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2004-09-17

New Greg Palast Documentary Highlights How Bush’s Military Records Were Purged

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As controversy swirls around the authenticity of documents used by 60 Minutes last week, we play an excerpt of a new documentary "Bush Family Fortunes" by investigative reporter Greg Palast that examines Bush’s military duty and includes a rare interview with former Texas Air National Guardsman Lt. Col. Bill Burkett. [includes rush transcript]

Ever since 60 Minutes broadcast its report on President Bush’s military service in the Texas Air National Guard last week, the controversy over the authenticity of the unearthed documents has turned into a media frenzy.

The files–allegedly from Bush’s squadron commander, the late Col. Jerry Killian–show that Killian grounded Bush from flying when he missed a medical examination and that he failed to meet performance standards. They also suggest Killian was being pressured from his superiors to "sugarcoat" Bush’s evaluation.

For the first time CBS News and Dan Rather this week admitted the possibility that their report was based on forged documents.

  • Dan Rather on CBS.

But Rather continued to stand by his reporting. On Wednesday, Rather interviewed Killian’s secretary Marian Carr Knox. She told CBS that she believes the documents are fake but that they reflected the sentiments of Kilian.

  • Marian Carr Knox on CBS.

The authenticity of the documents in question has been headline news ever since they were used by CBS last week. What is not being spotlighted is a report that came out a day before the controversial 60 Minutes segment. After a reexamination of President Bush’s military records, The Boston Globe found that the president fell well short of meeting his military obligations in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

The findings are based on military records which are not disputed by anyone. Back in February, the White House released more than 400 pages of military documents to the press. The Boston Globe and others have closely examined these files to reconstruct President Bush’s military past. Today we are going to take a look at Bush’s National Guard duty with Salon.com’s senior writer, Eric Boehlert. But first we turn to a new documentary called "Bush Family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" by BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast. This is an excerpt that takes a look at Bush’s military history. It begins with Palast speaking with two of Bush’s former college roommates.

  • "Bush Family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", excerpt of new documentary by BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast.

That was Lt. Col Bill Burkett being interviewed by BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast in the new documentary "Bush Family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy". Amidst the controversy over the authenticity of the documents released by CBS News last week, the New York Times reported an unnamed employee at CBS saying Burkett was the source of the controversial documents.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: For the first time CBS News and Dan Rather this week admitted the possibility their report could have been based on forged documents.

DAN RATHER: The story is true. I believe and still believe that the documents are authentic, but we are continuing to investigate, and people who have been told me to level with them, if it turns out that they are not authentic. I believe they are, but if it turns out they aren’t, I would like to break that story.

AMY GOODMAN: But Dan Rather continued to stand by his reporting on Wednesday. He interviewed Killian’s secretary, Marian Carr Knox. She told CBS she believes the documents are fake, but that they reflected the sentiments of Killian.

MARIAN CARR KNOX: I know that I didn’t type them. However, the information in those is correct.

AMY GOODMAN: The authenticity of the documents in question has been headline news ever since they were used by CBS last week. What’s not being spotlighted is a report that came out a day before the controversial 60 Minutes segment. After a re-examination of President Bush’s military records, the Boston Globe found that the President fell well short of meeting his military obligations in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. The findings are based on military records which are not disputed by anyone. Back in February, the White House released more than 400 pages of military documents to the press. The Boston Globe and others have closely examined these files to reconstruct President Bush’s military past. Today we’re going to take a look at President Bush’s National Guard duty with salon.com’s senior writer, Eric Boehlert. But first we turn to a new documentary called Bush family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, by BBC investigative reporter, Greg Palast. This is an excerpt that takes a look at Bush’s military history. It begins with Greg Palast speaking with two of Bush’s former college roommates at Yale.

GREG PALAST: Vietnam, 1968. Young Americans by the thousands are drafted, and while they had tough days in the jungle, some kids at Yale were having a tough day on the golf links.

TERRY JOHNSON: A long time ago. That’s the president. That’s me. Haven’t changed a bit. That’s Robert Dietir. All very accomplished golfers, as you can see.

GREG PALAST: How come you don’t wear a hat.

ROBERT DIETIR: I don’t know. I just don’t wear a hat. I want to look different.

TERRY JOHNSON: I’m always amazed at what I see on the television. That persona and the public one and the scripted one as opposed to the one that we knew in college and know now where he is very down to earth, relaxed, witty, funny guy.

GREG PALAST: So, did you talk with your roommate about the war in Vietnam, being drafted?

TERRY JOHNSON: I think so, yeah. As I remember it. The military choice was something that all of us at that point were going to have to face in one-way or another.

GREG PALAST: Did you sign up or did your number come up in the lottery for the draft?

ROBERT DIETIR: No, I was just planning to enlist because at that time, the — it was just inevitable that you were going to get drafted.

GREG PALAST: But the draft wasn’t inevitable for the son of Congressman George Bush, Sr.

