June 20, 2008
by Sam Stein
It is a lesson in just how persistent and irritating smear campaigns
can be. Nearly four years after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
trotted out a series of outrageous accusations about John Kerry's war
record, the issue is still being litigated within the halls of
politics. Only this time, it is the accusers who are on the defensive.
On Thursday, ten veterans who witnessed or served with John Kerry in
Vietnam penned a lengthy letter to T. Boone Pickens - the Texas oil
tycoon and major SBVT financier - taking him up on his challenge to
prove false one element of that group's attacks from the 2004 campaign.
"Dear Mr. Pickens," the letter (pdf) begins, "We are the crew and
individual servicemen who served on or with Patrol Craft Fast 94 in
Vietnam in early 1969... Regrettably the lies of the SBVT, which you
helped bankroll and apparently still defend, tarnished the sacrifices
we made, called into question the medals we were awarded and
challenged the very authenticity of our service... We have children
and families who were deeply affected by these lies and we believe
you and the SBVT whom you supported owe us and the American people an
apology for the tactics you bankrolled.
"We are aware of media reports that at a dinner in Washington D.C. on
November 6th, 2007, you made a public challenge that you would give a
million dollars to anyone who could show that anything the SBVT said
was false. We also know that Senator John Kerry, who was the skipper
of the PCF-94, contacted you to take you up on that challenge. We are
writing to you now as a group to accept your challenge and document
how you funded lies and character assassination."
What follows, aides to Kerry say, is one of the most comprehensive
conglomerations of evidence disputing the SBVT attacks. Taking on the
argument that, somehow, Kerry didn't deserve his Silver Star, the
signatories dispute ten "falsehoods," including the claim that Kerry
chased and killed a "young Viet Cong in loincloth" (it was an
actually a "man of normal military age" carrying a B-40 rocket); that
he only was in combat with this one individual (there were "multiple
VC scrambling to get away"); and that Kerry made a tactical error in
captaining his boat that day ("there was no 'plan' to charge the
bank"). The letter concludes with perhaps the most poignant and
currently relevant point.
"Finally, the continued insistence that Kerry has not released his
full military record is refuted by the Navy, which has publicly
certified he has, and by three newspapers which have independently
received signed releases and reviewed those records."
Indeed, it is important to remember that in 2004, Kerry posted
military records on his campaign's website and allowed selected
reporters access to his military medical records. After the campaign,
he signed a 180 waiver, authorizing the release of his complete file
to three publications.
At the time, the SBVT claimed they couldn't trust that this was the
entire cache. No such protests were aired about President Bush's
refusal to overturn Vietnam related documents. Currently, Sen. John
McCain has released 19 pages of his Nave file to the Associated
Press. But, as documented by Jeffrey Klein, there could be upwards of
600 pages that have not been made public.
What kind of response Kerry's Vietnam contemporaries receive from
Pickens remains to be seen. The Texan, who supports McCain, said in
November that he would give $1 million to anyone who could disprove a
single one of the allegations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for
Truth. Kerry took him up on the challenge, promising to donate the
proceeds to the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Pickens then reneged,
saying he would need to see combat films, additional military records
and wartime journal. The current letter contains a 40-plus-page file
of such evidence (sans combat films).
That Kerry and his allies are fighting back with such vigor four
years after the fact may seem bittersweet for Democrats. Pickens,
after all, does not seem poised to play as influential a role in this
campaign as he did in 2004, when he invested $3 million into the SBVT
ads. The outfit he was connected to this go-around - Freedom's Watch
- has so far been hampered by financial problems. Meanwhile, his
spokesman Jay Rosser, recently told Politico: "He is not giving
anything to 527s involved in the presidential race this cycle, and
has communicated that...to Republican strategists and operatives."
But for the Vietnam Vets, the SBVT attacks were not strictly
political. And setting the record straight, even if Pickens is not,
currently, a political lightening rod, is worth doing even four years
after the 2004 election.
For them, they've wanted to clear the record for years. And have
looked for every opportunity to do that," said Kerry aide David Wade.
'For some of these guys whose lives are not politics it has had a
profound impact. When they saw the Pickens explanation in November
they were pretty stunned by that... the crew said let us have a shot."