A right-wing Internet radio host and conspiracy theorist has released a recording purported to be a propaganda radio broadcast of U.S. Senator John McCain while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Rick Wiles, a Florida-based Christian minister who bills himself on his internet webcast TruNews as the "end time news man," has published audio online that he contends is McCain's voice as it was broadcast on North Vietnamese radio in 1969. During a recent TruNews segment, Wiles credits independent journalist Charles Johnson with uncovering the recording in a mislabeled file at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.
In the recording, a man identifying himself as "John Sidney McCain, 624787, Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy" takes responsibility for flying bombing missions over North Vietnam and praises his captors for treating him well.
"I, as a U.S. airman, am guilty of crimes against the Vietnamese country and people," the voice says in the recording. "I bombed their cities, towns, and villages and caused many injuries, even deaths, for the people of Vietnam."
The voice in the recording briefly details the circumstances of McCain's capture: how he was shot down during his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam on October 26, 1967, bailed out of his A-4E Skyhawk jet aircraft, breaking both arms and a leg, and ended up being pulled from a lake by Vietnamese citizens and taken prisoner.
The man states that since being captured, he has received "humane and lenient treatment" from his jailers, and he expresses "gratitude" for the "kindness" of those holding him prisoner.
McCain's U.S. Senate office could not confirm the authenticity of the recording, but one McCain aide, speaking on condition that his name not be published, told New Times the following:
"Senator McCain has spoken candidly for years, in media interviews and his own memoir, of making a false confession tape after being tortured as a POW in North Vietnam. Although his 'confession' was coerced by days of extreme physical abuse, he always regretted it."
In his 1999 memoir Faith of My Fathers, McCain discusses at length his five and a half years as a POW, describing in excruciating detail the torture he endured, admitting that his captors broke him after a series of beatings and prolonged physical abuse, not to mention dysentery and various other maladies.
In one passage, McCain writes of an attempt at suicide, then a further beating, and finally, his acquiescence:
On the fourth day, I gave up.
"I am a black criminal," the interrogator wrote, "and I have performed the deeds of an air pirate. I almost died and the Vietnamese people saved my life. The doctors gave me an operation that I did not deserve."
I had been taken back to the theater after telling my guards I was ready to confess. For twelve hours I had written out many drafts of the confession. I used words that I hoped would discredit its authenticity, and I tried to keep it in stilted generalities and Communist jargon so that it would be apparent that I had signed it under duress.
An interrogator had edited my last draft and decided to rewrite most of it himself. He then handed it to me and told me to copy it out in my own hand. I started to print it in block letters, and he ordered me to write in script. He demanded that I add an admission that I had bombed a school. I refused, and we argued back and forth about the confession's contents for a time before I gave in to his demand. Finally, they had me sign the document.
They took me back to my room and let me sleep through the night. The next morning, they brought me back to the theater and ordered me to record my confession on tape. I refused, and was beaten until I consented.
In his memoir, McCain admits his humiliation over the statements he made to the North Vietnamese, writing that "there is never enough time and distance between the past and the present to allow one to forget his shame."
He adds, "I am recovered now from that period of intense despair. But I can summon up its feeling in an instant whenever I let myself remember the day. And I still wince when I recall wondering if my father had heard of my disgrace."
New Times has asked the National Archives whether it can verify the recording. The request is being researched. This post will be updated once a response is received. (Note: The National Archives has responded, and the recording is apparently authentic. Please see update below.)
During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson tapped McCain's father, Admiral John S. McCain Jr., to be commander-in-chief, Pacific Command, in charge of all U.S. forces in Vietnam. As a result, the younger McCain was a highly prized prisoner, referred to as "the crown prince" by the North Vietnamese.
At one point, several months into his captivity, McCain was offered early release but refused it, telling his captors that it would violate the U.S. military's code of conduct for American POWs, which requires that prisoners cannot accept parole and must be released in the order of their capture.
According to a 1999 investigation of McCain's war record by New Times managing editor Amy Silverman, McCain's decision to remain a POW, which included two years of solitary confinement, was confirmed by a September 1968 cable from Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador-at-large to the State Department. Harriman stated in the cable that "McCain's captors had offered him early release, but that he had refused."
In her piece, Silverman explores the claims of several rabid McCain critics and finds ample evidence to back up the tale of McCain's capture and imprisonment at infamous North Vietnamese prison camps such as the "Hanoi Hilton" and "the Plantation." Although two former POWs who identified themselves as senior officers at the camps told Silverman they doubted McCain was tortured, McCain denied that he ever reported to these men.
