As a guest on the October 22 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, John E. O'Neill claimed that, after returning from Vietnam, Senator John Kerry “wanted to abandon ship and leave the POWs there [in Vietnam]” to “rot in jails.” O'Neill also claimed that Kerry supported a Vietnam peace plan that would not negotiate the return of prisoners of war until “some future time” after U.S. troops were withdrawn. In fact, Kerry specifically advocated requiring that the Vietnamese return the prisoners of war before troops were withdrawn.
O'Neill is co-author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry and co-founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (now Swift Vets and POWs for Truth). Media Matters for America has documented the many dubious claims made in the book and by O'Neill and his co-author, Jerome R. Corsi.
On the June 30, 1971, broadcast of The Dick Cavett Show, Kerry debated O'Neill, whom former President Richard Nixon had urged to publicly counter Kerry on the show. During that debate, Kerry advocated for the return of the prisoners of war “prior to the arrival of that date [of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Southeast Asia]:
KERRY: I'd like to come back to that again. I keep making the point -- many people have made it, Clark Clifford, former secretary of defense, has made it. The newspapers have all made this point, that the prisoners of war, the question will be settled. It's not a question of negotiations. They have said it will be settled.
Now, if we were to set a date for withdrawal from Southeast Asia, we can -- the Vietnamese, first of all, have said it will be settled prior to the arrival of that date, but we can set a time limit on that. If the prisoners of war aren't back prior to the arrival of that date, then I think we would have -- for the first time in all of our history in Vietnam we would have a legitimate reason for taking some kind of reaction to it.
The point is we can set a date and they will be returned.
In addition, in the early 1990s, Kerry led a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to make sure that Americans were not still being held as prisoners of war in Vietnam. According to an October 24 Knight Ridder Newspapers report, Kerry chaired the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs in 1991. After “an exhaustive investigation,” Kerry and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Robert Smith (R-NH) united behind the finding that there was “no compelling evidence that U.S. soldiers had been left behind in Vietnam.”
According to a June 21, 2003 Boston Globe article:
Kerry suspected the Nixon and Ford administrations, in their haste to cut American losses, had left some captured soldiers behind, but he was dubious about the existence of secret camps. Nevertheless, he doggedly investigated even the wilder theories, and made a dozen forays to Southeast Asia to ask the Vietnamese for better cooperation. Ultimately, he crafted a report stating that while there may have been POWs unaccounted for and possibly left behind, no proof existed that Americans were still being held.
From the October 22 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL (MSNBC senior political analyst): To me, the most interesting lie you make is a lying claim that John Kerry's anti-war activity prolonged the amount of time that prisoners of war were held in Vietnam. You know the truth is what got them out of Vietnam was ending the war. You know the truth is that John Kerry helped end that war sooner through the protests. I'd like to ask you, John O'Neill, when you got back from Vietnam, what did you do to save a single life that you left behind in Vietnam? What did you do to get the American soldiers out of Vietnam?
O'NEILL: What actually happened, Kerry wanted to abandon ship and leave the POWs there. We negotiated a treaty that brought them home. That's why they're all here. If Kerry had helped them out, they wouldn't be in that photograph with us. Kerry's a guy they'll never forget. He wanted to leave them behind. That's why they produced ...
O'NEILL: On The Dick Cavett Show and elsewhere, John Kerry's position was that we should accept the Madame [Nguyen Thi] Binh [then-foreign minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam and a top negotiator at the peace talks] seven-point proposal which called for unilateral withdrawal, setting a date after which at some future time, we'd negotiate the return of the POWs. So we would set a date, we would withdraw, and then we would begin to discuss how to bring them home. That would have never worked. Our position was you had to have a deal where the POWs came home. The POWs know that. This is like trying to claim -- that's why they're all with us, because he would have let them rot in jails. With respect to the rest of what you said, Larry, it's just a lie.