McCain spent six weeks in the hospital while receiving marginal care. By then having lost 50 pounds (23 kg), in a chest cast, and with his hair turned white, McCain was sent to a different camp on the outskirts of Hanoi in December 1967, into a cell with two other Americans who did not expect him to live a week. In March 1968, McCain was put into solitary confinement, where he would remain for two years.
In mid-1968, John S. McCain, Jr. was named commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater, and the North Vietnamese offered McCain early release because they wanted to appear merciful for propaganda purposes, and also to show other POWs that elite prisoners were willing to be treated preferentially. McCain turned down the offer; he would only accept repatriation if every man taken in before him was released as well
. Such early release was prohibited by the POW's interpretation of the military Code of Conduct: To prevent the enemy from using prisoners for propaganda, officers were to agree to be released in the order in which they were captured.
In August 1968, a program of severe torture began on McCain. He was subjected to rope bindings and repeated beatings every two hours, at the same time as he was suffering from dysentery. Further injuries led to the beginning of a suicide attempt, stopped by guards. After four days, McCain made an anti-American propaganda "confession". He has always felt that his statement was dishonorable, but as he later wrote, "I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine." Many American POWs were tortured and maltreated in order to extract "confessions" and propaganda statements, with many enduring even longer and worse treatment; virtually all of them eventually yielded something to their captors. McCain subsequently received two to three beatings weekly because of his continued refusal to sign additional statements.