Thursday, August 19, 2004


John Kerry hits back against the Swift Boat Veterans.

After weeks of standing by as a group of Vietnam veterans criticized his wartime record, Senator John Kerry fired back today, saying the group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is “a front for the Bush campaign” and that the president “wants them to do his dirty work.”

Members of the organization, led by a commander of one of the Swift boats that served alongside Mr. Kerry’s boat in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, have accused the Massachusetts senator of lying about his wartime record to win several medals.

The Bush campaign has declined to denounce the Swift boat advertisement, saying it had nothing to do with it and did not itself question Mr. Kerry’s wartime service. But today, speaking at a convention of the International Association of Fire Fighters in Boston, Mr. Kerry did not mince words in accusing Mr. Bush of disingenuousness in trying to distance himself from the ad and the group.

“Here’s what you really need to know about them,” Mr. Kerry told the cheering firefighters. “They’re funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They’re a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the president won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you everything that you need to know — he wants them to do his dirty work.”

In his remarks to the firefighters, a group that supported him even when his campaign to win the Democratic nomination was foundering early in the primaries, Mr. Kerry talked of heroism and sacrifice. He likened the courage of men and women in the military to that of firefighters and police officers, who risk their lives daily and sometimes lose them, as hundreds did on 9/11.

“As firefighters you risk your lives everyday. You know what it’s like to see truth in the moment. You’re proud of what you’ve done — and so am I,” he said. “I’m not going to let anyone question my commitment to defending America-then, now, or ever.”

This comes on the same day that the Washington Post torpedoes author Larry Thurlow’s claims in his best-selling work of fiction, Unfit for Command.

Newly obtained military records of one of Sen. John F. Kerry’s most vocal critics, who has accused the Democratic presidential candidate of lying about his wartime record to win medals, contradict his own version of events.

In newspaper interviews and a best-selling book, Larry Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry in Vietnam, has strongly disputed Kerry’s claim that the Massachusetts Democrat’s boat came under fire during a mission in Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. Kerry won a Bronze Star for his actions that day.

But Thurlow’s military records, portions of which were released yesterday to The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, contain several references to “enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire” directed at “all units” of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat “despite enemy bullets flying about him.”

As one of five Swift boat skippers who led the raid up the Bay Hap River, Thurlow was a direct participant in the disputed events. He is also a leading member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a public advocacy group of Vietnam veterans dismayed by Kerry’s subsequent antiwar activities, which has aired a controversial television advertisement attacking his war record.

Of course the Bush campaign denied any connection with SBVT. That’s not the question. The question is whether or not the Bush campaign condones what’s being said by SBVT. They can certainly speak to that point, can’t they? When ran their ad questioning Bush’s military service, Kerry didn’t like it and said so.

But at last he’s going on the offensive. And the timing couldn’t be better. Bush is holed up in Crawford prepping for the convention, and he’s going to have to spend the next week figuring out how to wiggle out of this one. And it’s about time.