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Friday, August 27, 2004

Brandishing the "liar finger" in the SwiftVets vs. Kerry dispute

It's been my privilege to practice law for twenty-four years now, almost exclusively in a civil litigation practice that has always had me in the midst of disputes over facts and opinions, and frequently in courtrooms trying to resolve those disputes.  In that time, I've yet to have a "Perry Mason moment" in which I've leapt to my feet, brandished my index finger at a witness, and shouted, "You're lying!"  It's almost always a singularly stupid tactic for a lawyer and a disasterous example of overplaying one's hand.

With that frame of reference, it occurs to me that today's appearance of another eyewitness speaking out on the subject of the Bay Hap River action and the Rassmann rescue, Butch Vorphal, demonstrates some points worth pondering about the list of "Dramatis Personae" in the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy, and the various subheadings and cross-references among them.  Those points, in turn, lead me to some gentle ranting about what strikes me as too great a readiness among both sides and their supporters to brandish the "liar finger" at the other.


The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an organization that I've generally referred to with the shorthand reference of "SwiftVets," claim over 250 men among their membership — which by definition "is limited to former military officers and enlisted men who served in Vietnam on U.S. Navy 'Swift Boats' or in affiliated commands."  All of these men have taken affirmative steps to align themselves with the SwiftVets and at least some of their explicit goals.

I and others have, by contrast, used the term "Swiftees" to refer to all of the men who served on the Swift Boats during the Vietnam War — which is a much larger group than the still-considerable number who've stepped forward to join the SwiftVets.  In this arbitrary but useful terminology, both Sen. John Kerry and Adm. Bill Schachte, for example, are "Swiftees" — but neither is a "SwiftVet." 

There are also apparent eyewitnesses to some of the key events under dispute who are neither Swiftees nor SwiftVets — Jim Rassmann, for example, who was an Army lieutenant; so, too, Jim Russell, who's described as a Navy lieutenant but appears to have been a PsyOps officer who likely was part of a different command structure.

Among both the SwiftVets and the broader group of Swiftees, many of them, one presumes, may have no other connection to the dispute than having been in the same unit (Coastal Division One) in which John Kerry also served — that is, they may not have been present during any of the events out of which Kerry's medals were awarded, and/or they may not have ever met John Kerry while he was in Vietnam.  John O'Neill is one such example.

Some Swiftees, like Adm. Schachte and now Butch Vorphal, are not among the SwiftVets, yet have given their recollections of events that are decidedly unflattering to Sen. Kerry's war record.  Other non-SwiftVet Swiftees, like Rich McCann and Rich Baker, have expressed their support for Sen. Kerry's candidacy without having yet weighed in on any of the factual disputes now being waged.  Some non-SwiftVet Swiftees, like Bill Rood, have done the converse — that is, offered up factual recollections that support the Kerry team's version of events, without having broadly endorsed Kerry's candidacy.  And some non-SwiftVet Swiftees, like Robert E. Lambert, may dislike and disapprove of Sen. Kerry, yet offer factual testimony favorable to him on one or another of the incidents being debated.

So it's hard to put these men into neat columns of names under clear subject headings, or even to draw a Venn diagram in which they'd appear as points among partially overlapping oval fields.

The press report of Mr. Vorphal's recollections that appeared today demonstrates that even among the SwiftVets — who by definition have taken affirmative steps to join those opposed to Sen. Kerry as a prospective Commander in Chief — there may be many important, competent eyewitnesses whose first-hand accounts of crucial events the SwiftVets' leaders have yet to find out about, much less publicize.  And the same is undoubtedly true of the Kerry campaign, which is also finding and publicizing new witnesses on a near-daily basis.

The notion here that either side in this dispute is orchestrating a well-coordinated and effective conspiracy of deliberate liars and lies therefore strikes me as highly improbable.  The public spokesmen for both sides are obviously still scrambling to add names to the list of Dramatis Personae, grasp even the roughest outlines of the facts and opinions of these various players, and adjust their talking points and strategies accordingly.

So what's going on now bears only the most remote resemblance to an organized presentation of a courtroom trial after comprehensive pretrial discovery.  For those, like me, who are trained in the particular and peculiar disciplines of that method of truth-seeking, this is a frustrating and chaotic process to observe.


But that chaos makes me even less willing than I would be in the more organized setting of civil litigation to start pointing the "liar finger" at any of these men, or to posit the existance of well-organized and competent ringleaders who are directing their efforts as part of an organized "smear campaign."

To the contrary — even moreso than I would to members of the general public — I'm inclined to grant all of the participants at least an initial presumption of veracity and good faith.  Remember, please, that we're talking here about a diverse set of individuals whose single common attribute is that they served this country in uniform during wartime.  Every man jack of them, on either "side" of this controversy, deserves respect for that much at a minimum.

One of my recent pro-Kerry commenters, in the midst of some other fairly astute arguments, has indulged in one that I think is profoundly unwise.  He insists that this is an "either-or" situation, in which one must conclude that all of the pro-Kerry Swiftees-plus-other-eyewitnesses are liars, or that all of them are truthtellers whose accounts must be accepted as entitled to conclusive weight.  Well, that's just not the way things work, even in courtrooms, and certainly not in politics. 

Rather, to decide what weight any individual's recollections and opinions should be entitled to, one must start with much more mundane considerations.  What was the individual's opportunity to observe?  What training and experience did he have, or lack, to appreciate and correctly understand what he thought he was observing?  Precisely what facts does he claim to be relating?  Are they internally consistent with one another?  If he's rendering an opinion, what qualifications does he have or lack which might lead one to credit or be skeptical of that opinion? 

As a lawyer whose daily job it's been to serve as the proponent of many witnesses and the opponent of many others, only after I've exhausted my efforts to get answers to these questions — and to reconcile as many conflicts and inconsistencies as I can using them — do I then move on to questions of veracity like "what motive does this witness have to lie?" or "what biases has this witness displayed that might affect his credibility?" 

