Good Guards and Bad Guards: John McCain’s Holiday Message


Senator John McCain just sent the following Christmas and holiday message to his supporters — and I thought it worthwhile to post here.
It surfaced emotions I felt when I saw the brilliant and disturbing Alex Gibney directed film, Taxi to the Dark Side which opens nationally on January 11th. In the movie, you’ll hear of horrible things our American guards did to detainees — a great majority of whom were innocent in the facilities at Bergram and Abu Ghraib.
To give you some sense of the conflict in prison guards, here is a YouTube video of one of the US guards at Bagram, Damien Corsetti — who I think is one of the good guys. Another film to see to understand about good guards vs. bad — and how there are some who have been able to resist the manipulation of guards in unusual circumstances that Rumsfeld and Cheney deployed — is Michael Tucker’s The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair.
A Message from John McCain:

Christmas Story
As a POW, my captors would tie my arms behind my back and then loop the rope around my neck and ankles so that my head was pulled down between my knees. I was often left like that throughout the night.
One night a guard came into my cell. He put his finger to his lips signaling for me to be quiet, and then loosened my ropes to relieve my pain. The next morning, when his shift ended, the guard returned and retightened the ropes, never saying a word to me.
A month or so later, on Christmas Day, I was standing in the dirt courtyard when I saw that same guard approach me. He walked up and stood silently next to me, not looking or smiling at me.
After a few moments had passed, he rather nonchalantly used his sandaled foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We stood wordlessly looking at the cross, remembering the true light of Christmas, even in the darkness of a Vietnamese prison camp. After a minute or two, he rubbed it out and walked away.
That guard was my Good Samaritan. I will never forget that man and I will never forget that moment. And I will never forget that, no matter where you are, no matter how difficult the circumstances, there will always be someone who will pick you up and carry you.
May you and your family have a blessed Christmas and Happy Holidays,
John McCain

I think McCain’s message is heartfelt — but I should add that had McCain’s guard been a Buddhist, a Muslim, or an atheist — this should all be about human kindness — not tribal clustering around one religion or another.
— Steve Clemons


6 comments on “Good Guards and Bad Guards: John McCain’s Holiday Message

  1. cindy says:

    It’s a beautiful story. I’m glad for McCain that one of the Vietnamese soldiers gave him comfort. I pray/wish/hope/desire that some of our boys/girls are doing the same for their Muslim captives.


  2. Kathleen says:

    Hedley… good point


  3. Hedley Lamarr says:

    Contrast McCain’s constant mention of his Viet Nam experience having been shot down and imprisioned with that of George McGovern, who quietly finished his 25 missions and brought his crew home safely.


  4. Steve Clemons says:

    Surge07: That’s an interesting point, and you may be right. I think it makes the narrative work better to suspect that the guard may have been a closeted Christian, but you are clearly right that it might have been a different kind of empathy.
    best, Steve Clemons


  5. Surge07 says:

    You assume that the prison guard was a Christian. He may have been a Buddhist or an athiest. As a Vietnamese, he would have been aware of French Catholicism and of the importance of Christmas to McCain.


  6. weldon berger says:

    And yet, McCain wholeheartedly supports the venture that made Abu Ghraib possible and voted in support of the Military Commissions Act, which amends the War Crimes Act of 1996 to retroactively immunize government employees and officials from prosecution for violations of that law.


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