WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted Friday to create a special Senate committee on POW-MIA affairs to examine the question of Americans still missing from the Vietnam war in light of the renewed interest in the topic.
The Pentagon has increased by more than half the number of people assigned to processing information on missing U.S. servicemen because of expanded ties with Vietnam, which has started yielding more data on the 2,273 persons still classified as missing.
Additionally, a photograph of three men purported to be U.S. fliers shot down in the war -- a photograph family members insist is genuine but which is viewed with skepticism at the Pentagon -- has rekindled interest in the matter.
On a voice vote, just as members were leaving for their August vacation and after similarly adopting a measure allowing the flying of a POW-MIA flag over federal government builings, the Senate set up a Select Senate Committee on POW-MIA Affairs to be made up of six Democrats and six Republicans. The panel would go out of existence at the end of the 102nd Congress in 1992.
Sen. Robert Smith, R-N.H., author of the legislation, said the panel would also look into cases of soldiers missing from the Korean War.
'The goal here is to work in cooperation, not confrontation with those agencies who hold the records, theinformation, thedata. I would hope that they will be forthcoming in providing this because the Congress has oversight authority over this matter and we intend to exercise it,' said Smith.
All the information, he said 'tends to feed the doubt, the public mistrust of our government.'
'we look forward to the challenge and I hope we can resolve this thing once and for all. For over 20 years these families have waited for answers. ... We know where the answers are. They're in Hanoi, they're in Vientiane, they're in Phnom Penh,' said Smith.
Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas praised Smith for pushing the issue in Congress.
He said families have suffered emotionally 'and perhaps this select committee can ease the strain.' And, he said, if President Bush names a commission on the issue there is no rearson the two cannot work in harmony.
The POW-MIA committee will be chaired by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who served in Vietnam and later protested the war. Other Democratic members will be Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who lost a leg in the war; Charles Robb, of Virginia, who served as a marine in Vietnam; Tom Daschle, of South Dakota, Harry Reid of Nevada and Dennis DeConcini of Arizona.
The Republican vice chairman will be named later. The five other GOP members are Smith, Hank Brown of Colorado, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Jesse Helms of North Carolina and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas.
Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Ky., chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said the 'POW-MIA issue is clearly one which the Congress should investigate to the full extent. 'The American public has demanded that we resolve this issue once and for all, and I have every confidence that the establishment of this Senate investigative committee will lead us to that end.'
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that the administration is moving toward the creation of a special blue ribbon commission to investigate recurring reports that Americans, listed as missing-in- action, are still being held in Vietnam.
McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he had talked with top officials and received the impression that a commission might be formed in an effort to find out finally if an Americans are still being more than 20 years after the war.
The Arizona Republican even suggested that Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf war or someone of his stature, should head the panel. Schwarzkopf is retiring from the Army.
Senate Republican leader Robert Dole initially suggested the commission last Sunday after the photograph of the three fliers appeared.