12. Editorial Note

On August 7, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced the appointment of former astronaut Colonel Frank Borman as his Special Representative on Prisoners of War. Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger described Borman to the President as an “ideal choice, since he is a well-known figure who has made many friends around the world and has a sympathetic understanding of the nature of the POW problem.” He added that Borman “possesses a great deal of energy and enthusiasm” and was “prepared to undertake the assignment immediately.” (Memorandum from Kissinger to Nixon, August 6; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 94, Vietnam Subject Files, U.S. POWs in North Vietnam, Vol. I)

The President met briefly with Borman on August 7 to discuss the position and his plan for a worldwide trip. Borman explained to the President that he planned to visit 14 countries. Of these, he believed that the most significant would be a stop in Algeria, which he claimed “was in close touch with the Viet Cong,” and the Soviet Union, where he hoped to meet with representatives of the North Vietnamese Government and arrange a trip to Hanoi. The President felt that a trip to Hanoi was an excellent idea, but cautioned Borman to check with Kissinger to ensure that the visit would not complicate “conditions world wide and especially the situation in Paris at the peace talk table.” The memorandum for the file is ibid., White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 81, Memoranda for the President, Beginning August 2, 1970.

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Borman departed August 10 and returned to the United States on September 1. In a September 1 memorandum to the President, Kissinger reported that Borman visited 12 countries and met with leading national figures and top international Red Cross officials. Kissinger noted Borman’s success with the Algerian Foreign Minister in pressing the North Vietnamese leadership for better treatment of POWs. He added that Borman was unable to arrange a meeting with the North Vietnamese, who denounced the trip. During Borman’s stop in South Vietnam, Kissinger noted that he inspected South Vietnamese prison camps, most notably Con Son prison where reports of prisoner abuse and the use of “tiger cages”—five by nine foot stone and steel cages that held up to three prisoners at a time—to discipline internees, had received negative media attention. Kissinger wrote that Borman had stated publicly that the “‘tiger cages’ controversy had been blown out of proportion by the press” and that more needed to be done to “publicize the generally good treatment of prisoners held by the South Vietnamese.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 94, Vietnam Subject Files, U.S. POWs in North Vietnam, Vol. I)

Upon his return to the United States, Borman stopped in San Clemente on September 2 to meet with the President. No record of the meeting has been found. Borman spoke with the press following the meeting to discuss his trip and POW issues. A transcript of the press conference is in the Department of State Bulletin, September 28, 1970, pages 345–346.