… and yet speaks powerfully to the dangers that we face. This is something that the Europeans in the crowd should not miss (and I don’t know how often they see news of Sunday-morning television in the States). But there’s more than that to my decision to post the video. We presently have a Chrumptian propaganda piece, “Trump Hysteria,” on the front page of The Skeptical Zone. The author, William J. Murray, goes so far in his support of Trump as to endorse torture (see the comments section). John McCain in fact suffered torture as a prisoner in North Vietnam, and has opposed torture steadfastly in his political career. And, perhaps more to the point, he’s anything but hysterical. It is McCain’s caution and restraint that make his remarks chilling.
In March 1968, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he remained for two years. Unknown to the POWs, in April 1968, Jack McCain [John McCain’s father] was named Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC) effective in July, stationed in Honolulu and commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater. In mid-June, Major Bai, commander of the North Vietnamese prison camp system, offered McCain a chance to return home early. The North Vietnamese wanted to score a worldwide propaganda coup by appearing merciful, and also wanted to show other POWs that members of the elite like McCain were willing to be treated preferentially. McCain turned down the offer of release, due to the POWs’ “first in, first out” interpretation of the U.S. Code of Conduct: he would only accept the offer if every man captured before him was released as well. McCain’s refusal to be released was remarked upon by North Vietnamese senior negotiator Lê Đức Thọ to U.S. envoy Averell Harriman, during the ongoing Paris Peace Talks. Enraged by his declining of the offer, Bai and his assistant told McCain that things would get very bad for him.
In late August 1968, a program of vigorous torture methods began on McCain. The North Vietnamese used rope bindings to put him into prolonged, painful positions and severely beat him every two hours, all while he was suffering from dysentery. His right leg was reinjured, his ribs were cracked, some teeth were broken at the gumline, and his left arm was re-fractured. Lying in his own waste, his spirit was broken; the beginnings of a suicide attempt were stopped by guards. After four days of this, McCain signed and taped an anti-American propaganda “confession” that said, in part, “I am a black criminal and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate. I almost died, and the Vietnamese people saved my life, thanks to the doctors.” He used stilted Communist jargon and ungrammatical language to signal that the statement was forced. McCain was haunted then and since with the belief that he had dishonored his country, his family, his comrades and himself by his statement, but as he later wrote, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.” Two weeks later his captors tried to force him to sign a second statement; his will to resist restored, he refused. He sometimes received two to three beatings per week because of his continued resistance; the sustained mistreatment went on for over a year. His refusals to cooperate, laced with loud obscenities directed towards his guards, were often heard by other POWs. His boxing experience from his Naval Academy days helped him withstand the battering, and the North Vietnamese did not break him again.
Other American POWs were similarly tortured and maltreated in order to extract “confessions” and propaganda statements. Many, especially among those who had been captured earlier and imprisoned longer – such as those in the “Alcatraz Gang” – endured even worse treatment than McCain. Under extreme duress, virtually all the POWs eventually yielded something to their captors. There were momentary exceptions: on one occasion, a guard surreptitiously loosened McCain’s painful rope bindings for a night; when, months later, the guard later saw McCain on Christmas Day, he stood next to McCain and silently drew a cross in the dirt with his foot.
“Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak,” McCain said after a campaign stop in Iowa in October 2007.
“People who have worn the uniform and had the experience know that this is a terrible and odious practice and should never be condoned in the U.S. We are a better nation than that.”
“And again, I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not 24 and Jack Bauer. Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective,” McCain said. “And I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The Army general there said that techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn’t think they need to do anything else.”
“My friends, this is what America is all about. This is a defining issue and, clearly, we should be able, if we want to be commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, to take a definite and positive position on, and that is, we will never allow torture to take place in the United States of America.”
Correction. The post erroneously linked the name of the author of “Trump Hysteria” to the website of a nonprofit operated by an individual of the same name. Advocacy of torture under any circumstance is heinous — that is one of the points of this post — and it was never my intention to say that someone other than the “William J. Murray” posting at The Skeptical Zone was taking the position.