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Congressman Dornan's Trip to Hanoi

March 09, 1986

Although Josh Getlin's Feb. 23 article, "Dornan Leaves Hanoi With New Respect for Old Enemy," was well-written and an excellent account of my recent MIA/POW fact-finding mission to Hanoi, I take strong exception to the headline, which implies that I respect the Communist Vietnamese government.

As a staunch defender of liberty and justice, I could never respect a nation that enslaves and imprisons its own people--including nuns, priests and Buddhist monks for the nonviolent expression of their beliefs. Vietnamese officials in Hanoi told me that 7,000 Vietnamese political prisoners are being held in concentration, or "re-education," camps. Some U.S. officials' estimates have the count at close to 13,000. The families of more than 600 of these prisoners live in my congressional district.

As a staunch defender of the right of self-determination, I cannot respect a nation that imposes, at the point of a gun, its repressive ideology on neighboring countries--Laos and Cambodia--countries that were once pro-Western and progressive.

As a compassionate public official, I have no respect for a nation that refuses to answer America's reasonable questions about the fate of 2,433 American MIAs and POWs still unaccounted for since March 28, 1973, the last release of U.S. POWs 13 years ago.

While in Hanoi, Vietnamese officials indicated that a reduction in anti-Vietnamese rhetoric would improve relations between the United States and Vietnam, leading to the release of political prisoners and information about our MIAs. It was for this reason only that I said I was ready to stop calling Vietnam the "enemy country." I am willing to go the extra mile to resolve these human rights problems.

But not calling Vietnam "the enemy" does not mean I have gained respect for the Communist government of Vietnam. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have turned a gentle and productive land into an economic wasteland. Only because American and allied lives are at stake will I soften my criticisms.

ROBERT K. DORNAN

U.S. Congressman, 38th District

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