Swift Vets and POWs for Truth

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Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, formerly known as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), is an organization of American Swift boat veterans and former prisoners of war of the Vietnam War, formed during the 2004 presidential election campaign for the purpose of opposing John Kerry's bid for the presidency.

The group claimed that Kerry was "unfit to serve," based on various cited anecdotes regarding his wartime conduct, but largely focusing on his past activism in the anti-Vietnam war movement. While Kerry had criticized the government's highly unpopular war policy, the SBVT group claimed that his criticism was a "betrayal of trust" with other soldiers, and that by his activism he had caused direct and inexcusable "harm" to soldiers still at war. After the election, the group was praised by conservatives for contributing to the success of the George W. Bush campaign, while critics consider the group an example of a successful political smear campaign.



The group challenged John Kerry's accounts of his wartime service, the legitimacy of the medals awarded to Kerry by the U.S. Navy, the disposition of his discharge, and elements of his later anti-war activism. SBVT stated, "Kerry's phony war crimes charges, his exaggerated claims about his own service in Vietnam, and his deliberate misrepresentation of the nature and effectiveness of Swift boat operations compels [sic] us to step forward." There were some other Vietnam veterans who also served with Kerry who disputed the criticisms of Kerry's medals and supported Kerry in his presidential aspirations. (See John Kerry military service controversy.)

The SBVT, registered under Section 527 of the U.S. tax code, publicized its criticisms of Kerry during the election campaign in a book, in television advertisements that the group ran in swing states, and in the media coverage some members received. The group was the target of complaints from the Kerry campaign (alleging that SBVT illegally coordinated with the Bush campaign) and independent groups (alleging improper fundraising).


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In a best selling book, released in August 2004, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, SBVT authors criticize Kerry's war record.

The SBVT was formed in 2004. Membership was initially limited to veterans of the Vietnam War who at some point served in a Swift boat unit, as did Kerry. Later, the group was re-named and membership expanded to include former prisoners of war. Founding members of SBVT include Rear Admiral Roy Hoffmann (retired), a former commander of Swift boat forces; Houston attorney John O'Neill, an officer who became commander of Swift Boat PCF 94 several months after Kerry's departure in 1969 and who appeared opposite Kerry in a televised 1971 debate between them on The Dick Cavett Show; and 13 other named veterans. Several of those who joined SBVT during the 2004 campaign were officers who had previously praised Kerry's conduct during the Vietnam War. These included Division Commander Grant Hibbard, who wrote positive evaluations of Kerry, and Commander George Elliott, who submitted Kerry for a Silver Star. SBVT counts, in total, 16 of 23 officers who served with Kerry in Coastal Division 11 as members. [1] ( Despite SBVT's claims that Kerry's "entire chain of command" belonged to the group [2] (, neither Joseph Streuli, former commander of Coastal Division 13, nor Art Price, former commander CTF 116 who is described in "Unfit for Command" as part of Kerry's chain of command, are affiliated with the group.

Of the 3,500 Swift boat sailors who served in Vietnam, the names of some 250 appeared on the group's statement against Kerry; most did not serve at the same time or in the same place as Kerry, and only one SBVT member, Stephen Gardner, served on the same boat with Kerry. Later, two of the veterans whose names appeared on the letter denied giving permission for their names to appear and alleged that SBVT would not remove their names when requested by them to do so.[3] ( This allegation prompted SBVT to present e-mails alleged to have been sent by the individuals that they claimed indicated their desire to be included among the signers. [4] ( SBVT also stated their intent to correct the SBVT listings accordingly. Larry Clayton Lee, the only member of SBVT who was present at the action for which Kerry won the Silver Star, stated that Kerry deserved the medal, but that, based on discussions with other SBVT members, he has come to question whether Kerry deserved his other medals. [5] (

