These are the never-before-seen last-known photos of Sen. John McCain's Hoa Lo prison cell, images that prove that even after being cleaned up for an American historical filmmaker, the terror of the Hanoi Hilton is real. Debra Watkins, who took the pictures and video in 1993 and 1994 before this and other areas of the century-old prison were destroyed, provided them to Whispers as part of a story that appears in the Washington Whispers column. Watkins did volumes of research before traveling to Hanoi, sparked by reports the government planned to rip down most of the facility. She was able to find McCain's cell, which she says is pictured in the above photos. The first shows an official opening the cell. You can clearly see old locks used presumably to hold leg irons and other torture implements on the inside. The second shot shows the inside of McCain's cell and the leg-iron contraption Watkins believes he was tortured with. Amazingly, in her 31 hours of video, she also has an interview with McCain, seen in the third photo, as she shows him her pictures of the cell where he lived in solitary for two years. She recalls that he "was emotional, not teary." He even laughed at some of the shots. We haven't seen these images before because while she planned to produce a film or documentary long ago, it got pushed aside as she dealt with some family illnesses. She is now offering it to cable news companies because she has heard of reports of people questioning McCain's POW experience. Asked how she felt leaving the prison years ago, Watkins focused on McCain's efforts at the time to forgive and forget and open relations with Vietnam. "I don't know if I could forgive and forget," she told me. Nonetheless, it is a tourist destination now, one even McCain visited in 2000.
In 1973, McCain wrote a first-person account of his five-year captivity for U.S. News; read it here.
All three photographs are copyrighted by Debra Watkins.