Among groups who oppose John McCain, the most serious charges come from a small but fervent cadre of Vietnam POW/MIA activists who accuse him of being a collaborator during his time in the Vietnamese POW camps.
They call McCain “Songbird,” and say he received special treatment. Some in the POW community even believe he was brainwashed like Raymond Shaw, the character played by Laurence Harvey in “The Manchurian candidate,” who was used as a tool by the communists to destroy America from within.
The issue boiled over in 1992 after POW families and activists felt they had been mistreated by McCain during hearings before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. In the video above (posted at Vietnam Veterans against McCain) which was apparently shot soon after the hearings, POW advocates and experts, as well as Republican politicians, including then-Rep. Bob Dornan of California, assert that McCain was stonewalling the release of POW documents because his own records included transcripts of interviews he gave to communist and other media outlets in which he said the U.S. military had deliberately bombed civilian targets in North Vietnam.
Members of the committee included Vietnam veterans among the senators — Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass), Vice Chairman Bob Smith (R-NH), Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), McCain and others. (The only Vietnam vet who opted out was Sen. Al Gore.) The committee had two objectives. One was to investigate persistent rumors that Vietnam was still holding U.S. servicemen as prisoners. The second goal was to create a plan for normalizing relations between the United States and Vietnam.
McCain and other committee members traveled to Vietnam on fact-finding missions. Witnesses who appeared at committee hearings included Nixon era defense secretaries Melvin Laird and James Schlesinger and Nixon Sec. of State Henry Kissinger, among many others. In the end, no evidence was found that Americans were being held in Vietnam, and relations between the two countries were normalized.
Rough transcript of the video follows:
1992 Senate Select Committee on POW/MIAs, Part 2: The McCain Factor
DR. JOSEPH DOUGLASS JR, author, “Betrayed: America’s Missing POWs”: Sen. McCain seemed to be one of those who was an obstructionist. He was not interested in the truth coming out. Who tried to attack people rather than learn what they had to say.
TRACY USRY, fmr Chief Investigator, U.S. Senate Minority Staff: No instance would he ever, ever give in and say there were POWs left behind. And my first question is, how would he know? Or not know? Just — that which is reasonable he never exhibited. And I don’t know why. Maybe it’s a guilt complex. [Edit.] Maybe he promised the Vietnamese something. Okay. I don’t know what it is. Maybe he actually believes that [no POWs were left behind]. That would be the saddest of all.
DELORES APODACA ALFOND, Chairperson, National Alliance of Families: I mean he was yelling and screaming at me and had me in tears!
USRY: Oh, to everybody. He was very rude to me on several occasions.
DR. DOUGLASS: He probably did more harm to the idea of trying to get the truth out than any other single person through the efforts he did to block the release of classified intelligence dealing with the POW/MIA problem.
LYNN O’SHEA, Dir. of Research, National Alliance of Families: McCain stepped in and in effect made it harder to get documentation. [Edit.] That certainly hurt us because we had hoped for a massive release of documentation.
SEN. BOB SMITH (R-NH): Many, many documents were held back for no reason. And our goal on the committee was to just dump this stuff, to declassify it, literally, to the public. But of course, you know, they withheld information from the committee. The U.S. government held all sort of information from the committee, withheld information from the committee. I know that for a fact.
AL SANTOLI, American Foreign Policy Council, fmr Congressional Chief of Staff: Even POWs who wanted to see their own debriefings were not permitted because of the McCain regulation.
Former Rep. BOB DORNAN (R-Calif.): But where did McCain get compliments for doing this? The bureaucrats at the Pentagon! Because it put a workload on them! It put a workload on them from missing-in-action people. And did we need that bill to handle a Scott Spiker [phonetic] case? Oh, you bet we did!
SANTOLI: And also what it did, and this is what he really opposed. And if you remember the contentiousness we got into with him in his office was that it would hold the bureaucrats accountable by penalty of law…
REP. DORNAN: That’s right.
SANTOLI: If they lied, or if they withheld information…
REP. DORNAN: That’s right.
SANTOLI: And he fought tooth and nail to protect those bureaucrats.
