In an article yesterday on U.S. fliers missing in action, a statement by Cmdr. Edward Lundquist, a Pentagon spokesman, confirming that the men's fingerprints could not be found by the Pentagon should have been attributed to the Associated Press.
WASHINGTON -- Family members of three U.S. fliers missing in action since the Vietnam War accused the government yesterday of hindering efforts to identify the men and called on Congress to oversee Pentagon investigations of missing servicemen.
Speaking at a packed news conference, the families said that fingerprints of the men had either been lost or withheld by the Pentagon. The families also said the Pentagon had been slow to investigate the authenticity of a blurry photograph released last week that the relatives believe shows the three missing men.
"I don't want to use the word conspiracy," said Gladys Fleckenstein of the missing documents. "It's just a mystery." Ms. Fleckenstein is the mother of U.S. Navy Lt. Larry James Stevens, whom she identified in the photograph.
The families said "unequivocally" that the men in the picture are Lieutenant Stevens, Air Force Col. John Leighton Robertson and Air Force Maj. Albro Lynn Lundy Jr.
Albro Lundy III, son of Major Lundy, told reporters that the men were being held as slaves on a potato farm. He refused to disclose either his source of information or the country in which the farm is located.
Several U.S. officials have suggested that the photograph could be a forgery.
Despite doubts of its authenticity, the Bush administration has asked Vietnam, Laos and Thailand to help investigate.
Ms. Fleckenstein said that in November of last year, the Defense Intelligence Agency sent her a "live sighting" report of her son it had received four months earlier.
The report included the photograph and palm and fingerprints of the men in the picture. But she said that an analysis of the prints has been impossible because there was no record of her son's fingerprints at the Pentagon or in his home state of California, where they would ordinarily be found, such as on his birth records or at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
"In other words, he was never alive that I could prove," Ms. Fleckenstein said.
Fingerprints of the other two servicemen also have disappeared from all sources, including records kept by the armed services, according to the families.
The loss of the fingerprints was confirmed by the Defense Department, Reuters news agency reported.
"We can't find them," said Cmdr. Edward Lundquist, a spokesman for the Pentagon.
Mr. Lundy, a California attorney, said that the missing records are one of the reasons he and the other families are pushing for passage of a Senate resolution that would create a panel to oversee investigations of missing servicemen.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., would allow the panel to subpoena documents the Pentagon might not want to release to relatives. The panel would also be able to compel testimony from senior U.S. officials concerning missing personnel.
But Commander Lundquist said the proposed panel was unnecessary, according to Reuters.
He said that Congress already oversees the Pentagon through existing panels such as the House task force on American prisoners and missing in Southeast Asia and committees on intelligence, foreign affairs, armed services and veterans' affairs.