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2004-09-17

Reconstructing Bush’s Military Record: Examination of Official Docs Released by White House Question Bush’s Duty

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We take a close look at President Bush’s record in the National Guard with Eric Boehlert. He is the senior writer at Salon.com and has written extensively about Bush’s military service–closely examining the more than 400 pages of military documents released by the White House last February. [includes rush transcript]

  • Eric Boehlert, senior writer at Salon.com. He has written extensively about Bush’s military service in the National Guard.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: Today we with are going to take a closer look at Bush’s record in the national guard with Eric Boehlert, he is the senior writer at salon.com and has written extensively about Bush’s military service. Welcome to Democracy Now!

ERIC BOEHLERT: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. First your comment on this latest controversy around the documents.

ERIC BOEHLERT: The CBS controversy?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

ERIC BOEHLERT: Well, I think it’s sort of a distraction in terms of people — for people who want to — who would like to get some answers — questions answered about Bush’s service. Clearly, you know, even Dan Rather and people at CBS are expressing concern now that the documents may not be real. Obviously, that’s a big story. It’s a big media story. You know, the press loves a whodunit and the press loves to cover the press, but I guess I don’t understand why the press cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. The Killian documents, the contents of the Killian documents, you know, represent, you know, literally less than 1% of what we know about Bush’s military service, and they’re completely irrelevant to the unanswered questions about why essentially he failed to show up for duty for the last two years of the Guard. So, it’s sort of unusual. It’s sort of unfortunate. It’s obviously unfortunate for CBS. They’ve got a big problem on their hands. But I don’t think it should really stop people from looking at the larger questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about those. In your piece, you go through systematically the documents that the White House themselves released last February. Can you raise what you think are the important documents and the important issues?

ERIC BOEHLERT: Yeah, as well as the important missing documents, because that’s almost as important as what’s in the documents. Generally, the issues are, you know, when Bush signed up, he signed up for six years and he specifically signed up to be a pilot for his parent unit for five years. In 1968-1969 it cost the government a million dollars to train him as a pilot. In the spring of 1972, he stopped flying. He failed to take his mandatory physical. He cleaned out his base in Houston and went to Alabama without prior authorization. Basically, he took the last two years of duty off, and there’s pretty compelling evidence that he never showed up again. There’s also pretty compelling evidence that his superiors with the Texas National Guard helped him at every way to sort of make sure that he didn’t have to do anything again, and to make sure that he was able to get an honorable discharge. So, the questions really are, you know, why did he fail to take a physical? In the Army — that’s absolutely essential. Every year someone takes a physical. He — his last physical was taken in May of 1971. His official discharge was November of 1974. So that’s 42 months he was in the military without taking a physical, which is unheard of, and there were no repercussions. Also, did he ever actually show up for these makeup drills? You know, the White House always says he earned 50 points for the years in question, and therefore he had satisfactory year, but a lot of the points seem pretty dubious and fraudulent and seem like they were just sort of handed out to him. So, if he didn’t do the makeup drills and clearly, he didn’t fulfill his participation duty, and should have faced consequences, and shouldn’t have gotten an honorable discharge.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, G. Gordon Liddy last night on television said that he had earned 300 points, which was double what he needed?

ERIC BOEHLERT: Yeah. I heard that and Gillespie said that on TV, too, the R.N.C. Chair. They’re plucking numbers out of thin air at this point. Actually, if you look at 1972, or 1973, it looks like he probably — he probably earned about 26 points that year. So, you know, they don’t seem confined by the facts. But what’s interesting is the Associated Press has an ongoing lawsuit trying to get the documents, the White House said it released everything in February, and that’s clearly not true. They also said they released everything in 2000, which wasn’t true. So, the A.P. went to court and late yesterday afternoon, a Federal Judge told the White House and the Pentagon they had to find and release all of the military documents by next week. So, we’ll see what comes out of that.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you expect to be in these documents that they talk about?

