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Saturday, August 28, 2004

Questions I wish Lisa Myers had asked, or would ask, William M. Zaladonis

In my recent posts, I've complained repeatedly about the fuzziness with which the press treats the various eyewitnesses who've surfaced in the SwiftVets vs. Kerry debate.  I suppose I should back that up with a specific example of how I think it ought to be done if one's goal is not to make headlines or spin the story for one side or the other, but to actually sort out the "truth" — or if not a single objective "truth" upon which everyone can agree, at least a more clear record as to what these gentlemen actually have to say and where their statements genuinely and irreconcilably conflict with one another.

NBC's Lisa Myers conducted a telephone interview with pro-Kerry Swiftee William M. Zaladonis to follow up on Mr. Zaladonis' claims that Adm. Bill Schachte was not aboard the "skimmer" with young Lt. Kerry on the training mission on 02Dec68, as a result of which Kerry was awarded his first Purple Heart.  Mr. Zaladonis stuck to his story.  But Ms. Myers' questioning of him was, shall we say, somewhat less skeptical and vigorous than her questioning of Adm. Schachte.  Worse, it was just damned sloppy.

So I've composed a list of follow-up questions that I wish Ms. Myers had asked, or would ask, Mr. Zaladonis. 

The questions are phrased to presume a continuation by her of the original interview, and hence refer to Mr. Zaladonis' "earlier statement"; if someone else were doing it, they'd need to be modified slightly, and a fair questioner would give Mr. Zaladonis the opportunity to review the full transcript from Myers' previous interview before starting the follow-up questioning, and upon his request at any time during the follow-up questioning.

I also should note that I'm assuming that Mr. Zaladonis said in the original telephone interview with Ms. Myers that he was firing an "M-60" — not (as it's transcribed in one place) an "M-16" — because he's consistently described himself as having manned the skimmer's M-60 machine gun in all of his other public statements that I've seen, and because the two phrases sound enough alike as to have encouraged a transcription error.

Note that if I were cross-examining Mr. Zaladonis as a hostile advocate trying to discredit and impeach his statements, I'd have written a very different set of questions than these fairly open-ended (but hopefully precise) ones.  If some of them are, technically, "leading," they're only gently leading to expedite the process.  If I confined myself to purely nonleading questions, not only would this post be twice as long, but the reader would have triple the difficulty making sense of the logical path of the examination.  The same information could be developed through a longer set of questions that all begin with a "what" or a "why" or a "how," which is what any seasoned advocate would do upon hearing a "leading" objection from opposing counsel. 

Nor have I asked any questions at all on the subjects of Mr. Zaladonis' potential biases.  And I have not  asked any of the broad set of questions intended to fully "place and identify" the witness — his pre- and post-military education and career, his family, his political affiliations and sentiments, and so forth — that would also be useful to an advocate who's trying to argue whether he or Adm. Schachte is inherently a more credible and trustworthy individual.  In short, these questions pretty much take Mr. Zaladonis and his past statements at face value, but simply seek to develop those statements in much greater detail than anyone in the press has yet done, so that observers can use their own common sense to decide how much weight they're entitled to.

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  • Did Lt. Kerry select you to participate in the skimmer mission on 02Dec68?  If not Lt. Kerry, who did select you?  What was your understanding of why you were selected?

  • Did Lt. Kerry give you your instructions before the skimmer mission on what the purposes of the mission were and what your role in it was to be?  If not Lt. Kerry, who did?  What instructions were you given?

  • Do you know who first conceived the idea of using skimmers for missions of the sort in which you participated on 02Dec68?  I'll represent to you that Adm. Schachte, then a lieutenant, has stated that he developed the concept for these missions and planned them.  If you assume with me that he's made that statement, do you have any first-hand or second-hand information to dispute that statement?

  • Do you know whether similar skimmer missions had been conducted before 02Dec69?  Do you know who was the officer or who were the officers participating in any of those previous skimmer missions?

  • I'll represent to you that Adm. Schachte has said that he participated in all such previous skimmer missions, and that it was his routine and unvarying habit and practice to personally command those missions.  Leaving aside for the moment the skimmer mission on 02Dec68 that you've described having been on, do you have any first-hand or second-hand information to dispute Adm. Schachte's statements about those other missions?

  • Whether it was Admiral (then-Lieutenant) Schachte or another officer, do you believe it is likely or unlikey that there were other officers stationed there with you who had previous experience in commanding skimmer missions of the type you've said you participated in on 02Dec68?

  • You described your rank as an "engineman third class," abbreviated "EN3."  Although I'm sure you had some training and perhaps some experience to qualify you, for example, to fire various weapons and perform other tasks as a Swiftee, is it fair to say that in general, EN3s' primary responsibilities were to look after engines?  Indeed, during the several weeks that you later served under Lt. Kerry's command while you and he were both assigned to a Swift Boat, PCF 44, was that your primary responsibility?

  • Was Pat Runyon, who you've said was also with you and Lt. Kerry on the skimmer mission, and who's also shown on the Swiftboat.net website as an "EN3," another engineman third class like yourself? 

  • You've said twice in your earlier statement that the mission on 02Dec68 was the only mission aboard a skimmer in which you ever participated.  Would it be fair to characterize this as a training mission for you?

  • In your earlier statement, you said, "I'm fairly sure it was the only one that John Kerry was on — and the only one that Pat Runyon was on also." To the best of your knowledge, then, was the skimmer mission on 02Dec68 the only skimmer mission in which either EN3 Runyon or Lt. Kerry participated in?

  • Was it your understanding that as of 02Dec68, Lt. Kerry had only recently arrived at your base from his Swift Boat training at Coronado Naval Base in San Diego, California?  As you understood it, as of 02Dec68, had Lt. Kerry been given responsibility for commanding his own Swift Boat?  Instead, as you understood it, was he supposed to complete some additional field training first, of which this skimmer mission on 02Dec68 was a part, before he'd be entrusted with his own Swift Boat command and the lives of crewmen like yourself on such a Swift Boat?

  • In your earlier statement, you described this as, quote, "one of the scariest nights I've had in my life," unquote.  Is it fair to say that you understood the skimmer mission to have been at least a potentially dangerous one?

  • As you understood it at the time, then, were you, EN3 Pat Runyon, and Lt. Kerry were being sent on a dangerous mission — of a type and on a type of craft that were completely new to each of you — without anyone aboard who'd ever participated in that type of mission on that type of craft?

  • At the conclusion of the skimmer mission on 02Dec68, did then-Lt. Schachte debrief you regarding the mission?  Did any other officer debrief you, and if so, who?  If no officer debriefed you about the mission, do you have any explanation as to how Lt. Kerry's performance on this training mission was expected to be evaluated by his superior officers?

  • As you understood it at the time and understand it now, shortly after the skimmer mission on 02Dec68, was Lt. Kerry put into a hostile environment potentially involving hot combat, in command of his own Swift Boat and responsible for himself, the Swift Boat, and its crew — without ever having had another senior or more experienced officer personally observe him in command of a small vessel in a potentially hostile environment, and without even having debriefed the enlisted sailors like yourself who'd personally observed him?

  • Was the skimmer a small boat or a large boat?  Did it have only one engine — or more precisely, only an outboard motor — at its back or stern?  Was it a more or less complicated motor than the large twin diesel engines you later were in charge of on PCF 44?  As EN3s, would your and Mr. Runyon's training and experience have equipped each of you to have run that small outboard motor on the skimmer and keep it running?  In your judgment, would it therefore have made good sense for the officer or officers who selected the enlisted crew for skimmer missions like this one to generally put an EN3 in charge of running the skimmer's outboard motor?

  • Was the skimmer's most powerful armament one M-60 machine gun in the front — that is, the bow?

  • Is it also fair to say that there were other sailors whose classifications — for example, gunner's mate third class or GM3 — meant that in general, they were expected to maintain and fire machine guns?  Would Steve Gardner, the GM3 who served with you aboard PCF 44 in the Swift Boat's twin .50-caliber gun tub, be an example of someone like that?

  • Do you have any explanation for why the officer or officers who selected the enlisted crew for the skimmer mission on 02Dec68 picked two EN3 and no GM3s — when there was only one motor, but also one machine gun?

  • When you were asked earlier whether you recall any enemy fire that night, you answered, quote, "I'm not sure.  I don't really remember.  But it was so hard for me to tell.  I can't say there was or there wasn't.  I believe Mr. Kerry thought that there was, but I was busy with that M-60 and I was trying to empty all my ammo out as quick as possible, and get the heck out of there.  It was a pretty scary situation — I can't say we weren't fired on, but I can't really tell if we were.  I didn't see any tracers, but that doesn't mean anything ‘cause if they were using small arms there wouldn't have been any tracers," unquote.  Can we correctly assume from the fact that you did not mention hearing any large explosions, that in fact you did not hear any large explosions? 

  • In an article from the Boston Globe by Scot Lehigh dated August 20, 2004, the following statement appears — quote, "'I am reasonably sure we didn't have an M-79,' Zaladonis said. 'I didn't see one. I don't remember it,'" unquote.  First, is Mr. Lehigh's quotation of you in the Globe substantially accurate? 

  • Mr. Lehigh's article goes on to say, quote, "Runyon says the only weapons the trio had were an M-60 machine gun, two M-16 combat rifles, and, possibly, a .45 caliber pistol. Is he 100 percent sure there wasn't an M-79 grenade launcher in the boat? 'I wouldn't say 100 percent, but I know 100 percent certain that we didn't shoot them,' replies Runyon," unquote.  Is this quotation of you, and description of what you told Mr. Lehigh, substantially accurate?

  • Who was responsible for selecting the armaments carried aboard the skimmer on 02Dec68?  Assume with me that others have said that it was routine to carry both M-16 assault rifles and M-79 grenade launchers aboard such skimmer missions.  Do you have any first-hand or second-hand knowledge to dispute that statement as to any other skimmer missions, other than the one on 02Dec68?

  • In your earlier statement, when asked whether there was enemy fire that night, you said, quote, "I believe Mr. Kerry thought that there was, but I was busy with that M-60 and I was trying to empty all my ammo out as quick as possible, and get the heck out of there."  And in Mr. Lehigh's article, it says, referring to you, quote, "He does remember Kerry having trouble with his M-16. 'His gun jammed or he ran out of ammunition — I don't know which — but he bent down to pick up the other M-16,' he says," unquote, with "he" there referring to you, Mr. Zaladonis.  Is it fair to say that you were paying more attention to your M-60 and to "getting the heck out of there" than to the condition of Lt. Kerry's weapon or weapons?

  • Did the skimmer ever turn over?  Did the skimmer or any of the gear on it sustain any blast or shrapnel damage to your knowledge? 

  • I'll ask you to assume with me that Lt. Kerry and others have described his injury as being from a small piece of shrapnel.  If you assume with me that they have said that, do you have any first-hand or second-hand knowledge to dispute that statement?

  • In your earlier statement, you said, quote, "I only remember popping a flare and the flare worked so it didn't explode or anything on the skimmer — it did its job," unquote.  Is it fair to assume that neither Lt. Kerry nor anyone else aboard the skimmer was injured by shrapnel from the flare?

  • If we assume that Lt. Kerry's injury was indeed from a piece of shrapnel, is it fair to say that you simply cannot explain where that piece of shrapnel came from, based on your first-hand knowledge — what you saw with your own eyes and heard with your own ears?

  • If we assume that Lt. Kerry's injury was indeed from a piece of shrapnel, is it fair for us to assume that something, somewhere, exploded to create that shrapnel — without your having noticed it?

  • In your earlier statement, you said that Lt. Kerry, quote, "was firing an M-16 and it either jammed or he ran out of ammo.  And he bent over to pick up another one and then he got hurt, as he was bent over.  As far as I can remember," unquote.  And then when asked how Lt. Kerry got hurt, you said, quote, "I'm not sure.  I'm not sure at all," unquote.  When asked how you knew Lt. Kerry was hurt, you said, quote, "I guess we discussed that on the way back to the swift boat," unquote.  Is it fair to say, then, that your only knowledge as to whether, when, or how Lt. Kerry got hurt is second-hand knowledge, based on what Lt. Kerry told you?

  • Whatever the scope of Lt. Kerry's injuries were, is it fair to say that after you heard about them from him on the way back to the Swift Boat, you saw no need to examine his wound or treat him yourself?  Did you have to clean any of Lt. Kerry's blood off of your own clothes or gear after the skimmer mission on 02Dec68?  Or off the skimmer or the Swift Boat?  Did anyone else, to your knowledge, other than perhaps Lt. Kerry with his own clothes?

  • In your earlier statement, when asked how badly Lt. Kerry was hurt, you said, quote, "I don't know how badly he was injured.  I knew it wasn't life-threatening," unquote.  Later, you said, quote, "I knew he wasn't going to lose his arm or anything like that."  You said that when, quote, "we got back to the swift boat," unquote, Lt. Kerry, quote "went to the pilothouse and I went to the fantail. Myself and Runyon went back to the fantail and we both smoked back then so we went back there and smoked."  Is it fair for us to assume, then, that you did not observe Lt. Kerry receive any emergency medical treatment, administered by him or yourself or anyone else, while on the skimmer?  Is it fair for us to assume as well that you did not observe Lt. Kerry receive any emergency medical treatment back on the Swift Boat?  Is it fair for us to assume that you did not accompany Lt. Kerry and observe him receive any medical treatment at Cam Ranh Bay Naval Base?

