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Friday, August 20, 2004

More O'Neill sans shouting hecklers

Human Events Online has a lengthy interview with SwiftVets spokesman John O'Neill today, packed with details.  It's definitely worthwhile reading for anyone following the development of the facts about Kerry's medals.  By "details," I mean naming eyewitnesses' names, ranks, and opportunities to report from first-hand knowledge, with copious cross-referencing to the documentary evidence from such military records as Kerry has permitted to be released, plus inconsistencies in Kerry source materials like the Brinkley and Kranish books.

O'Neill isn't an eyewitness.  His personal interest, as he's said many times, is as someone who served in the same unit that Kerry was in, albeit shortly afterwards.  But using his skills as a calm and articulate courtroom lawyer, he continues marshalling the evidence, bit by bit, and dispelling the Kerry camp's counterspin, distortion by distortion.  And he clearly has interviewed his witnesses carefully, so that he's capable of offering vivid details at a deeper level than any commendation citation or dry affidavit can ever reflect. 

For instance, here's a snippet of what O'Neill had to say when asked about Larry Thurlow's involvement in the Bay Hap River incident out of which both Thurlow and Kerry received Bronze Stars:

He was the commander of the rear boat. He was famous for this incident because he went aboard the 3 boat, saved the boat from sinking and actually saved the crew while Kerry was gone. The boat was in slow movement, 500 RPM with one screw gone. Thurlow jumped over the boat, dropped into the water, was almost chewed up by the props, climbed back out and jumped over again. He brought the boat to a halt and began plugging the holes in the engine room so that the boat wouldn't sink with the people aboard.

It's just a snippet, a summary.  But man, I look forward to hearing O'Neill when he's given the chance to deliver a full-scale "closing argument," summarizing the evidence to paint the full vivid picture for the jury of American voters: 

Can you not imagine the scene, ladies and gentlemen?  A sudden explosion, the PCF 3 boat lifted out of the water, injured men everywhere, some thrown into the water, nervous gunners on the other boats laying down suppressive fire towards the shoreline in case this is a full-blown ambush.  PCF 3 sinking, moving slowly but without purpose, billowing black smoke, one screw churning the waters filled with injured sailors.  There's no fire coming back from the shores, but there's still an on-going crisis — lives of injured men will either be extinguished or preserved depending on what their comrades around them do.  Thurlow, commanding another boat, see all this.  And he "[d]ropped into the water [and] was almost chewed up by the props."  He stops PCF 3 from moving, keeps it from sinking, acts decisively, directs the rescue operations — risks his own flesh to stablize this chaotic, confused, still-very-dangerous situation. 

However many, or few, of these details were related accurately to the commanders who awarded it, do you doubt that Larry Thurlow deserved his Bronze Star, ladies and gentlemen?

Meanwhile, Lt. Kerry, whose own boat, by his own account, has moved away some distance, finally returns to the scene.  He's greviously wounded, somehow — a near mortal bruise to the forearm, later treated with a cold cloth (and perhaps a "boo-boo get better" kiss from a medic?)  Kerry plucks Rassmann from the water, moments before another boat would have done so.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down please:  Bronze Star for Skipper Kerry?

In this interview, O'Neill also provides what any good dramatist will recognize to be "foreshadowing" (bracketed portions in original):

INTERVIEWER: You mentioned that you interviewed now Rear Admiral William Schachte. [In Unfit for Command, Schachte is described as being on a Boston Whaler with Kerry on Dec. 2, 1968, when Kerry, according to the book, fired a grenade into the shore from too-close range and was slightly wounded in his arm by rebounding shrapnel. Although there was no enemy fire that night, according to Unfit for Command, it was this incident, witnessed by Schachte, for which Kerry received his Purple Heart.].

On that same August 12 Crossfire program, Lanny Davis said in an exchange with you on that issue that Schachte was not on the boat and your claim that Schachte was on the boat is false.

O' NEILL: I am absolutely certain that Schachte was on the boat. I know it from multiple sources. First of all, I know it from Rear Admiral William Schachte himself, the former acting Judge Advocate General of the Navy. Secondly, I know it from other crewmen who were available to testify that Schachte was on the boat. Third, I know it from the commanding officer of the unit, Commander Grant Hibbard, who detached Schachte for the purposes of commanding the boat.