ERIC BOEHLERT: What’s missing are his medical records, you know, when he failed to take the physical, there should have been something — a board should have been convened to look at the circumstances of why he did that. That’s never been released. In September — September 15 of every year, Guard units are supposed to send a form to every Guard member’s local draft board telling them whether their local Guardsmen have fulfilled their duty in terms of attendance and things like that. Based on 1972 and 1973, Bush did not. There’s no record of — there’s no record of that form ever being sent to the Draft Board. There’s also — you know, they claim that Bush made up these points, these makeup drills based solely on sort of computer generated, unsigned data form which proves next to nothing. The military is based on a very simple premise, all duty is supervised and all duty is rated. There’s no supervision for any of these, you know, dozens of makeup drills, and there’s no rating for these dozens of makeup drills. So, that should all be — if he actually showed up, that paperwork should exist.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does the Denver Air Reserve Personnel Center, A.R.P.C., enter into this?

ERIC BOEHLERT: Well, they’re the central organization that oversees all of the Guard members. It’s interesting in that when Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard, he dealt with the Texas Air National Guard. In 1972, he went to Alabama, and he dealt with the unit there, and when he left the Texas Air National Guard, his file went to Denver, as everyone’s file does for review and final discharge. When Bush existed in the Texas Air National Guard, he pretty much did whatever he wanted to do, or didn’t do whatever he wanted to do. When he dealt with Alabama, and he tried to deal with their commanders there, they really didn’t play that game. He couldn’t get any paperwork out of them to say that he had shown up. They’re the ones that — the commanders in 2000 who first told the "Boston Globe" Bush never showed up, and when he — it was — when his file went to Denver for the review, they also didn’t sort of play that game. They looked at his file, realized that he had not had a physical in over two years, realized when he first tried to transfer to Alabama, he tried to transfer to a non-flying unit. This is a fully trained pilot who has two years to go in his obligation. He tried to transfer to what’s called a postal unit. Texas said fine, go. Then Denver stepped in and said "Wait a minute, you can’t serve out the rest of your obligation shuffling papers. No. Go find a flying unit." At the end of his — when he left in 1973, again his file sent to Denver, and they were raising red flags about obvious gaps in his service. And at one point, they wrote to the Texas commanders and said, you got to get in touch with Alabama. There’s no rating for Bush’s entire year in Alabama. Find out what he did. Texas ignored that order, and ignored the deadline that was set. Finally, they simply wrote back, we cannot fill this out for administrative reasons. So, Denver was sort of on to him, Alabama was sort of on to him. You know, the whole background of this is that at the time he was the son of a Congress — Texas Congressman. And the Guard has always been extraordinarily political and nobody wanted to put their name on a document that called his actions into question, certainly not in Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with Eric Boehlert, who is a senior writer for salon.com about President Bush’s military record in Vietnam. Now, in Alabama, there have been a lot of jokes about whether there have been any Bush sightings at the time.

ERIC BOEHLERT: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the man who said he did see President Bush. For a little while he had been brought out, and then we didn’t see him again, and now he’s being brought out again by the press.

ERIC BOEHLERT: Yeah. Last February, when the White House released some of these unsigned pay documents that suggested that Bush had been in Alabama, and there were rewards, and there are still — right now there’s actually three separate rewards totaling $62,000 for anyone who can prove that Bush showed up in Alabama. But the one person who did come forward was Bill Calhoun. He said, I saw George Bush in Alabama. He used to sign in at my office. We used to have lunch together. And so, this is — this is pretty extraordinary. He’s the only person who has ever can remember training with the future President of the United States. You would think that would be something people would remember, if the guy in your unit turned out to be President. But he’s the only one. He said he saw him in Alabama throughout the summer of 1972, but then when the White House did release these payroll documents, it showed that Bush never — even they don’t think — say he showed up in Alabama until October. It’s not clear how Calhoun could see him in the summer. In fact, Bush didn’t even request a transfer to the — to Calhoun’s specific unit until September. So there’s no way obviously he could have been there May, June and July. So, his story was quickly discredited, but then last week, when the story — when CBS aired its story, he was — Calhoun was sort of trotted out and FOX and ABC and Associated Press all made mention of him as a way to sort of cast doubt on the Bush critics, and ABC and FOX and A.P. All neglected to mention that Calhoun’s dates don’t match up with Bush’s dates.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Boehlert, a lot of your information comes from researcher Paul Locassioc, you can talk about who he is and the website that he runs?