  • Assume with me that Dr. Louis Letson has said that he was the medical officer at Cam Ranh Bay as of 02-03Dec68, and that he says that he and the late Jesus C. Carreon, then a hospitalman first class, treated Lt. Kerry for his wounds.  If he has made that statement, do you have any first-hand information to dispute it?  Likewise, if he has described the nature of the wound he treated, or the nature of the piece of shrapnel he removed from Lt. Kerry's arm, do you have any first-hand basis to dispute those statements?

  • In your earlier statement, you said that while you and Mr. Runyon were smoking on the fantail of the Swift Boat after the skimmer mission, quote, "we were talking to the Swift Boat crew."  Is it possible that, since you'd just been talking with Lt. Kerry about his injury, you may have discussed that with the crew, either while you and Mr. Runyon were smoking or at another time?  Do you know whether any of the other men who you were talking to on the Swift Boat may have accompanied Lt. Kerry to see Dr. Letson and Hospitalman Carreon for treatment?  Regardless of how they claimed to have come by the information they may have relayed to him, if Dr. Letson recalls having been told something by those other Swiftees about how Lt. Kerry was injured, do you have any first-hand basis to dispute Dr. Letson's statement?

  • Do you have any knowledge as to whether an official casualty report was filled out by anyone in connection with the skimmer mission on 02Dec68?  Do you have any knowledge as to whether an after-action report was filled out by anyone in connection with that mission?  Do you know whether or not, as a matter of routine or regulations, such casualty reports should have been filled out if any American sailors were injured?  Do you know whether or not, as a matter of routine or regulations, such after-action reports should have been filled out if there had been any incoming fire from the enemy, regardless of whether any American sailors were injured?  If others say that there were neither a casualty report nor an after-action report filled out by anyone in connection with the 02Dec68 skimmer mission, do you have any first-hand or second-hand information to dispute those statements?

  • You were asked again how you knew Lt. Kerry was hurt, and you said in your earlier statement, quote, "You know, up until recently, I hadn't thought about it a whole lot," unquote.  But you also said, referring to EN3 Pat Runyun, quote, "Pat and I have shared this story a few times since we've been out of the Navy.  We've been very good friends ever since we've been — when we were in the Navy and out — and this is something that we talked about every now and then."  Is it fair to say, then, that whatever else you and Mr. Runyon have "talked about every now and then" when you "shared this story a few times," your discussions did not include the fact that Lt. Kerry was hurt?  Or how badly hurt he was? Or how he came to be hurt?  Is it correct, then, that any in your and Mr. Runyun's discussions of the 02Dec68 skimmer mission, neither of you thought Lt. Kerry's wound was important enough to prompt you to discuss it further?  Is it also correct that you've only had occasion to discuss Lt. Kerry's wound from the 02Dec68 skimmer mission with anyone since Sen. Kerry began running for President?

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I'm sure I've missed some details that someone with military experience would think to ask.  But I believe if we had Mr. Zaladonis' answers to these questions, we'd be in a far better position to resolve the differences between his statements and those of Adm. Schachte.

Update (Sun Aug 29 @ 1:20am): Tom Maguire and his commenters have an interesting debate going on regarding who to believe, which includes some links to other public statements of Messrs. Zaladonis and Runyon that I hadn't seen.

Posted by Beldar at 11:36 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (31)

With friends like Doug Brinkley, does John Kerry need enemies?

PrestoPundit Greg Ransom has posted lengthy quotes from newspaper articles just published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and WaPo about author Douglas Brinkley, whose early 2004 book Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War energized the SwiftVets into public action.  (Greg also gave me a hearty belly-laugh with his pithy description of this bit of nonsense from the Kerry campaign as a "John Nash moment.")

Clearly University of New Orleans Prof. Brinkley wants to be helpful to Sen. Kerry.  The whole point of his book, after all, was to argue that Kerry's tour of duty in Vietnam and his subsequent antiwar activism have shaped and defined his moral and political character to make him a fit President.  The WaPo article notes that

with this book, Brinkley has become a political historian as well, having authored a book that burnishes just the part of Kerry's biography that the candidate chose to highlight to defeat a wartime president who never has seen battle himself. "These days, Brinkley is acting a lot less like a historian and a lot more like a PR flack for John Kerry," wrote Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam. In its review, the New York Times referred to "the odor of salesmanship that lingers around 'Tour of Duty.'"

Now, I think it'd be harsh and unjustified to compare Prof. Brinkley to more obvious salesmen like, say, Joe Isuzu.  But just as the fictional Professor Philip Brainard's invention, Flubber, didn't always bounce the way one expected it to, neither has absent-minded Prof. Brinkley's output always bounced in ways that help propel John Kerry toward the White House.

In the back rooms of the Kerry campaign this morning, for example, there must be gnashing of teeth and low mutterings over this bit of candor from Prof. Brinkley in the WaPo article (boldface mine throughout):

The Kerry campaign has refused to release Kerry's personal Vietnam archive, including his journals and letters, saying that the senator is contractually bound to grant Brinkley exclusive access to the material. But Brinkley said this week the papers are the property of the senator and in his full control.

"I don't mind if John Kerry shows anybody anything," he said. "If he wants to let anybody in, that's his business. Go bug John Kerry, and leave me alone." The exclusivity agreement, he said, simply requires "that anybody quoting any of the material needs to cite my book."

From your mouth to WaPo's ears, Prof. Brinkley!  WaPo, "go bug John Kerry"!  How much material are we talking about?  Perhaps the Kerry campaign would prefer to downplay the size of the pile of evidence they're stonewalling to protect, but count on Doug Brinkley to give us some context here too:

"I'm talking a massive archive. I had to sit in his house, with this woman watching me, and go through the collection — 12-page letters, notebooks, journals. I made three different trips, and stayed there for days," said Brinkley, who also interviewed the senator for about 12 hours.

And people have mocked Nixon for merely keeping a few shelves full of Oval Office tapes!

Then there's this searing description from Prof. Brinkley of John Kerry's claims to have spent "Christmas in Cambodia":

"I'm under the impression that they were near the Cambodian border," said Brinkley, in the interview. So Kerry's statement about being in Cambodia at Christmas "is obviously wrong," he said. "It's a mongrel phrase he should never have uttered...."

Ahem.  "Mongrel phrase" might more aptly be used to refer to Kerry's tales of his acrobatic dog, "VC," who apparently was miraculously catapulted from PCF 94's deck onto another unidentified SwiftBoat at or about the same time the day before Lt. Rassmann was catapulted into the Bay Hap River.  But the flying pooch isn't part of Brinkley's ToD, and [ed: whoops] I'll leave the spirited fisking of that tale to Hugh Hewitt and James Taranto, the latter of whom has been sniffing out the story of VC's gymnastics since last spring.  [Update: And also to Steve Sturm, thanks!]

From the NOTP's article, we find that Prof. Brinkley is oddly comforted by the ways in which the SwiftVets have been able to make use of his book against Kerry:

Brinkley said the dual use of his successful book [by both the senator's opponents and supporters] is proof of his objectivity. Everything he has written and said to date, he insisted, has been based on the historical record.

Well, yes — that's sorta true, if one includes within the term "historical record" John Kerry's own amazing contemporaneous writings from his time "in-country."  For example, this passage from page 310 of ToD with a lengthy quote from Kerry's journals may not be a very profound or reliable source on the topic of war profiteering and corruption, but it certainly gives the reader some vivid, if weird and disturbing, insights into the self-absorbed mind of young Kerry during the 13Mar69 action that preceded the "rice pile explosion" and his subsequent Bronze Star and third Purple Heart:

I was amazed at how detached I was from the whole scene.  I just lay in the ditch, not firing because I wanted to save ammo and because I couldn't see what I was firing at, and I thought about what was happening in New York at that very moment, and if people really felt that I was doing something worthwhile while they went down to Schraaftt's and had another ice cream sundae or while some fat little old man who made another million in the past months off defense contracts was charging another $100 call girl to his expense account.  And then, when the shooting stopped, I came back to where I was.

This sort of detail is indeed useful for voters who are trying to decide whether the Global War on Terrorism should continue to be prosecuted by George W. Bush or instead by, say, Captain John Yossarian.

I'm about a quarter of the way through ToD, and I'm enjoying it.  And I have to admit, I sorta like Prof. Brinkley, from what I know about him.  I'm just worried, though, that the Kerry campaign is going to lock him in a small room for a long weekend of "strategic reprogramming" with James Carville and Lanny Davis.

Posted by Beldar at 07:47 AM in Books, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (28)

WaPo's Dobbs stumbles off track

On August 21st, Washington Post staff reporter Michael Dobbs wrote what is easily the best and most serious examination of the SwiftVets' factual allegations about Sen. Kerry's war record by the mainstream media to date.  He barely scratched the surface of those allegations, but he at least made some useful attempts at genuine investigative journalism — something beyond regurgitating the Kerry camp's talking points (although he did that, too).  And Mr. Dobbs figured out, and stated (albeit in a mushy way near the bottom of his piece), the indisputable fact that presidential candidate John F. Kerry is withholding or blocking the release of key documentary evidence which would go a long way to either prove or dispove the SwiftVets' allegations.  It was a good start, but only a start.

Dobbs' new article in Saturday's WaPo is therefore a major disappointment to me and others who'd hoped that he'd continue to dig into the substance of the SwiftVets' charges. 

Although Dobbs interviewed, and quoted, John O'Neill for this new piece, O'Neill is just an emblem and a spokesman for the SwiftVets, not one of its principle fact witnesses (as he himself will be the first to agree).   Instead, in this article, Dobbs' focus is almost entirely upon a presidency that's only of remote historical interest today — Richard Nixon's — and the related, somewhat more topical historical question of whether during his antiwar protester days, young Kerry was a "top downer" who wanted to work within the political process or a "bottom upper" who wanted to challenge it through civil disobedience and violence.

Now, I fancy myself a serious lifelong student of history, and I'm not without interest in these issues.  But Mr. Dobbs' latest effort brings out nothing particularly new or remarkable on them.  In the meantime, WaPo's Mr. Dobbs and the mainstream media that he represents have generally failed in their duty to plumb the SwiftVets' very detailed factual allegations about Sen. Kerry's war-hero record and their factual allegations about his more obscure anti-war activism (the Paris trip or trips to meet with representatives of the North Vietnamese government and Viet Cong, for example). 

The blogosphere can provide, and has provided, punditry galore on the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy.  Occasionally it's provided some genuine factual investigation, in addition to its more usual function of collating and commenting upon what's already in the public domain.  But the blogosphere, which is diffuse and highly distributed by definition, lacks the access and concentrated delivery that still, for better or worse (mostly worse), is a monopoly of the mainstream media.  If Glenn Reynolds and Ed Hennisey and Roger Simon and Hugh Hewitt and Mickey Kaus and Jim Garaghty and yours truly all pound our internet pulpits together in rhythm demanding that Sen. Kerry sign Standard Form 180, the Kerry camp can simply stonewall and ignore us. 

A similar drumbeat for a week or so however from, say, WaPo, NYT, and NBC would ramp up the political pressure on Kerry to the point that his ongoing cover-up would become too painfully obvious to the public and, finally, intolerable.  Sen. Kerry's only going to release the bad stuff — and right now, it's legitimate for us to assume it's "bad stuff" or he'd already have released it — when the political costs of not doing so threaten to exceed his estimates of how much damage the bad stuff might do when released.

If Woodward and Bernstein had been similarly lethargic, Richard Nixon would have finished his presidency.

I'll grant that it took Woodward and Bernstein many weeks, in those days of a longer "media cycle," to uncover what they did.  And my hope is that Mr. Dobbs' detour into chortling over Chuck Colson sucking up to Nixon is only a temporary wandering off course.  But it's absolutely critical that Mr. Dobbs — or someone, and hopefully many members of the mainstream media — will use the access and resources of their profession to accomplish the things that the blogosphere can't do as effectively.  The most significant reporting during the past week — that of syndicated columnist Bob Novak and NBC's Lisa Myers on Adm. Bill Schachte and Kerry's first Purple Heart — was the result of Schachte coming to them to break his previous media silence.  That's well and good, but it's nowhere near good enough.

