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  1. ITV Report

US Senator tortured as a POW in Vietnam dies

Video report by Diplomatic Correspondent John Ray.

Jeremiah Denton, the former US senator who was held in a prison for war by North Vietnam for seven years and revealed he was being tortured by blinking in Morse code in a TV interview, died today at the age of 89.

Denton spent seven years and seven months as a Vietnam War POW after his plane was shot down during a bombing mission from the aircraft carrier USS Independence in 1965.

POWs were sometimes paraded in propaganda films an in 1966 Denton was interviewed in such a film, apparently in the hope that he would publicly condemn his own government. Instead he said:

Well, I don't know what is happening. But, whatever the position of my government is, I support it fully. And whatever the position of my government is, I believe in it - yes, sir. I'm a member of that government and it is my job to support it. And I will as long as I live.

whilst spelling out the word "torture" by blinking in Morse Code.

He pretended at the time the blinking was due to his eye's sensitivity to light.

Denton said later his torture increased after the interview. He spent four years in solitary confinement, including two years in a cell the size of a fridge.

One of the highest-ranking US officers to become a POW in Vietnam, he was 41 when he was captured and 48 when released.

He was released in 1973. After being promoted to rear admiral and head of the Armed Forces Staff College in Virginia, he then retired in 1977.

He wrote a book about his time as a prisoner called "When Hell Was in Session".

In 1980 he was elected as Alabama's first Republican senator in 112 years and earned a reputation as one of the Senate's most conservative members. President Ronald Regan called him a "national treasure".

He served on the Senate from 1981 until 1987.

Denton's wife of more than 60 years, Jane, died in 2007. His son Jim Denton told the Washington Post he died in a hospice in Virginia Beach from a heart ailment.