Swift Boat Veterans for Truth co-founder John E. O'Neill, co-author of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, has accused Senator John Kerry (D-MA) of lying about being in Cambodia during the Vietnam War, claiming that neither Kerry nor any other U.S. crewman were in Cambodia at that time. Yet a newly released audiotape of O'Neill meeting with former President Richard Nixon in 1971 reveals that O'Neill told Nixon that he was in fact in Cambodia on a swift boat during Vietnam. Either O'Neill lied to the president then, or he is lying now.
O'Neill now claims that Kerry was lying about being in Cambodia during the Vietnam War because no one was allowed into Cambodia:
From Unfit for Command: Kerry was never in Cambodia during Christmas 1968, or at all during the Vietnam War. ... Areas closer than 55 miles from the Cambodian border in the area of the Mekong River were patrolled by PBRs, a small river patrol craft, and not by Swift Boats. Preventing border crossings was considered so important at the time that an LCU (a large, mechanized landing craft) and several PBRs were stationed to ensure that no one could cross the border. [pp. 47-48]
O'Neill on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos: How do I know he's [Kerry] 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. [8/22]
As CNN congressional correspondent Joe Johns reported on the August 24 edition of CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown, “O'Neill said no one could cross the border by river, and he claimed in an audiotape 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.” CNN then aired the audiotape of O'Neill telling Nixon that he was, in fact, in Cambodia during the Vietnam War:
O'NEILL: I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.
NIXON: In a swift boat?
O'NEILL: Yes, sir.
Although there was no response from O'Neill on CNN (O'Neill had “not returned CNN's calls,” according to Johns), O'Neill was confronted on the issue by Alan Colmes, co-host of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes. The Cambodia issue was first raised on the program by co-host Sean Hannity, who attempted to dismiss it by asking O'Neill, "[D]o you want to even respond to this attack against you so they [the Kerry campaign] can distract from him [Kerry] never answering a question about the discrepancies in his life?" and then asserting that O'Neill's contradicting comments were “consistent statements.” However, Colmes refused to let O'Neill -- who attempted to dismiss his lie by saying “I was talking in a conversation” -- off the hook for his false claim.
From the August 24 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes:
COLMES: You claimed at one point you weren't [in Cambodia], and then you claimed you were. This is very confusing to people.
O'NEILL: Well, it shouldn't be confused. I was never in Cambodia, and Kerry lied when he said he was in Cambodia.
COLMES: You said to Richard Nixon you were in Cambodia.
O'NEILL: And it was the turning point of his life.
COLMES: You said to Richard Nixon, “I was in Cambodia, sir.”
HANNITY: On the border.
COLMES: There's a tape of you saying that to Richard Nixon.
O'NEILL: What's the next sentence? I was along the Cambodian border. That's exactly right. What I told Nixon and was trying to tell him in this meeting was I was along the Cambodian border. As Sean clearly read ...
COLMES: “I was in Cambodia” -- those are your words.
O'NEILL: Yes, but you missed the next sentence. You're not reading the next sentence, Alan.
COLMES: Yes, along the border. But you're in Cambodia or you're not in Cambodia.
O'NEILL: Well, I'm sorry, Alan. I wasn't -- I was talking in a conversation. And the first thing, by the way, I told him in the conversation, as you know, was that I was a Democrat and I voted for Hubert Humphrey.