This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," August 10, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: A new book that criticizes John Kerry's record in Vietnam is causing an uproar.
Among other things, the book charges that two of John Kerry's three Purple Hearts resulted from self-inflicted wounds and that Kerry didn't spend Christmas in 1968 in Cambodia, as he has long claimed, and that he has misrepresented the circumstances that led to his being awarded the Bronze Star.
Joining us now for this exclusive first interview on TV about his new book, "Unfit for Command," is the author, John O'Neill.
John, good to see you. Thanks for being with us.
JOHN O'NEILL, AUTHOR, "UNFIT FOR COMMAND:" Thank you very much, Sean.
HANNITY: I want to get this out of the way right on top, because the Kerry spin people are saying in this letter to the TV stations via their attorneys and the DNC is — they go on to say about the guys that wrote this, well, you purport to have served in his specific swift boat. That's not the case. You guys all served together. The people you're quoting in this book are speaking directly from their experiences with him there, correct?
O'NEILL: That's exactly right, Sean. We have little boats that were almost like tanks. We all operated together all the time. I took over Kerry's particular little boat by coincidence when he left Vietnam. The people in this book, there are at least 60 of them, who served directly with Kerry, directly in operations, who bunked with him...
HANNITY: Let me get this on the record. Sixty guys served with John Kerry, give eyewitness accounts of what they saw that they say contradicts what Kerry is saying.
O'NEILL: Exactly right. These were based on people who were actually with him, no further than a reporter is at a press conference from the...
HANNITY: The Kerry spin people say, well, but of the 10 guys that were actually in his boat — first of all, I thought there was only five or six guys in a boat at a time. But those guys are the ones that are supporting him. That represents the band of brothers.
O'NEILL: Well, actually he has about eight out of the 10 people who were on the boat. One has sided with us. Of those eight people, many of them were only there as short a period as three weeks. Many of them...
HANNITY: That he says are supporting him.
O'NEILL: Right. And many of them have no idea of the reports he was submitting, of the orders he was receiving. His peers were the officers who were serving. None of those...
HANNITY: There was this one picture of his superior officers that were following his record while he was there and know of his experiences there, because they were with him, correct?
HANNITY: And of the, what, 24 or 25?
O'NEILL: This is actually the picture used at the Democratic convention. There are 20 people in that picture. Only one of them supports him. Of the 25 people that served with him, officers, only one has publicly supported him, and 17 have condemned him.
HANNITY: Because this is what they're going to say. Because you know, first of all, not only are they trying to prevent your ad from being run on these TV stations, but now there's a suit filed by these left-wing groups. They're trying to say you're violating campaign finance laws.
O'NEILL: It's pretty sad, Sean. We have 254 people in our organization who served on swift boats. Sixty of them received Purple Hearts. We have nine Silver Star winners. Many of the people received decorations. To shut us down is absolutely immoral.
HANNITY: You deserve the right to be heard. I wasn't there. And so I can't tell. But these are guys that did serve with him and are on the record.
Here's what I want. I want to give you an open-ended question here. Why don't you lay out a synopsis of what these guys that served with him are saying about him? I read the book. It's frankly devastating to Senator Kerry, what his fellow Vietnam guys are saying, what they experienced with him. They contradict just about every story he has told about his experience here.
O'NEILL: It's a pattern of total lying and exaggeration, much of it very demeaning to the other people that served with him.
For example, he claimed to be in Cambodia. He claimed that his superiors had illegally ordered him there. That's a complete and total lie. We have the people who were there.
HANNITY: These are guys that are going on the record. These are guys that are saying that the events — look, I've got to be honest. John, I'm a guy that believes — I don't like Kerry's record of supporting a nuclear freeze. I don't like the fact he didn't support the death penalty for terrorists who kill Americans. I don't like the fact he didn't support our Defense Department or intelligence departments to the levels I would have liked. I think he's been on the wrong side of history, flip-flopping all over the place, especially on Iraq.
But he's made Vietnam the issue in this campaign. What do you want the American people to know out of what you're putting together with your swift boat vet friends? What do you want them to know about John Kerry that they don't know?
O'NEILL: We want them to know first that he lied about our record in Vietnam, that our unit was honorable, that his charges of war crimes were a total lie and he knew it when he put them forth, and knew it when he put forth — put them forth in the book "Tour of Duty." That's the most important thing to us.