The group's initial letter against Kerry stated "It is our collective judgment that, upon your return from Vietnam, you grossly and knowingly distorted the conduct of the American soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen of that war (including a betrayal of many of us, without regard for the danger your actions caused us). Further, we believe that you have withheld and/or distorted material facts as to your own conduct in this war." [6] ( However, Kerry had posted over 100 pages of his military records at his website nearly two weeks before the issuance of the SBVT letter, and had also made his military medical records available for inspection by reporters (and provided a summary from his doctor). [7] (,1,6436501.story) [8] ( [9] ( [10] (

Not all SBVT members claimed to be signing the letter for the same reason. For example, from an interview published the day before the letter was made public: " '[Kerry] earned his medals, he did what he was supposed to do in Vietnam,' said retired Coast Guard Captain Adrian Lonsdale, who was in the chain of command above Kerry and oversaw various operations dealing with Navy swift boats of the type Kerry commanded. 'But I was very disappointed in his statements after he got out of the Navy.' " [11] (

Of those who served in Kerry's boat crew, only Stephen Gardner joined SBVT. Gardner appeared in the group's third television advertisement contending that Kerry's account of crossing into Cambodia was false. All other living members of Kerry's crew supported his presidential bid, and some frequently campaigned with him. Kerry crewmembers have disputed some of SBVT's various allegations: "pure fabrication" (Jim Rassmann), "totally false" (Drew Whitlow), "garbage" (Gene Thorson), and "a pack of lies" (Del Sandusky). [12] ( [13] ( [14] ( [15] ( No members of SBVT were aboard Kerry's boat during any of the incidents for which he was decorated.

On September 29, 2004, SBVT announced that it was joining forces with a group of American prisoners of war who were held captive by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War to form the new group, "Swift Vets and POWs For Truth". [16] (

Media activities

SBVT produced several television advertisements attacking Kerry's actions both in and after Vietnam. For a detailed discussion of SBVT's allegations about Kerry's service in Vietnam, see John Kerry military service controversy.

First television advertisement

SBVT first went public with a May 4, 2004, press conference declaring opposition to Kerry. When the press conference garnered little attention, the organization decided to produce television advertisements. On August 5, 2004, SBVT began airing a one-minute television spot [17] ( in three hotly contested states in the ongoing presidential election. The advertisement, entitled "Any Questions?", was a collage of short clips of thirteen SBVT members, many who stated they "served with John Kerry" or had direct contact with Kerry during his service in Vietnam. The veterans appearing in the ad said John Kerry was dishonest, unreliable, unfit to lead, and had dishonored his country and fellow veterans. [18] ( None of the men in the advertisement served on the same Swift boat as John Kerry, but some sailed alongside Kerry's Swift boat on multi-boat patrols. The advertisement generated tremendous media attention and debate about the group and its cause.

Second television advertisement

On August 20, 2004, SBVT released a second television advertisement ((transcript) (, [19] ( featuring a portion of Kerry's April 1971 testimony ((transcript), (audio) ( before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kerry, testifying as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), had criticized U.S. policy in Vietnam. He had also described VVAW's 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation, in which more than a hundred soldiers and civilians said they had seen or committed atrocities carried out by U.S. forces in Vietnam. Kerry's Senate testimony presented a summary of these men's statements; he did not, however, claim any personal knowledge of these atrocities. The SBVT advertisement alternated clips of Kerry's summary of these statements with charges from Vietnam veterans, particularly former POW's, that Kerry's "accusations" had demoralized and "betrayed" soldiers in Vietnam.

See also Fulbright Hearing.

Third television advertisement

A third television advertisement began airing on August 26, 2004, attacking Kerry's past statements that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve, 1968 (see "Cambodia Mission" below). This advertisement featured Stephen Gardner stating, "John Kerry claims that he spent Christmas in 1968 in Cambodia and that is categorically a lie. Not in December, not in January. We were never in Cambodia on a secret mission, ever." (video) ( (transcript) ( However, Gardner was only part of Kerry's crew from November, 1968 to January 23, 1969.