INTERVIEWER: Is Schachte willing to come forward and speak publicly about what he told you when you were researching this book?

O' NEILL: I believe that Admiral Schachte will ultimately come forward at his own time and own his own pace to testify publicly about exactly what happened.

Heh.  The gun displayed in Act I will be fired before the conclusion of Act III.  And folks, we're still in Act I at the moment.

Update:  O'Neill gives even more details in this Washington Times op-ed.

Posted by Beldar at 02:57 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to More O'Neill sans shouting hecklers and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Chris made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 3:09:41 PM | Permalink

"Can you not imagine the scene, ladies and gentlemen?"

And imagine it you must, since the only evidence we have that it happened this way is from oral accounts, 35 years later, that contradict prior written testimony and, in some cases, prior oral testimony from the very same people.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 3:45:22 PM | Permalink

Actually, there are also documentary records, Chris.

I've been trying lawsuits now for 24 years. I've yet to have one in which the central events being rehashed in the courtroom were recorded by multiple cameras on videotape. I guess I could tell all my clients, and their opponents, and the judges and juries — "Heck, who can sort this stuff out? Let's just all give up and go home!" Somehow I think that wouldn't go over very well, though.

(3) Chris made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 3:47:15 PM | Permalink

Beldar, if it were simple he said vs. he said, then your argument would make sense. But the fact that there IS concrete evidence that contradicts the SBV's claims makes your argument a little silly.

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 4:09:25 PM | Permalink

And that would be ... ?

Don't point to the citation language from Kerry's and Thurlow's Bronze Stars, unless you can identify who wrote up the underlying reports. You can't, because Kerry hasn't allowed them to be released. But there were five Swift Boat skippers on-scene that day; three of them say they didn't do the write-up; one died in an ambush a month after the Bay Hap River incident; and the other, conspicuously silent on the subject of who wrote up the after-action report, is John F. Kerry.

(5) gc made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 4:48:19 PM | Permalink

still waiting for that concrete evidence Chris.

Maybe your contention IS a little silly.

(6) rob made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 4:58:33 PM | Permalink

Bill, one of the things I find most interesting in the SwiftVets controversy, and especially in the Kerry campaign's reaction is "what the dog did in the nightime" (from Conan Doyle's Silver Blaze) -- it's a fact that most of the bar, especially the trial bar, is very liberal. I'd bet if you canvassed the associates and partners at the top 100 law firms in the country, you'd find 80%+ Democrats who support Kerry. Not to mention the law professoriat and law student bodies. With all of this talent out there, and very real talent it is, I have yet to see anything like even ordinary workmanlike large firm style meticulous marshalling of facts to rebut the SwiftVets case. Surely, unless what Kerry's been keeping hidden is the equivalent of a smoking gun, it should have been forthcoming by now. Curious, just like the dog that didn't bark in Silver Blaze.

(7) Al Maviva made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 8:09:39 PM | Permalink

O'Neill and friends have skinned Kerry again. I wouldn't be surprised if the other vets group has coordinated with O'Neill's group.

Think about O'Neill's group as a stalking horse. They get out front. All of a sudden, Kerry and the media start hammering on them. There's blood in the water, the sharks are out, and it's a loud and bold media campaign to eat them up.

Now that the sharks have gathered, and everyone on the beach is suddenly looking and wondering what is going on, here comes a second group walking in front of the crowd, making similarly damaging allegations. The difference being, O'Neill didn't have to spend three weeks trying to get the mainstream press's attention. They are already looking, the cameras are trained on the action, and here's this fresh, really damaging and impossible to refute allegation, dangling right in front of them.

If there is some coordination between these two 527 groups, it is absolutely a brilliant bit of strategy, and I am in awe.

It wouldn't shock me if we get one of these every two weeks right up until the election. I could be wrong, but it seems to me the wheels are about to fall off the Kerry machine.