Secondly, we want them to know that he totally exaggerated his actual record in Vietnam. And we want them to know that in our judgment, he is unfit to be commander in chief of the armed forces.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Mr. O'Neill, welcome to the show.
First of all, I respect your service to your country, to our country. And I think all sides should be heard. I want to get that on the table first. And I admire you for serving in Vietnam.
But I have a real problem with the nature of some of the things that are being said. And it seems to me as though it's being done for political purposes. When your spokesperson, Merrie Spaeth, has been involved in previous political operations, like badmouthing John McCain four years ago, like the money that comes from this guy Perry, the biggest Republican contributor in Texas contributes to the Swift Boat Veterans.
So how do you say this is not politically motivated?
O'NEILL: You can always find some connection of one person or another to some political party. There are 254 people from Antoi, from that little island, that have signed our letter.
Most of the people that served with him, Alan, they didn't serve as Republicans at Antoi or Democrats at Antoi. Most of the people who signed our letter are professional Navy people. They're retired. They don't like being in politics. They don't like doing this.
COLMES: Let's talk about serve with him, what that means. Did you know John Kerry in Vietnam?
O'NEILL: No, I took over John Kerry's boat.
COLMES: You never met him in Vietnam?
O'NEILL: I never met him. I took over his boat six weeks, approximately, or so after he left.
COLMES: Nine of the 10 people on his boat, in fact, were with him at the convention, they've all supported John Kerry. The people actually who were on his boat, they were closer to John Kerry in Vietnam than you were. Wouldn't they have a better idea of what he did day to day than you did?
O'NEILL: 17 of the 23 officers that slept with him most nights contributed to this book. Sixty of the 80 or 90 enlisted guys in our little 100-person division contributed to this book. Every commanding officer he ever had in Vietnam contributed to this book.
And they had one uniform conclusion: This guy is unfit to be commander in chief.
COLMES: What about the conclusion of those who awarded him the Purple Hearts and Silver Star and Bronze Star, which I want to get into.
But I want to show you what John McCain had to say just the other day. McCain, as you know, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam. I'm going to put it up on the screen, citing the ad that your group put out, criticizing Kerry's military service as dishonest — your ad he called "dishonest and dishonorable" and urged the White House last week to condemn it.
He said "it was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me," pulled on him. Some of the same people working with you pulled this on John McCain. What's your response to this former POW who says, "Pull this ad. Don't do this; it's despicable?"
O'NEILL: You made two points. Your first point was that people had awarded him Purple Hearts. Nobody awarded him a Purple Heart. He applied for the Purple Hearts... falsely.
On the McCain issue, Senator McCain we respect has a right to voice his opinion. Over 22 prisoners of war have supported our position as opposed to Senator McCain. They're not friends of John Kerry.
We respect Senator McCain's right to have an opinion, but we were there. We bought with blood and service, all of us, 60 of us, wounded there, the right to speak. And we believe Senator McCain is completely wrong, because he wasn't there.
COLMES: Well, Jim Rassmann was there and when we get back, I want to tell you what Jim Rassmann, who was on this program last week. He said Kerry saved his life and he had an op-ed piece today in "The Wall Street Journal." And he also says that what you're doing is deceitful and untrue.
O'NEILL: Jim Rassmann was there for one day or two days with John Kerry. I eagerly await discussing that.
HANNITY: Some of the other things you say, that he lied to get his Purple Heart. You talk about his account of Christmas in Cambodia being a lie. And we're going to talk about your debate with him on "The Dick Cavett Show."
COLMES: Let's talk about Jim Rassmann. He was on this program last week. John Kerry was awarded the Bronze Star for saving this man's life. Here's what he says today in "The Wall Street Journal." He says your attacks "are more vicious, your lies cut deep, directed not just at John Kerry, but at me and each of his crewmates as well. This hate-filled ad" — the ad your group put out — "asserts that I was not under fire; it questions my words and Navy records. This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency, people who don't understand the bond of those who serve in combat."
Kerry got a Bronze Star for that and you want to diminish that? He saved this man's life. Is Jim Rassmann lying about John Kerry?
O'NEILL: No. First of all, no one's attacked Jim Rassmann.
Jim Rassmann and Kerry have taken the position that Kerry came under fire. All the boats came under fire. They all left and then Kerry came back and saved Rassmann. That is a boldfaced lie.
On that day, PCF No. 3 was blown out of the water. It couldn't move. There was only one boat that fled. That was John Kerry's boat. We never had anybody that would flee, Alan, never, except John Kerry.