For most of these men — and especially for new ones who pop suddenly into public view, with a big splash like Bill Rood or a little one like Butch Vorphal — I'm a long, long way from having enough contextual information to render anything remotely approaching a well-informed judgment as to whether any of them are "liars"!

So:  To my readers who are SwiftVet partisans, and alike to those who are Kerry partisans, I ask that you temper your passions a bit, and that you let the better angels of your nature hold you back from pointing the "liar finger" too quickly at any, much less all, of these supporting cast members on one side or the other of this great drama.  And if you see me violating my own advice on this point, please don't hesitate to point it out to me.

I'm trying to retain some objectivity, despite my obvious leanings, in assimilating and processing all this information.  And both as an observer, and even as a pundit-advocate for one side, I think I'll do a more effective job if I try to keep my "liar finger" mostly in my pocket, instead of in these witnesses' faces.

Posted by Beldar at 07:34 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Brandishing the "liar finger" in the SwiftVets vs. Kerry dispute and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» The Kerry Grill: William Schachte Comes Forward from Les Jones Blog

Tracked on Aug 28, 2004 11:03:54 AM


(1) Todd made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 8:13:27 PM | Permalink

A good point, Bill. I haven't assumed that any of the participants herein are lying, with the exception of Kerry, since he's already been caught in various lies. But guys like Rassmann and Rood are, as far as I know, honorable, and I commend Rassmann for his loyalty in standing by a man he feels saved his life. That's the right thing to do.

Conversely, Gardner obviously has an axe to grind, but that does not perforce mean he's lying.

What I am a bit frustrated with is the obvious attempt by the MSM to pre-emptively conclude in Kerry's favor before that can fairly be done, but I guess blogs like yours are the antidote.

(2) OtherTodd made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 8:40:44 PM | Permalink

While you may be keeping your 'liar finger' in your pocket, as a lawyer what do you do with a witness who has given differing accounts of the same situation.

Kerry has given at least 3 differing versions of the Bronze Star incident. The account in his authorized biography, the eulogy account on or around 1998, and the citation for the Bronze Star itself. There may be more.

Without going blog-crazy on this, there are significant differences from account to account, for example was there a second mine blast?

What is also significant is that none of Kerry's versions accord with the recollections of others at the scene. For example, in Lambert's version, PCF3 is tied up between 2 Swiftboats and brought back to base. In one of Kerry's versions he has PCF3 tied to his boat, the line snaps, and it is retied to his boat and PCF94 tows PCF3 to base.

Nobody on a Swift Boat other than Kerry definitively states that they were under fire during the rescue on the river. One crewman says "I was under the impression" and that "the enemy always fired under those circumstances", but that's the extent of corroboration. Rassman's account includes 'enemy fire', but he was, arguably, not in the best position to determine that and may have realistically mistaken covering fire (which had tracer rounds) as enemy fire.

In any event, we know that the boats weren't turned into Swiss cheese and that nobody was injured due to enemy small arms fire during those 90 minutes.

So, while there is more information coming out somewhat in dribs and drabs, the one thing that should have happened by now is a strong verification of Kerry's story.

If for no other reason that there are several to choose from.

That hasn't happened.


(3) OtherTodd made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 8:42:15 PM | Permalink

quick addendum - this being Kerry and all maybe you should go for the French:


(4) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 8:54:28 PM | Permalink

Are conspiracies possible?

The anti-Kerry vet's stories mesh with minor discrepancies.

The KBOBs stories do not match in many vital details. Either each other's stories, Kerry's stories, or the stories of others present.

Two possiblities - the anti-K vets are better coached. Or the KBOBs are making up important but differing details.

Take the Alston misrepresentation. Didn't any of the KBOBs complain about the image vs the reality?

In any event the best case against Kerry's version is Kerry's version. Which version? Choose.


Steal this sig:

There is a big difference between William Calley and John Kerry. William Calley is a proven war criminal. For John Kerry we only have his word as an officer and a gentleman.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

The Ads: Video links

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 8:59:53 PM | Permalink

My post was directed to comments about the supporting cast, not Sen. Kerry himself. The entire point of the SwiftVets' allegations is to persuade the public that Sen. Kerry is "Unfit for Command" — it's what lawyers would call the "ultimate issue of fact." Given the nature of the case they're trying to make, it's unrealistic for anyone to expect the SwiftVets not to point the "liar finger" at him from beginning to end.

And of course, it's unrealistic for anyone to expect Sen. Kerry and his supporters not to resist that characterization vigorously.

It's not a foregone conclusion in logical terms that Sen. Kerry and his supporters couldn't have resisted that characterization without also pointing the "liar finger" back. They could have said, "These guys are mistaken, or confused, or they're relying on second-hand information that's not reliable." But perhaps pointing the "liar finger" back was a foregone conclusion in political terms; in any event, it's not a surprise. Their ugly problem is that they lack a single target to point at, and so they quickly decided to point the liar finger at everyone who's provided any support to the SwiftVets' allegations.

(6) OtherTodd made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:05:05 PM | Permalink

fwiw - I've found www.pcf45.com to be the least political, most helpful site for info on Swift boats in general.

It's a site put up by a vet back in '02 and is strictly photos, descriptions of operations, good maps of rivers involved, that sort of stuff.

I don't think Kerry or O'Neill are mentioned by name in the whole site, which is extensive.

Reading through it, it becomes obvious why O'Neill said what he said with regard to Cambodia and why it's hugely improbable that Kerry could have been in Cambodia.

(7) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:06:00 PM | Permalink

Other Todd,

Interesting we both come up with a similar critique.

BTW a military note:

I have never seen even for "fun" men pin medals on their work clothes. Normally award ceremonies are dress whites: summer or dress blues: winter.

Medals on dungarees?

Of course I was on in the "big ship Navy" DLG(N)-25 so it may have been different on boats.

I think the medal situation is part of the hold Kerry has on the men under his command and Rassman.


Steal this sig:

There is a big difference between William Calley and John Kerry. William Calley is a proven war criminal. For John Kerry we only have his word as an officer and a gentleman.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

The Ads: Video links

(8) GT made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:19:38 PM | Permalink

Beldar you may find this interesting

Americans increasingly believe President Bush's re-election campaign is behind the ads attacking Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam experience, a poll found.