As for the comments about the bar - I'm not so sure. There are a lot of prominent lawyers who are on the left. And even a lot of conservative lawyers are kind of squishy on a lot of issues. That's just us; we see ambiguity everywhere. But I've found practicing attorneys to be split close to evenly between liberal and conservative, and most seem to be more polarized than the general public. As for marshalling the specific facts - O'Neill has probably had 6 months to prepare his dossier, and the first big effort to discredit the vets - Thurlow - fell flat because Thurlow simply told the truth, and the truth wasn't damaging. They will have to do better than that, and the hilariously conspiratorial mediamatters.com flow charts.

Bring on the dirty brown books!

(8) MeTooThen made the following comment | Aug 20, 2004 9:19:00 PM | Permalink


As your rejoinder to "Chris" so strongly points out, those who say that the SwfitVets are lying have produced little, if any, counter-factual information to support their claims of SwiftVet mendacity.

While in related news, suddenly, Rev. Alston is off the campaign tour.

The Kerry campaign has moved to block the SwiftVets ads through the FEC by implying the group is somehow tied to the RNC/Bush or their proxies.

When the yelling (or spitting as the case may be according to Michelle Malkin) stops, the fact remains is that there have been no good answers to these allegations that the Kerry camp has or yet made.

It begs any reasonable measure of understanding that 200 men have conspired in such a way to create, so quickly, a well formed, neatly documented set of allegations that are knowingly untrue, and in doing so have libeled a US Senator, and risked their own careers and good names, for the sole purpose of helping Bush defeat Kerry?

And so many of these men are decorated officers, and some high ranking (as the above post points out).

The ad hominem attacks appear to be working, and the MSM/KerryDNC machinery is going to be more vicious yet still.

Or as Kerry told an audience yeaterday, "All you need to know about these Swift Boat Vets for Truth is..."

Thank you Senator.

I am so happy to be relieved of duty when it comes to thinking about this.

(9) M. Simon made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 2:57:49 AM | Permalink

Go to Kerry's site and see the prognosis on the wounds.

It says "excellent". The previous report of another wound says "good".

I'd say that "excellent" in this context means "why are you fookin wasting my fookin time with your fookin stupid bruises when I have serious wounded to treat you fookin stoopid excuse for a sailor".


Do you know how John Kerry got a piece of shrapnel buried in his leg?

You don't?

That is all right. Neither does John.

What is the War Hero Afraid of?
Form 180. Release ALL the records.

(10) Al made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 5:40:02 PM | Permalink

A short, concise, 'scorecard-like' listing would be useful.

Such as:
1) Cambodia on Christmas: SBVFT charge he wasn't in Cambodia on Christmas (nor was Nixon President, nor did he give a speech) -> 13 conflicting stories. Final result: Retracted by Kerry.

2) Peck's missions: SBVFT charge that some of the missions touted on johnkerry.com weren't Kerry's missions - he didn't take command of the boat until the day after Peck's (and Alston's) injuries removed them from the boat. Final Result: Removed and retracted by Kerry.

3) Alston as bosom buddy: SBVFT charged that Kerry and Alston didn't serve together. Alston left the boat as medically unfit the day before Kerry took charge... but he might have been there Kerry's last week on the boat. Current Status: Alston's left the campaign trail and isn't being touted so much as he was on stage at the DNC. FOIAing Alston would clear this up 100%.

4) Purple Heart One...

(11) RP made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 8:52:11 PM | Permalink

Dear Beldar:

Let's see if we still feel good about the Swift Boat credibility. The crew of the Skimmer/Boston Whaler has a) reported that there was no 4th person on the boat..i.e. no Admiral Schachte b) they assumed that there was fire and that Lt Kerry did not fire a grenade at himself. c) Runyon said that he was interviewed by the private investigator for the swifties, but when he received his affadavit to sign it mysteriously was missing the details he mentioned about enemy fire.

C'mon! At the very least you have to admit that
in this case O'Neill stepped over the line. And as we have seen the Admiral Schacte still hasn't come forward.

It isn't that we are debating a fine point that Kerry didn't deserve the medals. The thrust of the Swifties was that Keery lied to get the medals. Between the Runyon article and the new Tribune article, you have to doubt the veracity of O'Neill and the methods he and Hoffman used to make their points.

