On John McCain and Torture

In all the hubbub over Senator John McCain dismissing the Dungeons & Dragons vote, one vital story has been ignored — was John McCain tortured by the North Vietnamese during his captivity during the Vietnam War?

John McCain would say yes:

Just after his release in May 1973, he detailed his experience as a P.O.W. in a lengthy account in U.S. News & World Report.

He described the day Hanoi Hilton guards beat him “from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes.”

“For the next four days, I was beaten every two to three hours by different guards . . . Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam. I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope.”

McCain was taken to an interrogation room and ordered to sign a document confessing to war crimes. “I signed it,” he recalled. “It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities.”

“I had learned what we all learned over there,” McCain said. “Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”

Andrew Sullivan, writing for The Atlantic, argues that, by the standards of the Bush administration, McCain was not tortured:

The torture that was deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?

According to the Bush administration’s definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured.

I point this out, not to criticize McCain, but because it shows how far American moral standing has fallen during the Bush years. How can we criticize nations and regimes for actions, when we ourselves engage in those actions? An account like this leaves no doubt that John McCain was tortured by his North Vietnamese captors. There will be similar accounts written by prisoners the United States held in Guantanamo and other prison camps. What makes them different? The actors engaging in the torturous acts? Just because the torturer comes from the United States doesn’t absolve the person.

Where’s the White House reporter with the testicular fortitude to ask Dana Perino, “Does the President believe that John McCain was tortured by the North Vietnamese when he was held as a prisoner?” And then the follow-up question, “Why were the acts considered torture when committed by the North Vietnamese, but not considered torture when committed by Americans?”

Inspired by a post at DailyKos.

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