Kerry keeping military files under wraps

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The thickening storm clouds over the fierce dispute between the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the indignant Democratic presidential candidate can be pierced if John Kerry will release all of his records of service in the Vietnam War.

Deep in a long front-page Washington Post article by Michael Dobbs, “Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete,” there is a smoking gun. In the Aug. 22 piece, Dobbs largely gives credit to Kerry’s version of one of the controversies — whether there was enemy fire on March 13, 1969, the day Kerry rescued James Rassmann from the water. But the smoking gun appears later:

“Although Kerry campaign officials insist they have published Kerry’s full military records on their Web site (with the exception of medical records shown briefly to reporters earlier this year), they have not permitted independent access to his original Navy records.”

On tumultuous cable talk shows, Kerry defenders repeatedly maintain that all of Kerry’s Vietnam records are on his Web site. But, writes Dobbs: “A Freedom of Information Act request by The Post for Kerry’s records produced six pages of information. A spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command, Mike McClellan, said he was not authorized to release the full file, which consists of at least 100 pages.”

What is in these 100-plus pages? Since the centerpiece of Kerry’s presidential campaign is not his 20-year Senate career, but what he did in Vietnam, including his medals, aren’t voters entitled to look at the entire record? If not, why?

In the same article, Dobbs points out that while both sides in this volatile debate have a lot of information on their respective Web sites, both “the Kerry and anti-Kerry camps continue to deny or ignore requests for other relevant documents, including Kerry’s personal reminiscences (shared only with biographer Brinkley)” and the boat log.

On the anti-Kerry side, says Dobbs, the diary of Jack Chenoweth on the events of March 13, 1969, has also not been released. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth should disclose it.

However, why can’t we also see what Kerry shared with Douglas Brinkley during the preparation of Brinkley’s Tour of Duty about Kerry’s Vietnam service? According to the Washington Post story, “Brinkley, who is director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, did not reply to messages left with his office, publisher and cell phone” requesting the information.

The Post story continues: “The Kerry campaign has refused to make available Kerry’s journals and other writings to The Washington Post, saying the senator remains bound by an exclusivity agreement with Brinkley.” (In a subsequent Post story, Brinkley said those papers are in Kerry’s “full control.” Why not release them?)

I have written biographies, and have never experienced an exclusivity agreement such as the one Kerry’s campaign staff claims. When I wrote about John Cardinal O’Connor, the late cardinal was very candid during our interviews, including his renunciation of a book he had written, A Chaplain Looks at Vietnam, about his experiences there, in which he thoroughly endorsed our involvement in that war.

In the biography, O’Connor said “That’s a bad book, you know. It was a very limited view of what was going on. I regret having published it.” He and I did not have an exclusivity agreement, even though the cardinal knew that his self-criticism was going to be in my book.

The Washington Post carefully researched “the climactic day (March 13, 1969) in Kerry’s military career” finding errors in both Brinkley’s Tour of Duty and John O’Neill’s Unfit for Command, the book that ignited the firestorm over Kerry’s Vietnam record.

What I find strange is that Dobbs writes that “Kerry himself was the only surviving skipper on the river then who declined a request for an interview.”

Why did more than 250 Vietnam veterans testifying in O’Neill’s Unfit for Command make themselves vulnerable to a libel suit by Kerry, which, if they lost, could do great damage to their careers and incomes? After all, in such a suit, both sides would have to testify under oath. Are they all liars for Bush?

Would Kerry then really release all of his original Vietnam records to be scrutinized in the lawsuit’s depositions? In a challenge to Kerry, O’Neill says “sue me!”

A post-Vietnam fog of war does indeed hover over the Kerry candidacy. And why has most of the mainstream media not followed up on this smoking gun about Kerry’s failure to release all of his Vietnam documents?

Published with the permission of Nat Hentoff. May be linked to but not republished without Hentoff’s permission. Originally posted on the Jewish World Review Web site on Sept. 2. Hentoff is a contributing editor to Editor & Publisher and also writes for The Village Voice in New York and contributes to The Washington Times.