(9) anon made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:22:08 PM | Permalink

Why won't Kerry release his military records? And why doesn't the MSM insist that he do so? I can understand them being skeptical of the SwiftVets allegations. But I cannnot understand why they aren't pressuring Kerry to come clean. He might be forced to do so if every news story on the controversy concluded with the line: "Senator Kerry continues to refuse to authorize the full release of his military records, and the Kerry campaign will not explain what the Senator feels he has to hide from the American people about his military service record."

(10) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:24:10 PM | Permalink

Some one in KBOBs had to know Alston was in the hospital for at least a month following his wound. Why did they remain silent? Whty did the Rev. say nothing?

Sure looks like at least the outline of a conspiracy.

(11) Todd made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:29:55 PM | Permalink

GT, the link you provided didn't direct me to any poll, but I wouldn't put much stock in such a poll anyway. The Kerry Campaign is clearly running scared on this story. The last thing they want are ads and distinguished veterans all over the airwaves impugning Kerry's Vietnam record.

We will likely here more "stories" in the upcoming weeks about how the ads are hurting Bush and helping Kerry. Let's face it: when a campaign tells you how much they're being helped by a story, what they're really saying is, "Make it stop!"

Since the nation is at war and Kerry's only chance of election is making himself seem like an acceptable commander in chief, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are a clear threat to his election, and he'll do anything possible to shut them up. The SBVFTs look to me like they're in it for the long haul.

(12) anon made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:41:35 PM | Permalink

One more point: there isn't a scintilla of evidence that the SwiftVets are a front for the Bush campaign. It's pretty obvious that they're motivated by deeply-held personal convictions about Kerry's character, not political partisanship. Coordination with the Bush campaign is hardly needed, and since it would be illegal it would be a huge unnecessary risk. Rove is not stupid. It is not illegal coordination, of course, for a donor to contribute to both a campaign and a 527, or for a lawyer to provide legal advice to both. The Kerry people know this. That's why, when they make the claim that the SwiftVets are a front for Bush, they are clearly lying.

(13) Glen made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 9:49:50 PM | Permalink

Using the trial model, another flaw in this blogging process is that with each new revelation there is a tendency to end discovery and rush to the jury room. The resulting arguments destroy the group fisking which was previously cooperative on some level.

Trolls and near-trolls have often been effective in high-jacking the thread as well as the emotions resulting in loud repetitious confusion which disrupts the conversation. I suspect there are a fair number of anti-Kerry trolls on the pro-Kerry sites as well. If comments were primarily those which serve to fisk the starting article or resulting comments by making corrections with sources this is a very useful process. This not being a controlled process like discovery, I don't expect that to happen on the web. I have noted the value of those with military or legal experience to the proceedings. Others are reminded that a question being raised may have already been answered elsewhere. So evidence gathering has been pretty effective along with pointing out inconsistencies.

To me the clearest loser (other than Kerry) is the MSM media. Fox executives were smart enough to exploit the bias of the media as a business strategy and their success proves that there are a great many people with agreed with them. This SwiftVet matter, it seems to me, is not about Kerry being the emperor with no clothes, but the media. Kerry IMHO is more the reverse, a visible, but empty, suit, a la Claude Rains or Chevy Chase in The Invisible Man. When the full story is known, the emotions die down, and books begin to be written about this the media's reputation should be destroyed. They have not only been shown to be ideologues, but lazy, ignorant and remarkably inept in their basic skills.

The real question to comes is what happens to subscriptions and ratings. Ultimately, it seems the true score will be counted in dollars and that is the only thing that will force their hand. It will be the stockholders, not the editors.

(14) GT made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 10:17:02 PM | Permalink

Maybe this time?

(15) George Turner made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 10:42:10 PM | Permalink

I agree that it's doubtful that most of Kerry's supporters are lying, but then that doesn't mean they're statements represent the truth either. If a bomb goes off and your whole unit opens up with covering fire, as do you, it's natural to see all sorts of motion and shadows out there and put rounds on target, remaining pretty convinced that you'd been getting shot at, or at least someone else was.

As many have observed, especially from WW-II, it's fairly common to have one enemy sniper take a shot and then have the whole beach full of Marines open up on the whole jungle, with officers desperately trying to get everyone to stop shooting. Obviously they think they're shooting at something or they would quit on their own.

So I'd say that at least some of the crew supporting Kerry assumed at the time that there was incoming fire, and you'd have to make a logical, court-room type case to convince them that it was highly improbable, given the close range and the apparent lack of ANYTHING getting hit.

And if someone else on the boat turned around and made a comment about incoming fire, there you have it. Though they didn't personally see it their buddy firing on the opposite bank sure did, and boy were they lucky they didn't take one in the back.

On the flip side, it's rare for someone to get shot at and not realize it, given the load cracks of supersonic bullets whizzing past, the loud and the visible effects of high-velocity impacts on boat, metal, windows, etc. Not to mention the acoustic sounds as bullets slam into metal, ricochet, and all that.

And on top of it all, I have yet to see one document giving any estimate of enemy numbers, which is surprising considering that all the days previous contacts had estimates of enemy troops strengths.

It lacks the information of which bank they were on, how many there seem to be, and which way they're headed, which you'd need for any follow-up action, or to provide any kind of warning. However, someone more knowledgeable of swift boat procedures at the time would have to weigh in on this point.

(16) GT made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 10:42:25 PM | Permalink


I don't know if I am the commenter you refer to but let me say this.

I don't think that we need to say that everyone is a liar on one side or the other. I am quite willing to accept that different people have different recollections and that neither side is necessarily lying.

The problem is that if all agreed on this we would have no debate. If the Swifties had said, "Hey, we have a different recollection than Kerry does but he may be right and we accept that many people and several documents support his view although we also have witnesses and other documents we think support ours", who would have cared? There would have been no debate at all.