REP. DORNAN: Yes!
SANTOLI: Because they were protecting him.
SEN. SMITH: I could never understand that. Why would we … if someone was guilty of withholding information that would help us to solve the mystery of what happened to an MIA, and did it deliberately, why would we not want to prosecute that person? So I could never understand it. I thought the language was written … I know Bob Dornan had a hand in it. I thought the language was written very well. I supported it. Fought for it hard in the U.S. Senate. And mostly on the Armed Services Committee where we debated it, but it was watered down to where it was almost worthless.
SANTOLI: Now one of the things that happened with that bill was that we were submarined. On the House side, we passed with no … I don’t believe anybody opposed it. It was a pretty much unanimous vote.
REP. DORNAN: Four hundred and one to zero on the House, with every single Republican who is serving sponsoring it, and about a third of the Democrats.
SANTOLI: But on the Senate side, we had one person standing in the way of getting in positions that would have been very tough on government bureaucrats who didn’t tell the truth. And that one person was Sen. John McCain.
Cpl. BOB DUMAS, U.S. Army (Ret.): He didn’t want nobody to check his background because a lot of the POWs that was in the camps said he was a collaborator of the enemy. He gave the enemy the information they wanted.
Dr. JAMES LUCIER, former U.S. Senate Chief of Staff: But We do know that when he was there [in the Vietnamese prison], he cooperated with the communist news services in giving interviews there, ah, not flattering to the United States.
USRY: Information shows that he made over 32 tapes of propaganda for the Vietnamese government. Certainly, you do what you need to do to stay alive. Nobody would fault anybody for that. But there comes a point in time when enough is enough.
REP: DORNAN: They made those transcriptions, and in the transcriptions, I heard a POW who heard them comin’ into his cell and said, “Oh, my God, is that Admiral McCain’s son? Is that the admiral’s son? Is that Johnny — telling us that our principal targets are schools, orphanages, hospitals, temples, churches?” That was Jane Fonda’s line. Where are those transcriptions? Believe me — they’re in the archives of the museum, the bragging military phony museum in Hanoi. McCain could not have wanted those [to] turn up in the middle of a presidential race. He knows that. I know that, and a few other people know that, and that’s why he went against Bob Dole’s legislation.
DUMAS: And he didn’t want nobody looking into his background in that camp, what went on in that camp. That stuff is still classified so nobody can see it. And he just had it classified forever, so nobody’ll ever look at it.
LUCIER: That he was given special treatment and was put in a room with two other defectors who were later given special treatment. Although I will say to his credit he refused to be repatriated as a result.
REP: DORNAN: This sounds so good at first. McCain was offered the chance to come home. They called him the “Prince.” And he could have. But nobody ever takes that one step beyond that. If John … Admiral John McCain II … “Junior” … if his son, a lieutenant senior grade, had accepted this princely status and come home in 1967 while the others would sit there for five years, what would the Navy have done, with the son of an admiral who opted to get special treatment and come home? No Navy career. No House seat. No Senate seat. It would have been the end of his career. [Edit.] And they were offering him this chance to go home in one of three groups that came home in ’68.
SANTOLI: They were all collaborators.
REP. DORNAN: And McCain called them this — except for Bill Kagill [phonetic] — the “slipperies,” the “slimies” and the “sleazies.” I once forgot one of those names — and he refreshed my memory. The slipperies, the slimies and the sleazies. So that meant that he would have become a slimy, a sleazy and a slippery, ruining his career and the admiral’s son goes home. What I’m saying is, yes — he chose to stay. But did he have an alternative if he ever wanted to have a life? And what would it have done to his father?
DOUGLASS: And his activities were sufficiently consistent and widespread in opposing efforts to learn the truth that he was written up in a number of articles as a Manchurian candidate in this issue.
REP. DORNAN: In Hanoi, he saw McCain turn red in the face. He even used the term “Rumblestiltskin” [sic], jumping up and down in place in a rage: “If you release any of these records that you have here in Hanoi on me or the other POWs, you will NEVER get diplomatic recognition.”
USRY: McCain may have been an expert on being a prisoner of war but he was by no means an expert on the POW issue.