Saturday, August 30, 2008

Swiftboating John McCain

Anyone who has looked into the "swift boating" of John Kerry will quickly see that there was more going on than just a blind smear campaign. There was an underlying resentment against some of the actions John Kerry took that many military members saw as dishonorable or treasonous. There were veterans groups that had existing, non political, resentments who's military opposition research was tapped for the storyline that the media campaign created. The swift boat campaign ripped the scab off that wound that had not yet healed between John Kerry and some veterans and added some unsubstantiated claims on top of it as frosting. It was that cumulative effect that led to the success of the campaign.

What many people don't realize about John McCain is that his track record when it comes to military affairs is not the impregnable fortress many believe it to be. It takes only a little Google research to find out some surprisingly damaging facts about McCain as both a military officer and, surprisingly, as a POW advocate as well.

This point needs repeating as much as possible: John McCain's war hero status comes from a story he wrote himself. The media narrative about McCain is McCain's own narrative which has been raised to the status of "common wisdom." It is such a powerful narrative that every Democrat who rises to speak about McCain must first bow down to his alter by saying how great and courageous he has been. Ironically, there has been no public discussion as to the credibility of this narrative. Even when facts like this exist:

News pundits have elevated McCain to "the most popular national political figure in the country" by repeatedly describing him as a "war hero" based on his refusal accept a communist offer of "early release" from captivity.

What the media has carelessly refused to acknowledge is that the camp's senior ranking U.S. POW (SRO) had issued unquestionable orders that if a POW was to be released, "it would be the longest held prisoner" Because McCain was not the longest held POW, he would have faced a military court-marshal if he had accepted the offer.

Another common distortion is that McCain's bones were broken during torture when, in fact, it happened during his ejection from the plane. Another fact that is convenienetly passed over is that McCain's father was the commander of the whole Vietnam theater. This made him a rather powerful asset as a prisoner. There is even evidence that the highest officials in the communist party knew who he was and treated him differently:

Phung Van Chung, 70, who was a Communist Party official at the time, claims McCain was quickly singled out for softer treatment, adding: "I found out he was the son of an American admiral, so the top people wanted to keep him as a live witness so they could use him for negotiations."

While it is common knowledge that POW's were tortured, and that McCain was a POW, the specific accounts about what did or did not happen to John McCain during private interrogations are entirely his own. Even some of his medals were given without the required two witnesses that one normally needs. This was a standard practice with POW's but what it means is that his story about his valor and bravery as a POW are a test of his honor and honesty, not proof of it.

When McCain's POW stories are used to get him out of any awkward political moment and they seem to change depending on what state he is talking in or borrow from other stories to gain emotional points, one needs to take this point very, very, seriously.

A strong source of opposition research when it comes to John McCain (and John Kerry) is from POW/MIA groups such as The US Veteran Dispatch. This is one of the groups that was tapped in the swiftboat efforts. This is not a left wing group in fact, I would describe them as more right wing. They are no fans of Obama by any stretch. The anger behind this group stems from a Senate Committee, The Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs, that both Johns were part of. Members of this group have spent years as investigators into Vietnam affairs, missing POW's in particular and they are very versed on the facts. When they felt betrayed by the veterans on this Senate Committee, they used their investigative powers to challenge the "common wisdom" about the men who's veteran status gave them the political power to turn their backs on fellow veterans.

As it turns out, McCain is not the advocate for other POW's that many believe he is. In fact, he has been described in some POW/MIA circles as the strongest opponent of their efforts. These POW/MIA families accuse this Senate committee of playing politics with the missing POW's by covering up very strong evidence that many men were, in fact, still alive and in captivity. They believe that this was done, throughout the early 90's in the name of normalizing relations with Vietnam. It has also been suggested that Ross Perot's efforts to champion the POW/MIA cause was hurting George Bush senior during his re-election campaign and that McCain was motivated, as a Bush advocate, to neutralize this well Perot was drawing from. For whatever reasons, these POW families believe that McCain actually used his power as a Senator and his status as a "war hero" to shut down their efforts.

