Swiftboats sink under waves of truth

By Bill Press

When George W. Bush loses this election, his primary regret may be unleashing his attack dogs to slime John Kerry’s combat record in Vietnam. Americans don’t like smear campaigns. This one will backfire bigtime.

After two weeks of freewheeling, unanswered attacks on cable television and right-wing talk radio, the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth suddenly ran aground when Americans learned they weren’t telling the truth. Every single charge made against John Kerry has been discredited. Even worse, Kerry’s attackers have been exposed as nothing but a front group for the Bush campaign.

Charge No. 1: According to veteran Larry Thurlow, Kerry didn’t deserve the Bronze Star for his rescue of crew member Jim Rasmussen because his swiftboat never came under enemy fire.

Truth: It’s all a big lie. Thurlow’s allegation is contradicted, first of all, by the eyewitness testimony of Rasmussen, who says gunfire raked the river every time he came up for air. Rasmussen’s version of events is backed up by Wayne Langhofer, who manned a machine gun aboard the swiftboat directly behind Kerry’s. “There was a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river,” he told the Washington Post. Most significantly, Thurlow’s own citation for the Bronze Star he also received that day refers to “heavy automatic weapons and small-arms fire from both banks.”

Charge No. 2: According to swiftboat leader John O’Neill, Kerry didn’t deserve the Silver Star because all he did was chase down a lone “teenager in a loincloth clutching a grenade launcher which may or may nor have been loaded.” Again, O’Neill says Kerry never came under enemy fire.

Truth: It’s all a big lie. John O’Neill was nowhere near this particular attack, but Bill Rood was. He and Kerry skippered two out of three swiftboats on the river that day; the third captain was later killed in combat. Rood, now an editor of the Chicago Tribune, this week broke a 35-year silence to tell what happened. He describes the man Kerry chased down and shot as “a grown man, dressed in the kind of garb the Viet Cong usually wore.” He clearly remembers all boats coming under heavy fire from several enemy troops, as well as from the opposite shore – and says Kerry returned with a “loaded B-40 rocket launcher” he had seized from the man he killed.

Charge No. 3: According to the group’s second ad, after Kerry returned from combat, he went before Congress and accused American soldiers of committing atrocities in Vietnam.

Truth: Another big lie. Yes, Kerry came home to oppose the war. But, as Republican Sen. John McCain insists, he earned the right to do so. Yes, Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But, no, he did not accuse Americans of atrocities. He told senators of atrocities American soldiers had already publicly confessed to in other forums – and laid the blame not on them but on Pentagon superiors who sent them into an unwinnable war.

Claim: The Bush campaign has no connection to the soi-disant Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Truth: That’s the biggest lie of all. Here’s the evidence. Until he suddenly resigned, Ben Ginsburg, chief attorney for the Bush campaign, was legal adviser to the Swift Boat gang. The ads were paid for by Bob Perry, big Bush contributor and buddy of Karl Rove. They were produced and marketed by the same production and advertising companies that prepared Bush’s attack ads against John McCain in 2000. And, until he resigned, one veteran who appeared in the swiftboat ads also served on Bush’s campaign advisery committee.

Bush is behind these ads for an obvious reason. He can’t defend the war in Iraq, so he must focus on Vietnam. He can’t defend his own military record, so he must try to destroy John Kerry’s. It’s the same reason he attacked John McCain in 2000 and Max Cleland in 2004. He can’t stand running against a war hero.

After all, Kerry volunteered for Vietnam; Bush used his daddy’s influence to stay out. Kerry won five medals; Bush, none. Kerry served four months in combat; Bush, not even four seconds. No doubt which one’s qualified to be commander in chief.