It is fine to a) debate Kerry's after war action and b) make the point about Cambodia,but that was not how the Swift Boat Veterans chose to lead their campaign. Their thrust was that Kerry lied abou the medals. Hopefully, you will now admit that your "worthy Houston coutroom adversary" may well have lied himself.

(12) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 21, 2004 9:10:02 PM | Permalink

RP, thanks for the civil comment!

I've blogged at my usual tedious length today about the new ChiTrib memoir from, and accompanying article on, Mr. Rood, but I disagree that it undercuts the SwiftVets' allegations.

Mr. O'Neill has been quoted repeatedly as saying that the good admiral will tell his tale "at his own pace," or words to that effect, but that he's confident the admiral's tale will be told, by but not just by the admiral, and that it will hold up. That's an as yet unfulfilled prediction, and in the meantime, I have to agree with you of course that the admiral's absence from the fray creates a substantial loose end. But I'm a patient man, and we're still in the first act of a multi-act drama.

It sometimes has happened to me, as a courtroom advocate, that I've overstepped in one of my predictions about "what the evidence will show," and inevitably when I've done so, I've been duly embarrassed and appropriately chastised. (I have a really long war story about that from the same case in which I cross-examined O'Neill, in fact, but I'll save it for another day.) In the SwiftVets controversy, Mr. O'Neill is functioning primarily as an advocate and spokesman for the veterans who, unlike Mr. O'Neill, have first-hand eye-witness experience of Sen. Kerry in combat. He's undoubtedly aided in that respect by his own first-hand experience from having served (for three times as long) as commander of the same Swift Boat that Kerry commanded; he knows the lingo, the geography, the command structure, and many of the players. But I've yet to see anything to make me believe that Mr. O'Neill has lied, and it's simply too soon to reach a conclusion as to whether he's overreached in his predictions about, or summaries of, the evidence.

(13) RP made the following comment | Aug 23, 2004 8:25:02 PM | Permalink

Dear Beldar:

I appreciate the response. To be blunt, I am somewaht disappointed that there are not more folks on my side posting and debating on this site. I also am embarassed that my side has been so lame on the networks ( Podesta! Lanny Davis! How about Hackworth or someone who can go mano a mano with O'Neill). But I do want to tweak you and Hewitt about the the triumphal nature of your recent posting. Yes, you are good at uncovering and analysing evidence. However, you also do not seem to realize that "evidence"on the web is not static and engage in some "weak Journalism" yourself.

To whit, you, Hewitt and the Kerry Spot all linked to Froggy Ruminations, a Blog by a 90s SEAL. The initial blog, which Hewitt has used as his primary source ( I belive he called it "devastating") basically consisted of Froggy relkating how he asked his father in law, who was a SEAL in Vietnam, whether a) SEALS were inserted by SwiftBoats and whether B)a swiftboat could/would have gone into Cambodia. Their conclusion- no to both points and Kerrty is a liar.

However, if you scroll down the comments section you see 2 interesting posts. One is from a SwiftBoat Vet who did SEAL insertions, albeit after Jan/FEb 1969. The other is a poster who cited the book written by Admiral Zumwalt and his son "My Father/My Son". Apparently, there is a whole section detailing Swiftboat/SEAL joint missions and a Cambodian incursion by the younger Zumwalt "against direct orders". I can't find the book, but I am curious why none of the lawyer/journalists noticed this post and decided to investigate-- particularly Hewitt, who indicated he spent several hours on this topic.

Again, this doesn't put Kerry in Cambodia, but you should update your link to the site with the same scrutiny you applied to Rood's article. You also may be able to find the Zumwalt book.

Update! Froggy went to a SEAL convention, still believes Kerry did not do an insertion duwe to the size of his boat, learns SEALS and Swiftboats did work together, but doesn't address the posts in his comments section.

(14) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 23, 2004 8:51:23 PM | Permalink

RP, again, I appreciate the civil tone of your comments, which continue to be welcome.

There are many, many issues under hot debate on the internet and indeed, even on my own blog. I've chosen, and hope to continue, to leave my comments function enabled at least in part so that my readers can bring new information — including contrary information — to my attention, and so that they can of course express contrary opinions.

