Was the Republican U.S. presidential candidate John McCain tortured during his captivity in North Vietnam? The chief prison guard of the jail in which he was held claims he wasn’t.
On his 23rd bombing run over Vietnam, McCain’s target was a power plant, but the mission was doomed. He was shot down and plunged into a lake in the centre of Hanoi.
It was a fall that for the former U.S. navy pilot would later become a platform for his political take-off. The following five and a half years of incarceration in Vietnam made him a U.S. hero.
“I’ve been fighting for this country since I was 17 years old and I have scars to prove it,” McCain has said.
Former nurse Nguen Thi Than is 81 now, but she still remembers the young and handsome American pilot. She was on duty at the nearby clinic and saved McCain’s life.
“He was unconscious. I gave him medicine and I saw his arm and left leg were broken and I tried to make it right with a wooden splint,” Than recalls.
She says after being given first aid McCain was rushed to hospital. But McCain claims instead he was rushed to the Hoa Lo prison and only four days later taken to hospital.
“I found myself lying in a filthy room, lousy with mosquitoes and rats. The beatings were short because I let out a hair-raising scream when they occurred”.
Somewhat different to what he told a French journalist in 1967, who learnt that McCain was being 'treated well here by the doctors and by the people'.
Cards and volleyball or beating and torture?
Former director of Hoa Lo prison Tran Trong Duyet is retired now. He lives by the barbed wire and calls the U.S. presidential candidate John McCain his old buddy.
During the Vietnam war Duyet used to be the director of the notorious Hoa Lo prison, known as the 'Hanoi Hilton'. It's the prison where McCain says he was beaten and tortured.
“We discussed love and beautiful women. And McCain asked me what I think about American women. He was never mistreated in the prison,” Duyet states.
Basketball, volleyball, cards and other entertainment for the POWs, the Vietnamese say for McCain the prison lived up to its nickname – the Hilton.
Former director of Plantation prison Nguen Tien Tran says taking care of McCain’s health was his personal responsibility. And the treatment of McCain is something former prison authorities are in complete accord over.
“He is lying about being tortured. After we found out his father and his grandfather were very famous admirals in the U.S. navy, we were asked by the government to give him very good treatment in the hospital,” Tran says.
But when it comes to simple factual information they aren't singing in harmony, with each claiming he was taken to his prison, making it virtually impossible to verify what really happened in Vietnam more than 40 years ago.