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Monday, May 30, 2005


John McCain - war criminal

In anticipation of tonight's A&E Biography hagiography of John McCain, the "Faith of My Fathers" (incidentally not the first McCain hagiography that has appeared on A&E), the story of John McCain's Vietnam war activities which led to his capture and his subsequent "hero" status need to be re-told. The article below appeared in Knight-Ridder newspapers during the 2000 primary campaign (e.g., the Philadelphia Inquirer on Feb. 5, 2000); it's not online and I owe a debt of gratitude to Norman Solomon who willingly dredged it up via Lexis-Nexis after I dredged it up from my memory (which doesn't compare to Lexis-Nexis but was pretty accurate in this case, as it turned out). Since it isn't online anywhere, I'm putting a bit more of it here than I otherwise would:
On that gray morning more than 32 years ago, McCain was knocked unconscious briefly when he ejected from his damaged bomber. Both his arms were broken, his right knee was shattered, and when he splashed into the middle of Truc Bach (White Silk) Lake, his 50 pounds of flight gear kept him from reaching the surface.

When [Mai Van] On finally got to him, about 200 yards out, all the older man could see was a bit of white silk, the top of the American's parachute.

With U.S. planes still bombing and strafing their target of the day - a nearby light-bulb factory where On worked as a security guard - On used a stout bamboo pole to hoist McCain off the bottom of the lake.

"If I had hesitated even one more minute, I'm sure he would have died," said On, still vigorous at 83 and still living in the same spot on the southern edge of the lake in the heart of downtown Hanoi.

"John McCain was lucky that morning," On said. "It was about 11 a.m. I had just come home for lunch and put my bicycle into the house. Then the air-raid siren went off, and 60 or 70 of us ran to a tunnel to avoid the bombs. I was at the entrance to the tunnel when I saw the pilot go into the water.

"The tunnel was still shaking from the bombing when I ran to the lake."

The two men differ on some small details of the rescue, but what is not in dispute is that On managed to drag McCain ashore, where a crowd of about 40 people had gathered. Unaware that their injured prisoner was the son of a high-ranking American admiral, they stripped McCain to his underwear, then began kicking him, spitting on him, screaming for him to be killed.

"One of them slammed a rifle butt down on my shoulder and smashed it pretty badly," McCain later wrote. "Another stuck a bayonet in my foot."

Then some young men approached with bricks in their hands.

"They tried to beat him in the head with the bricks, but I covered him," On said. "They surely would have beaten him to death. I said I wanted to rescue this man and return him to his family."

A nurse arrived and put bamboo splints on McCain's broken arms and leg, but when she tried to give him some sort of pill, he spit it out. A military ambulance appeared and carted him off to Hoa Lo prison in downtown Hanoi. Hoa Lo, which means "fiery oven" in Vietnamese, came to be known to many Americans as the "Hanoi Hilton."
Bombing a lightbulb factory, a civilian target, is a war crime. McCain, obviously, didn't select the target, he was just following orders, but that doesn't exonerate him any more than any other soldier who follows an illegal order. According to Amnesty International this particular violation of the Geneva Conventions (bombing civilian targets) is actually official U.S. military doctrine:
"Military advantage may involve a variety of considerations, including the security of the attacking force. ... Economic targets of the enemy that indirectly but effectively support and sustain the enemy’s war-fighting capability may also be attacked.”

"War is a clash of opposing wills.... While physical factors are crucial in war, the national will and the leadership’s will are also critical components of war. The will to prosecute or the will to resist can be decisive elements....Strategic attack objectives often include producing effects to demoralize the enemy’s leadership, military forces, and population, thus affecting the adversary’s capability to continue the conflict.”
Both of these statements, taken from different U.S. military manuals and documents, represent direct violations of the Geneva Convention (and, it should be noted, well before the advent of George W. Bush).

But McCain didn't just carry out such illegal orders himself, he willingly voiced support for them, specifically during the 1999 war against Yugoslavia when, as I wrote here, "water systems, power and heating plants, hospitals, universities, schools, apartment complexes, senior citizens' homes, bridges, factories, trains, buses, radio and TV stations, the telephone system, oil refineries, embassies, marketplaces and more were deliberately destroyed by U.S./NATO planes in a ruthless 10-week bombing campaign."

John McCain - war criminal then, war criminal now, war criminal forever.

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