Unfortunately one side did say that the other was lying. The Swifties accused Kerry of lying, and did so repeatedly. As you noted in another post the Swifties did not want to accuse anyone else of lying but it was implicit in thier accusation. If Kerry was lying about the events on the Bronze Star then the 4-6 witnesses that publicly support him must also be lying. Some posters, probably with too much time on their hands, have tried to come up with scenarios where Kerry is lying but none of his supporters is. That kind of nonsense is limited to the Internet though and would be laughed out of any TV program where it was mentioned.

Of course this never became an issue because the so-called liberal media totally failed to research this in its first weeks. If Stephanopolous, to mention one, had bothered to do some reading before he had O'Neill in his show he would have pinned him and forced him to say whether all those supporting Kerry were liars as well. But that never happened.

In the last week the media finally woke up and has basically demolished the core of the accusations. Although the true believers will continue knitting conspiracy theories in the mainstream media the tide has turned. The cumulative effect of more pro-Kerry witnesses and more pro-Kerry documents has seen to that.

Unfortunately the damage has been done. Maybe the poll I linked to before is an indication of a backlash. I can only hope so. But I'm not confident.

The idea that both sides are at fault is disingenous at best. The Swifties accused Kerry of lying and never allowed for the possibility that different recollections could be explained in any other way.

(17) Al made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 10:49:12 PM | Permalink

Half of the wishy-washyness is that they aren't getting asked similar questions. We're starting to see people hone in on the key points, but many of the previous witnesses haven't answered the current set of questions....

Like (for the BS incident):
Roughly how long was the enemy fire after the mine?
Roughly how many enemy if you _had_ to guess?
How long until Rassamun was pulled aboard?
Does this description sound accurate? "5000 meters of fire..."

(18) anon made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 12:00:36 AM | Permalink

In the case of Kerry's 1st Purple Heart, it's pretty hard to see how the differing accounts could be reconciled, since Runyon and Zaladonis claim Schachte wasn't there. It seems clear either they are lying, or Schachte is. This one is pretty easy to resolve, since the claim by Runyon and Zaladonis that Kerry was the only officer in the skimmer is unbelievable.

(19) Polaris made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 12:11:04 AM | Permalink


I have said the physical evidence calls Kerry a liar and I stand by that. However, I don't think that the other witnesses have necessarily lied (although it is possible that many are merely mistaken). If I have implied otherwise, I apologize.

(20) Birkel made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 12:22:38 AM | Permalink

I too am trained in the law and agree with your analysis as to courtroom analysis. However, that seems to matter only to the extent that the participants are interested in divining truth with a capital 'T.' Judges and people with hands on Bibles are concerned with truth but people in the political realm are concerned with 'what sticks' to an opponent.

When we keep in mind the polarization of the electorate then, it is likely the participants in the discussion will devolve to lower standards. That is what the reputable blogs will avoid. Those blogs will be rewarded with readership while the ones that offer partisan spin will likely come and go with the political winds. That is exactly the history of newspapers in this country. The ones that published truth gained market share. Others faded. A dichotomy arose between serious publications and grocery store checkout-line publications and people know the difference. Everyone looks at the Star and National Enquirer but few will claim to purchase them. If you (and those I find trustworthy) continue to operate above board, the same market division will occur on the blogosphere.

Of course, the limit cost of market entry makes the blogosphere a nearly perfect market. Cost normally weeds out poor quality in traditional business situations. However, price on the internet is not a constraint. Therefore, the time that people spend on a given website will determine the relative value people associate with that site. Fortunately this is easily measurable. Businesses who choose to advertise based on hits, length of stay, number of pages opened, etc. will probably direct their marketing dollars to the best, more trustworthy sites. On that, you, Beldar, should not worry. People come to this site and stick around or at least check back several times a day.

The progression of any business will be dictated by the market. As long as there is good information available consumers will choose, on average, wisely. Never fear Bledar, you are doing a good job of conforming to the market by providing clear-headed analysis without 'too much' conjecture. Just keep producing a good product and the consumer will come.

Regards to you and yours,


(21) Dean Esmay made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 2:37:05 AM | Permalink

Very well put, Beldar.

This to me is the greatest frustration of the whole process and the way the press has handled it. Rather than an even-handed examination of the presented data, we have ... well, the chaotic mess we have.

Anyone who thinks he "knows" one side or the other is lying is mistaken. Even in Kerry's case: he may well have just had confused, cloudy memories on some things, or been telling some tall tales that he didn't think were serious. You know, a 25 year old punk in the early 1970s spouts a bunch of bulls**t he didn't witness but did believe, then in his 40s a Senator brags about a trip to Cambodia thinking, "well I'm pretty sure I was there" or somesuch and so forth.

We will never get to the bottom of the medal business, and even bringing them up was a mistake by the SBVT. But of course the very fact that they did in some ways speaks to their own sincerity: if this were carefully politically calculated, they would never have brought that up, but instead some of their members believed it so they brought it forward.

I don't know, politically you may have to give the Kerry people more credit for intelligence (if ruthlessness) for their chosen tactic of trying to put this all on Bush. Kind of deflects the whole thing, doesn't it?

(22) Birkel made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 5:47:36 AM | Permalink

Nice try Dean(troll) Esmay,
That was a wonderful way of deflecting the poll results of the last week or two with the Democratic talking points. It's hardly useful to respond to an article that encourages everyone to keep an open mind with the talking points. After all, because they are talking points they are necessarily closed minded. Ah well, better luck next time with that 'argument.'

Otherwise, it is possible we'll get to the bottom of things. That is to say, the truth may be discoverable in the long term. But as Keynes said "In the long term we're all dead." Whether we discover things in an appropriate time frame is relevant, but potentially impossible. So long as Kerry refuses to release his records we may not know truth in the abstract sense.

However, as Beldar will surely confirm, the rules of discovery were created to stop one party from withholding what another requests for exactly this reason. There is a presumption of innocence but the burden of proof would certainly shift if Kerry continues to withhold evidence that only he controls. Is that fair? Absolutely. One may reasonably assume the fact a person is unwilling to reveal is an uncomfortable fact. Sorry to the Dems but that would be true regardless of the matter at hand. If it's uncomfortable but not relevant to the matter at hand (bed wetting, venereal disease, etc.) and Kerry chooses to keep it hidden it's his decision but still weighs against his veracity on the point being challenged.

