HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, April 28 (AP)--John McCain, on a journey meant to heal old wounds, said Friday the wrong side won the Vietnam War, adding to earlier comments that accused the Communists of torturing POWs. Irritated by McCain's remarks about torture, Hanoi accused the United States of "horrendous crimes."
McCain is in Vietnam to mark the 25th anniversary of the war's end and to help boost U.S. ties with its former enemy. But that hasn't kept the former Navy pilot from sharply criticizing the Communist government's conduct in the war, during which he was shot down and spent 5 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prison.
The Vietnamese government responded angrily to earlier comments in which the Arizona senator said he did not forgive his former captors for torturing and killing fellow prisoners of war.
Hanoi dismissed the allegations as untrue, accusing the United States of bringing the war upon the Vietnamese and committing "horrendous crimes."
"It runs counter to the norms of morality that those people who brought bombs and shells to sow death among our people and wreak havoc with a country now pass themselves off as having the right to criticize their victims-cum-saviors," Foreign Ministry spokesman Phan Thuy Thanh said in a statement made available on Friday.
McCain shrugged off the government statement and criticized the oppression that he said followed the Communists' victory in Vietnam. He said Friday that he thought "the wrong guys" won the war.
"I think that they lost millions of their best people, who left by boat, thousands by execution, and hundreds of thousands who went to re-education camps," McCain told reporters as he toured Ho Chi Minh City, which was known as Saigon when it was the capital of U.S.-backed South Vietnam. He also criticized what he said was increasing corruption in the country and an unwillingness on the part of some officials to improve U.S.-Vietnamese ties.
"The object of my relationship with Vietnam has been to heal the wounds that exist, particularly among our veterans, and to move forward with a positive relationship," McCain said. "Apparently some in the Vietnamese government don't want to do that, and that's their decision.
"There's a difference in the attitude here of the government toward foreign investment, toward a trade agreement. I see the hammer and sickle out here on the banners," he said. "I'm a bit concerned about both the policies and attitudes, and the increase in corruption in this country."
Asked later if he stood by his allegations of torture, he said: "The facts are facts. Truth is truth. History is history. I always tell the truth. I've fought against communism all my life." He added that he was not concerned about Vietnam's response.
McCain revisited the notorious "Hanoi Hilton" prison in Hanoi on Wednesday. He was held captive there after his A-4 plane was shot down Oct. 26, 1967, while on a bombing run on the North Vietnamese capital.
Asked how he felt about the prison's guards, McCain said: "I still bear them ill will, not because of what they did to me but because of what they did to some of my friends--including killing some of them."
Thanh, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said McCain contradicted statements he made during his first visit to the Hanoi Hilton in 1994, when McCain expressed thanks to Vietnam for the treatment he received as a captive. But McCain claimed that his recent statements were no different from those he has made on seven previous trips to Vietnam.
As Vietnam prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the Communist victory on Sunday, Vietnamese officials also say the bitter past should be laid to rest. But the Foreign Ministry statement recalled that the United States initiated a war in which almost 3 million people died and more than 4 million were wounded.
"Our people were the victims of [an American] brutal war of aggression," Thanh said. "The Vietnamese nation's losses and suffering are wordless."
Accompanied by HIS wife, Cindy, and their 13-year-old son, Jack, McCain went shopping Friday for a traditional Vietnamese tonic--rice liquor with a snake in the bottle--aand visited the Harvard Institute for International Development in Ho Chi Minh City.