan Lap-Phu Tho.

'50 or more American prisoners'

Here are excerpts from reports on the Quyet Tien camp, near Vietnam's northern border with China: "Source [a Vietnamese who was interned there] claims to have observed 50 or more American prisoners. These prisoners were brought to Quyet Tien as a group in late 1973 - early 1974 and were still there when source was moved to another camp in mid-1977.

"Source ... claims to have observed [prisoners] from a distance of 30 to 50 meters on a daily basis. Source was told they were Americans but had no contact ... Source claims another prisoner told him of assisting in the burial of 12 Americans sometime in 1976.

"Based on analysis of polygraph charts, it was the opinion of the examiners that there was no deception in the answers to questions concerning his observations of prisoners he was told were Americans."

'A special camp'

Another intelligence report on Quyet Tien, from a Vietnamese source who was part of a circus group sent in to entertain the cadre at this remote camp, said that while at the reception hall, source and the group were thanked by a cadre for coming to perform and told not to communicate with puppet troops from Saigon and U.S. pilots. ... "Source claimed she ... observed a small group of male Caucasian prisoners (six to seven) who were dressed in light-blue hospital-type pajamas and also striped type pajamas ... Source heard from the camp commander ... that the Caucasians were U.S. pilots and were being held at Quyet Tien because it was a special camp."

The reports on the other camps are equally telling. A former inmate at the Thanh Phong camp told American investigators that "the American prisoners who were on work detail were not allowed to go further than 100 meters from their enclosures. Source said that a farmer, Hoan, had shown him the site of a cemetery for American prisoners of war. Hoan (told source) there were 40 bodies in the cemetery. Source said ... he could see the mounds of about 30 graves. Source said that from October 1979 through November 1980, he saw the funerals of ten American prisoners of war."

'We are Americans'

One intelligence document tells of an event in 1978: "Viet female refugee, former schoolteacher who was cooperative, in good health, and mentally alert, observed 15 to 20 Americans at location approximately 10 to 15 kilometers west of Am Thuon railroad station ... under guard, on a work detail. Nearest American said, 'We are Americans, you ladies go back to Saigon and tell about it.' American spoke in fluent Vietnamese." The interviewer wrote that he "believes that [the] report is credible."

And in 1982, a source told of 20 POW graves at Ha Son Binh prison, where, in 1979, he "and three other persons had buried an American pilot" who had died of malaria.

Despite this evidence, and much additional data, the Pentagon has persisted in denying the existence of a separate prison system. The reason given: The POWs who were returned said they knew nothing about POWs in other camps. But this is hollow reasoning. If Hanoi had a separate system, as all these reports indicate, its very purpose and design would be to keep it secret in order to hide the unacknowledged POWs until the North Vietnamese chose to reveal them. The 591 returned POWs, who were held in a small number of prisons in Hanoi and its environs, would have been deliberately walled off from the other and kept in the dark.

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