(23) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 6:28:44 AM | Permalink

GT wrote,

I don't know if I am the commenter you refer to but let me say this.

It was, and you're welcome to. I don't consider you a troll, and genuinely value your and a few other Kerry supporters' civil comments on my blog to keep it from becoming an echo chamber for SwiftVet supporters.

Unfortunately one side did say that the other was lying. The Swifties accused Kerry of lying, and did so repeatedly.

The SwiftVets (not all "Swiftees," which includes Kerry's supporters) have indeed branded Kerry a liar. They've not accused his entire side of lying, however, and that's an important distinction.

As you noted in another post the Swifties did not want to accuse anyone else of lying but it was implicit in their accusation.

No, it's not implicit. It's not the only, or even the most likely, explanation for the differences in factual accounts given by members of the supporting cast on Kerry's and SwiftVets' respective sides. It's exactly that overgeneralization and imprecision — from proponents of both sides — that my original post here was intended as a polite rant against.

If Kerry was lying about the events on the Bronze Star then the 4-6 witnesses that publicly support him must also be lying. Some posters, probably with too much time on their hands, have tried to come up with scenarios where Kerry is lying but none of his supporters is.

Although the SwiftVets have from the start used, frequently and deliberately, the words "lied" and "liar," I nevertheless think that the more accurate words for Kerry's behavior, as actually alleged by the SwiftVets with respect to the Bronze Star/third Purple Heart incidents, would be "dishonest" or "deceitful."

It's entirely possible to conclude that Kerry was dishonest and deceitful — in conflating his rice-or-shrapnel butt-wound from the rice explosion with his elbow bruise later in the PCF 3 mining incident, and/or in conflating reports of heavy enemy fire and enemy casualties earlier in the mission with that during the later mining — without also concluding that men like Jim Russell or Robert Lambert are deliberately lying now. To look at Kerry's culpability, one must look beyond just the question of whether there was or wasn't incoming enemy fire at the moment he plucked Rassmann from the water.

In the last week the media finally woke up and have basically demolished the core of the accusations.

Again, sir, I think you diminish your persuasive force as a commenter here when you make such dubious overgeneralizations. It's like saying "all the documents and all the eyewitnesses support Kerry."

Although the true believers will continue knitting conspiracy theories in the mainstream media the tide has turned. The cumulative effect of more pro-Kerry witnesses and more pro-Kerry documents has seen to that.

I am unaware that the mainstream media (as distinguished from, say, conservative radio and TV talkshows) have ever displayed an anti-Kerry tide. To the contrary, the mainstream media has been resolutely skeptical from the start about the specifics of the SwiftVets' claims. Its members continue to be skeptical, but when I read something like Lisa Myers' interview of Adm. Schachte, I still have hope that their collective minds aren't yet closed.

Finally, regarding the poll: Given that something like 35-40 percent of voters view themselves as absolutely and irrevocably committed to Sen. Kerry (or perhaps more accurately, against President Bush) already, I'd be stunned if very many fewer than that weren't also irrevocably committed to the notion that the SwiftVets are Dubya's tools. Those folks are impermeable to the facts and not interested in reexamining their assumptions. (And yes, they have their counterparts on the right, of course.) Listening to the Kerry camp's insistence that the SwiftVets' attacks are helping him reminds me of Roy Horn petting and praising his white tiger.

(24) GT made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 8:56:22 AM | Permalink


Thanks for the response.

We disagree on several things but I'll start with the most important. I claim that if the SwiftVets accuse Kerry of lying they must be accusing his supporters of lying as well.

You respond:

It's not the only, or even the most likely, explanation for the differences in factual accounts given by members of the supporting cast on Kerry's and SwiftVets' respective sides.

But you provide no support for this. You just say so with no proof of any kind. This is not just about Rassman. There are some 10-15 direct eyewitnesses supporting Kerry in the different events, and 5-7 in the BS event alone (Kerry, his crew, Russell, Langhofer, Lambert, Rassman). They were in different boats and saw this from different angles. And nobody has been able to explain how all these people say the same thing as Kerry yet only one, Kerry, is a liar or dishonest or however you want to describe him.

As for the rest.

On the media: I think they did a terrible job analyzing this although they seemed to have picked up a bit latelye. I read Lisa Myers interview with Schachte but as Schachte says there is no proof he was there. Myers also interviewed Zaladonis who categoricaly denies Schachte was in the skimmer. Accroding to him Schachte may have been in the Swift Boat but not the skimmer. This is the same Runyon says and Kerry says. 3 vs 1. Again, if Kerry is lying so are the rest. If Kerry is simply confused or misremembers this then it would be strange that two other people misremember exactly the same way.

On what has been proven: Again we disgaree. IMO this is, analytically, over unless the SwiftVets can find supporting documentation. The core accusation, that Kerry lied, has been demolished IMO. I find the 'every line of testimony must agree 100%' approach silly in these cases but I'm sure many on the Anti Kerry side will continue with this for a long time.

On the polls: The importance of the poll is not the absolute number but the trend which shows a pro Kerry move the last week. But like I said I think the damage is done.

(25) vnjagvet made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:02:38 AM | Permalink


Any links to the internals regarding veterans' opinions on this case? Or independent/undecided voters?

They are the only demographics that count IMO. The committed will not be moved, and as the Swift Vets proved, it doesn't take alot of resources to start a pretty powerful campaign.

The Brinkly comments Beldar cites today are huge. Someone is going to follow up on this if for no other reason than "blind ambition".

Sometimes career motivation trumps ideology. And it might yet prove Kerry right on some of these issues.

But no matter the outcome of the fact finding mission, if any, the major incontestable fact of Kerry's 1971 testimony remains. Even as we write, I'll wager focus groups are looking at this testimony. The overwhelming reaction in my opinion will be anti Kerry, especially when contrasted with his "reporting for duty" theme.