Fourth television advertisement

On August 31, 2004, a fourth advertisement was released by SBVT. The advertisement described Kerry as a man who "renounced his country's symbols," a reference to a Vietnam War protest where Kerry threw war decorations over the fence of the U.S. Capitol building on April 23, 1971.(video) ( ( The advertisement also contained edited video clips of Kerry from a WRC-TV program called Viewpoints, in which he stated that he gave back "six, seven, eight, nine" (in response to a question: "How many did you give back, John?"); it included a clip from another part of that interview where Kerry stated "and that was the medals themselves," although it was not in reference to the decorations he returned.[20] (

See also John Kerry VVAW controversy.


SBVT founder and spokesman John O'Neill wrote Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry with co-author Jerome Corsi. The book was published by the conservative Regnery Publishing. A best-seller upon release in August 2004, it criticized Kerry's judgment in battle, his truthfulness, his entitlement to certain medals, and his later anti-War activities. The book was based in part on interviews with some 60 veterans who served in or with Kerry's division. Several members of Kerry's crew stated that O'Neill failed to interview them; some veterans who were interviewed asserted that O'Neill edited their statements to strip out material favorable to Kerry. [21] ( Neither of the co-authors claimed any firsthand knowledge of Kerry's service. O'Neill served on the Swift boats only after Kerry left; Corsi never served in Vietnam.

After controversial statements made by Corsi at a conservative website ( became public, O'Neill stated that Corsi was not actually the coauthor of the book, but simply helped in its editing (8/11/04 interview with Wolf Blitzer, CNN). However, Corsi describes himself as "honored to be participating in bringing the case against John Kerry as co-author of UNFIT FOR COMMAND," [22] (, and some portions of the book are nearly identical to articles Corsi posted at an anti-Kerry website [23] ( [24] ([25] ([26] ( Ch. 9, UFC).



A major part of the SBVT controversy centers around what some believe is inconsistent and misleading testimony. Among the first to question the veracity of the first ad, was Republican Senator John McCain, a Bush supporter and a Vietnam veteran and POW, who stated, "I condemn the [SBVT] ad, it is dishonest and dishonorable, I think it is very, very wrong." [27] ( The SBVT statements were accompanied by sworn affidavits, although one affiant, Al French, later admited he had no firsthand knowledge of what he had sworn to [28] ( Senator McCain had no personal knowledge of the disputed events.

The first SBVT ad was contradicted by the statements of several other veterans who observed the incidents, by the Navy's official records, and, in some instances, by the contemporaneous statements of the SBVT supporters.

Several major newspapers were also skeptical of the SBVT allegations. For example, a New York Times news article stated, "on close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth prove to be riddled with inconsistencies." [29] ( ABC News's The Note opined, "the Swift Boat ad and their primary charges about Kerry's medals are personal, negative, extremely suspect, or false." [30] ( Regarding the medal dispute, a Los Angeles Times editorial (August 24, 2004, p. B10) stated, "Not limited by the conventions of our colleagues in the newsroom, we can say it outright: These charges against John Kerry are false." The editorial argued this position on the basis that "Kerry is backed by almost all those who witnessed the events in question, as well as by documentation." On August 22, 2004 The Washington Post reported: "An investigation by The Washington Post into what happened that day suggests that both sides have withheld information from the public record and provided an incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, picture of what took place. But although Kerry's accusers have succeeded in raising doubts about his war record, they have failed to come up with sufficient evidence to prove him a liar." [31] (

The ABC television show Nightline traveled to Vietnam and interviewed Vietnamese who were involved in the battle for which Kerry was awarded the Silver Star. These witnesses disputed O'Neill's charge that there "was little or no fire" that day; they said that the fighting was fierce. [32] ( SBVT supporters question whether these witnesses are reliable because they spoke "in the presence of a Communist official" [33] (, but their account is substantially the same as that previously given by another former VC to an AP reporter [34] (, and by the American witnesses (with respect to enemy fire), including the only SBVT member who was actually present that day [Lee (][35] (,1,3455991.story?coll=chi-newsspecials-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true)[36] (["Tour of Duty," pp. 290-292]["John F. Kerry, The Complete Biography" (Boston Globe), pp. 100-103].

