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POWs and MIAs: Status and Accounting Issues

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CRS issue brief for Congress

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There has been great controversy about U.S. prisoners of war POWs and those missing in action MIAs during and in one case after the Cold War. While few people familiar with the issue feel that any Americans are still being held against their will in the remaining communist countries, more feel that some may have been so held in the past in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, or North Vietnam. Similarly, few believe there was a conspiracy to cover up live POWs, but few would disagree with the statement that there was, at least during the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. government mismanagement of the issue. Normalization of relations with Vietnam exacerbated this longstanding debate. Normalizations supporters contend that Vietnamese cooperation on the POWMIA issue has greatly increased. Opponents argue that cooperation has in fact been much less than supporters say, and that the Vietnamese can only be induced to cooperate by firmness rather than conciliation. Those who believe Americans are now held, or were after the war ended, feel that even if no specific report of live Americans has thus far met rigorous proofs, the mass of information about live Americans is compelling. Those who doubt live Americans are still held, or were after the war ended, argue that despite vast efforts, only one live American military prisoner remained in Indochina after the war a defector who returned in 1979. The U.S. government says the possibility of Americans still being held in Indochina cannot be ruled out. Some say Americans may have been kept by the Vietnamese after the war but killed later. Increased U.S. access to Vietnam has not yet led to a large reduction en masse in the number of Americans still listed as unaccounted for, although this may be due to some U.S. policies as well as Vietnamese non-cooperation.

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  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations

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