Sunday, September 05, 2004
Navy Department review of Kerry's medals and alleged misconduct
Several readers have emailed me recently to point out Thomas Lipscomb's articles for the Chicago Sun-Times (Aug. 27, Aug. 28, Sep. 3) and Prof. Henry Holzer & Erika Holzer's FrontPageMag.com article, which raise questions about the multiple, nonidentical citations issued for Kerry's various medals and related matters. Some of the citations include additional language puffing up the descriptions of Kerry's heroics, and the form DD214 displayed on Kerry's campaign website references a "Silver Star with Combat 'V'" — which is a nonsequitur, since this "Combat Distinguishing Device" for "valor" is never awarded as part of a Silver Star, which already requires combat "gallantry" anyway. [Update: Dr. James Joyner of Outside the Beltway has more about this point and adds an example of a clerical screw-up on his own Bronze Star.]
I haven't previously blogged much about this subject, but I did, however, post briefly (for me) on August 19th about Judicial Watch's formal complaint and request for investigation to the Navy Department and the DoD.
The Pentagon has ordered an investigation into the awarding of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's five Vietnam War decorations.
The highly unusual inquiry is to be carried out by the Inspector-General's Office of the US Navy. Senator Kerry served as a Swift boat captain for four months in 1968, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam.
The good Professor muses that this may result in some "more serious vetting" of Kerry's combat record than that which the mainstream media — prodded reluctantly along by the SwiftVets, talk radio, and the blogosphere — has provided.
Alas, while I would that it were so, and hope that it will be so, I'm unconvinced that it yet is so. As best I can determine, the Australian newspaper's story, and similar ones here in the states, are the result of Judicial Watch's own September 2 press release. It, in turn, is based on a one-page September 1 letter from the DoD's Inspector General to Judicial Watch in response to its August 18th complaint. The DoD-IG's letter does indeed state that he has a legal responsibility to "report suspected or alleged violations" of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to the "Secretary of the Military Department concerned or the Secretary of Defense," and that the DoD-IG has forwarded Judicial Watch's allegations to the Secretary of the Navy. But when you get past the citations to statutes and regulations, this boils down to: "We've received your complaint and we've sent it along to the people who look into such things."
I believe it would be a serious overstatement to suggest that the DoD-IG has made any sort of preliminary determinations about the Judicial Watch complaint — certainly nothing even remotely akin yet to a finding of "probable cause" to believe there has indeed been a UCMJ violation (as opposed to, for example, a clerical mistake by whoever wrote up Kerry's DD214). As Lipscomb's September 3 article notes,
If the Department of the Navy determines after a review of documents that it is warranted, an investigator is assigned by the naval inspector general to examine the validity of the charges.
A spokesman for the Navy said that no investigator has been assigned at this time.
That certainly doesn't mean that an investigator won't be assigned in due course. Although the wheel of justice grinds exceedingly fine, it's also noted for grinding exceedingly slow. Perhaps the military version of the wheel of justice turns more quickly, but I frankly will not be surprised if this takes several more weeks to get to the next procedural step, and many more weeks beyond that to reach even preliminary conclusions with respect to such relatively simple questions as the propriety of the "Combat 'V.'" The other allegations in Judicial Watch's complaint — which include, for example, Kerry's meeting(s) in Paris with representatives of the North Vietnamese government and Viet Cong while still a Naval Reserve officer — are vastly more complicated, both factually and legally, and would require the Navy Department or the DoD to go far afield of its own personnel and records to resolve. And regardless of how slowly the wheel turns, expect the Kerry camp to loudly "question the timing" — especially if there's even a hint that the Bush administration has given the Navy Department even the gentlest of nudges.
Don't get me wrong (switching metaphors here) — this may be a slow fused bombshell, or even a cluster bomb, waiting to explode. As Lipscomb pointed out in a September 2 op-ed for the New York Sun,
The chief admiral of the Navy, Jeremy Michael Boorda, committed suicide over questions raised about his right to wear a Combat V by Newsweek magazine in 1996. Boorda stated in his suicide note to his sailors that the questions raised about those he wore caused him to take his life. And that was only a Bronze Star, not the Navy’s third highest decoration.