Posted by Beldar at 05:31 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (13)

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 | Comments (45)

Butch Vorphal joins eyewitnesses disputing enemy fire during Kerry's Rassmann rescue

Another eyewitness has spoken out on the subject of whether there was or wasn't enemy fire from the shores during the Bay Hap River action out of which Sen. Kerry received his Bronze Star for rescuing Jim Rassmann:

An Oconto Falls man says he was there when John Kerry earned his Purple Heart and his Bronze Star in Vietnam. And, Butch Vorphal has a very different account of what happened that day. Kerry says he earned bothmedals for pulling a fellow soldier out of a river while under heavy enemy fire. Vorphal was on board Swift Boat Number Three, which was hit by mines that day. While the blast knocked him out for a short time, Vorphal told [Green Bay, Wisconsin, radio station WTAQ's] Bill LuMaye the only gunfire he remembers was cover fire from the Swift Boats themselves. Vorphal says they lay down cover fire because they assume there's going to be enemy gunfire. He says when they stopped firing, there was no other gunfire. Vorphal says none of his shipmates remember seeing bullet holes from enemy fire in the Swift Boats. Vorphal says he doesn't remember anyone else being injured enough to get a purple heart.

Leslie L. "Butch" Vorphal is a verifiable Swiftee who served aboard PCF 3 from February through August 1969, and although he is not listed in Unfit for Command's Appendix A, he is listed on the SwiftVets' website as having joined in their letter to Sen. Kerry dated May 4, 2004, that called upon him to sign Standard Form 180 and to "provide a full, accurate accounting of [his] conduct in Vietnam."

Mainstream media references to "Vorphal" from Google News as of this moment:  zero.

That Mr. Vorphal's version of events comes to us via a radio station in Green Bay, Wisconsin — rather than, say, through a press conference called by the SwiftVets — brings me to an essay (or perhaps a bit of a rant) that I'll post separately just above this one.

Posted by Beldar at 07:28 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (13)

BeldarBlog's background colors

A few readers have emailed to complain that they had trouble reading the black text on the dark gray shade I'd been using for my sidebar and in my blockquotes.  I've altered my site graphics to switch to pure white as the background for regular post text, with a light gray for the sidebar and blockquotes.  If that causes folks problems as well, I'm willing to try something different and welcome my readers' feedback, either through comments to this post or via email.

Posted by Beldar at 05:32 PM in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (4)

Coordination between Bush and SwiftVets?

From Friday's New York Times:

Mr. Bush did not hesitate when asked about the central charge issued by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the veterans' group that has leveled unsubstantiated attacks against Mr. Kerry's record in Vietnam. "I think Senator Kerry should be proud of his record,'' Mr. Bush said. "No, I don't think he lied.''

And from Friday's Wall Street Journal op-ed by SwiftVets spokesman John O'Neill:

We formed Swift Boat Veterans For Truth for one purpose: to present to the American public our conclusion that John Kerry is not fit to be commander in chief. We are organized as a "527 group" with Adm. Roy Hoffmann at the helm, our leader today as he was some 35 years ago when we served under him in Coastal Squadron One in Vietnam. Our membership is transparent and shown on our Web site, www.swiftvets.com, currently including more than 250 Swiftees. We have 17 of the 23 officers who served with Mr. Kerry, most of his chain of command, and most sailors. We have more than 60 winners of real Purple Hearts. No one has a better right than we do to speak to the matters involving our unit....

We do not take direction from the White House or the president's re-election committee, and our efforts would continue even if President Bush were to ask us directly to stop.

If the SwiftVets and BushCheney04 were the carefully coordinated ballroom dance partners that the Kerry campaign would have you believe they are, I think this would pretty much disqualify both contestants.  Not even Karl Rove is cunning enough to plot to win a dance competition by having two partners stomp on each other's feet. 

Posted by Beldar at 12:54 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (23)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Lambert/Lambeau Field: Does Kerry have SwiftVets on the brain?

CBS News' Steve Chaggaris files this campaign report (hat-tip to Jim Geraghty's Kerry Spot):

On Wednesday, Kerry made his third visit to Green Bay, Wis., this year and made it a point to focus on the main thing the city revolves around: football and the Green Bay Packers....

As he was taking questions from the audience, he referred to the legendary Packers stadium, Lambeau Field (which has been called that for 39 years) as "Lambert Field."

If the voters catch wind of that gaffe, it could take Kerry another three visits to Green Bay to make up for it.

So why was Kerry thinking "Lambert" instead of "Lambeau"?  Could it be that while his body was in Wisconsin, his mind was in Eagle Point, Oregon?

Robert E. Lambert doesn’t plan to vote for John Kerry.

But the Eagle Point man challenges claims by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that there was no enemy fire aimed at the five swift boats, including the one commanded by Kerry, on March 13, 1969 on the Bay Hap River in the southern tip of what was then South Vietnam.

Lambert, now 64, was a crew member on swift boat PCF-51 that day. The boat was commanded by Navy Lt. Larry Thurlow, a now-retired officer who questions why Kerry was awarded a Bronze star for bravery and a third Purple Heart for the March 13 incident.

"He and another officer now say we weren’t under fire at that time," Lambert said Wednesday afternoon. "Well, I sure was under the impression we were."

Lambert’s Bronze Star medal citation for the incident praises his courage under fire in the aftermath of a mine explosion that rocked another swift boat on that day 35 years ago.

"Anytime you are blown out of the water like that, they always follow that up with small arms fire," he said.

Thus does the Jackson County (Oregon) Mail Tribune utterly scoop (hat-tip to my commenter "GT" for this link earlier today) their esteemed competition Newsweek, who reported today:

Lambert’s military record shows he retired from the U.S. Navy in 1978. Efforts to trace him have been unsuccessful.

This as part of Newsweek's own rather unsurprising "discovery" (also reported by the Mail Tribune) that Lambert's Bronze Star citation — exactly like Thurlow's and Kerry's — references enemy fire during the Bay Hap River incident in which Kerry rescued Rassmann.  Pardon me while I yawn — that's been assumed by folks actually following this story in the blogosphere for about a week now, and we've moved on to the still unanswered question of who wrote or provided the information for all three citations, and whether that information was or wasn't accurate. 

Blogosphere to Newsweek: If the Navy citations were conclusive, we wouldn't be having any of this discussion, 'cause nobody doubts that Kerry did get the Bronze Star.  You guys are so missing the point, it's almost as pathetic as the LAT, who's still stuck on the "all Kerry's crewmen support him" canard.  And way-to-go blogosphere:  15 Technorati hits at the moment for the link from the Mail Tribune, all bloggers; no relevant hits on Google News for "Lambert 'Eagle Pass.'"

Lambert's name must be added to those of other Swiftees who contend that there was hostile fire of some sort during the general timeframe and general vicinity of Kerry's rescue of Rassmann.  I'm sure Kerry doesn't mind not getting Mr. Lambert's vote, but is damned glad to have his supportive recount of events.

As such things go, Mr. Lambert's version — "Well, I sure was under the impression we were [under fire]" — is considerably less dramatic than Kerry's "about to get a bullet to the head" version.  Mr. Lambert's follow-up comment will lead some to wonder whether he actually has a specific, detailed recollection, or whether he's speculating — genuinely giving an "impression — based on what was usually the case in ambush situations. 

Without meaning to diminish the luster of the Mail Tribune's scoop, I'm left reading this press account, like the recent press accounts of Bill Russell's tale, with the intense, overwhelming desire to examine any of these witnesses thoroughly and competently under oath — not to smear anyone or discredit anyone, but just to find out the exact scope of what these men can actually tell us!  Color me not necessarily skeptical, but just very, very frustrated.

Does anyone following this slow motion train wreck think John Kerry doesn't have SwiftVets on the brain these days?  "Lambert Field."  I'm sure the ghost of Vince Lombardi got a good chuckle out of that one.

Posted by Beldar at 09:33 PM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier), Sports, SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (24)

The third SwiftVets ad

The third SwiftVets ad is just Steve Gardner.  Some have suggested that it's the least effective of the three so far. 

I respectfully disagree.  Some very large chunk of the American public hasn't been following this controversy at all, but early one meme from the Kerry camp that they likely absorbed was "None of these SwiftVets served on Kerry's boat."  This ad is worth running just to decisively debunk that canard.  It's not a bases-clearing home run, but it's a solid single through the gap between first and second that at least gets another man on base.

"Seared — seared" will be worth a commercial of its own — one with maps and animated graphics of the Vietnam-Cambodia border, hopefully, and some juicy example of the Kerry camp having backpedaled on that particular tale to contrast against the "seared" quote.

Posted by Beldar at 08:26 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (8)

Batman rips Robin: Adm. Schachte disputes Kerry's 1st Purple Heart claim in new Novak column

I'm told that now coming across the newswires is a new column from Bob Novak that contains extensive quotes from Retired Rear Adm. William L. Schachte Jr. 

Schachte, call-sign "Batman," has broken his press silence to insist that he was indeed aboard the Boston Whaler or "skimmer" in the early morning mission on December 2, 1968, out of which Sen. John Kerry's first Purple Heart was awarded. Schachte maintains that Kerry's minor arm wound was indeed the result of Kerry — code-named "Robin" on this mission — being careless in firing an M-79 grenade launcher. Other officers are quoted to support the likelihood of Schachte's presence.

I'll update this post when I can find the full Novak column online.

Update:   There's a teaser in my comments.

Update (Fri Aug 27 @ 1:20am):  Here is a report on Novak's column from Andy Soltis in Friday's New York Post, entitled "Enemy Never Wounded Kerry: Admiral":

An officer who served with John Kerry yesterday finally broke his silence about the Swift vets controversy — and said Kerry accidentally wounded himself before requesting his first Purple Heart. In a detailed new account that is certain to fuel the growing controversy, eyewitness William Schachte Jr., a retired rear admiral, told columnist Robert Novak for today's papers that he was "astonished" to hear Kerry's version of the events of Dec. 2, 1968, when Schachte was in command of Kerry aboard a skimmer boat on the Mekong River.

Schachte said that Kerry:

  • Wasn't wounded by hostile fire.

  • Wasn't even under fire by the enemy.

  • "Nicked" himself with a grenade launcher and "requested a Purple Heart" afterward.

If Schachte's version is accurate, Kerry would not have been eligible for the award, the first of the three Purple Hearts he received.

No link yet for Novak's actual column. 

Update (Fri Aug 27 @ 1:50am):  The Novak full column is on Townhall.com, and also in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Read the whole thing, twice. 

So was Schachte on the Boston Whaler/skimmer with Kerry or not?  To answer that question, say the word along with me now, just as Sen. Kerry — he of the searable memory — said it to Adm. Schachte when Senator recognized Admiral, after twenty years' separation from their night together on the Boston Whaler, in the U.S. Senate subway in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building:

"Batman."

-------------

[Editor's confession:  I am so red in the face with embarrassment.  In earlier updates I'd indicated that I didn't think Novak's column said anything one way or the other about whether there was or wasn't enemy fire.  I'd thought I'd seen it on my first pass through, then couldn't find it again.  But after further review, I've concluded that I was right the first time, and in my later looking, I just missed the very short, key lines:

Kerry's M-16 rifle jammed, so he picked up the M-79 grenade launcher, Schachte said.

"I heard a 'thunk.' There was no fire from the enemy," Schachte recalled.

I've shamelessly edited my updates and original post above to fit what I'd written in the first place before any editing, which is also what Novak's column actually says, because I think that would cause less confusion than a bunch of strikethroughs.  Mea culpa maxima!  Finally, I think Novak's wrong on one small detail — the "Batman" call-sign probably applied to Schachte, not the skimmer, per Unfit for Command (p. 36).]

------------------

Update (Fri Aug 27 @ 3:00am):  Here's some info on Adm. Schachte (pronounced SHOCK-tee) from the law firm to which he's of counsel.  It's written to emphasize his legal, not his combat, experience, but it looks to me like he was one of the top lawyers in the Navy by the time he retired.  Note also that law school — University of South Carolina, J.D., 1973; George Washington University, LL.M., with highest honors, 1989 — came after Vietnam (as with John O'Neill), and that the words "war hero" aren't anywhere written (but feel free to draw your own inferences):

Bill Schachte (R. Adm. USN Ret.) has an extensive background in Naval and maritime issues.

After law school, he began his legal career assigned to the Naval Legal Service Office, Charleston, South Carolina. After receiving his Masters of Law, Rear Admiral Schachte served as the Head of the Law of the Sea Branch, International Law Division, Office of the Judge Advocate General. He was next assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs (ISA) and served as a member of the U.S. Delegation to the UN Conference on Law of the Sea. In 1984, Admiral Schachte was assigned as the Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General (Military Personnel) where he served as the JAG Corps community manager and was also responsible for managing the LDO (Law) and Legalmen (LN) communities. In 1986, he was assigned as the Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General (International Law), and additionally appointed by the Secretary of Defense as the Deputy DOD Representative for Ocean Policy Affairs. In May 1987, Admiral Schachte was appointed Acting DOD Representative for Ocean Policy Affairs while continuing to serve as Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate General (International Law). Subsequently, the Secretary of Defense designated him DOD Representative for Ocean Policy Affairs again, representing both the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in that capacity until August 1989. In October 1992 Admiral Schachte was appointed Acting Judge Advocate General of the Navy. He served in these four assignments until he retired in October 1993.

During his distinguished Naval career, Admiral Schachte was a Vietnam volunteer and served in combat from January to December 1968. He also served as Executive/Operations Officer for Coastal Division Fourteen, Republic of Vietnam.