Selected short subjects will be made and presented on local television stations all over the country for the price of infomercials on a daily basis. The theme: The ultimate Kerry flip flop.

(26) GT made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:17:01 AM | Permalink


To be clear, I have always been referring to the medals accusations, not to Cambodia or the 1971 interview. I will let others fight those issues if they care.

I tend to agree though, with those that say that the SwiftVets made a mistake in the order of the ads. Now that there are so many reports ion the media saying the SwiftVets have no proof for what they say chances are many people will think the same applies to the 1971 events when they are of a very different nature. I think people have a limited amount of interest in these issues and they are beginning to get tired of it. Next week's convention will push it out and absent some new information I don't think the Swift vets will remain as prominent in the next few weeks.

If there are bad job numbers new Friday, like last month, and you combine it with the looming 1000 casualties in Iraq I think people will move on.

We'll see.

(27) Todd made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:23:31 AM | Permalink

GT, I think you're overstating the case regarding Kerry's lying. No one, so far as I know, including the Swiftees, has claimed that Kerry is lying about every aspect of every operation. The claim, rather, is that Kerry lied about some things related to, inter alia, his acquisition of medals.

Now, it is possible that Kerry isn't actually lying about being under gunfire while rescuing Rassmann but instead is merely mistaken. In that case, the Swiftees would also be mistaken in their belief that he was, in fact, lying about that.

A broad view of the evidence adduced thus far regarding the Bronze Star incident, in fact, supports the notion, in my view, that the Swift boats were NOT under fire (based on the physical evidence) but that a great many people mistakenly thought they were under fire at the time. That makes them mistaken, not liars.

In short, while the story of Thurlow et al. makes more sense than the story of Lambert, Kerry et al.,the fact that the two different sides of the debate disagree doesn't mean that anyone is lying - on this specific point (whether the Swift boats were under enemy fire).

As a litigator who has taken hundreds of depositions, I can tell you my own experience is that witnesses to an event almost always differ, but seldom do they lie (in my experience). A lie is a deliberate falsification, and I haven't seen any evidence thus far that any of these witnesses are deliberately falsifying their stories. But the fact remains that the story told generally by Lambert et al. and recounted in the citations doesn't make sense when juxtaposed next to the fact that there was no physical damage other than 3 bullet holes in Thurlow's boat.

(28) GT made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:31:56 AM | Permalink

Todd, you may be right. I am not denying it.

But that is NOT what the SwiftVets have said. Let me repeat something I wrote before:

If the Swifties had said, "Hey, we have a different recollection than Kerry does but he may be right and we accept that many people and several documents support his view although we also have witnesses and other documents we think support ours", who would have cared?

See this ic CRUCIAL. If the SwiftVets accept tha Kerry may not be lying and all this is simply due to diffeernt people having different recollections their whole case crumbles. Nobody is going to debate that.

Tha is the big difference beytween the kerry side and the Swift Vet side. The Kerry side does not need to say the SwiftVets are lying to win this (even though some may have) but the Swift Vets do need to.

If both sides agreed this was an honest misunderstanding and no one lied, who do you think gets the upper hand?

(29) vnjagvet made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:32:21 AM | Permalink


Thanks for your candor. For a number of reasons, I cannot isolate issues like that in my evaluation of the SBVT project. I better understand your perspective.

(30) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:48:57 AM | Permalink

GT commented,

I read Lisa Myers interview with Schachte but as Schachte says there is no proof he was there. Myers also interviewed Zaladonis who categoricaly denies Schachte was in the skimmer.

Can you not see how silly it is to say in two back-to-back sentences that Schachte's first-hand eyewitness recollections are "no proof" when you then immediately credit Zaladonis' first-hand eyewitness recollections?

Both men's recollections — if they were sworn — would be competent evidence in court.

When you say "no evidence," you mean "no documents" — as if Adm. Schachte were supposed to reach into his pants pocket and say, "Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I have a parking ticket that was issued to me on 02Dec68 proving that at 0326 hours my skimmer was illegally parked in Cam Ranh Bay."

Adm. Schachte explained why he didn't expect that documents for this mission exist — there was no enemy fire, nor were there American casualties, either of which would have triggered a requirement for a paper trail. But both types of paper trail should have been created if there was a Purple Heart-worthy incident. The backup for Kerry's first Purple Heart — which his campaign hasn't produced, other than the page with J.C. Carreon's signature — ought to include a casualty report and an after-action report, as I understand the system. Kerry won't sign Standard Form 180. So the "proof" you seek — meaning documentary evidence, which is only one type of proof — should exist if Kerry's PH was justified, but has been stonewalled by the Kerry campaign.

And you fault Adm. Schachte for that?!? You think that diminishes his credibility?

Another legitimate type of "proof" — besides first-hand testimony and documentary evidence — is circumstantial evidence. Here, Adm. Schachte offers "proof" aplenty, for which the Kerry camp has no answers. Schachte invented this type of training. He always, as a matter of routine, accompanied the green trainee officers because the whole point was to train them. The missions always consisted of him, the trainee officer, and one enlisted man to run the motor. Those are the circumstances; they make common sense. Lawyers regularly win cases with nothing but circumstantial evidence that juries — using their common sense — choose to credit over contrary eyewitness accounts that don't hang together.

At this point, it's incumbent on Mr. Zaladonis to explain, for example, why there were two enlisted men on the boat in his version, and why there wasn't a training officer. He hasn't; one presumes that's because he can't. And that leaves powerful, unrebutted circumstantial evidence to suggest — not that Zaladonis is necessarily lying — but that his oral testimony isn't credible or entitled to probative weight. Maybe he's confused; maybe his memory has faded; maybe without intending to lie, his recollections are being "colored" by a chance to be in the national news; or maybe someone's slipped him an envelope stuffed with $100 bills or has promised him the postmaster's job in his home town, and he's therefore lying through his teeth. I'm not interested in exhausting all of those possibilities to the Nth degree, however, because Zaladonis isn't running for President, and "confused" is a satisfactory and charitable explanation.

