Point Four of the Trump-Kim Joint Statement runs as follows:
The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
Remains are sacred and must be returned to their families and nation. But what of unrepatriated POWs? The men whose life stories in Communist captivity remain state secrets not just in North Korea but also in the United States? On this, Point Four of the Trump-Kim Joint Statement is silent.
Investigative reporter and POW/MIA expert Mark Sauter, co-author of American Trophies: How US POWs Were Surrendered to North Korea, China and Russia by Washington's Cynical Attitude, reacted to the joint-statement this way:
The summit apparently went as we anticipated: President Trump and his team asked only about remains and therefore only got a commitment to recover remains, including the “immediate repatriation of those already identified” (IMO, those the North Koreans have been holding in their warehouse/s to sell back to us). The efforts of the family groups to reach POTUS on the unrepatriated POW issue seems to have failed.
Let’s hope the North Koreans keep their word on the remains, which would be great. However, while the recovery of the remains of our heroes is critical, it is not sufficient when we know Pyongyang can account for many Americans last known alive in their hands but never returned. In addition, what nobody talks about is that even if Pyongyang returned 1,000 remains this year, the Pentagon – unless things change dramatically – would take decades to identify them.
I listened to the President’s entire press conference. He mentioned remains several times, but never mentioned unrepatriated POWs and, as far as I can recall, never mentioned accounting for the missing (e.g., men for whom there are no remains). He did mention Japanese abductees.
I imagine this will turn out to be great news for the North Koreans, as there is a good chance we will in effect pay them for the remains, as we have in the past, and there is no sign the President (who probably still doesn’t even realize that Americans were known alive by name, even after the Armistice, and not returned; were shipped to other countries; were reported alive in North Korea decades after the war) has or will raise such issues, and DPAA does not appear to be pushing him on it. IMO, and as many of your family members will agree, the DPAA only wants to deal with the remains issue. As a reminder of one example, DPAA almost certainly never told the President about: Gilbert Ashley and four other US aviators confirmed by US intelligence alive and in North Korean hands after the Armistice was signed, but never returned or accounted for by Pyongyang. Or men such as Major Sam Logan, seen here in color film in North Korean captivity, and his post-capture picture sent round the world by the Soviet news agency, but again never returned or accounted for …
Aside from Fox, no major media outlets, as far as I’m aware, have covered the issue of unrepatriated POWs (versus remains) as important to US/North Korea relations. Many if not most have done stories on: Korean-American families in the US who hope to learn what happened to their relatives in North Korea; Japanese abductees; and human rights in North Korea. These are all important stories, but I emailed several people at the Washington Post and asked why they didn’t have room to write about not just Koreans and Japanese last known alive in North Korea, but also American servicemen. I included much of our data, pictures and declassified documents. Not one replied. These gatekeepers are a major reason the White House and American people hear about Japanese abductees but not last known alive Americans in North Korea. The reporters asked POTUS many questions about these topics, but none about Americans last known alive in North Korean hands or the multiple reports of surviving US prisoners in North Korea decades after the war.
Bottom line: the North Korean POW/MIA issue has now essentially been defined forever by the President and media as only involving remains, unless something changes. (Emphasis added.)
Having studied this issue and its history for 30 years now, I am reminded of the family movement right after the Korean War to gain a full accounting (there were even protests outside the White House.) Back then the families did not have access to the now-declassified records we have showing extensive evidence that many US POWs had been retained by the North Koreas, Chinese and Soviets. The families suspected this was all true – and the commander of UN/US forces during the Korean War had stated it publicly -- but the US government denied in public what its own generals and intel analysts were saying behind closed doors.
Back in the mid- and late-1950s, the families lost their fight. Yesterday was the biggest opportunity since then to obtain the truth, and once again the opportunity seems to have been lost.
... What to do politically? As an investigative historian, this is not my role. But IMO unless POW/MIA families get in front of the President and perhaps other decision makers (via Hannity? Fox and Friends? A major media and oped push by family groups on the theme that “remains are critical but not enough?” A meeting with President Trump and the family groups arranged by a group of Senators? etc), the DPAA policy [Remains Only] will have prevailed and there will never be any real pressure on Pyongyang to account for those last known alive.