Admiral Schachte's personal decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with Gold Star (in lieu of second award), the Bronze Star with "V", the Meritorious Service Medal with Gold Star (in lieu of second award) and the Combat Action Ribbon.

I'd expect him to make a rather formidable witness.

------------------

Update (Fri Aug 27 @ 8:20pm):  An anonymous commenter has provided a link to the Lisa Myers interview with Adm. Schachte.  It's strong stuff indeed.  As to why he was on the skimmer with Kerry:

The boats were manned by two officers and one enlisted person.  Officers because officers were briefed daily.  We had daily intelligence briefings seven days a week, with the latest intelligence from the area.  Or in the patrolling boat – officers would come back and debrief their area.  So, the officers had a good feel for everything that was going in our area of operation and our sectors.

The enlisted person operated the motor.  Now, this was my idea.  And I went on each one of these – in command of each one that we did up to and including the night with Lieutenant Junior Grade Kerry.

I did that because it was my idea and people volunteered for this.  And I didn't think it was right having one of these operations and being on a swift boat or back at Operations Center or something like that.

As to the events of that night:

This night, we were in an area – I recall we were so close to the beach you could actually hear the water lapping on the shoreline.  It was between two and three in the morning – I don't remember.  I detected what I thought was some movement.  So, I took one of the hand-held flares and popped it instantly.  It went up and when it burst – I don't know if you've heard that described, but it really lights up the area.  I thought I saw the same area of movement.  So, I opened up on it with my M-60.

Those guns were double loaded with tracers – Tango India, target identification.  And John, right after I opened up, opened up with his M-16 and I could see he was firing in the direction of my tracer fire, which is why we had the double-loaded tracer.  My gun jammed after the first burst and as I was trying to clear my weapon – John's gun apparently jammed too because he wouldn't fire anymore – I heard the old familiar, ‘thump’ – ‘POW!’.  And I looked, and John had fired the M-79 grenade launcher. 

We were receiving NO fire from the beach.  There were no muzzle flashes.  The water wasn't boiling around the boat as it were – and the only noise was the noise we were making.  So, I told the boat operator – the motor operator – to, you know, ‘let's leave the area.’ And we did, went back to port, eventually – went back to the swift boat and went back to port.

As to the immediate aftermath and Kerry's Purple Heart:

And that morning, I went in and debriefed my commanding officer – our division commander, then Lieutenant Commander [Grant] 'Skip' Hibbard.

And I told him what happened.  And I told him I was NOT going to be filing an after-action report, which is required if you have enemy action, because we had no enemy action.  And I also after giving him all the details and I said, 'Oh, by the way –'  and I don't remember my exact words – 'John nicked himself with the M-79.'  Those M-79s, by the way, have a kill radius of about five meters.  A  little over five yards.  But, there is a shrapnel area beyond that.  And that's what happened.  And I was upset because that could have gone in somebody's eye and so on and so forth.

The division commander said, 'Fine, understand – no after-action report required.'  Then, I found out that John had come in. And then I went back into a meeting and he had this small piece of shrapnel in his hand and he was requesting a Purple Heart.  I was opposed to that.  The division commander was opposed to that.

And John left our division four or five days later. I departed country maybe three weeks later.  Skip left a few days after I left.  So, we were all gone.  And I forgot about it.  Until some years later, someone told me – and I don't recall who – to my surprise, John had been awarded a Purple Heart for that incident.

And as to whether Sen. Kerry remembers being on the boat with Adm. Schachte:

And that's the way things were until about 20 years or so later.  I was then an Admiral and I was in uniform – didn't have my hat on; I'd left that someplace in an office I was visiting.  I was in the basement of the Senate Russell Office Building.  And you have this subway system in the Capitol.  I was waiting for a subway with a friend.

And he pointed – 'Look, that's Senator Kerry over there.' And I said, 'I know him.'  And he said, 'You do?'  And I hadn't seen or talked with John since Vietnam.  And I guess I embarrassed my friend because I said, 'Hey, John!'  Just like that.  Well, he turned around, looked at me – it's about 20 paces away – and he kind of strolled over to me.  And that call sign that night, if I haven't mentioned it, was 'Batman.'  I think I have. But, John walked over to me and got kind of close and he said, 'Batman.'

Sounds to me like Bill Schachte's presence on that skimmer was seared into young Lt. Kerry's memory.

Again, read the whole thing.  Myers did a fairly good job of probing Adm. Schachte's memories, motives, and so forth — even trying to bait him into name-calling (which he resolutely refused to do).  Myers also did a new telephone interview with William Zaladonis, who continues to deny that Schachte was present.

Posted by Beldar at 04:29 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (124)

Honor and war heroes: John Kerry and Benedict Arnold?

Sen. Kerry quietly scaled back, then simply dropped the "Benedict Arnold companies" rhetoric that characterized his primary-campaign bashing of "outsourcing."  The name "Benedict Arnold" has a vivid meaning even for Americans who have only the foggiest idea of who the man was or what he actually did during the American Revolutionary War.  It's a powerful synonym for "traitor" — which is why Kerry chose to use it when he needed to be "more protectionist than thou" in the primaries, and has dropped it now that he's recrafting his image to be somewhat more of a free trade advocate.

General Benedict Arnold ... less chin, more nose, less hairNow, however, in the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy, it's Sen. Kerry's own war hero record that's under examination.  And one might immediately conclude that anyone who compares him to Benedict Arnold must be a flaming right-wing nutcase, slobbering rabid foam.  This post, however, on the blog dislogue, is both informative for those who don't know the details of the "real" Benedict Arnold, and thought-provoking for those who are trying to reconcile Kerry's genuine merits as a combat veteran with the current questions about his medal-worthiness and post-service antiwar activism.  There are parallels worth considering that do not necessarily label Kerry as a "traitor" in the process; and this author makes the interesting argument that while Kerry's betrayals of his comrades may have been of a lesser order of magnitude than Arnold's, the consequences, ironically, may actually have been worse.

Posted by Beldar at 02:23 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (49)

Evidence mounts on Bush-Barney connection

We all know that pictures never lie.  This is simply damning.  I'm sensing a Bush-Cheney04 implosion out of this issue.  Has anyone been looking for photographic evidence of links between Cheney and the Cookie Monster?  Rove and the Count?  The truth is out there — somewhere.

Posted by Beldar at 01:15 AM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (1)

Why Kerry's Belodeau Eulogy deserves more attention

Dear blogosphere and (yeah, right) mainstream media: 

In the Belodeau Eulogy, Kerry said Rassmann fell

overboard in a sharp turn, not due to a second mine!

Now that I have done what I can to ensure that I haven't buried my lede, let me explain:

After studying an article entitled "Editors Grapple With How to Cover Swift Boat Controversy," Sir George of The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler observes that "it's hard to know what to make of this horrifyingly candid crap in Editor & Publisher, so I'll just Fisk it till it stops twitching."  He does so in a stylish and entertaining fashion guaranteed to cause many chuckles even among readers who aren't quite yet sold on all of his ultimate conclusions. 

Along the way, Sir George ably highlights the details and significance of Kerry's Belodeau Eulogy, as reprinted in the Congressional Record, and graciously credits me for finding and pointing it out.  The credit is actually due to two of my readers who found and brought it to my attention, and I'm embarrassed that I didn't snap to its importance more quickly.  Re-reading my original post, I recognize that I also was guilty of burying my lede because of my desire not to seem ghoulish while highlighting a jangling contradiction that, after all, appeared in an extremely sober source.  And I still want to emphasize that nothing in this argument should be deemed to reflect poorly upon — or diminish the justifiable honor paid by Sen. Kerry to — his former crewman, the late Tommy Belodeau.

In the Belodeau Eulogy — an eloquent speech that I credit Kerry with preparing meticulously, and that is available to the public from an unimpeachable and unbiased source, the Congressional Record  (.pdf files: first page, second page) — Kerry describes Rassmann's loss overboard in a manner that is quite at odds with the version contained in the documentation for his Bronze Star and other contemporaneous documents.  Yet to my eyes, it's actually a far more plausible account.  Sir George takes a closer look than I originally did at the version of events described in the Belodeau Eulogy, using the better understanding we all think we have now of the geographical layout around where PCF 3 hit a mine, and Sir George makes some further observations that would make Sir Issac Newton very proud and, perhaps, Sen. Kerry very nervous:  The events described in the Belodeau eulogy couldn't logically have resulted in Kerry's bruised right arm — the most defensible basis for his third Purple Heart — unless Kerry was facing his boat's stern as it raced first away from, then back toward, the stricken PCF 3

And as I noted in my original post, there's no "second mine" in the Belodeau Eulogy.  There's only one mine in this rendition; it goes off under Kerry's boat, not PCF 3 (which isn't even mentioned); and it goes off well before Rassmann goes overboard.

One reason the "Christmas in Cambodia" fairy tale became the first break-through in the mainstream media — and hence the first major roll-back in the Kerry camp's position — was its simplicity as compared to the far more complicated questions surrounding the merits, or lack thereof, behind Kerry's Silver and Bronze Stars and two of his three Purple Hearts.  But I also suspect that some considerable portion of the momentum from that story came from Glenn Reynolds' digital camera, whence he produced a widely reprinted image of the yellowed page from the Congressional Record with the now-famous "seared — seared" quotation from Kerry speaking to the United States Senate.

Perhaps general understanding of the Bay Hap River action and the Rassmann rescue, out of which Kerry's Bronze Star and third Purple Heart were awarded, is now widespread enough that the Belodeau Eulogy — and in particular, its vivid contrast from what Kerry and his supporters have consistently said about those events — can now likewise be appreciated.  Physics and geography aside, it's as simple as "one mine" versus "two mines."

Although I have a digital camera, I don't have the ready access to the hard-bound Congressional Record that Prof. Reynolds photographed.  So I'll have to make due with a series of simple .jpg files I've screencapped and snipped from the .pdf file (at 150 percent magnification) that I downloaded and saved from the Congressional Record's website — which is admittedly less impressive on a visceral level than Prof. Reynold's digital photo of an actual time-yellowed page:

page number from the 1998 Congressional Record, 'S' for 'Senate'
page title from the 1998 Congressional Record
page date from the 1998 Congressional Record
introductory text from the center column
* * *
relevant text  from the far-right column

("Lowell-Chelmsford," I gather from a quick Google search my commenter Steven Jens, is a neighborhood in Boston refers to a pair of Massachusetts towns that doubtless was were  recognized by most everyone at the funeral of Boston Massachusetts native Belodeau.)

As I wrote in my original post, I fully credit the news accounts that Sen. Kerry spoke with passion and visible emotion when he delivered the Belodeau Eulogy aloud at Mr. Belodeau's funeral.  One opinion expressed in John O'Neill's Unfit for Command (at page 77) that I thought probably overbroad was the statement that "Kerry never formed the kind of human relationships with his fellow sailors that are essential to effective performance."  The opinion was offered in connection with the revelation that Captain Thomas Wright and other officers weren't sorry to see Kerry leave the Swiftees early, and actually brought to his attention that his third Purple Heart could be his ticket stateside; and perhaps the opinion accurately describes Kerry's relationship with his fellow Swiftee officers. 

But it's hard not to be impressed by the fact that of Kerry's surviving crewmen — as his campaign has emphasized again and again — all but one have rallied to his defense in the current controversy.  And I, for one, am inclined to believe that in writing and delivering the Belodeau Eulogy, Sen. Kerry, at least for once, dropped most of the self-aggrandizement that characterizes so many of his other tales of his wartime experiences.  His insertion of the Belodeau Eulogy into the Congressional Record was a fitting gesture to the man and his surviving family, rather than Sen. Kerry bloviating on the Senate floor as part of a Senate debate or myth-making for the press in one of his own re-election campaigns.  These are admittedly speculative reasons.  But the Belodeau Eulogy version fits better with the boat damage reports and the geography on which all must agree, regardless of the widely varying and inconsistent recollections given in other circumstances by various observers.  So I'm inclined to conclude that — with, perhaps, the exception of the one mine being relocated from under PCF 3 to under Kerry's own boat — the events related in the Belodeau Eulogy are actually Sen. Kerry's best, unguarded, and unspun recollections as to how Rassmann actually came to fall from PCF 94.

In any event, however — whether it's ultimately adjudged to be accurate or not — the version of events given by Sen. Kerry in the Belodeau Eulogy deserves attention if for no other reason than that it's at such variance from the version he (and some others, including Rassmann) have told so many other times.

Posted by Beldar at 12:39 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (32)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Funniest line I've heard today: Kerry camp on ties between their lawyers and anti-Bush 527s

Sometimes I genuinely can't tell if the NYT's reporters have a deliciously droll sense of humor or are just really dense (bracketed portion, boldface, and underscoring added):

Mr. Ginsberg, the chief outside counsel to the Bush-Cheney re-election effort, agreed to an interview after several telephone calls to him and the campaign's asking that he explain his role. He said that he was helping the group comply with campaign finance rules and that his work was entirely separate from his work for the president. President Bush has called for an end to advertising by all groups like that of the Swift boat veterans, called 527's for the section of the tax code that created them.

