WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s effort to account for tens of thousands of Americans missing in action from foreign wars is so inept, mismanaged and wasteful that it risks descending from “dysfunction to total failure,” according to an internal study suppressed by military officials.
Largely beyond the public spotlight, the decades-old pursuit of bones and other MIA evidence is sluggish, often duplicative and subjected to too little scientific rigor, the report says.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the internal study after Freedom of Information Act requests for it by others were denied.
The report paints a picture of a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a military-run group known as JPAC and headed by a two-star general, as woefully inept and even corrupt. The command is digging up too few clues on former battlefields, relying on inaccurate databases and engaging in expensive “boondoggles” in Europe, the study concludes.
JPAC’s leaders authorized the study of its inner workings, but the then-commanding general, Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Tom, disavowed it and suppressed the findings when they were presented by the researcher last year. Now retired, Tom banned its use “for any purpose,” saying the probe went beyond its intended scope. His deputy concurred, calling it a “raw, uncensored draft containing some contentious material.”
The AP obtained two internal memos describing the decision to bury the report. The memos raised no factual objections but said the command would not consider any of the report’s findings or recommendations.
The failings cited by the report reflect one aspect of a broader challenge to achieving a uniquely American mission — accounting for the estimated 83,348 service members still listed as missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
This is about more than tidying up the historical record. It is about fulfilling a promise to the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and sons and daughters of the missing. Daughters like Shelia Reese, 62, of Chapel Hill, N.C., who still yearns for the father she never met, the boy soldier who went to war and never returned.