John McCain's suicide attempt and
his resulting PTSD
By Ted Sampley
U.S. Veteran Dispatch
December 23, 2007
Presidential candidate John McCain's recently released Christmas ad depicting him as a tortured
POW survivor underscores a reoccurring theme McCain's handlers have, for decades, carefully
intertwined deep into his public persona and political campaigns.
McCain says because he survived 5½ years of brutal torture, while a prisoner of the communist
Vietnamese, he is better qualified to be president of the United States than any other candidate.
McCain claims his POW sufferings included three years in solitary confinement where he was
tortured so badly that he "broke," causing him to attempt suicide.
What McCain's promoters have carefully edited out of their McCain-for-president equation is his
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Department of Defense psychiatrists have evaluated
McCain for PTSD several times, the results of which remain locked by privacy laws.
PTSD can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which physical harm
occurred or was threatened. U.S. government studies have concluded that former POWs "may
remain embroiled in a harsh psychological battle with themselves for decades after returning
An outcome of PTSD is a subtle web of personal problems including difficulty in controlling
intense emotions such as anger and an inability to function well under stress.
Psychologist Patricia B. Sutker of the New Orleans Veterans Administration Medical Center and
her colleagues reported in a 1991 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry that as many as
nine of 10 surviving U.S. servicemen taken captive during the Korean War may suffer from
PTSD and other mental disorders more than 35 years after their release.
In a follow-up study, VA experts concluded that POWs suffer "a much greater risk of developing
PTSD than combat veterans."
Robert Timberg, in his book, The Nightingale's Song, wrote that POW McCain "suffered
terribly in North Vietnamese camps."
Timberg wrote that in July 1968, McCain was taken to a room in which the North Vietnamese
POW camp commander, whom the prisoners had nicknamed "Slopehead," was waiting
with 10 guards and an interrogator nicked named "The Prick."
The guards, according to Timberg, charged into McCain, beating and kicking him until he "lay
on the floor, bloody, arms and legs throbbing, ribs cracked, several teeth broken off at the
gumline." The Vietnamese wanted McCain to confess to being a war
It was then and there that McCain, Timberg noted, was introduced for the first time to the
"torture ropes." He wrote that McCain was tortured for several days before he broke and signed a
confession that he was a war criminal. After signing the confession, McCain
was so distraught that he attempted suicide but was stopped when a guard burst into the room.
Over the years, countless numbers of columnist/pundits have nearly drowned in their own drool
suggesting McCain's POW experience greatly qualifies him to be president.
Washington Post columnist George Will once wrote that because McCain was such an
"obstinate" POW hero resister, he was kept "in solitary confinement most of that time ... Every
day for two years, one of his guards ordered him to bow, and then knocked him down."
Another columnist/pundit wrote, "McCain is a war hero ... He was tossed into the infamous
'Hanoi Hilton' prison camp, where he was hung by his fractured arms for hours at a time."
In the last two weeks before Christmas 2007, McCain is riding high on a new round of high-profile endorsements.
The New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed McCain on Dec. 16. Then former Democrat Sen.
Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), gave his blessings followed by "back-to-back-to-back endorsements
from three other major newspapers, The Des Moines Register, The Boston Globe and The
The New Hampshire Union Leader wrote, "Sen. McCain is much more than just a war hero who
chose to endure years of abuse at the hands of a sadistic enemy rather than abandon his
The Des Moines Register wrote. "In an era of instant celebrity, we sometimes forget the real
heroes in our midst. The defining chapter of McCain's life came 40 years ago as a naval aviator,
when he was shot down over Vietnam. The crash broke both arms and a leg. When first seeing
him, a fellow prisoner recalls thinking he wouldn't live the night. He was beaten and kept in
solitary confinement, held five years. Sen. McCain is much more than just a war hero who chose to endure years of abuse at the hands
of a sadistic enemy rather than abandon his comrades."
The Portsmouth Herald wrote, "As a former prisoner of war who was denied medical care and
beaten by the North Vietnamese, McCain understands at the deepest level that torturing helpless
prisoners who may or may not have some information ..."
Unfortunately for McCain, the baggage that accompanies understanding "the deepest level" of
torture and especially "attempted suicide" is the psychological trauma known as PTSD.
During McCain's 1999 presidential campaign, he carefully controlled the release of some
"redacted medical records" in what appeared to be an effort to counter discussions of whether
McCain's legendary "short fuse" temperament makes him unfit to serve as president and
commander in chief of the military. His campaign did not allow any pages to be photocopied and
selectively picked news organizations to examine the records.
The 1999 campaign released a statement by Dr. Michael M. Ambrose, director of the Robert E.
Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies, that said: ''Senator McCain has never been
diagnosed with or treated at the center for a psychological or psychiatric disorder. He has been
subject to an extensive battery of psychological tests and following his last examination in 1993,
we judged him to be in good physical and mental health.''
The doctors said McCain explained that while in solitary confinement he created for himself a
fantasy world in which he lived. The doctors said McCain always heard the guards coming with
his food, but "was often so much in his private world, that he strongly resented their coming
around and bringing him back to reality by intruding. He was enjoying his fantasies so much."
Members of the two major POW/MIA family organizations know the "real" John McCain and
they despise him. They have experienced firsthand his cruel, angry temperament.
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
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 an earlier incident involving families of servicemen still MIA, McCain got so angry that he
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
"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."
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.
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
On a Nov. 13, 1996 trip to Hanoi, McCain posed for a picture embracing Mai Van On, one of the
Vietnamese who pulled McCain from Hanoi's Truc Bach Lake, where McCain parachuted in
1967 after his bomber was shot down. McCain has said many times that after being pulled from
the lake, his Vietnamese rescuers brutally beat him and stabbed him with a bayonet.
Early in 2007, columnist Sidney Blumenthal, who once served as a senior adviser to President
Bill Clinton, questioned if McCain's "volatile temper" might derail his bid to be President.
Blumenthal wrote that the senator's temper sometimes surfaces in the form of obscenities:
"McCain's political colleagues, however, know another side of the action hero -- a volatile man
with a hair-trigger temper, who shouted at Sen. Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor to 'shut up,'
called his fellow Republican senators 'shithead,' 'f******* jerk,' 'a**hole,' and joked in 1998 at a
Republican fundraiser about the teenage daughter of President Clinton, 'Do you know why
Chelsea Clinton is so ugly? Because Janet Reno is her father.'"
Regardless of all the obvious signs pointing to McCain's PTSD, the one outstanding
fact is that McCain, by his own admission, broke under the stress of captivity and tried to kill
National columnists and pundits have, so far, given McCain a
"free pass" on the attempted suicide. Would the other presidential candidates be
treated with the same indifference if they had an
attempted suicide in their biographies?
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