The campaign of Senator John Kerry shares a lawyer, Robert Bauer, with America Coming Together, a liberal group that is organizing a huge multimillion-dollar get-out-the-vote drive that is far more ambitious than the Swift boat group's activities. Mr. Ginsberg said his role was no different from Mr. Bauer's....

[Referring to Ginsberg's advising the SwiftVets:] "It's another piece of evidence of the ties between the Bush campaign and this group," Chad Clanton, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, said. Asked about his [i.e., the Kerry] campaign's use of shared lawyers, Mr. Clanton said, "If the Bush campaign truly disapproved of this smear, their top lawyer wouldn't be involved."

Kudos to the NYT for asking about the hypocrisy.  Jeers for either being too subtle with their humor, or for instead simply missing the fact that Mr. Clanton wouldn't answer their question.  In either event, jeers for burying this delicious bit in their fourth-from-the-bottom paragraph.

----------

Update:  Ginsberg has fallen on his sword to remove even any hint of impropriety by announcing his resignation as counsel for the Bush campaign today.  Jim Geraghty's Kerry Spot reprints his resignation letter, but the key graphs are:

I am proud to have given legal advice to American military veterans and others who wish to add their views to the political debate. It was done so in a manner that is fully appropriate and legal and, in fact, is quite similar to the relationships between my counterparts at the DNC and the Kerry campaign and Democrat 527s such as Moveon.org, the Media Fund and Americans Coming Together.

Unfortunately, this campaign has seen a stunning double standard emerge between the media's focus on the activities of 527s aligned with John Kerry and those opposed to him....

Classy, but probably unnecessary.  Now will his Dem counterparts do the same?  Magic 8-Ball sez:  "Outlook not so good."

----------

Update:  I noticed this afternoon that the paper-and-messy-ink version of the NYT, at least as printed and distributed in Houston, doesn't contain the key last sentence from the last paragraph in my original blockquote (which does, however, at least for the moment, still appear in the online version that I've linked).  Instead, the hard-copy version simply reads:

"It's another piece of evidence of the ties between the Bush campaign and this group," said Chad Clanton, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry."

Humorless and pro-Kerry editors?  Or simply nonsequitur-intolerant ones?  Gremlins?  The ghost of Jayson Blair?  Your guess is as good as mine.

I've also edited my original description of the location of the peculiar paragraph per betsybounds' comment below.  I blush, and plead in mitigation the late hour and my need to type with one hand while holding my splitting sides with the other.

Posted by Beldar at 02:48 AM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (32)

Staking the heart of the SwiftVets vampire

From a piece today in Editor & Publisher" (boldface added; hat-tip to InstaPundit):

Some of the reporters covering Kerry said that the candidate had become less accessible on the campaign plane in recent weeks, with a few speculating that it might be because he did not want to face questions about the swift boat issue. But among them, different views arose over the swift boat story, with some saying it had gone on too long and others believing it was news that had to be covered.

"What I've heard from colleagues is that people feel it probably has had too long a life," said Frank James, a Chicago Tribune reporter. "We wish someone would put a stake in this vampire."

James also said some wondered why Kerry did not take on the issue himself earlier on. "He should have knocked it down early, but the campaign clearly thought it would go away."

Okay, fair enough.  Only one person — John F. Kerry — can stake the vampire, and the "stake" would consist of three parts:

  • He'd end the coverup:  Kerry would sign Standard Form 180 and authorize, even expedite, the release of every bit of the military's records regarding his combat service — all the after-action and spot reports, all the communications logs, all the medical records, all the backup for his commendations.  He'd authorize and encourage everyone from those days with first-hand knowledge to make themselves available for lengthy, detailed interviews by knowledgeable reporters in a public forum — no more hiding his friendly witnesses behind his campaign's handlers.  He'd release his wartime journals that have previously have been given only to Brinkley.  He'd turn over the home movies.  He'd bring out the medals and/or ribbons still in his possession.  He'd show us the original written citations for his medals and explain why there are multiple different versions of them.  Then he'd sit down in a public forum with John O'Neill and answer, without equivocation or making countercharges, the questions that O'Neill would put to him on behalf of the SwiftVets.  And at the end of it, he'd look the camera in the eye, and say, truthfully, "I've now done everything I can to bring to the American people all the details of my military service, from start to finish, and I'll let you decide if I did or didn't deserve the medals I received, and whether I did or did not serve with honor and distinction."

  • He'd apologize:  He'd call a press conference — maybe at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial on the Mall in D.C.  He'd re-read the beginning of his testimony to the Fulbright Committee.  Then he'd admit that he had no first-hand knowledge of the brutal charges he made back then.  He'd admit that he'd knowingly and recklessly made statements that the North Vietnamese used to perpetuate lies and to humiliate and torture the comrades he'd left behind.  He'd admit that he consorted with this country's enemies when he met with representatives of the North Vietnamese government and Viet Cong in Paris while he was still an officer of the United States Naval Reserve.  And then he'd apologize, from the bottom of his heart, for the pain he caused his fellow veterans and the harm he did — not only to this country, but to millions of Southeast Asians who suffered at the hands of our enemies when our country lost its national willpower.

  • He'd promise to learn from his mistakes:  At that same press conference, he'd tell the American public what he's learned from all this.  He'd admit that he was wrong to repeatedly embellish and exaggerate his wartime experiences — like the "Christmas in Cambodia" story — for political gain.  He'd admit that he was wrong to blame President Bush for the anger and resentment that John Kerry had himself engendered among his fellow veterans and many in the general public.  He'd admit that he'd been mistaken in covering up the details of his war record that might not reflect well upon him.  And he'd promise that if elected, he'd never again unfairly impugn the honor of our country's men and women in uniform, nor give propaganda material to our enemies, nor cover up and blame others for his own mistakes.

That would slay the vampire.  It would require more bravery than he's ever shown during his entire life, and it would be more painful than all of his three Purple Heart wounds combined.  But he could be done with the whole controversy before the middle of September.  And then John Forbes Kerry could spend the rest of his campaign talking about the future — without saying another word, or answering another question, about Vietnam.

He could.  But he won't.

Posted by Beldar at 01:38 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (23)

McQ finds where NYT became confused re three bullet holes and enemy KIA and WIAs on 13Mar69

The NYT's article last week on Kerry's Bronze Star claimed "three bullet holes [in Thurlow's Swift Boat], suggesting enemy fire, and later intelligence reports indicate that one Vietcong was killed in action and five others wounded, reaffirming the presence of an enemy" during the Bay Hap River action on March 13, 1969, in which PCF 3 hit a mine and Kerry rescued Rassmann. 

Apparently I was not the only one confused and troubled by this report.  McQ of QandO has gone back to the source documents that the NYT relied upon, and has figured out what the NYT was talking about, and where they went wrong. 

Bottom line:  The NYT reporters were confused, and were mistakenly using part of the report that described earlier action elsewhere as if it applied to the later events surrounding PCF 3 hitting the mine and Rassmann being rescued.  That earlier action definitely explains the reports of the enemy KIA and WIAs, and could also explain the three bullet holes in Thurlow's boat (although his recollection is that they were from action on the previous day, if I recall correctly what I've read elsewhere). 

But the reports of bullet holes and the enemy KIA and WIAs upon which the NYT relied emphatically does not support the conclusion that Kerry, Rassmann, or any of the Swift Boats were under enemy fire at or around the time that PCF 3 hit the mine.

Posted by Beldar at 12:35 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (11)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

One Vietnam vet's letter to another

In blogging about the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy, I've reminded myself many times, and often noted in my posts, that I lack any first-hand military experience or the bona fides that come with it.

But I'm proud to reprint with permission an eloquent letter, from someone who does have those bona fides, written to someone who also shares them (boldface mine):

An Open Letter to Senator John McCain from a Vietnam Veteran

Senator McCain,

I begin this missive with an embrazo, as we call it here in Texas, for your service to our country, as a warrior, as a prisoner of war and as a United States Senator. You have served far better and endured far more in the service of America than most men will ever do. For that, this old sergeant salutes you.

That said, as a Vietnam ground combat veteran, I must take issue with you on the situation of John Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans. You have labeled these men "dishonest and dishonorable," and that, Sir, is nothing more than your opinion based on no direct knowledge of the events they dispute. For you to so condemn these men publicly, without any firsthand knowledge of John Kerry’s performance in their midst and under their professional observation, is unfair to them and all veterans who share their view that John Kerry is unfit to command. Who was best qualified to evaluate you as a naval aviator, those senior officers who flew with you or the enlisted men who serviced your aircraft? Who had the experience, training and knowledge to make a professional military judgment of your performance in the air, the trained naval aviators on your wing or the enlisted flight crew back on the carrier? Certainly the enlisted men were vital in performing the mission but observing and rating your performance was not their role.

It is my understanding that you originally shared our animosity towards John Kerry, but during your senatorial service, you came to know John Kerry more personally and chose to forgive him for his labeling you a war criminal. That you are able to forgive a man even though he had denounced you and your fellow aviators as you languished in North Vietnamese prisons, with your captors using his testimony to try to break your will, is truly commendable. I admire you for your ability to turn the other cheek. However, I must point out that your forgiveness of John Kerry is purely personal and imposes not one iota of obligation to forgive him on those of us who still consider him contemptible.

You carry no mandate to speak for us. Your personal feelings are yours and yours alone; but, emphatically, you do not speak for us. You spoke up to defend your friend and your friend has turned your words into talking points. It is truly reprehensible how the Kerry campaign and the mainstream media are hiding so cynically behind your condemnation of the Swiftvets, using your statement as an excuse to dismiss their claims as baseless, smear politics. Honestly, Senator, did you really intend to provide this kind of cover for those who are so desperate to prevent the truth from coming out?

With all do respect, since you weren’t there to observe John Kerry first hand as were these Swiftvets, may I humbly suggest that the honorable thing for you to do, is to stay out of this fight and allow them and us to have our voice. Moreover, there is one thing you could do to level the playing field: acknowledge that you have no true knowledge of events the Swiftvets describe and that your immediate condemnation of these men was premature. Call on the mainstream media to investigate all parties fairly and determine whose version of events is true. I understand John Kerry is your friend, but that places him neither beyond accountability nor above the truth. You have a unique ability at this moment in America’s history to make a difference. You have long been a dutiful warrior and servant of the people.

Please, do your duty now.

/s/ Russ Vaughn
2d Bn, 327th Parachute Infantry Regiment
101st Airborne Division
Vietnam 65-66

I would request that all who agree with the sentiments expressed here copy this letter and send it to:
http://mccain.senate.gov/

Update:  I can add nothing to this eloquent letter.  You can cut and paste Mr. Vaughn's letter, and add your own comments, on Sen. McCain's website; from the choices in his drop-down topics list, I'd suggest "Veteran's Affairs."   

But I've read elsewhere that politicians sometimes pay more attention to regular letters, faxes, and telephone calls than they do to emails or electronic messages, so here's the Senator's alternate contact information:

The Hon. John McCain
241 Russell Senate Ofc. Bldg.
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-2235
Fax: (202) 228-2862

Posted by Beldar at 10:44 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (5)

Bear catches goose complaining about gander's sauce

The Kerry camp has been straining hard to find evidence to support their claims that the Bush campaign is secretly directing the SwiftVets.  Today they pointed to the fact that the SwiftVets consulted a respected lawyer with expertise on the campaign finance laws, including section 527, who's also given legal advice at other times to Republicans.

Blogger N.Z. Bear aptly absolutely skewers the incredible hypocrisy of this charge — with ample names, dates, details, and links showing that the Dems have already done exactly that which they today blamed the Bush campaign for doing — after which he delivers this observation:

At this point, the Kerry campaign's belief that they can hold their opponents to one set of standards while blissfully ignoring the fact that their own partisans trample upon those same standards has passed being stupid, and is now becoming downright insulting. Did they really think that nobody would bother to check if the Democrats were similarly sharing lawyers with 527's?

That kind of carelessness might have cut it a few years ago, when somnolent Big Media hacks were satisfied to define reporting as getting quotes from both party's spokesmen. But times have changed, friends: there isn't just one new sheriff in town, there's thousands of us. We will fact-check your ass, and we will do it thoroughly and properly, with links and primary sources that let our readers decide where the truth lies. So straighten up and fly right, because we are watching — and we do this crap for fun.

As a lawyer, I've had many clients seek my legal advice.  The notion that I'm some sort of causal link to demonstrate connections between all the various clients who've sought my advice is simply silly — as is the rest of the Kerry campaign's FEC complaint.

Posted by Beldar at 10:15 PM in Law (2006 & earlier), Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (6)

SwiftVets update website photo, but leave honest footprints

When the SwiftVets first got started up, one of their complaints was that the Kerry campaign was giving a misimpression about the number of his fellow Swiftee officers who now support Kerry by widely republishing a photograph showing Kerry among his "band of brothers."  The index page of the SwiftVets' website contained the photograph, and when viewers rolled their mouse cursors over it, it greyed out both the officers who'd explicitly refused to support Kerry for Commander in Chief and those who'd refused comment — at that time, all but one of the officers next to Kerry in the photo.