(31) Todd made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:50:02 AM | Permalink

GT, I think we have conflated two things here.

First, as to the lying the Swiftees are accusing Kerry of, I think that is more focused on his Senate testimony and his allegations of war crimes, as well as his anti-war activities. Those seem to be the statements/actions that have really rankled the Swiftees.

IIRC, the accusations regarding his performance in Vietnam fall more into the category of being disingenuous, exaggerating, etc. I lent my copy of "Unfit for Command," so someone else who has the book handy can either back me up or refute me on that point.

There are allegations of lying in the first part - such as Kerry saying he was under fire when he was injured and obtained his first Purple Heart - by the basic thrust of that part of the book is that Kerry "gamed" the system and abused a system based upon self-reporting and trust.

Here's another example: Kerry filming his "exploits" while in Vietnam. This doesn't involving "lying" per se, but it does say something about his state of mind while there.

So I don't agree with you that the Swiftees need to prove that Kerry was lying in order to necessarily prevail. What they need to do, and are doing, is raise doubts about his judgment, motives, etc. If they prove he's lying - and they already have on the first Purple Heart and the Cambodia incident - then so much the better.

(32) GT made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:57:28 AM | Permalink


When you say "no evidence," you mean "no documents"

Yes, exactly. Sorry, sometimes when one types you end up not being as clear as you would if this were a face to face conversation.

And I am not saying Schachte is lying. Sorry if I wasn't clear on that. I am saying that his testimony is contradicted by the testimony of three other people. 3 vs 1. If you choose to believe Schachte over the other 3 that is fine. I'm not trying to convince anyone one way or the other. I have my opinion and others have theirs.


So we are rewriting history now, huh? So the SwiftVets did not accuse Kerry of lying about the medals?

OK, whatever. I don't think there is more I can add.

(33) Todd made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 10:12:03 AM | Permalink

Bill makes a good point about Zaldonis' testimony and Schachte's testimony. Lawyers are allowed, at trial, to adduce evidence of "careful or customary habits or practices," which would include things like "I always lock the front door so, even though I don't remember doing it that night, I'm sure I did it" or, in Schachte's case, "I always accompanied my men on such missions, so I'm sure I was there."

Again, we are talking about an event which occurred 35 years ago. I have trouble remembering things that happened last week clearly, so the fact that Zaldonis' testimony is in conflict with Schachte's doesn't mean either one is lying.

This "case," more than likely, will be won on the circumstantial evidence, not the conflicting accounts of witnesses. Of course, maybe Kerry's records contain something that will put all this to bed. We'll never know unless he releases them.

The bottom line: the circumstantial evidence adduced - thus far - supports the Swiftees' accounts with regard to the Bronze Star and the first Purple Heart.

In a civil case, where the standard of proof is simply a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., more likely than not), Kerry would be in trouble. Consider the questions:

Questioner: "Sir, you claim to have been under fire that night, correct?"

Answer: "Yes, sir."

Questioner: "Can you explain why there was no physical damage from all the bullets you claim were flying about you?"

Answer: "No, sir, I cannot."

Questioner: "I have nothing further."

(34) Todd made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 10:21:03 AM | Permalink

GT, getting a little testy, aren't we?

The Swiftees have accused Kerry of lying - and a lot of other things. Their critique can't be reduced to simply "Kerry's lying," however. It goes a lot deeper than that.

And, as I've pointed out before, I think the Swiftees are probably wrong about some of their accusations with regard to Kerry's "lying."

(35) GT made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 10:37:27 AM | Permalink

Sorry Todd.

I think I have reached the point of diminishing returns for me. I, like most of us, am a political junkie and I enjoy denbating with people who don't agree with me but have an open mind. The best place I found has been tacitus.org but I frequent other places. Recently here.

I don't thnk there is more I can add here. I think the core of the accusations have failed to be proven and the rest is mindless nitpicking.

I am voting for Kerry, mainly because I am not a social conservative and I dislike the GOP leadership's view of society. These debates, in the end, are things that make no difference to me on how to vote. I really don't care what Kerry did in his 20s like I never cared if Bush snorted cocaine or Clinton smoked pot.

(36) Todd made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 11:06:38 AM | Permalink

Fair enough, GT. You're a good sport, and I hope that I and others have treated your opposing view with respect, as you've stated it respectfully.

I attended a very liberal college (Grinnell College in Iowa) that had a new thing to protest every week and I was outnumbered something like 100-to-1 most of the time, so I hope your experience here hasn't been as unpleasant as mine was there (when it came to politics). :-)

(37) Narniaman made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 11:37:43 AM | Permalink

GT wrote:

"The core accusation, that Kerry lied, has been demolished IMO."

So was Kerry being truthful about his Christmas in Cambodia claims? Was "Honest John" telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Was he being truthful about the Christmas in Cambodia episode being "seared - seared" into his memory?

How about his stories about "VC the Wonder Dog" and his excellent adventures with him. Were these true?

Was Kerry being truthful when said he was going to release all his military records?

(38) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 12:09:07 PM | Permalink

Speaking of people lying, I'm finding it harder and harder to believe GT's claims to have graduate training in economics. What with the prominent role logic plays in that discipline.

Also, we have virtually 100% certain proof Kerry IS lying about the events of March 13th, 1969. He's told three mutually contradictory versions of those events. So, he's lied at least twice, and probably in all three.

(39) GT made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 12:17:21 PM | Permalink


Thanks. As for my experience just look at the post above this one. Sadly there are too many like that. I think personal contact diminishes that, but maybe your experience was different.

