Missing In Action

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Missing In Action, also known as MIA, is the term for a combatant who has not yet returned or otherwise been accounted for as either dead (KIA) or a prisoner of war (POW).


The MIA investigations in the USA

During the late 1970s and 1980s the friends and relatives of American GIs became politically active, demanding the US government take steps to determine the whereabouts of several thousand GIs who could not be accounted for. Popular movies showed these forgotten GIs being incarcerated in Vietnamese prisons. A significant portion of the US public seemed to find credible the idea that Vietnam had kept American GIs for over a decade following the end of the war.

Finally, Vietnam veteran Senator John Kerry chaired a committee, that included fellow veteran and former POW John McCain, that held hearings to get to the bottom of these rumours. The committee did not save money, by dismissing the more bizarre theories. They investigated all of them, out of respect for the depth of feeling of those holding those theories. Through the hearings, and the committee's visit to Vietnam, most Americans realized that the Vietnamese never had a clandestine plan to brutalize POWs following the end of the the war and that they were currently doing everything they could to help identify the corpses that occoasionally turn up on the sites of skirmishes.

A few Americans continue to hold to the theory that there has been a conspiracy to hide the fate of missing American GIs.

Argentina's "dirty war"

During the late 1970s a right wing Argentine government took extreme measures to suppress political opponents, and potential political opponents. One tactic they used was to secretly arrest those suspected of sympathy with their political opponents. They would secretly arrest them, secretly imprison them, secretly torture them, and, often, secretly murder them in brutal ways, without ever publically acknowledging that they had been arrested. These suspects had been "Disappeared".

This tactic was a form of terrorism. The authorities did not report on the location of the disappeared, or their eventual fate, as a matter of policy. They felt that it more effectively suppressed political activity if they let their potential opponents imagination have full rein as to the fate of the disappeared.

MIA in Iraq

A small number of coalition soldiers were missing in action in Iraq. In one prominent case an American GI of Lebanese background who went missing, claimed to have been captured, but it is generally believed he was merely AWOL. Only one soldier is currently listed as MIA in Iraq: US Army Spc. Keith M. Maupin, who was captured by insurgents in April 2004.

The Americans, on the other hand, have been holding ghost detainees -- prisoners whose capture and incarceration was never acknowledged. General Antonio Taguba, in his report on the American's prisons in Iraq, called this practice a violation of US Army regulations and of international law.

When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked about Triple-X, the first ghost detainee to be publicly acknowledged, he gave a speculation as to why the US might violate the Geneva Conventions by holding prisoners in secret. He speculated that someone might want to do this as a temporaty measure, because it might make the prisoner's interrogation more effective. He did not say that the technique was being employed for the same reasons the Argentines employed it -- to spread terror. Notably, he did not acknowledge that he explicitly approved this technique.

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