For all of the baseless accusations made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, there was one that seemed to stick — the charge that John Kerry was not in Cambodia in December, 1968, as he had claimed. I’ve read two arguments in favor of Kerry on this, one that argued that he might not have remembered that he was there during Tet in February 1969, not at Christmas, 1968, and another arguing that he very well could have been there when he said he was. I confess that I didn’t put a lot of stock in either story, I just assumed that Kerry’s story sounded better saying he was there at Christmas instead of in early 1969, and he just told it that way.
Unfortunately, my problem was projection — I tend to believe that other people at least try to be honest because I try to be honest. As it turns out, the guy making the accusations is just a liar. Here’s what he had to say about Kerry’s claim of being in Cambodia:
JOHN O’NEILL: The whole country’s watching him avoid the question. You asked about Cambodia. How do I know he’s not in Cambodia? I was on the same river, George. I was there two months after him. Our patrol area ran to Sedek, it was 50 miles from Cambodia. There isn’t any watery border. The Mekong River’s like the Mississippi. There were gunboats stationed right up there to stop people from coming. And our boats didn’t go north of, only slightly north of Sedek. So it was a made up story. He’s told it over 50 times, George, that was on the floor of the Senate. He wrote articles about it, it was a malicious story because it painted all the guys above him, all of the commanding officers, in effect, as war criminals, that had ordered him into a neutral country, it was a lie.
Pretty definitive statement, right? Well, here he is talking to President Nixon in 1971 (on tape):
JOHNS: Behind the scenes, Kerry’s aides were fighting the swift boat charges with unusual ferocity. They say they have evidence one of the top members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an outright liar. The co-author of the book “Unfit for Command,” former swift boat commander John O’Neill said Kerry made up a story about being in Cambodia beyond the legal borders of the Vietnam War in 1968. O’Neill said no one could cross the border by river and he claimed in an audio tape that his publicist played to CNN that he, himself, had never been to Cambodia either. But in 1971, O’Neill said precisely the opposite to then President Richard Nixon.
O’NEILL: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.
NIXON: In a swift boat?
O’NEILL: Yes, sir.
You have to skip down about 1/3 of the way through the linked transcript to get to that point. I think that it may all be over for the swiftvets at this point, and needless to say, I’m pretty darn happy about it.