I undertake to at least skim all my comments to ensure that they aren't advertising spam, that they aren't blowing the graphics of my site, and that they meet an admittedly arbitrary and subjective standard of civility. I rarely delete comments. I respond to some, but far from all; some prompt me to write new posts entirely, and others to write updates or corrections (which I try to make obvious, per the blogger's code of ethics you can read from the "Blogging by the Book" link in my sidebar).

I try to be objective — in part because it's a noble goal of itself, and in part because I think it adds to the credibility of the opinions I express. My opinions, though, and my "reporting," such as it is, ought to be clearly understood to come from someone with a pre-existing set of politics and viewpoint.

I try to link promiscuously and specifically so that my readers can readily consult the resources of fact and opinion that I've come across. But I haven't undertaken — and as a practical matter can't undertake — to continue re-checking all, or even most, of those resources. Thus, for example, while I welcome a commenter to point out here something that may have appeared, after I read it, in the comments to another blogger's post, I don't feel like I've sinned or even erred in having failed to find or report all such information myself.

On the specific question of Swift Boats' involvement with CIA, special forces, SEALs, and such being inserted covertly into Cambodia, I've frankly been waiting for the Kerry campaign or Kerry supporters to produce anything specific to support their continuing insistance of his personal involvement in such operations. When and if that appears, I'll certainly try to look at it closely and blog about it.

I genuinely hope you'll continue to feel free to post in my comments, and/or email me if you think there's something important that I'm missing, or ignoring.

(15) Martin made the following comment | Aug 27, 2004 8:35:56 PM | Permalink

RP and Beldar:

As of today, 08/27/04, Rear Admiral William Schachte HAS come forward. He stated that HE was in command on the boat Kerry was on in the incident that led to Kerry's first Purple Heart.
His version of the story certainly raises doubts about that first P.H. Already, some are saying that SCHACHTE is lying.

It doesn't seem logical to me that a man of Schachte's stature would be lying about this. He has no connection with the SBVFT.

(16) Raven made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:13:04 AM | Permalink

Two websites doing ongoing coverage of SBVT-vs-Kerry:


With regard to Schachte's story, Media Matters points out the curious change in the SBVT website:

The original version of the account on the Swift Boat Vets website begins:

"The action that led to John Kerry's first Purple Heart occurred on December 2, 1968, during the month that he was undergoing training with Coastal Division 14 at Cam Ranh Bay. While waiting to receive his own Swift boat command, Kerry volunteered for a nighttime patrol mission
commanding a small, foam-filled 'skimmer' craft with two enlisted men."

As MMFA explained, this description matches Kerry's own account, as well as the account of Patrick Runyon and William Zaladonis, two enlisted men who insist that: (1) Schachte was not on the skimmer; (2) that Kerry was in command; and (3) that Runyon and Zaladonis were the only other people besides Kerry on the small craft.

The new, altered version of the Swift Boat Vets account reads:

"The action that led to John Kerry's first Purple Heart occurred on December 2, 1968, during the month that he was undergoing training with Coastal Division 14 at Cam Ranh Bay. While waiting to receive his own Swift boat command, Kerry volunteered for a nighttime patrol mission on a small, foam-filled 'skimmer' craft
under the command of Lt. William Schachte. The two officers were accompanied by an enlisted man who operated the outboard motor."

Somehow I couldn't find that change on Al's "scorecard".   After all, it's supposedly Kerry that changes his story, not the SBVT changing theirs.   But of course the SBVT have changed the story they told for the previous 35 years.

The SBVT even lied about how many people really signed that anti-Kerry letter.

(17) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 6, 2004 12:38:24 AM | Permalink

Raven, you've become a genuine troll. I'm sorry, but I don't have the time and energy to police you, and will henceforth simply delete any of your comments. You obviously haven't read what I've been writing; you're not responding to the topics of my posts, but instead you're just using my bandwidth to cut and paste other folks' arguments more or less at random.

Re your last statement, lest someone be misled, I'll simply point out (as I already have in detail in a comment on another recent post) that the SwiftVets immediately responded fully to those charges, and they've not been repeated.

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