Early in the advertising campaign, Time magazine surveyed public credence in the SBVT advertisements among those who viewed them. The poll, conducted August 24 through 26, showed that about one-third of viewers believed there was at least "some truth" to the allegations. Among swing voters, about one-fourth felt there was any truth to the ads. [37] (,18471,689369,00.html)

Connections with Republicans

SBVT characterized itself as a non-partisan group both in the legal sense and in spirit. But critics have alleged partisanship, pointing out that several prominent individuals who assisted the SBVT also had close ties to the Republican Party. For example, according to information released by the IRS on February 22, 2005, more than half of the group's reported contributions came from just three sources, all prominent Texas Republican donors: Houston builder Bob J. Perry, a long time Bush supporter, donated $4.45 million, Harold Simmons' Contrans donated $3 million, and T. Boone Pickens donated $2 million. Other major contributors included Bush fundraiser Carl Linder ($300,000), Robert Linder ($260,000), GOP contributor Aubrey McClendon ($250,000), George Matthews Jr. ($250,000), and Crow Holdings ($100,000). [38] ( [39] ( [40] (

SBVT's media representative, Merrie Spaeth, was a Reagan administration press officer and an advisor to Ken Starr in the Clinton impeachment; she was also the spokeswoman for "Republicans for Clean Air," an anti-McCain 527 group formed during the 2000 primaries and funded by Bush supporters [41] ( Spaeth's late husband, Tex Lezar, ran for Texas lieutenant governor on George W. Bush's ticket in 1994. John E. O'Neill — the primary author of Unfit for Command and a key player in the formation of SBVT — donated over $14,000 to Republican candidates, was a partner in Lezar's law firm, and co-operated with the Nixon White House in opposing Kerry in 1971. [42] (

Retired Admiral William Schachte, the principal source for the SBVT allegations about Kerry's first Purple Heart, has donated to both of Bush’s presidential campaigns. Schachte was also a lobbyist for FastShip, a firm that recently announced it was receiving $40 million in federal funding for one of its projects. In addition, Schachte's lobbying firm associate, David Norcross, was chairman of the 2004 Republican convention. [43] ( Chris LaCivita, director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2002, works as a private contractor providing media advice for SBVT. [44] (

The SBVT postal address was registered to Susan Arceneaux, treasurer of the Majority Leader's Fund, a PAC closely tied to the archconservative former Congressional leader Dick Armey. [45] (

These ties, along with others (see below), led to accusations that SBVT was a front group for Republicans and caused SBVT to take considerable heat from some observers in the popular press. Slate's editor, Jacob Weisberg, wrote that SBVT was part of the "right-wing slime machine." [46] (

Connections with the Bush campaign

The Bush campaign became part of the general SBVT controversy when Senator John McCain condemned the first SBVT ad, and said, "I hope that the president will also condemn it." The Bush campaign did not specifically condemn SBVT or the SBVT ads, but stated "We have not and we will not question Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam." [47] ( Kerry was dismissive of this statement, saying, "Of course, the President keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that." [48] ( More recently, Kerry alleged that SBVT was "a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you everything you need to know — he wants them to do his dirty work". When pressed on the issue, President Bush called for an end to all 527 group political advertisements, which would include those produced by SBVT. [49] (

Critics and the Kerry campaign pointed to several specific connections between SBVT and the Bush campaign that they contend are improper. The Kerry campaign asserted that Bush campaign headquarters in Florida distributed fliers promoting SBVT events, a charge the Bush campaign denied.[50] ( Kenneth Cordier, former vice-chair of Veterans for Bush/Cheney (in 2000) and volunteer member of the Bush campaign veterans steering committee, appeared in the second SBVT advertisement. The Bush campaign asked him to resign and stated that it had been unaware of his SBVT involvement. [51] (

On August 25, 2004, Benjamin Ginsberg, the top election lawyer to the Bush campaign on campaign finance law, also resigned after it was learned that the SBVT was one of his clients. Ginsberg stated that he was withdrawing to avoid being a distraction to the campaign. He declared that he had acted "in a manner that is fully appropriate and legal,"[52] (, arguing that it was not uncommon or illegal for lawyers to represent campaigns or political parties while also representing 527 groups. He also maintained that he did not disclose to the Bush campaign that he was simultaneously representing the SBVT group. After leaving the Bush campaign, Ginsberg retained his status as counsel to the SBVT.

