40 years after flight to freedom, McCain urges Vietnam reforms

Forty years to the day after an American military plane carried John McCain and his fellow newly released U.S. prisoners of war out of North Vietnam, the Republican senator from Arizona cheered improved relations on Thursday, but urged the former U.S. foe to embrace democratic reforms.

“When it comes to the values that Americans hold dear—freedom, human rights and the rule of law—our highest hopes for Vietnam still remain largely just hopes,” McCain wrote in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal. “The government in Hanoi still imprisons and mistreats peaceful dissidents, journalists, bloggers, and ethnic and religious minorities for political reasons.”

McCain welcomed recent talks between Vietnam’s government and human rights group Amnesty International, as well as suggestions that Hanoi “may finally reform its constitution to better protect civil and political rights for its citizens.”

“I sincerely hope so—for while great relationships can be built on the basis of common interests, as the U.S.-Vietnam one is now, the best and most enduring partnerships always rest on a foundation of shared values,” McCain said. “In this challenge, as in every other challenge that the two countries have overcome together, I intend to remain Vietnam's dedicated friend.”

The lawmaker, who spent part of his captivity in the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prison, suffered grievous injuries when his plane was shot down over North Vietnam in October 1967 and endured torture as a POW. He was freed March 14, 1973, and has made return trips to Vietnam as relations with the U.S. have warmed considerably over the ensuing decades. McCain, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is a leading voice in his party on foreign policy.