It turns out that far from being tortured, McCain's life was saved by the people he was dropping bombs on daily.
Nguyen Tien Tran said: "We never tortured McCain. On the contrary, we saved his life, curing him with extremely valuable medicines that at times were not available to our own wounded."

Mr McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, who was a Navy pilot during the Vietnam war, regularly refers to his experiences after being captured when his plane was shot down over North Vietnam in 1967.

He was taken to Hoa Lo Prison, nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton", where he was kept for more than five years and subjected to such brutal beatings that he attempted suicide, he later recalled. Today he is unable to lift his arms above his head and, it recently emerged, finds activities requiring intensive use of his hands - such as typing - extremely painful.

Comment: Apparently this doesn't hinder his ability to draft legislation that enslaves the American people, start new wars or play online poker.

Yet in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Mr Nguyen insisted that conditions in the prison were "tough, though not inhuman". He said that Mr McCain had arrived with the worst injuries he had seen among downed pilots, and that it had been his job to keep the American alive.

Mr McCain's father was then the commander of the US Navy in Vietnam, a fact the captors recognised and wanted to exploit for propaganda purposes, Mr Nguyen claims.

Alleging that Mr McCain was in hospital for the first month of his captivity, Mr Nguyen said: "I never lost him from sight. I was frightened a doctor or nurse might do him harm."

In recommending Mr McCain for a post-war medal, his former cellmate, Colonel George Day, said that the Republican candidate had forced his interrogators to "drug him and torture him to get any co-operation" and had suffered "torturous abuse".

Asked why, if he was not tortured, Mr McCain left North Vietnam at 36 with grey hair, Mr Nguyen said: "It's that in prison you think too much."