Arizona Senator John McCain, who is 81-years-old and suffering from what is believed to be terminal brain cancer, was targeted by a retired general appearing on Fox Business Network Thursday. The retired general slammed McCain as “Songbird John,” repeating a long-debunked rumor that McCain cracked under torture in Vietnam.
McCain was held as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese for more than five years, between late 1967 and early 1973. During his captivity, McCain was subjected to repeated physical abuse, torture, and long stretches of solitary confinement.
But when McCain, a Republican, ran for president in 2000, opposing eventual Republican nominee George W. Bush, he faced rumors that during that harrowing ordeal, he cracked under the Vietnamese torture, slapping him with nickname “Hanoi Hilton Songbird” and even branding him a “traitor.” But according to an investigation by PolitiFact during McCain’s second presidential campaign in 2008, there has never been any evidence that McCain “sang” to his captors in what was then North Vietnam.
The PolitiFact report quoted two former cellmates of McCain who were angered by the allegation that he broke under torture, one branding the rumor, “the most outrageous f****** lie I’ve ever heard.”
But McCain issued a statement this week opposing Donald Trump’s nomination of former CIA operative Gina Haspel to head the agency, on the grounds that Haspel oversaw the torture of terror suspects in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. McCain’s opposition to Haspel apparently led retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney to revive the false claim about McCain during a Fox Business Network appearance on Thursday, as seen in the video below.
“The fact is, is John McCain — (torture) worked on John,” McInerney told Fox host Charles Payne. “That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’ The fact is those methods can work, and they are effective, as former Vice President Cheney said. And if we have to use them to save a million American lives, we will do whatever we have to.”
Payne let the “Songbird John” comment pass without comment, but later took to his Twitter account to apologize for failing to push back against McInerney’s false allegation.
“This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain. At the time, I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment, and did not hear the comment,” Payne wrote. “I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged. As a proud military veteran and son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feelings about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country.”
Other political commentators on Twitter were even more upset about McInerney’s comment.
“No big deal, just Fox Business News giving a platform to a smear of Sen. John McCain’s time being tortured in a Vietnamese POW camp,” CNN host Jake Tapper wrote, sarcastically, on his Twitter feed, while conservative pundit S.E. Cupp called the remark “shameful.”
Author and military expert Thomas Nichols slammed McInerney as a “crank” and said that he questioned the retired general’s “patriotism” over the remark, and Headline News anchor Carol Costello said the remarks made her “sick to my stomach.”