WASHINGTON - Republican Senator John McCain has said that he will not apologise for using insulting language against protesters, who were demanding action against former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for alleged war crimes, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this week.

“I think they’re terrible people,” McCain said of Code Pink, the women-led grassroots peace and social justice group that protested the hearing in which Kissinger was taking part, in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” news programme.

Code Pink brought signs and handcuffs into the hearing to protest the presence of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, demanding that he be arrested for his role in alleged war crimes during the Nixon and Ford administrations. The protesters objected to the US’s use of the poisonous chemical Agent Orange in the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia and other issues.

Kissinger, 91, has long been a magnet for demonstrations, and Thursday was no exception- a loud protest erupted, with calls for Arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes.” Kissinger is also known for a testy encounter with Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at which he threatened the Pakistani leader with dire consequences if he went ahead with the nuclear programme.

Senator McCain, the chairman of the committee, became particularly enraged when a member of the Code-Pink group dangled handcuffs over Kissinger’s head. “You’re gonna have to shut up or I’m going to have you arrested,” McCain said at the hearing. “Get out of here, you low-life scum.” The Arizona Republican said Sunday that he stands by his comments because the protesters went beyond the bounds of constitutional free speech.

“I think they’re terrible people that would do that to a 91-year old man with a broken shoulder, to physically threaten him,” McCain said. “That is beyond any normal behaviour I have ever observed.”

“I’m used to people popping up at these hearings and yelling, and they’re escorted out - that’s at least some version of free speech,” he added. “These people rushed up, they were right next to him, waving handcuffs. He’s a 91-year old man with a broken shoulder who was willing to come down and testify before Congress to give us the benefit of his many years of wisdom.”

McCain said Kissinger is the greatest statesman of his lifetime, maybe even “the whole 20th century.”

“Of course I was outraged, and I am still outraged,” he told CNN. “It’s one thing to stand up and protest. It’s something else to physically threaten an individual, particularly an individual who has served so much to his country.”