Since then, within the last couple of days, a couple of officers who'd previously refused comment have spoken up to say they support Kerry.  In response, the SwiftVets promptly changed their website graphic:

Moreover, they've not just made the change, they've expressly acknowledged it on their website (boldface in original):

August 23 update: The Kerry campaign has evidently persuaded formerly neutral Swift officers Rich McCann and Rich Baker to support John Kerry's candidacy. We have adjusted our graphic display and text to reflect this change.

Only 3 of John Kerry's 23 fellow Swift boat commanders from Coastal Division 11 supports his candidacy today.

Compare this to the Kerry campaign's website, from which whole pages of claims and documents are routinely "disappeared" on a regular basis, usually without acknowledgement or explanation.

The SwiftVets' full name is "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" — and this small episode is perfectly emblematic of how seriously they take those last two words, and how much those last two words frighten the subject of their project.

Posted by Beldar at 09:25 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (14)

Flipfloppitude

From Jim Geraghty's Kerry Spot on NRO, in the midst of musings about Mickey Kaus' coverage of the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy:

So here's John Kerry's ultimate moment of flipfloppitude, if that's a word. He built his political career on the national spotlight, garnered from a way over-the-top denunciation of the men he fought with, and now is shocked that they hate him. They criticize him in no worse or better terms than the way he criticized all soldiers and sailors in Vietnam in 1971, and his response is to send threatening legal letters to television stations. His campaign urges bookstores to pull "Unfit for Command" from shelves. He dismisses all of the group's allegations as lies; quietly backtracks on the first Purple Heart and Cambodia Christmas; blames the whole thing on George W. Bush and promptly demands that the President defend Kerry's reputation by denouncing the Swifties. Chernobyl didn't melt down this fast.

If "flipfloppitude" isn't a word, it should be.  I like it.  It sings to me.

Posted by Beldar at 08:47 PM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (1)

Jim Russell and other witnesses of uncertain provenance appearing from out of the woodwork

Roughly this time yesterday, a Google News search on "Kerry 'Jim Russell'" turned up exactly two entries — and tonight as I write this post, that same search turns up 210.  This should give you some clue how eagerly the Kerry campaign has embraced Mr. Russell after meaty parts of his letter to the editor in the Telluride Daily Planet Sunday were reprinted in Monday's WaPo.

Most of the hits, however, are to identical reprints of wire service reports.  AP's offers this short blurb about Mr. Russell:

In a conference call with reporters arranged by aides to the Democratic presidential candidate, Navy swift boat officers Rich McCann, Jim Russell and Rich Baker said Kerry acted honorably and bravely and was well qualified to be the nation's commander in chief.

Knight-Ridder's version has only a little more:

On Monday, three veterans who served with Kerry denounced the ads in a conference call arranged by Kerry's campaign. All said they'd intended to stay out of the presidential race, but were incensed by the ads.

"When those ads came out, when they misrepresented what I knew to be a fact, I knew I had to say something," said former Navy Lt. Jim Russell, 60, of Telluride, Colo.

A version from the Chicago Tribute's newswire, republished elsewhere, offers more detail, some of it clearly wrong (bracketed portion mine):

Rich Baker of Pittsburgh, Rich McCann of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and Jim Russell of Telluride, Colo., said they voluntarily came forward because they were disturbed that some of the same men who honored Kerry for meritorious service, and later supported him for the Senate, were now attacking him in his run for the presidency.

Russell said he was in An Thoi [sic — that's the base, not where the action happened] on March 13, 1969, the day Army Special Forces Lt. James Rassmann was thrown from his boat and rescued by Kerry, who earned the Bronze Star for his actions.

"My recollection is that we were under fire off and on during the whole time this incident took place," Russell said. "My direct recollection is of seeing John Kerry bend over his boat and pick up the soldier out of the water, that (Kerry's) boat was by itself up river."

A later AP version offers quite a lot more about Mr. Russell, but then goes on to quote statements from him that would seem to directly impeach the assertions being made by the other vets who were not on Kerry's own boat who've nonetheless been produced by the Kerry campaign to support the claim that Kerry was under enemy fire when he plucked Rassmann from the water (boldface added):

A Colorado veteran who says he witnessed John Kerry's actions during a Vietnam firefight said Monday the presidential candidate deserves both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals he was awarded.

Jim Russell, now retired and living in the ski resort town of Telluride, said his boat was nearby, taking small arms fire on March, 13, 1969, as he watched Kerry pluck a crewman from the water upstream....

Russell said he kept quiet about his role in the fight for 35 years until he saw television ads attacking Kerry's war record and questioning his valor.

"When those ads came out and misrepresented what I knew to be a fact, I had to say something. I found him to be an aggressive, tough, and by-the-book kind of guy when he was in Vietnam," he said.

Russell said the casualty rate for boats going upriver during the war was 86 percent.

"You don't put in for a Purple Heart. It's the one medal you don't even want," Russell said during a telephone conference call set up by the Kerry campaign in response to allegations by veteran supporters of President Bush that Kerry exaggerated his military record.

Russell said Navy regulations at the time required troops to report injuries or face court-martial if the wounds got infected. "To say he should not be getting the Purple Hearts is just ridiculous," he said....

Russell said the only people who know for sure if they were under fire were in Kerry's boat, and they have supported Kerry's version of what happened that day.

"My direct recollection seeing John Kerry bend over his boat and pick up the soldier out of the water was that his boat was by itself, upriver," he said. "The only people that know if he was under fire were the people in that boat and the person in the water. Those are the people that you need to ask that question to, and I think they've already responded to it."

And Bloomberg.com provides another quote from the call that adds confusion (boldface added):

Jim Russell, who served on a separate gunboat during a mission with Kerry in Vietnam, disputed claims by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that there was no enemy fire when Kerry earned a Purple Heart and Silver Star for rescuing Jim Rassmann, who had fallen overboard. Rassmann also backs Kerry's story.

"We were under fire off and on while the incident took place,'' Russell, 60, said during a conference call organized by Kerry's campaign.  There were no other boats close enough to Kerry during the incident for the other veterans to be able to tell whether there were bullets flying, he told reporters.

*******

None of the press reports at all bother to mention that just days ago, the Kerry campaign's universal talking point was that none of the SwiftVets can be believed about anything because none of them "served with John Kerry."   Then came the modified version, that none of the SwiftVets can be believed about anything because (with one exception, usually ignored by the press and always ignored by Kerry partisans), the SwiftVets weren't under Kerry's command on his boat.  This week, however, William Rood's memoir of the Silver Star action is the Kerry campaign's new gospel, even though he commanded a different boat.

On Monday in particular, however, with respect to the Bay Hap River/Rassmann rescue/Bronze Star action, it apparently struck no one in the press as odd that on back-to-back days, the Kerry campaign has trumpeted the Langhofer version ("a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river") and then the Russell version ("off and on fire," just from the "left beach") — even though both Mr. Langhofer and Mr. Russell on were on Lt. Droz' PCF 43, and neither of them were on Lt. Kerry's PCF 94. 

And on this particular Monday, it also struck no one in the press as odd that most previous witnesses, including Kerry supporters, have agreed that another Swift Boat (Chenoweth's PCF 23) was no more than a few yards and a few seconds away from rescuing Rassmann when Kerry did so — but now Kerry backer Mr. Russell says nobody except Rassmann and the people on Kerry's boat could tell if Kerry's boat was under fire. 

These changes in Kerry campaign tactics, and these conflicts among their witnesses, go entirely unnoticed and unprobed.  Ummm — hello?  In addition to three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, and a Bronze Star, did the US Navy also award Kerry an unlimited, transferable license to flip-flop?  In addition to his lucky hat from the CIA guy, is he also wearing, and slipping his witnesses under, Harry Potter's magic cloak of invisibility?

*******

Of course, an extremely important predicate question to any of this discussion remains entirely  unanswered by the mainstream media outlets who've now bought into Mr. Russell's (and others') absolute credibility without blinking an eyelash or asking any qualifying questions:

Who is this Jim Russell fellow, and how much can he actually tell us that's meaningful about Sen. Kerry's combat record?

Kerry partisan Dr. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo is entirely satisfied: "It seems he was where he said he was. The Post mentions his account in this story today [Monday]. And he was on a conference call today arranged by the Kerry campaign."  Well yeah, Josh, but ... I'm pretty sure you did better sourcing than this when you got that PhD in History, didn't ya?

I wrote yesterday at some length about the peculiarities apparent just from the face of Mr. Russell's original letter to the editor, and my commenters promptly chimed in with several more.  I won't repeat those here, but suffice it to say, Mr. Russell's description of the events create ample reasons to wonder whether he knows much about Swift Boats.

Moreover, Jim Russell's name appears nowhere on the comprehensive, but admittedly not exhaustive, "Swift Boat Crew Directory" of the general website of Swiftee veterans, www.swiftboats.net, which includes all of the various Coastal Divisions that together were part of Coastal Squadron One; this website predated, and is entirely unconnected with, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or the current SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy.  Although he's identified by the uncritical media reports as a "Swift Boat officer," that's not the way he identified himself in his original letter to the editor, and it seems extremely unlikely that he ever commanded or helped command — or was part of a regular crew for — any Swift Boat.

Nor does Mr. Russell's name appear in the indices of either John O'Neill's Unfit for Combat, Douglas Brinkley's Tour of Duty, or Michael Kranish et al.'s John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best.

In his letter to the editor, Mr. Russell described himself as having been "assigned as Psychological Operation Officer for the Swift Boat group out of An Thoi, Vietnam, from January 1969 to October 1969. As such, I was on No. 43 boat, skippered by Don Droz who was later that year killed by enemy fire."  Even if we take the Knight-Ridder reference to him as a "Navy Lt." at face value, it leaves entirely unclear Mr. Russell's position in the chain of command, his superior officers, or his regular duties.  Indeed, from Mr. Russell's description, one cannot even conclude with confidence that he was based at An Thoi, or whether instead Coastal Division 11 was one of many units for whom he also simultaneously served as "Psychological Operations Officer," perhaps from a desk in Saigon.

So what, if anything, is Mr. Russell's basis for asserting to the national press on Monday that he found young Lt. Kerry to be an "aggressive, tough, and by-the-book kind of guy"?  Could he tell all that from watching Kerry pluck Rassmann from the river?  Was he intimately acquainted with Kerry's performance in and out of combat, and yet he somehow managed not to have his name mentioned by anyone on either side of the controversy until yesterday?

We can only guess.  Apparently, that's good enough for the Kerry campaign, Josh Marshall, and the entire mainstream media.

*******

However, in chapter 5 at pp. 78-79, O'Neill's Unfit for Command (which I've finally laid hands upon, and just finished reading) includes this interesting passage, which to my knowledge has gotten no notice in either the mainstream media or the blogosphere:

In his Dam Doi operating report from February 20, 1969, Kerry recommended "psy-ops" (psychological operations) along the Dam Doi — a recommendation he lauds as a great achievement in his 1970 interview in the Harvard Crimson:  "One time Kerry was ordered to destroy a Viet Cong village but disobeyed orders and suggested that the Navy Command simply send in a Psychological Warefare team to befriend the villagers with food, hospital supplies, and better educational facilities."  Once again, Kerry promotes himself as an "antiwar warrior."

Surprisingly, the Navy adopted a psy-ops recommendation.  If the idea were indeed Kerry's, then it would have been the only such recommendation he made and the only one to be adopted.  At any rate, the program was an unmitigated disaster.  Many Swiftees, including John O'Neill, wondered who could have been so stupid as to recommend using our boats to travel slowly while playing psy-ops tapes over a loudspeaker, appealing in Vietnamese to the local population, in an area as hostile as the Dam Doi.  Many Swiftees and Mobile Riverine Sailors died or were wounded on these missions following the "Boston Strangler's" [Kerry's call-sign] recommendation.

One was Shelton White, a well-known film producer of underwater documentaries, who was wounded three times on the Dam Doi in a matter of minutes but returned to fight again.  White and many other sailors who signed the May 4, 2004, Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth letter opposing Kerry's presidential campaign did not realize even in 2004 that it was John Kerry who recommended this ill-conceived psy-ops operation for which they had paid with their blood.

And Brinkley's Tour of Duty (which I've just started reading, so I'm relying on its index for this discussion) also discusses the Swiftees' role in, and views on, psy-ops operations.  At page 202:

Frequently just as ineffective and perhaps even more absurd were the psychological operations (PsyOps) the United States mounted in Vietnam.  Concocted in 1954 by World War II Air Force officer turned advertising executive turned CIA agent Edward G. Lansdale, the initial U.S. PsyOps in Vietnam aimed at persuading the country's Catholics to move from North to South and back the Saigon government in the interest of their freedom to worship.  By 1965 the inevitable bureaucracy had grown up around PsyOps into the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office.  Set up by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in Saigon, it deluged the entire country with anti-Communist propaganda leaflets, and air- and ship-borne pre-recorded loudspeaker appeals.  "The PsyOps tapes we were ordered to play on Swifts were ludicrous," Wade Sanders recalled.  "One was called 'The Ghost of the U-Minh Forest'!  The tape was supposed to be of VC ghosts who had been killed by the U.S. or ARVN in that mysterious region.  It was like a bad Halloween tape.  A Vietnamese voice instructing them to surrender was intermixed with moans and groans. We thought the VC who heard it must have had a hard time muffling their laughter.  So we ditched the tape and blasted out James Brown and the Stones instead."