At the time, Mr. Kerry told the Boston Globe that Boorda’s conduct was "sufficient to question [Boorda’s] leadership position.... If you wind up being less than what you’re pretending to be, there is a major confrontation with value and self-esteem and your sense of how others view you."
I'm not at all sure that the fuse will reach the shell, though, much before the November 2nd election, if by then. And yes, it would be just swell if the mainstream media did its own digging on these subjects in the meantime. But I'm not holding my breath.
Update (Sun Sep 5 @ 9:30pm): The Holzers have a new article entitled "The 34-Year Old 'Typo'" which argues that Kerry's at fault for failing to correct the DD214 even if the "Combat 'V'" reference was just a clerical error. I see their point, but in a target-rich environment for Kerry mistakes and exaggerations, this one doesn't particularly thrill me.
Also, commenter Norman Rogers graciously directed me to a London Telegraph story which quotes an unidentified Navy Department official as saying, "There's a feeling that it's time to deal with this thoroughly, once and for all." This article is a longer version of the same piece by the same reporter that Prof. Reynolds linked from the Australian paper, however, and with the exception of this unattributed remark doesn't really add anything new. I'm not quite ready to get excited yet about a British reporter quoting an unidentified Navy Department source about unidentified parties' "feelings." But I'm willing to be proved wrong!
Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Navy Department review of Kerry's medals and alleged misconduct and sent a trackback ping are listed here:
» Navy Decides to Meddle in Kerry's Medals from The Truth Laid Bear
Tracked on Sep 5, 2004 8:21:48 PM
» Kerry's Combat "V" from Outside The Beltway ™
Tracked on Sep 5, 2004 9:24:13 PM
(1) Paul H. made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 6:29:05 PM | Permalink
I think it's absolutely ludicrous to believe that anyone in the Pentagon (to include the Secretary of the Navy and the SecDef) wants to get anywhere near this explosive issue. They're not getting paid to defuse the political equivalent of a booby-trapped nuclear bomb.
From my own experience with military personnel record-keeping, I think it's almost certain that the DD 214 entry (about the V device on the Silver Star) is a simple typo by a long-forgotten bored clerk in a hurry. He/she mixed it up with the very common entry on Vietnam-era 214's of a "Bronze Star with V device", awarded to numerous Vietnam combat vets.
The DD 214 form is generated once, at the end of the obligated period of service; this one was one of tens of thousands of DD 214s at a time when Kerry was just another junior grade naval officer being routinely discharged from service.
A supervising NCO or officer (whoever signed the form) should have caught the error and didn't. Correction of such an error is a matter for administrative action within DoD, not a matter for military justice.
The repeated rewriting of the citation is highly unusual since it required positive action by somebody, particularly so many years after the fact. But again this is almost certainly not a matter for military justice -- some supervisor signed off on it (either Lehmann or somebody acting for him).
As far as administrative action for both these matters go, I'd bet a dollar to a donut that no one in DoD wants to get anywhere near these matters, absent a very specific request from Senator Kerry personally.
And even then I think no sane senior naval officer responsible for management of these old records will act on such a request without the personal blessing of the current Sec of the Navy. Who in turn will not want to do anything until after the election is over
So you're right that nothing will be done either way before the election. Probably not afterward either, as the press will swarm all over the issue looking for conspiracies of vindictiveness.
But it's not a matter for military justice, but for Dept of the Navy or DoD administrative review. I don't see how such a review can be goaded by any sort of court proceedings from Judicial Watch. Don't they lack what you lawyers call "standing"?
As far as DoD is concerned, Kerry is (and should be) just another veteran with possible error(s) in his old records. I'd think only a personal request from Kerry could cause such errors to be corrected.
Paul, there's no court proceeding. Judicial Watch has filed what amounts to an interested citizen's administrative complaint with the Navy Department and the DoD. You're exactly right, Judicial Watch would lack standing to sue in court, absent some statute or regulation expressly granting that standing to members of the public and creating federal court jurisdiction to hear such lawsuits.
The Kerry website contains a DD215 correcting another minor error from the original DD214.