In an article by The US Veteran Dispatch the following scene is described:

McCain was advised (Nov. 11, 1992) that Dolores Apodaca Alfond, chairwoman of the National Alliance of POW/MIA Families (her pilot brother Capt. Victor J. Apodaca is missing in action in North Vietnam), was offering testimony critical of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs. He rushed into the hearing room to confront her.

Award winning journalist Sydney Schanberg described the scene. "His face [McCain] angry and his voice very loud, he accused her of making 'allegations ... that are patently and totally false and deceptive.'

"Making a fist, he shook his index finger at her and said she had insulted an emissary to Vietnam sent by President Bush. He said she had insulted other MIA families with her remarks. And then he said, through clenched teeth: 'And I am sick and tired of you insulting mine and other people's [patriotism] who happen to have different views than yours.'

"By this time, tears were running down Alfond's cheeks. She reached into her handbag for a handkerchief. She tried to speak: 'The family members have been waiting for years -- years! And now you're shutting down.' He kept interrupting her. She tried to say, through tears, that she had issued no insults. He kept talking over her words. He said she was accusing him and others of 'some conspiracy without proof, and some cover-up.' She said she was merely seeking 'some answers. That is what I am asking.' He ripped into her for using the word 'fiasco.' She replied: 'The fiasco was the people that stepped out and said we have written the end, the final chapter to Vietnam.' 'No one said that,' he shouted. 'No one said what you are saying they said, Ms. Alfond.' And then, his face flaming pink, he stalked out of the room, to shouts of disfavor from members of the audience."

Later, the families pressed him further:

In 1996, McCain encountered a group of POW/MIA family members outside a Senate hearing room. The family members were some of the same who worked tirelessly during the Vietnam War to make sure Hanoi released all U.S. POWs - including POW McCain.

McCain immediately began quarreling with the POW/MIA family members, who were eager to question him on the issue of what happened to their loved ones.

Instead showing courtesy and appropriate compassion by answering their questions, the Arizona senator pushed through the group, shoving them out of his way, nearly toppling the wheelchair of POW/MIA mother Jane Duke Gaylor. Her son, Charles Duke, a civilian worker in Vietnam, is among 2,300 American POWs and MIAs still unaccounted for by the communists.

The POW/MIA families, shocked at McCain's overly aggressive behavior toward Mrs. Gaylor, registered complaints with senate officials.

In a Buzzflash article by Elliot D. Cohen an eye witness describes the scene like this (emphasis added):

According to eyewitness Carol Hrdlicka, wife of Vietnam War POW/MIA air force pilot Col. David Hrdlicka, the group had been waiting in the hall of the Russell Office Building in Washington, D.C. for McCain to come out of an office in order to hand deliver letters asking him to forego an amendment to the Missing Service Personnel Act (MSPA) of 2005. . . This law, which updated a 1942 law, had been a major victory for the families of POW/MIAs who worked tirelessly to get it through Congress.

The MSPA required the Pentagon to beef up its resources to find and rescue missing service personnel in a timely manner. For instance, it required the filing of reports on missing persons within 48 hours. Among other substantive provisions, it also criminalized withholding information from the families of POWs by broadly stipulating that "any person who knowingly and willfully withholds from the personnel file of a missing person any information relating to the disappearance or whereabouts and status of a missing person shall be fined as provided in title 18 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both." McCain's amendment eviscerated these new changes. For instance, it increased the reporting time to 10 days, and it deleted entirely the stated provision penalizing the withholding of information.