Other POWs who knew and/or celled with McCain during his captivity have made statements attesting to his ill treatment by the North Vietnamese. Upon ejecting from his aircraft, McCain broke both arms and his right leg, and he says his left arm was rebroken by the North Vietnamese during the beatings he endured. To this day, he walks with a slight limp and his arms are visibly impaired.
If the audio released by Wiles is legitimate, it is not the only such recording from McCain's time as a POW. In 2008 the French national archives released film footage of McCain speaking to a French journalist in 1967. McCain has discussed the footage both in his 1999 book and in a 1973 piece he wrote for U.S. News and World Report, saying that he gave the interview on the promise that the journalist would take a message back to his wife and family.
McCain says the North Vietnamese staged the scene for the French reporter in "a big room with a nice white bed," and that before doing so, they made a ham-fisted effort to set the broken bones in one of his arms, which McCain endured without the assistance of painkillers. This may account for the tremor in McCain's voice during the video, and the shaking of his left hand as he smokes a cigarette.
According the People for the American Way's Right-Wing Watch, McCain's detractor, Rick Wiles, is known for making outrageous, paranoid statements that sound like self-parody. Recently, for instance, he claimed that Satan was using Pokémon Go to target Christians with "demonic activity." In another rant, he said President Obama and Satan would be "coming into the schools to rape your children."
During the August 4 webcast in which he discusses what he refers to as McCain's "Tokyo Rose recording," Wiles, a fan of the Arizona senator's GOP primary challenger Kelli Ward, says he struggled to decide whether to release the audio.
He goes on to make the bizarre claims that the audio proves that McCain has been untruthful about his war record.
"I think if John McCain had told the American people all along, 'Hey, they tortured me, I broke, I made recordings I wish I'd never made. I couldn't take the pressure. I couldn't take the torture,' I think we all would have forgiven him," Wiles says. "But he never told us that part of the story. We were always told he was the POW who was tortured and never broke."
Wiles has interviewed Kelli Ward on his show several times, and he actually spoke with her during a webcast the day after he released the McCain audio. But he didn't take that opportunity to ask Ward what she thought about his "bombshell" report on the foe she will face in the August 30 GOP primary.
Requests from New Times to Ward's campaign asking for comment about the McCain recording were unanswered. (Note: Please see update below.)
Various far-right websites have jumped on the audio recording as evidence of McCain's alleged duplicity, including Seeing Red AZ and Oath Keepers. The latter derides McCain as a "songbird traitor, doing his fake hero act."
Of course, not even the Oath Keepers can question the fact that their nemesis declined an early release because there were other POWs still in North Vietnam who'd been captured before he was. As malleable as the definition of "hero" has become, John McCain's documented refusal to violate the military code of conduct and accept a special parole seems worthy of the distinction.
Update 8/9/2016: Stephen Sebastian, the Ward campaign's communications director, contacted New Times to discuss the TruNews release of the McCain POW recording.
"Dr. Ward's response would be that she honors Senator McCain's military service," said Sebastian. "She considers him an American hero for what he endured as a POW. And we obviously had nothing to do with the recording and certainly don't believe it should have been released. Again, we honor him as an American hero, and that's all we want to say about it. We don't think that needs to be attacked. What needs to be discussed is John McCain's record in the U.S. Senate."
Also, the National Archives in Washington, DC emailed New Times two audio files of broadcasts made by North Vietnamese radio during the war, both of which use a recording of McCain's voice. One of them apparently contains the clip published by TruNews. (The other is too garbled to identify.) Interestingly, recordings of the voices of American servicemen other than McCain are used in this same broadcast. Each man makes similar statements about their treatment in North Vietnamese POW camps.
Further Update 8/9/2016: Seems Kelli Ward's husband, Michael Ward, retweeted a tweet from TheNewsLink, heralding the McCain POW broadcast. The tweet Ward retweeted stated that the audio "destroys #JohnMcCain's Hero Story!" Asked about this via e-mail, Sebastian replied, stating that Ward's husband deleted the retweet. Sebastian offered the following explanation:
"Colonel Dr. Mike Ward does dozens of retweets daily, and this one was hasty and inadvertent. Drs. Mike and Kelli Ward appreciate John McCain's military service to our nation. We have focused our message entirely on the political issues that illustrate why after 34 years in Washington it's time to honor John McCain with retirement."
Mike Ward's LinkedIn page identifies him as being a surgeon in the Arizona Air National Guard.