This is one of the ugliest stories out there. From Philip Kraske at unz.com:
As Ron Unz has noted occasionally in his columns, mainstream publications as one refused to publish Sidney Schanberg’s exposé on John McCain: his unsavory acts as a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam and his efforts to bury the evidence of P.O.W.s left behind after the war. A “parallel universe,” Unz called the article. It cut straight across the mainstream’s fawning narrative of presidential-candidate McCain the noble war hero. But the story of McCain and the evidence that many American prisoners were never returned from Vietnam, which Schanberg summarizes at the end of his article, is far more than a matter of media disregard. Doing research for a novella based on the abandoned-prisoners issue, I found that it concisely describes the incipient rot in American political culture.
The controversy about the left-behind P.O.W.s is decades old now, so here is a brief summary of it. The 1973 treaty that ended the Vietnam War declared in its Article 21 that America would pay war reparations to the Vietnamese. The amount, however, was left unstated. A letter from President Richard Nixon to North Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong specified that $3.25 billion would be paid by America up front, with an additional $1 billion to $1.5 billion to be paid later, depending on different conditions. (If the U.S. had ended up paying, say, $3.75 billion, that would be $21.88 billion today, roughly double the budget of the U.S. Commerce Department.) The Vietnamese accepted this letter as a binding commitment; the Yankees had a different idea. As Richard Holbrooke told a Senate committee about his 1977 meeting with the Vietnamese, “It was then that I realized that it was more than a negotiating ploy, that they really believed it…The Vietnamese believed the Kissinger-Nixon letter to have standing…Our position was simple:…That letter has no standing….it is an outrageous document…which should never have been sent.” Nixon’s letter was, in true Kissingeresque fashion, kept secret, and when it came to light after Watergate, Congress immediately passed a law saying that America would not pay Vietnam a nickel.