From John McCain to Abu Ghraib: Tortured Bodies and Historical Unaccountability of U.S. Empire



ABSTRACT  John McCain, once considered a “friend” of Vietnam because of his support for normalized relations with the United States, has since lost his standing. Claims to inhumane treatment and torture while a prisoner in the “Hanoi Hilton” have met with angry denials and calls for more attention to the humanitarian care that McCain and others received. Recent U.S. allegations of human rights abuses in Vietnam following the Abu Ghraib prison scandal have further strained relations, as have charges leveled against Vietnamese small-scale producers of dishonest trade practices. Drawing on these exchanges, I examine competing representations of Vietnamese wartime acts that have permeated the “normalization” process. Neoliberal rhetorics aimed at “saving” the Vietnamese economy and its allegedly blemished human rights record are countered by discourses and images that lay claim to a Vietnamese “tradition” of wartime compassion and humanitarianism that also demands U.S. historical accountability for imperial violence and its aftermaths. [Keywords: neoliberalism, violence, human rights, Vietnam, historical memory]