As accusations against Senator John Kerry (D-MA) by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have fallen under the weight of documentary evidence, eyewitness accounts, and the group members' own inconsistencies -- as Media Matters for America has extensively documented -- the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Vets and conservatives who have repeated their claims are now emphasizing one claim in particular against Kerry: that he lied when he said he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 or at any other point during the Vietnam war.
However, as Slate.com's Fred Kaplan detailed on August 22, this claim is as unfounded as those preceding it. And a 1971 statement by John O'Neill, co-founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, about his own incursions into Cambodia completely undermines his claim that he knows Kerry was never in Cambodia because no one was -- as Media Matters for America has documented.
Kerry senior adviser Michael Meehan stated in an August 18 Boston Globe article that Kerry was in fact headed for the Cambodian border: “On December 24, 1968, Lieutenant John Kerry and his crew were on patrol in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia deep in enemy territory. In the early afternoon, Kerry's boat, PCF-44, was at Sa Dec and then headed north to the Cambodian border.” The Kerry campaign released another recent press statement that further explained, “During John Kerry's service in Vietnam, many times he was on or near the Cambodian border and on one occasion crossed into Cambodia at the request of members of a special operations group operating out of Ha Tien.”
In an August 23 article in Slate.com, Kaplan demonstrated that Kerry's assertions are entirely consistent with what we know about U.S. incursions into Cambodia at that time. According to Kaplan, by Christmas Eve 1968, “the United States had long been making secret incursions across the [Cambodian] border,” and that Cambodian special forces' incursions were “escalating around that time.” Kaplan also noted that the Cambodian incursions were conducted without the knowledge or approval of Congress, and as such “not much paperwork” would exist since “officially, U.S. forces weren't in Cambodia.” Kaplan concluded:
The circumstances at least suggest that Kerry was indeed involved in a “black” mission, even if he had never explicitly made that claim. ... But one thing is for sure: Lieut. Kerry did not spend that Christmas Eve just lying around, dreaming of sugarplums and roasted chestnuts. He had plenty of time to cover the 40 miles from the Cambodian border to the safety of Sa Dec (he did command a swift boat, after all). More to the point, the evidence indicates he did cover those 40 miles: He was near (or in?) Cambodia in the morning, in Sa Dec that night.
The Regnery book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, co-authored by O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi, states that “Kerry was never in Cambodia during Christmas 1968, or at all during the Vietnam War. In reality, during Christmas 1968, he was more than fifty miles away from Cambodia.” On the August 10 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, O'Neill stated that it “is a total and complete lie” that John Kerry was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1968 and sourced Douglas Brinkley's book Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War as evidence that on Christmas Eve Kerry was “55 miles” from Cambodia in Sa Dec writing a letter “about how he had visions of sugar plums in his head, literally.”
While O'Neill cited page 219 of Brinkley's book to substantiate his claim that Kerry was not near Cambodia on Christmas Eve of 1968, as Kaplan pointed out, O'Neill “chose to ignore the 10 preceding pages” in which Brinkley described Kerry's activities from earlier that day, which did in fact take place near the Cambodian border. From page 209 of Tour of Duty:
Christmas Eve, 1968, turned out to be memorable for the men of PCF-44. ... [A]fter [breakfast] the crew headed their Swift north up the Co Chien River to its junction with the My Tho only miles from the Cambodian border. ... Lieutenant Kerry ... patrolled the watery borderline between Cambodia and Vietnam.
Despite Swift Boat Vets' lack of credibility, conservatives have continued to echo their claim that Kerry was neither in nor near Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 and echoed O'Neill's selective sourcing of Kerry's journal writings in Brinkley's book.
Fred Barnes (executive editor of The Weekly Standard and FOX News Channel host): His [Kerry's] book, which he has sponsored ... [i]t's not his book [it's Brinkley's], but based on Kerry's only journals. He was 50 miles away. He was nowhere near Cambodia on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve. [Special Report with Brit Hume, FOX News Channel, 8/16]
Pat Buchanan (MSNBC analyst): And, quite frankly, that statement about him being in Cambodia seems to me, which he made as a senator ... seems to me fraudulent on its face. ... He has written later that he was [in Sa Dec] on Christmas writing home at the time. [Scarborough Country, MSNBC, 8/10]
Michael Barone (U.S. News & World Report senior writer and FOX News Channel political contributor): Historian Douglas Brinkley's bestselling Tour of Duty, based partly on Kerry's wartime journals, places Kerry on Christmas 1968 in Sa Dec, 50 miles from Cambodia. ... On the Christmas story ... [a] more unsettling possibility is that he consciously leapt the bounds of truth to make his experience seem more spectacular or to score political points. [U.S. News & World Report, "Winter in Cambodia?" 8/30]
Robert L. Pollock (senior editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal): In any case, Mr. Kerry's own journal, as cited in Douglas Brinkley's biography, records him being 50-some miles from the border at Sa Dec on that day contemplating visions of “sugar plums.” [The Wall Street Journal, "Holiday in Cambodia: The most damning testimony on John Kerry in Vietnam has come from John Kerry," 8/16]
The Washington Times: Yet in “Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War,” author Douglas Brinkley provides a thoroughly different version [from Kerry's] of what happened in Christmas 1968. According to Mr. Brinkley, who received his information from Mr. Kerry directly, Mr. Kerry was on patrol in Sa Dec (50 miles from the Cambodian border) on Christmas Eve and spent Christmas day writing journal entries back at his base. [The Washington Times, editorial, "Kerry's 'Christmas in Cambodia'," 8/10]
Some conservative pundits went even further, asserting that Kerry was never in Cambodia:
William Kristol (Weekly Standard editor): The other thing I would add is the fact that his claim to have been in Cambodia on Christmas Eve has basically been retracted -- and it's very dubious that he was ever there at all -- I think has hurt Kerry. You know, it's like any series of assertions. Once one of them turns out to be false, others, which probably aren't as false or even may not be false at all, others get called into correction. [FOX News Sunday, FOX Broadcasting Co., 8/22]
Kate O'Beirne (National Review Washington editor): He has famously talked about his Christmas in Cambodia, his Christmas in Cambodia, “seared in my memory,” and he's had to back off because he didn't spent Christmas in Cambodia. In fact, it appears he was never in Cambodia. [Capital Gang, CNN, 8/21]
Brit Hume (FOX News Channel managing editor and chief Washington correspondent): There's not a single official record that backs up that claim [that Kerry was ever in Cambodia], a quite striking claim. So when you start from there, you're already dealing with something that, for all intents and purposes, has been shown to be false. [FOX News Sunday, 8/22]
Pat Buchanan: It's about a road to Damascus moment, where he turned against the American government because his president lied to him while he's fighting in Cambodia. He said it again and again and again! He was never there! [Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC, 8/23]