The Unknown Kerry

Could he sink all his swift boat enemies if he released all his Vietnam records?

I am absolutely telling you the God's honest truth about what happened and what took place over there [in Vietnam].John Kerry The New York Sun, August 27–29


In an August editorial, The New York Times declared, "No one has offered evidence to contradict the record" of Kerry's war service. In the September 6 New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg advises us that "the plausibility of each accusation against Kerry has evaporated in the bright light of the existing record, the official documents of the Navy . . . "

In the mainstream media, only a few reporters—among them Michael Dobbs in The Washington Post and Thomas Lipscomb, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times and other papers—have actually tried to get the entire record of John Kerry's service in Vietnam. His widely acclaimed acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Boston insistently focused on those four months while devoting only about 40 seconds to his 20 years in the Senate.

Continually, Kerry's spokespeople have been emphasizing in the media that all his service records are on his website. But deep in a long, front-page story in the August 22 Washington Post—"Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete; Critics Fail to Disprove Kerry's Version of Vietnam War Episode"—Michael Dobbs raised the question of why Kerry has been hiding considerable parts of his Vietnam record.

Dobbs's article largely supports the Kerry version of one of the episodes contested by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth—whether there was enemy fire on March 13, 1969, when Kerry rescued James Rassman from the water. The debate on those charges, however, has continued.

But Dobbs engaged in further extensive research that showed that the accounts by both Kerry and his Swift boat opponents "contain significant flaws and factual errors." There were "more than two dozen interviews with former crewmates and officers who served with him."

Curiously, Dobbs noted, "Kerry himself was the only surviving skipper on the river that day who declined a request for an interview."

Much later in Dobbs's story, there was this revelation, since overlooked by much of the media:

"Although Kerry campaign officials insist that they have published Kerry's full military records on their Web site (with the exception of medical records shown briefly to reporters earlier this year), they have not permitted independent access to his original Navy records.

"A spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command, Mike McClellan, said he was not authorized to release the full file, which consists of at least a hundred pages." (Emphasis added.)

This guy is running for president. Shouldn't the electorate know what's in those more than 100 pages?

I asked Thomas Lipscomb, founder of Times Books and an old-style journalist who digs deeply into stories, how come it's up to Kerry to release those records. "Surprisingly," Lipscomb said, "military records are one of the last bastions of privacy left."

Sure enough, I found—from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, and the Department of Defense inspector general—that the Privacy Act does permit, with few exceptions, "the subject" to withhold his or her records, unless the subject signs a Standard Form 180. Tom Lipscomb told me that Bush has also not signed a Standard Form 180. "I asked the White House about that," Lipscomb said, "and I was told, 'Well, he's commander in chief.' " Bush should sign a 180.

In his August 22 Washington Post piece, Dobbs referred to the rather hagiographic book about Kerry's Vietnam service, Tour of Duty, by Professor Douglas Brinkley, director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. Now, dig this:

"The Kerry campaign," Dobbs writes, "has refused to make available Kerry's journals and other writings to The Post, saying the senator remains bound by an exclusivity agreement with Brinkley."

As Dobbs noted, those unavailable documents include "Kerry's personal reminiscences (shared only with biographer Brinkley)."

In an August 28 Washington Post interview with Ann Gerhart, Douglas Brinkley has clarified this so-called "exclusivity agreement." The Kerry campaign has been claiming, Gerhart points out, that "Kerry's personal Vietnam archive, including his journals and letters," is, by contract, limited to Brinkley's "exclusive access." The implication is that Kerry can't release it without Brinkley's permission.

But Brinkley told Gerhart that the archive is Kerry's property and under his entire control. Said Brinkley: "I don't mind if John Kerry shows anybody anything. If he wants to let anybody in, that's his business. Go bug John Kerry, and leave me alone." The so-called exclusivity agreement only requires that Brinkley's book be credited by anyone quoting from it.

Brinkley's Tour of Duty is purportedly to be published in paperback this month. Maybe, at a publication party, Senator Kerry will grandly announce that he is releasing all those Vietnam journals, letters, photographs, and scrapbooks. Meanwhile, Brinkley urges Kerry to authorize the release of the rest of his military records.

Another question: Why doesn't Kerry sue John O'Neill, principal author of Unfit for Command, and the other Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for defamation? Why would all these "liars for Bush," as Kerry loyalists and many journalists persistently charge, have made themselves vulnerable to huge damage to their careers and incomes if Kerry were to win such a suit? Both sides would have to be cross-examined in depositions under oath. John O'Neill has challenged Kerry, saying, "Sue me!"

How many Americans know that John O'Neill, the purported Republican operative, voted for Hubert Humphrey and Al Gore for president, and that his favorite candidate for the presidency this year was John Edwards? And O'Neill describes George W. Bush as an "empty suit" (The New York Times, August 28; Los Angeles Times, August 28).

Would you buy a pre-owned car from John Kerry?

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