These family members of POW/MIAs had come to speak with McCain to try to convince him to leave the law alone. Mrs. Hrdlicka gives the following description of what happened:

When he [McCain] realized who we were, his face turned red and he became enraged. He would not accept the letters we had brought, he burst through our group assaulting the niece of Jane Duke Gaylor, mother of a MIA. I followed Senator McCain down the hall asking that he leave the legislation alone and all the while he is denying that he knew anything about the Missing Personnel Act. ...As we reached the elevator he said to me that I didn't know what he had been through ... I then stated I understood what he had been through and David Hrdlicka was still going through it. I had the capture picture of my husband and tried to show the picture to him but he would not look at it. ...The elevator arrived and Senator McCain quickly jumped in -- that ended our conversation. After this incident we went to the Capitol Police and filed a report. We also sent complaints to the ethics committee on the Senator's behavior.

"He went from a smiling, congenial, happy face to a beet red, totally enraged face in an instant," she said. "I have never seen a senator act in this way. We were all dumbfounded how this happened. He threw his arm up, and she goes flying and Jane [who was in a wheelchair] gets pushed aside as he brushes by her. All I see is people flying and I'm behind him [McCain]... This was assault."

Along with McCain's rude treatment of some POW families, they also believe he was a little too cozy with his former torturers:

POW families were even more angered when they saw McCain actually bonding with his former torturers during and after the 1992 Senate Select Committee hearings on POW/MIA Affairs. Psychologist have identified behavior in which a prisoner emotionally bonds with an abuser as the Stockholm Syndrome.

The first display of bonding occurred when Col. Bui Tin, a former senior colonel in the North Vietnamese Army who had actually interrogated McCain and other U.S. prisoners, testified before the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs.

During a break in the hearing, McCain moved to where Col. Bui Tin was seated. Instead of grabbing Bui Tin by the neck and demanding his arrest for war crimes against U.S. POWs, McCain reached out and warmly hugged his former interrogator as if he were a long lost brother. Never mind that at least 55 American POW were murdered by interrogators and guards while in North Vietnamese prisoner of war camps.

In a 1992 visit to Hanoi, McCain warmly greeted Vietnam Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, who had been a ranking Communist Party member of the secret Viet Cong National Liberation Front Central Committee during the Vietnam War.

As a senior Central Committee member, Kiet was responsible for helping formulate Viet Cong policy, which included ordering American POWs to be punished by execution.

On orders issued by Kiet's Viet Cong Central Committee, three U.S POWs, Special Forces Capt. "Rocky" Versace, Special Forces Sgt. Kenneth Mills Roraback and Army Sgt. Harold Bennett were publicly executed by the Viet Cong on Sunday, Sept. 26, 1965

He also seems surprisingly unwilling to go after his torturers for war crimes:

Yet, McCain has resisted any kind of war crimes investigation of his former Vietnamese torturers. Prosecution and subsequent trials could bring to justice the Vietnamese torturers known by the American POWs as the Bug, Slopehead, the Prick, the Soft Soap Fairy, Rabbit, the Cat, Zorba and many others who were responsible for the murder in North Vietnam of at least 55 U.S. POWs and the brutal torture of hundreds of others.

Why exactly would John McCain act to shut down the continuing efforts of the POW organizations that were the very kinds of efforts that secured his own release? Why would he bond with his former interrogators and resist prosecutions of these people who treated him and so many other POW's so badly? Why would he fall on the side of trade relations rather than the side of justice for himself and all the Veterans who suffered with him? Would something undesirable come out in those war crimes trials? Would we then be opening a different book on John McCain, the POW, than the one he wrote himself? For that matter wouldn't it clear things up if John McCain just released his POW records?

I believe it is simply a matter of due diligence on the part of the voters and the media that we begin examining the negative accounts of John McCain along with the positive ones and asking these kinds of questions when necessary. It is the height of ignorance and irresponsibility to simply accept a politicians story about himself as established facts. It is the height of irony that McCain's self woven media status as a war hero is so great that he can use it today as a get out of jail free card, even against the very facts that challenge his hero story.


SteveMDFP said...

John McCain has a shameful history on this issue. You may be interested in fresh scholarship on the issue:

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