BOB HOPE: Hey, this is Bob "Ready with your National Guard" Hope, and I want to tell you that the story of today’s Army and Air National Guard is something all Americans —

GREG PALAST: What Bob Hope doesn’t mention is that getting into The Guard is the way of getting out of Vietnam. With just 12 days to go before he became subject to the draft, George Bush applies for the Air Guard. The problem for George was, there are 100,000 would-be draft dodgers lined up ahead of him.

For George W. Bush to get into the Texas Air Guard, the safest unit in the military, he had to take a test, and he scored out of a possible 100, 25. Just one point above too dumb to fly. But that didn’t stop young George from getting the plum position in the cockpit. To find out how low score George got the Top Gun job, I spoke with fighter pilot, Bill White.

So, Bill this is the plane you actually flew?

BILL WHITE: Yes.

GREG PALAST: And you flew one of these on to one of those?

BILL WHITE: No one to my knowledge has ever gone into the Air National Guard as a non-pilot and gotten pilot training in The Guard. That’s completely unprecedented. Never happened, in the history of The Guard. Every pilot that ever has served in the National Guard legitimately paid their dues, spent three and a half years to five years flying on active duty and only then were they a candidate for admission to the National Guard as a pilot.

GREG PALAST: Privilege has a price paid by others.

BILL WHITE: We were sent there to defend our liberties, and to find out that the politicians who sent myself and the other young men to put our lives into harm’s way were working personal and selfish agenda instead of a national agenda is anathema to everything that we fought for and stood for. It hurts me to this day to think that we would be manipulated or that they would abuse their authority. To stand on television or on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in a flight suit and be called a leader. Leadership entails responsibility. That’s the whole connotation of leadership. It’s service. It’s giving of yourself, and that’s what’s killing me about this, I see that the whole system has been turned on end. We have the weak leading the strong.

GREG PALAST: So, how did young George Bush get the job of defending Houston from Vietcong attack, despite a score of 25 out of 100? The answer dropped onto my desk in Washington. I got my hands on a letter from someone who explained how the draft dodge fix was done. It says, George Bush leaped over thousands of young men, some of whom died in Vietnam. I tracked down one of the guys named in the letter. He confessed to the whole thing. He said he made the call at the request of someone acting in the name of congressman George Bush, Sr. But others without congressmen for daddies went. Some did not return. An issue that would haunt George Bush Jr.’s political career. Not just whether he dodged the draft into the guard, but also whether he even showed up for duty.

ANONYMOUS CITIZEN: We’re here today to offer $1,000 reward to anybody who can bring tangible evidence to us, records showing us that he attended the guard duty while he was here in Alabama.

GREG PALAST: No one’s claimed the reward so I figured I would pick up an easy thousand by getting George Bush’s Vietnam War records in Houston. Camp Mabry, H.Q. of the Texas Air National Guard. This is where the Vietnam War records of fighter pilot George W. Bush were supposed to be kept. But they’re missing. Who can we talk to about the disappearing records?

GEORGE W. BUSH: I think you ought to listen to what the General said who was in charge of my unit. He said there was no preferential treatment given.

GREG PALAST: But it’s very difficult to talk to George’s general. The general is dead. So I drove down to an Abilene, Texas, cattle ranch, to meet with the General’s assistant, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett. He was very familiar with the records that would prove whether young George had served his country.

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: This is 28 years of a military career all boiled down to paper. These are the retirement points, all of these are orders.

GREG PALAST: But Bush’s military records are oddly incomplete. What happened to those papers? Lt. Col. Burkett was working in the air guard headquarters at Camp Mabry, talking with the General, when a telephone call came in from Governor Bush’s people.

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: They wanted to assemble all of the governor’s files. They wanted to make sure there was nothing in there that would embarrass the governor. That’s as accurate as I can put it.

GREG PALAST: And you heard that off the voicebox?

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: Yes.

GREG PALAST: Yourself?

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: Yes.

GREG PALAST: The call came in from this woman’s office, Karen Hughes, Governor Bush’s Chief of Staff.

GREG PALAST: Now, they wouldn’t go along with a call from a politician and actually clean the files, would they?

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: Yes.

GREG PALAST: They would?

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: Yes.

GREG PALAST: Did they?

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: Yes. There were several documents, and I saw that they had George W. Bush’s name at the top of them. And this was a bin that was about to be shredded. A specific document that I do remember was a pay document. A second specific document that I remember was a retirement points document. That in fact might explain some tremendous gaps in the records. It makes no sense.

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: This is during the Vietnam war? Yes. And did he show up for training? There’s no documentation at all that he showed up.

GREG PALAST: Are you saying that the president may have been A.W.O.L., taken off during the war?

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: If you look at the definition of absent without leave, which is used to court-martial individuals, he met those ramifications of those charges. On two occasions, I had had soldiers who did not show up for drill, not just one drill, but a second drill, and on their second drill, yes, I did refer them to the selective service board, which was one of the options of a commander.

GREG PALAST: As basically...

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT: They were put in priority status to go to Vietnam and find themselves a foxhole and fight with the rest of the guys.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Lt. Col. Bill Burkett being interviewed by BBC investigative reporter, Greg Palast, in his new documentary, Bush Family Fortunes: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

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