Tour of Duty has a few other passing references that suggest that the playing of tapes and distribution of pre-assembled packages of materials may have been part of the Swiftees' duties going back into 1968 or earlier, but at least based on their indices, neither Brinkley's nor Kranish et al.'s books appear to discuss whether young Kerry was responsible for promoting PsyOps activities, or the presence of PsyOps officers, on Swift Boat missions. 

But note the date that O'Neill's book gives for Kerry's PsyOps recommendation, February 20, 1969, and the date of the only occasion that, so far at least, Mr. Russell claims to have had any first-hand exposure to Kerry, March 13, 1969.  Could Mr. Russell have been aboard PCF 43 on the day of the Bay Hap River action at least in part as the direct result of Kerry's recommendation?  Did they speak to one another?  Discuss PsyOps with one another?  Could Mr. Russell have considered Kerry a supporter in the midst of other Swiftees who were, it would seem, more than mildly skeptical about the PsyOps work they were being asked to do — work that seemed to increase greatly the risks they were taking without providing much, if any, compensating gain?

All this, of course, is my rank speculation — and I'd be the first to agree that it's not even well-informed speculation, given my own lack of military service.  My attempts to reach Mr. Russell by telephone have so far met with only busy signals, and I'd not be surprised if having been catapulted into this controversy, he's taken his phone off the hook.  (Or maybe he's on the phone right now with WaPo's crack reporters, who knows?)

I'm not trying to slime Mr. Russell, or suggest that he's making things up or shading his recollection to benefit the candidate he obviously favors in the upcoming election.  Indeed, the Bloomberg and second AP reports above suggest that — although the mainstream media completely missed it — Mr. Russell is quite effective in impeaching his own eyewitness testimony, not to mention that of other Kerry supporters!

The cattle-call presentation, en masse, of supposed eyewitnesses conducted by the Kerry campaign on Monday — without even minimal scrutinizing or vetting of those witnesses by the mainstream media covering the event — indeed serves Sen. Kerry's rather urgent need to staunch his campaign's bleeding from the hits he's taken from the SwiftVets. 

But it's a damned poor way of getting at the truth.

--------------

Update:  The New York Daily News quotes Mr. Russell in a way that suggests he wasn't claiming that the Swift Boats were under enemy fire when Kerry plucked Rassmann out of the water (elipsis by NYDN):

On the day Kerry pulled Green Beret Jim Rassman from a river after falling overboard, "We were under fire off and on all day. ... Anyone who says we weren't must have been on a different river," Russell said. "We were going up those rivers with an ongoing casualty rate of 86%."

Posted by Beldar at 12:20 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (106)

Sunday, August 22, 2004

WaPo lets new Kerry ad lie go unremarked, mocks Dole, and republishes Russell account as gospel

My hopes that WaPo would maintain its pace of digging into the real issues of the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy are unfulfilled, at least by tomorrow's edition as online tonight.  Its new story by staff writers Lois Romano and David Nakamura presents a weak grab-bag of developments with not a hint of actual reporting to be found in it. 

WaPo leads off with news that Sen. Kerry is planning to run counter-advertisements in battleground states asking the Bush campaign to denounce the SwiftVets' ads.  Here's the new Kerry ad:

American soldiers are fighting in Iraq.  Families struggle to afford healthcare; jobs heading overseas.  Instead of solutions, George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record, attacks called "smears, lies."  Senator McCain calls them "dishonest."  Bush smeared John McCain four years ago.  Now he's doing it to John Kerry.  George Bush, denounce the smear.  Get back to the issues.  America deserves better.

Probably most viewers of the ad won't know that by law, Bush can't coordinate with or direct a 527 organization like the SwiftVets.  Perhaps he could "denounce" the SwiftVets' ads without violating campaign finance laws, although even that is far from clear.  What is entirely clear, however, is that this ad is simply wrong in stating that "George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record."  Not even the Kerry campaign's extremely strained claims of improper coordination between the Bush campaign and the SwiftVets in its FEC complaint come close to approaching a showing that the Bush campaign "supports" the SwiftVets as a "front group."

Update:  WaPo's Howard Kurtz, in his "Ad Watch" column, notes (boldface mine):

There is no evidence that the Bush campaign "supports a front group" that produced the attack ad. There are numerous ties between Bush aides and the veterans' backers, but there are similar ties between Kerry and some liberal groups running anti-Bush ads. Bush and his top strategists, however, have passed up numerous opportunities to condemn the Swift boat ad, calling instead for a moratorium on all advertising by outside groups.

(Hat-tip to Jim Garaghty's Kerry Spot on NRO.)  Mr. Kurtz, perhaps you should clue in your colleagues, Ms. Romano and Mr. Nakamura.

*******

This WaPo article goes on to report about former Sen. Bob Dole's scathing remarks about Kerry:

Yesterday [Sunday], former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), a World War II veteran and the GOP's 1996 nominee, attacked Kerry, agreeing with critics. "One day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons," Dole said on CNN's "Late Edition." "The next day he's standing there, 'I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.' Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam."

Dole also questioned Kerry's commendations. "Three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of," Dole said of the medal one gets for a combat injury. "I mean, they're all superficial wounds. And as far as I know, he's never spent one day in the hospital. I don't think he draws any disability pay. He doesn't have any disability. And boasting about three Purple Hearts when you think of some of the people who really got shot up in Vietnam."

Dole erroneously stated, "He got two in one day, I think." Kerry's Purple Hearts were received for different injuries over his four-month tour in Vietnam, during which he also received a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said, "It's unfortunate that senator Dole is making statements that U.S. Navy records prove false."

I don't have a full transcript of Sen. Dole's remarks.  I'd be curious to see whether, in context, Dole was still referring exclusively to Purple Hearts, or to medals generally, when he was quoted as saying, "He got two in one day, I think."  Because if so, Sen. Dole was absolutely correct — the Bay Hap River action and perhaps the exploding rice pile that preceded it on March 13, 1969, produced both Sen. Kerry's Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. 

Hey, Chad Clanton! I'll bet you don't have the guts to say that to Bob Dole's face.  And you obviously lack the integrity to say to WaPo, "He didn't get two Purple Hearts in one day, he got a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star in one day instead."

*******

The WaPo article also picks up and reprints the new Jim Russell version of the Bay Hap River action, the Rassmann rescue, and Kerry's Bronze Star, quoting from Mr. Russell's letter to the editor in the Telluride newspaper today.  There's nothing else there — no verification of Mr. Russell's history, no comment on the inconsistencies between his story and those of other Kerry supporters.  Apparently the letter's appearance on the "letters to the editor" page of the Telluride Daily Planet is verification enough for all America to rely upon. 

For those unfamiliar with Telluride, Colorado (population 2221), its name is pronounced — as locals will tell you with glee — "To Hell You Ride!"  Great place to retire, wonderful little mountain village; it's not much noted for its international investigative journalism, until now.  If I were a WaPo reporter sweating in the DC heat of August, I can't think of a much better assignment than heading for Telluride right about now.

----------------

Update:  Per tomorrow's NYT story about the new Kerry ad and Dole's remarks:

"John Kerry's a hero," Mr. Dole told Wolf Blitzer. "But what I will always quarrel about are the Purple Hearts. I mean, the first one, whether he ought to have a Purple Heart — he got two in one day, I think. And he was out of there in less than four months, because three Purple Hearts and you're out."

Mr. Kerry did not receive two Purple Hearts for events of the same day. He received them for the events of Dec. 2, 1968, Feb. 20, 1969, and March 13, 1969. Mr. Kerry often acknowledges that his wounds were not severe, but he still has shrapnel in his left thigh from the firefight that led to his second Purple Heart.

Well, okay.  It appears that Sen. Dole may have thought two Purple Hearts came on one day.  Nice of the NYT to correct him.  Would it have been, oh, maybe semi-decent journalism to also reveal as part of the snarky correction that Kerry did get a second, and far more rare, medal for the events of March 13, 1969?

The other interesting bit from the NYT piece:

[Democratic strategist Bill] Carrick and other Democrats said that this was a risky moment for Mr. Kerry's campaign.

"They've turned this into a raging national press story," Mr. Carrick said of the Swift boat group. "It is certainly keeping Kerry from discussing his own issues and agenda and getting on the offensive."

Another Democrat close to the campaign, who asked not to be quoted by name, was more dire.

"When you're basically running on your biography and there are ongoing attacks that are undermining the credibility of your biography, you have a really big problem."

Ayup.

Posted by Beldar at 11:55 PM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (15)

Traffic update, with my thanks to linkers and especially readers!

Today's the first time BeldarBlog has ever exceeded 10,000 page views in a single 24-hour period, so it's an appropriate occasion to again say a hearty "Thanks!" to the various bloggers and others who've been kind enough to link to my work, and especially to the readers who've visited my blog.  Although I write mostly to scratch my own peculiar itches, it's always nice to think that someone else is paying attention.

Posted by Beldar at 09:44 PM in Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (5)

The new Jim Russell version of the Bay Hap River action, the Rassmann rescue, and Kerry's Bronze Star

Stop the presses!  I actually agree for once with Josh Marshall!

Dr. Marshall's Talking Points Memo today links a letter to the editor in the Telluride Daily Planet (I didn't make that up; who knew all these years that Superman's "Metropolis" was actually in Colorado?) from a Mr. Jim Russell, who says he was a first-person witness to the Bay Hap River action that resulted in Sen. Kerry's Bronze Star.  Of this, Dr. Marshall writes,

Now, the demand for folks who were on that piece of water that day must be pretty intense at the moment. And it would seem odd that anyone at this point has yet to be contacted and chatted up by the press.

I have no way of knowing whether this guy was where he says he was on that day. And it could be a hoax. But I did call the editor of the paper, Suzanne Cheavens. She says she knows the guy (small town, I guess), knows he's a Vietnam vet, and vouched for his credibility.

Some reporter should see if they can track this down and confirm or dispute that he was there on the day in question.

I agree.

On to the substance of what Mr. Russell wrote:

This happened on March 13, 1969. I was assigned as Psychological Operation Officer for the Swift Boat group out of An Thoi, Vietnam, from January 1969 to October 1969. As such, I was on No. 43 boat, skippered by Don Droz who was later that year killed by enemy fire. We were second in line while exiting the river and going through the opening in a fish trap when a mine blew up under the No. 3 boat directly in front of us and we started taking small arms fire from the beach. Almost immediately, another mine went off somewhere behind us. All boats, except the one hit, immediately wheeled toward the beach that most of the fire came from (a tactic devised by Lt. Kerry, I later learned) and commenced showering the beaches with so much lead, that it could probably be now mined there. The noise was of course, deafening.

Three things that are forever pictured in my mind since that day over 30 years ago are: (1) The No. 3, 50-foot long, Swift boat getting huge, huge air; John Kerry thought it was about two feet. (He was farther away from it than I). I think it was at least four feet and probably closer to six feet; (2) All the boats turning left and letting loose at the same time like a deadly, choreographed dance and; (3) A few minutes later, John Kerry bending over his boat picking up one of the rangers that we were ferrying from out of the water. All the time we were taking small arms fire from the beach; although because of our fusillade into the jungle, I don't think it was very accurate, thank God. Anyone who doesn't think that we were being fired upon must have been on a different river.

Let's assume at least for the moment that Mr. Russell was indeed on Lt. Droz' PCF 43.  Kerry's defenders will doubtless want to highlight Mr. Russell's statement that "we started taking small arms fire from the beach" immediately after the mine explosion.

But other parts of Mr. Russell's version immediately strike me as rather odd:

  • As far as I know, no other eyewitness has claimed that after the first mine exploded under PCF 3, "[a]lmost immediately, another mine went off somewhere behind us."  (Emphasis added.)  Kerry and his partisans have at various times claimed that there was another explosion near PCF 94, Kerry's boat — perhaps another mine or, per Sandusky's latest guess, a rocket, that may or may not have been responsible for Rassmann going overboard — but after that boat had sped off some considerable distance ahead (downriver, to the southeast), not behind. 

  • Mr. Russell describes Sen. Kerry as rescuing a "ranger"; Mr. Rassmann was not a ranger as I understand it, but rather Special Forces (Green Beret).

  • Mr. Russell says that "[a]ll boats, except the one hit, immediately wheeled toward the beach that most of the fire came from ... and commenced showering the beaches."  He repeats this, asserting that "forever pictured in my mind" (presumably not, however, "seared — seared") since that day has been the image of "[a]ll the boats turning left and letting loose at the same time like a deadly, choreographed dance."  But everyone else, including Sen. Kerry and his crew, seems to agree that Sen. Kerry's boat left the immediate area for at least some period immediately after the mine blast under PCF 3, while the remaining three boats laid down suppressive fire.  And how could Mr. Russell have missed this?  PCF 43 was right behind Kerry's PCF 94, according to other accounts.

