When John Kerry's Courage Went M.I.A.

Senator covered up evidence of P.O.W.'s left behind

Here are details of a few of the specific steps Kerry took to hide evidence about these P.O.W.'s.

  • He gave orders to his committee staff to shred crucial intelligence documents. The shredding stopped only when some intelligence staffers staged a protest. Some wrote internal memos calling for a criminal investigation. One such memo—from John F. McCreary, a lawyer and staff intelligence analyst—reported that the committee's chief counsel, J. William Codinha, a longtime Kerry friend, "ridiculed the staff members" and said, "Who's the injured party?" When staffers cited "the 2,494 families of the unaccounted-for U.S. servicemen, among others," the McCreary memo continued, Codinha said: "Who's going to tell them? It's classified."

    Kerry defended the shredding by saying the documents weren't originals, only copies—but the staff's fear was that with the destruction of the copies, the information would never get into the public domain, which it didn't. Kerry had promised the staff that all documents acquired and prepared by the committee would be turned over to the National Archives at the committee's expiration. This didn't happen. Both the staff and independent researchers reported that many critical documents were withheld.

  • Another protest memo from the staff reported: "An internal Department of Defense Memorandum identifies Frances Zwenig [Kerry's staff director] as the conduit to the Department of Defense for the acquisition of sensitive and restricted information from this Committee . . . lines of investigation have been seriously compromised by leaks" to the Pentagon and "other agencies of the executive branch." It also said the Zwenig leaks were "endangering the lives and livelihood of two witnesses."

  • A number of staffers became increasingly upset about Kerry's close relationship with the Department of Defense, which was supposed to be under examination. (Dick Cheney was then defense secretary.) It had become clear that Kerry, Zwenig, and others close to the chairman, such as Senator John McCain of Arizona, a dominant committee member, had gotten cozy with the officials and agencies supposedly being probed for obscuring P.O.W. information over the years. Committee hearings, for example, were being orchestrated to suit the examinees, who were receiving lists of potential questions in advance. Another internal memo from the period, by a staffer who requested anonymity, said: "Speaking for the other investigators, I can say we are sick and tired of this investigation being controlled by those we are supposedly investigating."

  • The Kerry investigative technique was equally soft in many other critical ways. He rejected all suggestions that the committee require former presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush to testify. All were in the Oval Office during the Vietnam era and its aftermath. They had information critical to the committee, for each president was carefully and regularly briefed by his national security adviser and others about P.O.W. developments. It was a huge issue at that time.

  • Kerry also refused to subpoena the Nixon office tapes (yes, the Watergate tapes) from the early months of 1973 when the P.O.W.'s were an intense subject because of the peace talks and the prisoner return that followed. (Nixon had rejected committee requests to provide the tapes voluntarily.) Information had seeped out for years that during the Paris talks and afterward, Nixon had been briefed in detail by then national security advisor Brent Scowcroft and others about the existence of P.O.W.'s whom Hanoi was not admitting to. Nixon, distracted by Watergate, apparently decided it was crucial to get out of the Vietnam mess immediately, even if it cost those lives. Maybe he thought there would be other chances down the road to bring these men back. So he approved the peace treaty and on March 29, 1973, the day the last of the 591 acknowledged prisoners were released in Hanoi, Nixon announced on national television: "All of our American P.O.W.'s are on their way home."


The Kerry committee's final report, issued in January 1993, delivered the ultimate insult to history. The 1,223-page document said there was "no compelling evidence that proves" there is anyone still in captivity. As for the primary investigative question —what happened to the men left behind in 1973—the report conceded only that there is "evidence . . . that indicates the possibility of survival, at least for a small number" of prisoners 31 years ago, after Hanoi released the 591 P.O.W.'s it had admitted to.

With these word games, the committee report buried the issue—and the men.

The huge document contained no findings about what happened to the supposedly "small number." If they were no longer alive, then how did they die? Were they executed when ransom offers were rejected by Washington?

Kerry now slides past all the radio messages, satellite photos, live sightings, and boxes of intelligence documents—all the evidence. In his comments for this piece, this candidate for the presidency said: "No nation has gone to the lengths that we did to account for their dead. None—ever in history."

Of the so-called "possibility" of a "small number" of men left behind, the committee report went on to say that if this did happen, the men were not "knowingly abandoned," just "shunted aside." How do you put that on a gravestone?

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