With the death of John McCain has come the resurgence of charges that he collaborated with the North Vietnamese after his capture. Despite being declared absolutely false by media accuracy groups, the accusations have continued to be perpetuated.
The most famous example of the charge was leveled on the Fox Business network by retired Air Force Lt. General Thomas McInerney on Charles Payne’s show. Payne subsequently apologized for McInerney’s comments.
The origin of the story seems to be from a Democrat-connected group, Vietnam Veterans Against John McCain, which originated in response to McCain’s 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. The groups motivations are amazingly suspect, for two reasons.
First, their name is virtually identical to “Vietnam Veterans Against The War”, an anti-Vietnam group John Kerry, the 2004 Democrat Presidential candidate, had been a spokesman for in the 1970s. John Kerry’s efforts against Bush had been undermined by a group of veterans who had served with him and had spoken against his war and post-war activities.
Second, McCain had previously run against George W. Bush in the 2000 primary. If the veterans had a serious issue with his accounting of the time as a POW, it would have been raised then.
The obvious conclusion was that the attack was politically motivated. But the question remained: did it have a basis in fact?
The answer is that it did have a tenuous link to reality. McCain, in his writing on the subject, admitted to having told more than his basic name, rank, and serial number to his captors. In exchange for basic medical treatment following his crash, he also provided the name of the ship from which he had launched, his squadron numbers, and his bombing target.
That was the extent of McCain’s “singing”, on the record. It did nothing to diminish the accounts of torture or his willingness to remain a high-profile prisoner, preventing the North Vietnamese from pretending the prison camp had closed and the prisoners “disappeared”.
In 2017, after McCain’s vote against dropping Obamacare until a plan was in place to deal with the chaos that would result, a conspiracy website revealed that a contributor had found an audio tape of McCain at the National Archives which had gone unnoticed for years because it had been mislabeled as “Sidney Macain”.
This was found because a $10K bounty was placed on the McCain file, encouraging people to hunt for it. However, the actual expectations were a bit more than that. The allegation was that McCain had made no less than 32 audio and video recordings for his captors.
Despite extensive monitoring of the North Vietnamese propaganda by US forces, no evidence of any video has been found, nor of any other audio. Lacking any such footage, the theory was that it had all been “scrubbed” by pro-McCain forces in the government. This does not hold up to reason. If 31 important files had been removed, the 32nd would have also been deleted, rather than renamed. Alternately, the 31 were important enough to warrant secret forces conducting a search-and-delete operation, but a mere $10K bounty was enough to get an inexperienced researcher to find a slightly mislabeled file in the place the archives said it would be.
The audio file was reportedly of a North Vietnamese broadcast from 1969, and is said to correspond to a reference in the National Archives.
In the audio, McCain admits to being shot down, admits to being an aggressor, and thanks the North Vietnamese for their medical treatment.
This is the “smoking gun”, because it proves, in the eyes of his critics, that he collaborated.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the audio is real. In that instance, he did not violate the military code of conduct in terms of evading additional questions because the code specifies “to the best of my ability”. It is understood that duress – such as the withholding of needed medical attention – can influence events. He did, however, potentially violate the code in terms of making an oral statement harmful to the cause of the country. This is a weak argument, because at no point does he condemn the United States’ activities in the tape. He merely admits that he was attacking, and thanks the doctors for helping to heal him.
As it is known that he was being tortured at the time, this seems like a minor infraction.
Moreover, in nearly every iteration of the “songbird” accusations, they have been leveled in such a way as to indicate he actively and regularly collaborated. One instance of admitting the obvious – that as a bomb-dropping pilot, he was an attacker – and stating appreciation for being healed is hardly an active, regular collaboration.
This is why there were none of McCain’s fellow POWs who have backed the “songbird” assertion, and why some of them were pallbearers at his funeral.
It is a political attack, first used by Democrats and now by Trumpists, on a tortured prisoner of war. Those who stand by it and promote it should be ashamed. They certainly should not present themselves as defenders of the troops or the military, because it is not service to the country that they respect but merely their personal political gain.