  • Mr. Russell describes as another memory that the boats "wheeled toward the beach."  I'm left wondering whether he read, and perhaps read too much into, Mr. Rood's account of the Silver Star ambushes, and been influenced by that.  No other witness, as far as I can recall, has claimed that during the Bay Hap River action, any boats turned toward either shore; and based on my admittedly limited understanding of their configurations, that actually would have reduced, rather than increased, the amount of firepower any of them could have brought to bear on shorebound attackers.

  • Mr. Russell twice refers to "small arms fire from the beach" — not both shores, as various Kerry supporters have claimed at various times.  He's specific — it was the "left" shore. 

  • Although he describes PCF 94's and Kerry's rescue of Rassmann as "a few minutes later," he insists that "all that time" they were taking small arms fire.  He presumably explains the absense of wounded Americans or bullet holes in their boats with the assertion that "because of our fusillade into the jungle, I don't think it was very accurate, thank God."  So if Mr. Russell's recollection is accurate, one or more VC from one beach fired small arms more or less continuously for several minutes at the three swift boats that were stationary around the stricken PCF 3 — inaccurately, and notwithstanding suppressive fire from twin .50-caliber machine guns and other formidable weapons aboard each of at least three swift boats.  If so, these were indeed persistent, brave, and very, very lucky VC sniper(s), albeit very inaccurate ones, to keep firing wildly (and thereby drawing countering suppressive fire), yet to no good effect, in the face of that kind of return fire.

  • Mr. Russell says nothing about the rescue efforts for PCF 3 and its injured crewmen, although presumably he would have been in the middle of that during the hour and a half it took to secure the wounded and overboard sailors and rig PCF 3 for towing back to base.  Although his account is silent on the subject, it seems fair to presume that at some point, the shooting must have died down.

I confess I don't quite know what to make of this.  For Lt. Kerry's rescue of Rassmann to be deemed significantly more valorous than Sen. Kerry's rescue of Licorice the Unlucky Hamster some years later, the key question is whether he braved enemy fire to do so.  Mr. Russell can be added to the list of eyewitnesses who claim that he did, I suppose, assuming his bona fides check out. 

The balance of Mr. Russell's letter to the editor is an impassioned plea to the SwiftVets to stop questioning Sen. Kerry's combat record, which he characterizes as " evil extreme right wing attacks."  He believes that the SwiftVets "are being used by these unpatriotic right wing extremist political operatives," and that since the Bush administration hasn't "disavowed itself or distanced itself in anyway from any of these scurrilous attacks, past or present," therefore the Bush administration is "truly responsible for these attacks."  Okay, that's fine; like anyone else, Mr. Russell's entitled to have his own politics and perhaps it's to his credit that he makes no effort to conceal them.  I'm unpersuaded, but then I have obviously different political views; and I no more dismiss out of hand Mr. Russell's factual recollections because of his obviously pro-Kerry politics than I'd dismiss any of the SwiftVets' recollections simply because in their personal politics they may support Dubya. 

Rather, it's the internal inconsistencies in Mr. Russell's own story, and the inconsistencies between it and other pro-Kerry witnesses, that I'd suggest are far more relevant to the question of his, and their, credibility.  So far, Mr. Russell's seems to be yet another mutually inconsistent accounting for events, even among the Kerry supporters — which frankly detracts somewhat from the credibility of all of them.

Update:  A reader points out that both Mr. Rood's and Mr. Russell's accounts are in the Sunday versions of their respective newspapers' online editions.  I don't know whether Mr. Rood's version, which was available over the internet by at least mid-day yesterday (Saturday), had appeared before Mr. Russell's letter to the editor was submitted or went to press.  My speculation that one influenced the other was based on Mr. Russell's "I later learned" parenthetical, and may be entirely off-base.  (I've also made a slight edit to my description of the weaponry aboard the swift boats which I think makes it more accurate.)

Posted by Beldar at 08:37 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (14)

Funniest line I've heard today: Kerry on SwiftVets' secret motivation

John Kerry is nuanced, and obviously extremely perceptive.  A gifted natural psychoanalyst, he's now divined, and chosen to share with us, his keen insights into the real motivations of the SwiftVets, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times today (boldface added):

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry on Saturday night urged President Bush to ''stand up and stop'' what he called personal attacks on him over his combat record in Vietnam.

At a fund-raiser, Kerry said the attacks by a group of Vietnam veterans and former swift boat commanders have intensified ''because in the last months they have seen me climbing in America's understanding that I know how to fight a smarter and more effective war'' against terrorists.

''That's why they're attacking my credibility. That's why they've personally gone after me. The president needs to stand up and stop that. The president needs to have the courage to talk about it.''

I thought maybe the Sun-Times was just confused and had perhaps misquoted Sen. Kerry.  But no, here it is from Reuters, too:

"We're at war," he said. "But this is a different kind of war from any kind of war we've fought before, and it's because in the last months they have seen me climbing in America's understanding that I know how to fight a smarter and more effective war, that's why they are trying to attack."

Well.  So now I guess the secret's out:  The SwiftVets are actually not tools of Dubya, but of Osama bin Laden.  I guess this will put a definitive end to all that carping about Cambodia and medals and stuff. 

*******

Suspected SwiftVets and Karl Rove associate 'Barney' in a 1994 mugshotAlso in today's news, the Dallas Morning News reveals (reg. req'd) that the individual pegged by the NYT and the Kerry campaign's FEC complaint as being the key linkpin between Dubya Rove & Co.'s VWRC and the SwiftVets — Dallas media consultant Merrie Spaeth — has also included Barney the Purple Dinosaur among her clients.  Revelation of this blatant SwiftVets-Purple Dinosaur connection, however, raises obvious questions regarding possible links between bin Laden and Barney that went entirely unaddressed in the recent report of the 9/11 Commission. 

Moreover, the Morning News reports that in 1964, Spaeth "co-starred with [Peter] Sellers and Angela Lansbury in a well-received movie called The World of Henry Orient, playing a Manhattan prep-school girl with a crush on an eccentric pianist."  This raises more questions than it answers, however, as it had previously been assumed by reputable media sources that Mr. Sellers' ghost, stuck in its later persona of Inspector Jacques Clouseau, had been a key advisor to the Kerry campaign.  No eccentric pianists could be reached by BeldarBlog's investigative journalist for comment.

As they say, "developing ...."

Posted by Beldar at 06:06 PM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (10)

Sunday talking heads and guests argue the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy

Les Jones Blog offers a good summary and snap analysis of what two Sunday morning talk shows and their guests had to say today about the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy.

Posted by Beldar at 12:51 PM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (1)

Newsweek examines Kerry's Bronze Star and the Bay Hap River action; Sandusky backtracks on enemy fire

In its latest issue, another news weekly, Newsweek, begins to look closely at the Bay Hap River action out of which Kerry's Bronze Star was awarded, and offers this new bit to the mix:

Del Sandusky, the man steering Kerry's boat, told a different version to NEWSWEEK. He says his boat was jarred by an explosion, probably from a rocket, knocking the soldier, Jim Rassmann, off the boat. Kerry was thrown against the bulkhead, injuring his arm. Sandusky says he could see muzzle flashes from the jungle and bullets skimming across the water. Sandusky says he can't remember if anyone was still shooting when Kerry pulled Rassmann from the river, but in any case, the boat was banged up and taking on water.

Oh my gosh, how could Sandusky's protectors from the Kerry campaign let him stray from the party line?  (Hat-tip to Captain Ed.)

Posted by Beldar at 12:44 PM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (7)

Five Lone Stars

I believe that it's still the case that at every home football game at Texas A&M University, the student body still sings the State Song of Texas, "Texas, Our Texas":

Texas, our Texas! All hail the mighty State! Texas, our Texas! So wonderful so great! Boldest and grandest, Withstanding ev'ry test; O Empire wide and glorious, You stand supremely blest.

[Refrain] God bless you Texas! And keep you brave and strong,
That you may grow in power and worth, Thro'out the ages long.

The melody, unfortunately, is one which makes "The Star Spangled Banner" seem easy to vocalize by comparison.  And I was unaware until doing some research tonight that the lyrics, originally approved as the state song in 1929, were amended by act of the 73d Texas Legislature in 1993 to change the phrase "Largest and grandest" to its current "Boldest and grandest."  I don't think I've been to a game at Kyle Field since 1993, so I don't know whether the Aggies are accepting that modification or — as the rest of the state did for years after the admission of Alaska into the United States in 1959 — they're simply still ignoring that other large oil-rich state (which after all, used to belong to them Ruskies and don't touch the "real" US of A directly anyhow).  Big on tradition, those Aggies are.

Which brings me, through uncertain logic, to a bit of whimsy published in Sunday's edition of the WSJ's OpinionJournal Online that evidently appeared earlier this week (as noted by Big Trunk at Power Line) in the paper version of the Journal.  It's cutely entitled in both, "Austin Powers:  Mess with Texas? Sure. Divide it into five states." 

And I'm pleased to read that my last real (but still unpaid) journalistic home, the Texas Law Review, published an earlier version of the article.  By law review standards, the TLR has always had a pretty good sense of humor; witness my law school classmate's published note from 1980 entitled, "Good Intentions, New Inventions, and Article V Constitutional Conventions," which featured a socratic dialog between Thomas Jefferson and the late Prof. Charles Black of Yale Law School, set in the historic Scholtz Beer Garten in modern-day Austin.

The point of the article (you were wondering when I'd get to that?) is that whenever it damn well chooses to, Texas can split itself into five separate states — thereby bringing its current residents' representation in the US Senate from two to ten and similarly magnifying its current residents' proportional power in the Electoral College.  You may think this would only be possible in some weird politico-erotic dream of House Maj. Leader Tom DeLay, but there's actually a fairly compelling legal argument that this could be done, based on the US Constitution and the specific, rather peculiar legislation under which Texas was originally admitted to the Union in 1846.

But it'll never happen.  Not because it can't, but because we're too ornery to be able to agree amongst ourselves which of the new states would get to keep the name.  Even if we used the four cardinal points of the compass, we'd come up one short, and who'd want to be the "compound-direction" state, or the "ordinal" state (sounds too much like "ordinary," and no Texan would go for that)?  And we'd have another fight to the last man over who got to take the Alamo.

Besides, as the "Empire" allusion from the state song so modestly implies, Texas is the only state that was ever an independent nation.  As every Texas public school child who's taken the manditory course in Texas History knows, the Republic of Texas had its own army, navy, foreign policy, and so forth from 1836ish until statehood in 1846, and there were some Texans who argued even then that it shoulda been Texas annexing the United States rather than the other way around.

We're still pretty patriotic down here about our state and its unique history.  Heck, one of the state-court judges here in Houston, bless her heart, starts every morning's court session not only with the Pledge of Allegiance to the US Flag, but with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Texas Flag:

Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one and indivisible.

See?  "One and indivisible" — unless and until we happen to change our minds!

And as far as that "increasing proportional representation" bit goes:  We're patient folks.  We'll just wait for California to fall off into the Pacific.

Giant Texas flag and Longhorn Band at UT's Memorial Stadium

Posted by Beldar at 02:30 AM in Humor, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (12)

The native superiority of lawyer-bloggers posing as journalists

I insist that I am unexceeded, and perhaps unmatched, by any other lawyer-blogger in my vanity for my truth-exposing powers as a pretend journalist!  I plead guilty to having an inflated ego and a snobbery for my own quasi-journalistic abilities that're directly proportionate to my long-windedness.  You now have open in your browsers, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Exhibit A, which I would submit to you as conclusive and overwhelming proof, and on which I confidently rest my case.

That said, my fellow lawyer-bloggers Hindrocket at Power Line and Hugh Hewitt at HughHewitt.com have offered up their respective remarks, albeit in less length than that to which I'm prone, on why with respect to the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy, us'ns (although they don't mention me by name) have lately been doin' better'n them what carry press passes tucked into their hatbands and shout "Copy boy!" for a living.  (Don't they still do that?)  I respectfully associate myself with and insinuate myself into their remarks, and I wish them well in their bloggerific coverage of the upcoming Republican convention (which, my political sympathies notwithstanding, I shall not be sad at all to miss attending in person).  I may venture into some neurosurgery during that week, or perhaps rocket science.  Or perhaps, encouraged as I am by a recent private, strangely terse email from novelist-screenwriter-blogger Roger L. Simon in response to my fervent inquiries, I shall at last set about with a will to dethrone John Grisham as the reigning lawyer-novelist; Mr. Simon allowed that I've got the legal stuff down pat, and I'm sure it was only the press of time and other responsibilities that prevented him from praising the novelistic elements of my writing at length (or, now that I re-read the email, at all).

Posted by Beldar at 12:54 AM in Humor, Law (2006 & earlier), Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink | Comments (4)