If John Kerry is going to have a chance to win in 2008 it will be necessary for him eliminate the controversy created by the Swift Boat Liars. Even though the facts were clear that O’Neil and other were both lying and working with GOP operatives, the media concentrated on the horse race aspect with questions as to how the charges affected the campaign, and gave far too little attention to the overwhelming amount of evidence supporting Kerry.
Kerry released his Naval records proving his case, and others pointed out the many contradictions between attacks on Kerry made during the campaign and statements on Kerry made previously by the Swift Boat Liars. This was a difficult issue to handle during a campaign, but now Kerry has the time to resolve this issue prior to deciding on a 2008 run. The New York Times reports on Kerry Pressing Swiftboat Case, Long After Loss:
John Kerry starts by showing the entry in a log he kept from 1969: “Feb 12: 0800 run to Cambodia.”
He moves on to the photographs: his boat leaving the base at Ha Tien, Vietnam; the harbor; the mountains fading frame by frame as the boat heads north; the special operations team the boat was ferrying across the border; the men reading maps and setting off flares.
“They gave me a hat,” Mr. Kerry says. “I have the hat to this day,” he declares, rising to pull it from his briefcase. “I have the hat.”
Three decades after the Vietnam War and nearly two years after Mr. Kerry’s failed presidential bid, most Americans have probably forgotten why it ever mattered whether he went to Cambodia or that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused him of making it all up, saying he was dishonest and lacked patriotism.
But among those who were on the frontlines of the 2004 campaign, the battle over Mr. Kerry’s wartime service continues, out of the limelight but in some ways more heatedly — because unlike then, Mr. Kerry has fully engaged in the fight. Only those on Mr. Kerry’s side, however, have gathered new evidence to prove their case…
“They lied and lied and lied about everything,” Mr. Kerry says in an interview in his Senate office. “How many lies do you get to tell before someone calls you a liar? How many times can you be exposed in America today?”
His supporters are compiling a dossier that they say will expose every one of the Swift boat group’s charges as a lie and put to rest any question about Mr. Kerry’s valor in combat. While it would be easy to see this as part of Mr. Kerry’s exploration of another presidential run, his friends say the Swift boat charges struck at an experience so central to his identity that he would want to correct the record even if he were retiring from public life. . .
The veterans group, led by Mr. O’Neill, a former Swift boat commander who was recruited by the Nixon administration to debate Mr. Kerry on “The Dick Cavett Show” in 1971, began its campaign in early 2004 by criticizing Mr. Kerry’s protests against the Vietnam War. But backed by Republican donors and consultants, they soon shifted to attack his greatest strength — his record as a military hero in a campaign against a president who never went to war.
Naval records and accounts from other sailors contradicted almost every claim they made, and some members of the group who had earlier praised Mr. Kerry’s heroism contradicted themselves.
Still, the charges stuck. At a triumphant gathering of veterans in Fort Worth after the election, Mr. O’Neill was introduced as the man who “torpedoed” Mr. Kerry’s campaign; the Swift boat group spent more than $130,000 for a “Mission Accomplished” celebration at Disney World. The president’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, sent a letter thanking the “Swifties” for “their willingness to stand up to John Kerry.” Even people within the Kerry campaign believed that the attacks had cost their candidate the presidency.
Some of Mr. Kerry’s friends and former Swift boat crewmembers made advertisements during the race to try to shoot down the group’s charges. But the campaign declined to air them widely because some strategists said that directly challenging the charges would legitimize them.
They approached Mr. Kerry after the election with the idea of setting the record straight.
So they have returned, for instance, to the question of Cambodia and whether Mr. Kerry was ever ordered to transport Navy Seals across the border, an experience that he said made him view government officials, who had declared that the country was not part of the war, as deceptive.
The Swift boat group insisted that no boats had gone to Cambodia. But Mr. Kerry’s researcher, using Vietnam-era military maps and spot reports from the naval archives showing coordinates for his boat, traced his path from Ha Tien toward Cambodia on a mission that records say was to insert Navy Seals.
Mr. Kerry’s supporters have also frozen frames from his amateur films of his time in Vietnam and have retrieved letters and military citations for other sailors to support his version of how he won the Silver Star — rebutting the Swift boat group’s most explosive charge, that he shot an unarmed teenager who was fleeing his fire.
Another photograph provides evidence for Mr. Kerry’s version of how he won the Bronze Star. And original reports pulled from the naval archives contradict the charge that he drafted his own accounts of various incidents — which left room, the Swift boat group had argued, to embellish them.
Mr. Kerry’s defenders have received help from unlikely sources, including some who were originally aligned with the Swift boat group but later objected to its accusations against Mr. Kerry. One of them, Steve Hayes, was an early member of the group. A former sailor, he was a longtime friend and employee of William Franke, one of the group’s founders, and he supported the push to have Mr. Kerry release his military files. But Mr. Hayes came to believe that the group was twisting Mr. Kerry’s record.
“The mantra was just ‘We want to set the record straight,’ ” Mr. Hayes said this month. “It became clear to me that it was morphing from an organization to set the record straight into a highly political vendetta. They knew it was not the truth.”
Mr. Hayes broke with the group, ending a 35-year friendship with Mr. Franke, and voted for Mr. Kerry. He has provided a long interview to Mr. Kerry’s supporters, backing their version of the incident for which Mr. Kerry received the Bronze Star.
Of course, plenty of disappointed and angry Democrats would like to know why Mr. Kerry did not defend himself so strenuously before the election. He had posted some military documents on his campaign’s Web site and had allowed reporters to view his medical records but resisted open access to them as unnecessarily intrusive.
Mr. Kerry and his defenders say that they did not have the extensive archival material, and that it was too complicated to gather in the rapid pace of a campaign. He was caught off guard, he says; he had been prepared to defend his antiwar activism, but he did not believe that anyone would challenge the facts behind his military awards. “We should have put more money behind it,” Mr. Kerry says now. “I take responsibility for it; it was my mistake. They spent something like $30 million, and we didn’t. That’s just a terrible imbalance when somebody’s lying about you.”