(40) anon made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 12:22:08 PM | Permalink

A couple of points:

The SwiftVets' perception of Kerry as a liar is broadly based. In the Bronze Star incident for example, one of things they felt he misrepresented was the claim that the other boats fled the scene and only Kerry bravely came back to save Rassmann. I think there were other cases where they saw evidence of Kerry misrepresenting events. The media has focused on the question of the existence of hostile fire because that was seen as a criterion for awardng the medal, and it was in dispute. This may be to some extent a transferrence from the Purple Heart questions, as indicated by the media's apparent belief that any amount of hostile fire at any time in the Bronze Star incident defeats the SwiftVets' criticism. But from the SwiftVet's' perspective, the essential question is whether Kerry's action taken in context was sufficiently extraordinary to merit the decoration. Their thinking is this: people falling out of the boats was not unusual. When they fell out, you pulled them back in. Sure, you may have saved their life. But anyone would have done it. It was what you were expected to. If Kerry hadn't gone back for Rassman when he fell overboard, he [Kerry] would have been court-martialed for dereliction of duty. And if Kerry hadn't picked up Rassman when he did, there was another boat only a short distance away that would have. Kerry's minor injuries were hardly an excuse not to assist Rassman. And while there may have been some enemy fire at some point in the incident, there wasn't the kind of intense fire at the time of Rassman's resucue that would have made Kerry's action exceptionally dangerous. It sum, what Kerry did was what any of them would have been expected to do, and they would not have considered themselves heroes for doing it. You don't get a medal for just doing your duty. They believe that Kerry exaggerated the incident at several points in his account to make it appear medal-worthy when it wasn't. Their perception is ultimately subjective to an extent, of course. But it appears to be very widely shared by the men who were there.

The 1st Purple Heart is a very different case. You combine Schachte's compelling testimony with that of the medical officer and the commanding officer who rejected Kerry's request for a Purple Heart, and Kerry going around him to get one three months later, and you have a strong case for Kerry deliberately obtaining the Purple Heart through fraud. Since he relied upon it for his thrice wounded transfer, that also was fraudulently obtained. I suspect that would be considered a very serious offense by the Navy. And this case gives supporting context to the charge that Kerry would deliberately misrepresent events to obtain other medals he didn't deserve. This one is going to be very difficult to explain away.

One would expect that given a very serious charge, where the weight of the evidence is strongly against Kerry, the media would be demanding that Kerry authorize the release of all his military records and provide access to his diaries. If they don't they will lose all credibility. And so will he.

(41) anon made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 12:47:36 PM | Permalink

Is John Kerry a liar? Read this at Powerline about Kerry's false denials of being at a VVAW meeting in Kansas City in November 1971 at which plans were discussed for the assassination and kidnapping of government officials and the takeover of the Statue of Liberty. Kerry opposed the planned violence, which the group overwhelmingly rejected, but clearly he later lied about whether he was at the meeting and when he quit the VVAW. And do you suppose he reported the VVAW terrorist wannabees to the FBI?

(42) vnjagvet made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 1:02:02 PM | Permalink


For the uncommitted and the independent, I suggest that proof of exaggeration is as good as proof of lying. Especially true. IMO, given Kerry's major premise that he is the right man for commander in chief in time of war because he was a war hero in combat.

I doubt if you can convince many that the first part of the SBVT's attack has not proved at least that Kerry is a serial exaggerator. Surely you are not carrying the day on this site, in spite of a valiant effort.

As an opposing lawyer told me early in my career after he beat me in a jury trial, I would hate to see you with a good case. I took that as a compliment then, and I mean it as one now.

I am sure Beldar is delighted to have both sides skillfully argued on this site. IMO, You are sure contributing to that endeavor.

(43) Richard made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 4:41:56 PM | Permalink

I have serious doubts as to Mr Kerry’s record in country, I’ve been carefully following the debate and testimony from all sides. There is simply too much conflict in the various statements by all who have come forward to make a decision concerning his war record that I would be comfortable with.

However my problem with the Democratic candidate is not his service record, it is what he did when he came back to the real world.

We came home to the chorus of “Baby Killer, Rapist and Murderer.” We were spat on, cursed at and generally categorized as scum of the earth by many people. I’ve not forgotten, nor have many of my fellow Viet Vets.

Then Mr Kerry sat in front of Congress and flat out lied about every single Serviceman in country. He called us many things, no doubt some of which may had applied to a few serving in Theater. But by far they were an exception, not the norm.
His complete testimony can be found at any number of web-sites with a few seconds search. Read it, in its entirety, any Viet Vet worth his salt will be deeply offended. I am not a frothing-at-the-mouth rabid conservative, I am a registered Independent. I’ve voted for whoever I thought was best for the job, no matter what party. My voting record is evenly divided between the two major parties.

Mr Kerry spent time in organizations with the likes of Jane Fonda. He threw medals over the White House fence, claiming they were his at the time, yet there they were, framed in his Congressional Office. Then he tried to evade questions about his past.

While I am not fond of the incumbent, and really wish I had another choice, there is simply no way I can walk into the booth and vote for Kerry.

(44) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 7:04:15 PM | Permalink

GT has convinced me.

I believe John Kerry. He always tells the truth. Like when he told the US Senate that the memory of being in Cambodia during Christmas was seared in his memory.

And I believe John Kerry when he says in his diary he was never in Cambodia.

John Kerry, a man you can trust.


Steal this sig:

There is a big difference between William Calley and John Kerry. William Calley is a proven war criminal. For John Kerry we only have his word as an officer and a gentleman.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

The Ads: Video links

(45) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 7:45:44 PM | Permalink

Since the subject of polls has come up I have a couple of electoral maps that might be of interest. The first one shows Califoria in play. Kerry can't win without Califoria. This has got to hurt.

Electoral Map

Here is a LA Times map which is more favorable to Kerry:

LAT electoral map

Kerry has probably lost WI due to his "Lambert Field" gaffe. I'm fom Illinois and I can verify that WI takes Green Bay Very seriously.

Now he is making all kinds of stumble bum mistakes like this. Deer hunting for instance sometimes is done with a shotgun. It is done from a blind in a tree though. Not crawling on the belly. And his picture "shooting his shotgun" shows a man who doesn't do guns very often. People notice these things. Kerry rings false in so many ways. The swiftie contoversy just adds fuel to the fire.


Steal this sig:

There is a big difference between William Calley and John Kerry. William Calley is a proven war criminal. For John Kerry we only have his word as an officer and a gentleman.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

The Ads: Video links

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