Joe Wilson, 2009

Joe Wilson, 2009 Opening Statement

Opening Statement by Congressman Joe Wilson, Ranking Member

Thank you, Chairwoman Davis. I want to begin by thanking the distinguished members of our two panels. We look forward to hearing your testimony and working with you to fulfill our commitment to our American heroes who are missing in action or prisoners of war.

At the outset I want to highlight some of the strategic themes outlined in the recent Personnel Accounting Community Strategy set out by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO). The first theme is also a national priority: We, as a government, seek the fullest possible accounting of those Americans who become missing while supporting U.S. national objectives. The second theme is that we -both the executive and legislative branches--serve the interests of the missing individual. Every man and woman whom we send in harm's way in the service of the United States must be confident that this government will not leave them behind.

When I look at what has been accomplished over the last three decades, I believe that America has met the mandates of those two themes for the 1,559 prisoners of war and personnel missing in action who have been identified from Vietnam, Korea, the Cold War, and World War II. However, we have neither fulfilled the requirements for the fullest possible accounting, nor made good on the requirement to serve the interests of the missing individual for the more than 84,000 people who remain unaccounted for from the four conflicts I cited above.

Under current policies, organization and structure, manning and funding, the personnel accounting agencies of the Department of Defense have made, on average since 2000, 76 identifications per year. That number of annual identifications is not consistent with a national priority of achieving the fullest possible accounting.

Furthermore, if we do not do something to significantly increase the numbers of annual identifications--say, for example, by a factor of three or four or five--time will soon preclude the Nation's ability to fully account for those 84,000 still missing or prisoners of war.

We must do more as a nation to better serve those who have gone in harm's way with the implicit commitment by our government that we would not leave them behind.

Before I close, I want to recognize a witness on the second panel - Ambassador Charles Ray, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/Missing Personnel Affairs. Ambassador Ray has served in his current capacity since September 2006 and will be returning to duties in the State Department. This will be the last time he appears before this subcommittee. I want to extend my thanks for his service to this nation and for the contributions he has made to the effort of fully accounting for our POWs and missing personnel.

Madame Chairwoman, I am pleased that you are holding this hearing in an effort to seek ideas on how to improve the personnel accounting process. I join you in welcoming our witnesses and look forward to their testimony.