ERIC BOEHLERT: What’s interesting is that when the White House released these documents, it’s pretty obvious they did not quite understand all of the coding and footnotes and certainly reporters had had almost no idea what they were looking at. But some researchers online have spent months and months, and what they did is they just got the voluminous regulations at the time and just sort of taught themselves the entire military code of conduct and specifically Guard service and what all of the codes meant. Paul is one of them. He has been working on it for about, you know, at least six or seven months. He has a site called the AWOL Project. You know, he’s just a guy from Philadelphia, and he has put together some what I think is extraordinary research. There’s also a handful of others who are doing the same thing. One is a retired Army Colonel down in Delaware. One is a farmer out in Iowa, and they all come to the same conclusion, and it’s interesting in that the White House doesn’t challenge any of these facts. They’re strictly sticking to the point that Bush got an honorable discharge, therefore there should be no debate. But none of these conclusions have ever been remotely challenged, and — which is I think one of the interesting things about the CBS memo controversy, which is one reason that a lot of the conservatives just really embrace that and jumped on it, because throughout this entire Bush debate, they’ve had almost nothing to say. They’ve had no angle to play. I mean, anyone who spends a day looking at Bush’s records understands that they don’t make sense. There’s obvious gaps. He didn’t show up. So, they have been — I think they have been frustrated. They couldn’t do anything. There’s almost no defensive role they can play. So, I think that the CBS controversy was sort of a gift to try to, you know, get the whole issue off the table.

AMY GOODMAN: You have written a piece called, "Swift Boat Flaks Attack CBS," and talk about a right wing firm that has — that has been working for the Republican National Convention, how it has certainly made its way in there with what has happened with CBS. You can explain?

ERIC BOEHLERT: Yeah. The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, they used this P.R. — you know, even though they claim they were non-partisan and not political, they used the right wing P.R. firm out of Virginia, and — who deals —- who represents, you know, the Christian Coalition and Contract For America and the Republican National Committee, and the Republican Senate Committee. The right wing publisher that published the Swift Boat book. They were among the first sending out press releases last week about the CBS documents, and they were among the first -—

AMY GOODMAN: So this is called creative response?

ERIC BOEHLERT: Right, exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: The publisher Regneri?

ERIC BOEHLERT: So, they have been — from the get-go, they were contacting news outlets trying to get them to play up the forgery story. So, I mean, it’s really not surprising. I don’t think anyone thinks that the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth were non-partisan. But it’s all part of that same sort of conservative echo chamber, media outlets, P.R. firms, think tanks. And they want to sort of desperately take this issue of Bush’s military service off the table.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, both George Bush and John Kerry address the National Guard Convention in Las Vegas. John Kerry getting a very lukewarm response. What about the National Guard’s relationship with George Bush?

ERIC BOEHLERT: Well it’s interesting. I mean, the military’s relationship with — has always been close with Republicans. I mean, after the Swift Boat controversy broke, you know, there was talk that, you know, Kerry was losing support among veterans, and — so, in a way, the debate has been skewed in saying that Democrats are having trouble with evangelicals. The military men and women don’t vote Democratic. That said, Kerry being a veteran himself, there was hope or anticipation that he could reach out to them. So, basically, I mean from the starting blocks, Republicans have this extraordinary lead when they’re dealing with the military. The National Guard’s relationship with Bush, I mean, they sat in the convention as you mentioned and they seemed enthusiastic towards the President. It is interesting. I mean, I don’t — I’m not quite sure what the audience was — membership was made up there. I don’t know if those were essentially the key — you know, the highest executives from each of the Guard units in the state, who were there. I don’t know if they were rank and file, but it’s interesting in that I mean, obviously, there’s a controversy about whether Bush showed up for the Guard, but also the fact that, you know, he has used the Guard and Reserves to essentially turn them into full-time soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has sort of pushed the National Guard to the breaking point. In a way no other President has. So it will be curious in the National Guard men and women in the country who have been in Iraq, who have relatives that have been in Iraq for 14, 18 months, who have lost small businesses, because they can’t withstand the financial trauma. These are men and women who used to serve once a month and help out on flood duty and now they’re — you know, there asked to be in Baghdad for a year on end. If they still support President Bush wholeheartedly, that’s certainly interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Eric Boehlert, I want to thank you for being with us, senior writer for salon.com.

ERIC BOEHLERT: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. This is Democracy Now!

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