More on the Swift Boat smear

by on August 20th, 2004

The New York Times has what should be the final word on the slimy Swift Boat Liars for Bush story.

This comes just a day after the Washington Post exposed one of Kerry’s chief critics as a liar. Larry Thurlow, who commanded another swift boat during the incident when Kerry earned his Bronze Star, is contradicted by the military records that document his own Bronze Star that was earned on the same day. Thurlow has tried to claim that there was no enemy fire during the incident when Kerry fished James Rassmann out of the water, contradicting both Kerry and Rassmann and every other member of Kerry’s swift boat crew. Now, we find that the military records for Thurlow’s own Bronze Star make reference to enemy fire directed at all the swift boats at that time.

In response, Thurlow now makes the laughable suggestion that Kerry was responsible for writing up his commendation. How sad that this guy, who is by all rights a legitimate war hero, would stoop to defaming his own commendations in an effort to score political points against Kerry. Sad and pathetic.

But back to the NY Times piece. They start by showing the deep connections between the Swift Boat Vets group and the Bush campaign:

“Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family – one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove’s, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush’s father’s presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush’s father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group’s television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush’s father faced off in the 1988 presidential election.”

Then they show how the leaders of the group have contradicted themselves over the years, some as recently as just a year ago:

“In an unpublished interview in March 2003 with Mr. Kerry’s authorized biographer, Douglas Brinkley, provided by Mr. Brinkley to The New York Times, Roy F. Hoffmann, a retired rear admiral and a leader of the group, allowed that he had disagreed with Mr. Kerry’s antiwar positions but said, “I am not going to say anything negative about him.” He added, “He’s a good man.”

In a profile of the candidate that ran in The Boston Globe in June 2003, Mr. Hoffmann approvingly recalled the actions that led to Mr. Kerry’s Silver Star: “It took guts, and I admire that.”

George Elliott, one of the Vietnam veterans in the group, flew from his home in Delaware to Boston in 1996 to stand up for Mr. Kerry during a tough re-election fight, declaring at a news conference that the action that won Mr. Kerry a Silver Star was “an act of courage.” At that same event, Adrian L. Lonsdale, another Vietnam veteran now speaking out against Mr. Kerry, supported him with a statement about the “bravado and courage of the young officers that ran the Swift boats.”

“Senator Kerry was no exception,” Mr. Lonsdale told the reporters and cameras assembled at the Charlestown Navy Yard. “He was among the finest of those Swift boat drivers.”

Those comments echoed the official record. In an evaluation of Mr. Kerry in 1969, Mr. Elliott, who was one of his commanders, ranked him as “not exceeded” in 11 categories, including moral courage, judgment and decisiveness, and “one of the top few” – the second-highest distinction – in the remaining five. In written comments, he called Mr. Kerry “unsurpassed,” “beyond reproach” and “the acknowledged leader in his peer group.”

It sounds like the Kerry campaign could make a pretty good comercial of their own using these guys’ statements and the official record. Talk about flip-flopping!

The story goes on to relate how the Swift Boat group, with the backing of big Republican campaign donors, hired a private investigator to try and dig up dirt on Kerry’s war record. And he apparently accomplished this by misleading the people he interviewed and then misrepresenting what they said:

“Patrick Runyon, who served on a mission with Mr. Kerry, said he initially thought the caller was from a pro-Kerry group, and happily gave a statement about the night Mr. Kerry won his first Purple Heart. The investigator said he would send it to him by e-mail for his signature. Mr. Runyon said the edited version was stripped of all references to enemy combat, making it look like just another night in the Mekong Delta.

“It made it sound like I didn’t believe we got any returned fire,” he said. “He made it sound like it was a normal operation. It was the scariest night of my life.”

The story goes on to poke further holes in the Swift Boat Vet’s allegations and by the end it is clear that their real gripe with Kerry is that he chose to protest the war after leaving Vietnam.

It is unfortunate that the group didn’t stick with that criticism instead of resorting to making false and malicious smears against Kerry’s military service. By casting aspersions on Kerry, they are also calling into question the credibility of every member of the military who served in Vietnam and received commendations. If we supposedly cannot trust the documentation for Kerry’s wartime medals (or for Thurlow’s) then can we trust any of them? I believe that we can and I find the charges being leveled by the Swift Boat Vets group to be scurrilous and denigrating to all military veterans. A truly despicable enterprise and one that George W. Bush should have denounced long ago if he had a shred of decency.

Mike Thomas