The other guy stood to save PCF3. Kerry finally came back when it was apparent there was no fire and then he picked up Rassmann as other boats were within 10 yards of him.
COLMES: Let me show you what was said by John Lehman, that Navy secretary, when he won the Silver Star. This is what the citation said, "With utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets, he ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only 10 feet from the VC rocket position, personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy."
Is John Lehman lying? Is Jim Rassmann lying? Are all those citations, where they actually talk about his heroism and bravery, are they all false documents, misrepresenting what John Kerry did in Vietnam?
O'NEILL: John Lehman became Secretary of the Navy 14 years after 1969 when Kerry got that award. Kerry went to Lehman and had him rewrite the award. So John Lehman, who is a wonderful man, is no first-party witness.
What actually happened on John Kerry's Silver Star is he went in and there was a single man in a loincloth opposing him. He wounded — the man was wounded. He then climbed off the boat, chased him and shot him. There's nothing wrong with that, Alan. But that is not numerical when you have a gunboat and 30 soldiers. That's not charging a numerically...
COLMES: He laid out exactly what John Kerry did to get his Purple Hearts, to get his Silver Star, to get his Bronze Star. You're claiming they contain false information when they lay out the very acts of heroism John Kerry did in Vietnam? They're not accurate, you're saying?
O'NEILL: I'm claiming that, with respect to the Silver Star, the Purple Hearts, that he applied under false pretenses for those Purple Hearts, that he wounded himself with a grenade fragment on the first Purple Heart, as can be witnessed by Rear Admiral Bill Shakte, who was on the boat, and many others, the division commander and others.
HANNITY: Let me ask you this, John. How many vets — because I didn't count them, but your book is well documented — that served with him gave eyewitness accounts of what they saw are in your book?
O'NEILL: Approximately 60 vets.
HANNITY: Sixty. And these were eyewitnesses to John Kerry's activities in Vietnam?
O'NEILL: They are. And in many cases, the book is backed by John Kerry's own statements. His problem, the problem with not telling the truth, is that you conflict, and sometimes you tell the truth.
HANNITY: Well, he does admit that he committed atrocities and he did admit that he burned down villages — but yet he accused his fellow soldiers.
But here's the deal. Why then — he has his nine people that support him. Right? Is that — do you know any more? Are there more? Because they keep saying the nine, the nine, Rassmann, the nine, the nine, the nine, the nine.
But you're quoting 60 here. Sixty guys giving eyewitness accounts of him, and there's disparity. Why is there this disparity between him and his nine and you and your 60?
O'NEILL: There's an old saying, Sean, and the saying is that when the troops say there's a problem, there's a problem. There's a big problem here.
HANNITY: Do you think Rassmann is political for him?
O'NEILL: I think that Rassmann was saved by John Kerry, who actually came up and Rassmann climbed on his boat, not under fire and with other boats within 10 or 15 yards of the same position. He's understandably grateful. The other boats didn't flee.
HANNITY: You're claiming in the book that he lied to get his Purple Heart and that it was his own mistake with the grenade going off too close that he had launched that caused a minor wound.
You quote one doctor who took care of him, but he was not the one that signed the document that he had taken care of him.
You say it wasn't a Christmas in Cambodia because he wasn't there.
How do we get to the truth here? How does our audience get to the truth in all of this?
O'NEILL: The starting point would be for John Kerry to release his own Vietnam journal, which he's kept secret.
HANNITY: Why won't he release it?
O'NEILL: I have no idea.
HANNITY: And why are they trying to silence you? Why won't they let this ad run and let your fellow Vietnam vets have their say? Why are these other groups suing to get you off the air?
O'NEILL: We've been sued by three election complaints, two huge law firms. And Sean, we have a small group, and not particularly wealthy. I'll tell you why, because it's the truth, because they cannot contest this book and the facts in it on the merits.
HANNITY: Yes. Now, at the end of the day, are you willing to debate John Kerry? At the end of the day, are you willing to challenge John Kerry? If you get him to release these records, do you want him to sue you?
O'NEILL: If he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve and Christmas day of 1968, I invite him to sue me.
HANNITY: And you are not taking a dime for this book?
O'NEILL: I gave every cent attributable of my royalty interest to Navy and Marine Corps relief. I don't make anything out of this book, except the grief that we're catching from the Kerry campaign.
COLMES: Mr. O'Neill, I don't agree with you, but thank you for the service to our country. Thanks for being here tonight.
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