FEC complaints

On August 20, 2004, the Kerry campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), alleging that the activities of the SBVT were illegally coordinated with Republicans and the Bush-Cheney campaign. Under federal election law, the SBVT, as a nonpartisan 527 group, was barred from coordinating with any political campaign. The complaint, citing the "ties" noted above, claimed a "web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures, and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove". The complaint added that independent research had discredited the SBVT's claims on its website and in the first television advertisement (the only one that had aired when the complaint was prepared). [53] (, [54] (

The Bush campaign dismissed charges of ties and asserted there was no co-ordination between SBVT and the campaign. Editorial opinion on the evidence for co-ordination varied. ABC News's The Note opined, "There is no evidence that the Bush campaign is orchestrating the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." [55] ( In contrast, the New York Times characterized the SBVT attacks as "orchestrated by negative-campaign specialists deep in the heart of the Texas Republican machine." [56] (

On August 10, 2004, three campaign finance watchdog groups — Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, and the Center for Responsive Politics — jointly filed an independent complaint with the FEC. The complaint alleges that SBVT's sources of funding are in violation of federal election law. [57] ( The same groups later filed a complaint about Texans for Truth, another 527 organization that has run advertisements criticizing Bush's military service record.

Disclosure of documents

During the campaign, SBVT criticized Kerry for not signing a Standard Form 180 authorizing general public access to his Navy personnel records. [58] ( Kerry responded that the documents were posted on his website. [59] ( The conservative organization Judicial Watch filed a request with the Navy under the Freedom of Information Act. The Navy provided Judicial Watch with Kerry's service records, including those concerning the medals he received, while witholding his personal records that were exempt from disclosure under the law (but noting that Kerry's website included documents subject to the exemption). [60] ( On May 20, 2005, Kerry did sign the SF-180 form [61] (; the Navy released the documents, which largely duplicated what Kerry had released during the campaign. [62] ( [63] (,1,6984030.story)

Aside from the official records, Kerry had kept his own private journals and letters, which he did not make public. The campaign cited an exclusivity agreement with historian Douglas Brinkley, who wrote Tour of Duty, a biography of Kerry. [64] ( Thereafter, however, Brinkley said that he interpreted the agreement as requiring only that quotations from the materials cite his book. [65] (

SBVT members themselves refused to release documents. A journal by another of the Swift boat commanders and the relevant Navy records of some of the SBVT members involved in specific allegations have not been released.

The White House refused to release records detailing any Bush administration contacts with prominent individuals associated with SBVT. The denied Freedom of Information Act request was filed on August 24 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. [66] (

External links

SBVT and Kerry web sites

First-hand accounts

  • Jim Rassmann ( account from The Wall Street Journal.
  • William Rood ( account from The Chicago Tribune.
  • Jim Russell ( Letter to the Editor, Telluride Daily Planet.
  • William Schachte ( statement (National Review)
  • William Schatche ( interview with NBC News.
  • William Zaladonis ( interview with NBC News.
  • Patrick Runyon ( account, first Purple Heart, Cleveland Plain Dealer
  • Larry Lee ( account, Silver Star incident, Louisville Courtier-Journal
  • Robert Lambert ( account, Bronze Star
  • After Action Report ( on Silver Star incident .

News articles about SBVT

Editorial and opinion

  • "Unfriendly Fire" ( Story on Roy Hoffmann,Oct. 2, 2004 Washington Post
  • Kerry's Vietnam ghosts won't go away ( October 24, 2004 - Robert J. Caldwell in The San Diego Union-Tribune


Further reading

  • O'Neill, John and Jerome Corsi, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, Regnery Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0895260174

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