Former Navy Secretary Lehman is quoted in Lipscomb's August 28 article as saying he didn't personally sign the revised citation that's on the Kerry website, but he acknowledged that it could have been signed by an "autopen," presumably with the approval of whoever on his staff approved the language change. Who did that, and why, is one of the things Judicial Watch is asking be looked into. But while the changes in language strike me as odd, the differences aren't enormous it's not like he got his Bronze Star converted into a Navy Cross or Congressional Medal of Honor.
Finally, re the conflicting interests that must inevitably tug at whoever has to handle this within the Navy Department: This is the kind of situation that might prompt the Justice Department, under parallel circumstances, to appoint a "special counsel" (which is similar to, but far less powerful and independent than, the "independent counsel" available under the now-expired statute that politicians from both parties came to despise). There may well be some similar procedure available under the applicable DoD or Navy Department regs. If so, Judicial Watch may hope to generate enough public interest and controversy to get a special counsel appointed.
(3) Norman Rogers made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 7:07:03 PM | Permalink
Beldar, The Sunday Telegraph has this story.
In a fresh blow to John Kerry's flagging presidential campaign, the Pentagon has ordered an official investigation into the awards of the Democratic senator's five Vietnam War decorations.
A navy spokesman confirmed on Friday that the inspector-general's office at the Pentagon had authorised the inquiry. "It is the responsibility of all personnel to correct errors in official records," said the spokesman. Another official said privately: "There's a feeling that it's time to deal with this thoroughly, once and for all."
Among other records to be examined is a citation of Mr Kerry for bravery that was apparently signed by the former Navy Secretary, John Lehman, and contributed to the award of his silver star. The glowing citation states: "By his brave actions, bold initiative and unwavering devotion to duty, Lt Kerry reflected great credit on himself." But Mr Lehman denies all knowledge of the commendation. "It's a total mystery to me," he said last week. "I never saw it, I never signed it and I never approved it." The inquiry will also investigate other reports and citations leading to the award of Mr Kerry's medals.
On Friday, Mr Lehman endorsed the investigation of Mr Kerry's awards, saying that the relevant navy records needed to be "thoroughly researched and the facts established". Mr Fitton said: "We hope this is the beginning of an actual investigation of the legitimacy of Sen Kerry's awards by the navy and the Pentagon."
In an angry statement from the Kerry campaign headquarters, Michael Meehan, Mr Kerry's senior adviser, condemned the navy probe as an expensive waste of the Pentagon's resources.
"The facts are clear," said Mr Meehan. "The navy awarded John Kerry the Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Combat V and three Purple Hearts. This is a waste of taxpayers' dollars and the Pentagon's time, especially during wartime."
This reads like it's for real.
Norman, thanks for the link! It's the same reporter, Julian Coman, whose work was in the Australian paper in much shortened form, I think, and the Australian paper in fact had an indication at the bottom of its article that it was from the "Telegraph." The unnamed "official" speaking "privately" is the only thing of substance that's added, however, and I'm reluctant to read too much into that. "Authorised the inquiry" (note the British spelling) just means "forwarded it to the right folks" here, I'm afraid it's not even a preliminary determination on the merits.
But hey, it sure did seem to get a rise out of the Kerry campaign, didn't it? They need me to help them with their media spin, I think. "This letter from the DoD-IG is the equivalent of a clerk stamping 'received' on a bogus, crackpot letter written on toilet paper that was submitted by a raving right-wing extremist" that woulda been my party line, if I were them, because what they need to shoot down is the impression that the Navy has decided this is serious. I think that would have played better than, "This so-called 'inspector general' should have his boots on the ground in Afghanistan looking for bin Laden!" Then I'd look very confident, probably would even whistle, as I strode from the podium.
(5) Todd made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 10:45:53 PM | Permalink
I suspect, when all is said and done, the Navy investigation won't amount to a hill of beans. While the Silver Star citation will be corrected to remove the Combat V (from Kerry's web site), and something interesting may happen with regard to the Bronze Star citation (perhaps dumping the third version), I doubt much more will be done, although I can see the first Purple Heart being revoked considering the lack of an after-action report. But I think the Navy will try to stay as much out of this dispute as it can. I just can't see them interviewing a ton of guys about the circumstances surrounding these medals, let alone investigating Kerry's famous Kansas City meeting to discuss the assassination of U.S. Senators.
