NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

July 17, 2013

Our view: Repairing a 'dysfunctional' MIA program

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.

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 findings 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.

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