(6) Polaris made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:16:33 AM | Permalink
Here's the thing. Even the minor changes that you mention would be catastrophic to the Kerry campaign because he has put so much emphasis on the "truth" behind the "official Navy record". Even a minor change would suggest that Kerry has been less than honest.
That said, I think Beldar has made an important point. While I think the Navy will investigate (especially after their response has been made public), IMX Military Justice is more sure than swift. I expect that Kerry's record will (very privately...don't expect to hear a thing) be gone over with a fine-toothed comb....but I also expect the Navy to take it's time, election cycle or no.
(7) Paul H. made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:20:56 AM | Permalink
Ok, I should have re read the initial post more carefully. Judicial Watch did what we used to call "going to the IG" (Inspector General -- not sure what the Navy calls their IG branch).
Anybody military or non-military can make a complaint about almost anything military-related to the IG, and the IG is empowered and expected to look into it without fear or favor. So a file gets opened.
I think the top IG in each service branch is a 3 star, and he is deliberately placed in a rating scheme so as to be independent of outside influence. So the 3 SS citations may indeed be looked into and a single version settled on (the initial one, hopefully, unless it is proved to be inaccurate in details -- as may well be the case). Maybe the 1st Purple Heart too, although PH awards can be extremely subjective, with the application of seemingly specific criteria varying greatly depending on time and place.
But no 3-star got his rank by being the dimmest bulb on the post. I predict this particular investigation will be kept "close-hold" in a grip of steel until after the election.
The power and prestige of the IG will be enormously damaged if it is ever perceived to be involved in politics, and every general/flag officer and civilian political appointee in DoD must see this immediately.
(8) Todd made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 8:37:10 AM | Permalink
According to another poster elsewhere, Kerry's website has now changed the Silver Star citation to drop the Combat V. Not that the web site mentioned the change, of course.
Todd, I suspect they're confused. The citation itself doesn't mention the 'V,' it's the DD214. Took me a while to figure that out too. The docs themselves are both .pdf files, which could of course still be altered with some photoshopping, but ... that would be a very high-risk thing to do, given how many people have already downloaded copies of everything the Kerry site puts up. Their method of choice is just to "disappear" stuff without explanation ... nacht und nebel.
Or it could be that there was a text reference somewhere to the Silver Star with the 'V' on one of his web pages that summarize his decorations, and that they've changed that.
(10) d made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 11:49:27 AM | Permalink
Has anyone bothered to see if the three SS citations were typed using the same typewriter?
It might be interesting to check other documents too and see what typewriters were being used to generate the documents.
(11) Todd made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:05:06 PM | Permalink
Beldar, you're probably right. I went to the Kerry site but had trouble downloading the PDFs on my dial-up at home so I'll check tomorrow when I get back in the office and have access to a DSL. It's been a few weeks since I looked at the selected Kerry records on his web site and, at the time, I didn't know exactly what to look for.
I don't think there's a chance in hell that Kerry would alter the citations after putting them on his web site, BTW. That would be too duplicitous even for John Forbes Kerry, IMO.
(12) Paul H. made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:26:56 PM | Permalink
The DD 214 would have been made out by a personnel clerk somewhere here in the US, at whatever USN base or unit Kerry was nominally assigned to at the time of his final separation. They (or some centralized "outprocessing" station) would have prepared the DD 214.
Kerry may or may not have been present, but if (as I gather) he was in an inactive Reserve status, he almost certainly would not have been present. His records would have been used to outprocess him, and probably would have been merely one of a huge daily pile.
A thorough and experienced clerk (or a new clerk who was properly supervised) would have gone through the personnel file in detail to tabulate all the awards before listing on the 214. But there was probably some sort of summary document at the beginning of the records; such a summary might have been erroneous already but was used as a shortcut by the clerk. The clerk was certainly inexperienced and unsupervised, and either repeated an error already transcribed on such a summation, or else introduced one of his own.
But whoever prepared the original citation in Vietnam would have been far removed in time and space from this outprocessing. And that person would have been an experienced personnel clerk who had done many awards, and knew that SS's were not awarded with "V" devices. Thus the lack of an erroneous "V" in the original citation.
There's a good chance that Kerry never looked at the 214 in detail. Or perhaps he did notice it but never knew until much later that the award regulation didn't authorize a "V" for the SS. So I'm fairly sure that he did never did anything to help this particular "embellishment". And the DD 214 is not a definitive source for an award, unless perhaps the original citation was permanently lost (due to, say, destruction of an original personnel file in a warehouse fire).
I would say, however, that Kerry had to be certainly personally involved in the multiple years-later re-writings of the citation for the SS, regardless of whether one sees these re-writings as legitimate or not. They were certainly very unusual and are suggestive to me of "command influence" in a negative sense (as with the circumstances surrounding the SS award to LBJ in WWII).
(13) Larry made the following comment | Sep 21, 2004 8:51:55 AM | Permalink
Now Judicial Watch will ask for the review of Lt. Bush's service and honorable discharge. This could lead to reclassification and a dishonorable discharge for Bush. While a felon and a person not born in the US are ineligible to be president, a draft dodger and coward who would ask his men to do what he would not can be president with a dishonorable discharge.
(14) NEVILLE RAMDEHOLL made the following comment | Oct 3, 2004 2:56:18 PM | Permalink
SIR/ MADAM, I AGREE WITH THE NAVY TO LOOK INTO THIS MATTER THOROUGHLY. HAD THIS BEEN BUSH AS A REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE, AMERICA WOULD HAVE BEEN IN A TURMOIL WITH HEADLINES AT HOME AND ABROAD SCREAMING, 'BUSH FORGES PAPERS TO ATTAIN PRESIDENCY'THE DEMOCRATS ARE KEEPING QUIET WHEN DISCREPANCIES SHOW UP ON THEIR WEBSITES AND ON THEIR CANDIDATE. THERE IS SOMETHING FISHY WITH THE WARTIME RECORDS OF JOHN KERRY AND HADN'T IT BEEN FOR THE SWIFTBOAT VETS, THIS WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN EXPOSED. FORGERY AND SKULLDUGGERY HAVE BECOME THE NORM OF THE DEMS AND UNABASHEDLY SO. HERE WE HAVE A MARXIST/SOCIALIST COMMUNIST LEFTOVER FROM THE COLD WAR YEARS, WHO FRATERNIZED WITH THE ENEMY WHILST HIS FELLOW SOLDIERS WERE BEING BRUTALLY TORTURED AND BEATEN TO DEATH WITHIN THE WALLS OF THE HANOI HILTON. NOW HE COMES OUT OF THE WOODWORK TO TRY TO CLAIM THE HIGHEST OFFICE IN THE LAND TO IMPOSE HIS MARXIST IDEAS, IDEAS LEFTOVER FROM THE FALL OF THE BERLING WALL AND I HOPE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE REJECTS HIM. WHEN ASKED ABOUT HIS ACTIONS AFTER THE VIETNAM WAR, KERRY CYNICALLY AVOIDS THE ANSWERS BY ATTACKING HIS QUESTIONERS. WE NEVER HEAR A STRAIGHT ANSWER FROM. HIM. SO I AM CALLING ON MR. LIPSCOMB TO CONTINUE TO INFORM THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ON THE TRUTH. FOR HAD THIS BEEN DONE BY AN IMMIGRANT FORGING HIS PAPERS TO ATTAIN HIS CITIZENSHIP, HE OR SHE WOULD HAVE BEEN THROWN IN THE DEEPEST DUNGEON TO LANGUISH. THIS STORY IS COMPARABLE TO THE CBS FORGERY FIASCO. IT SEEMS THAT THERE ARE TWO STANDARDS HERE AND THE DEMOCRATS DON'T CARE ON HOW THEY ATTAIN POWER, JUST SO LONG AS KERRY BECOMES PRESIDENT. SO WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM A MARXIST/SOCIALIST COMMUNIST LEFTOVER FROM THE WOODWORK OF THE COLD WAR YEARS? THE CBS AND THE CITATION FORGERIES GOES TO SHOW HOW FAR THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY IS WILLING TO GO TO ELECT KERRY AS PRESIDENT.
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