Published January 27, 2017
This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," August 19, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: The big story of the day today is Vietnam.
The storm began this morning with a story in The Washington Post. The newspaper had obtained documents that refute the claims of one of members of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in the book "Unfit for Command."
The documents contradict the claims of Larry Thurlow, who we've seen in the swift boat television ad, claiming that Kerry was never under fire during March 13, 1969, during an incident that earned him a Bronze Star.
The storm then grew even stronger when Senator Kerry commented today for the first time on the charges made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But here's what you really need to know about them. They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They're a front for the Bush campaign.
And the fact that the president won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything that you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLMES: The Kerry campaign has also released a television ad responding to some of the charges made about his record in Vietnam. We're going to show you the ad a bit later in the show.
We also planned on bringing you reaction from the Kerry campaign to the latest developments. After booking someone on the program this morning, the campaign pulled them off late this afternoon.
So joining us now is the man at the center of this controversy, the author of "Unfit for Command" (search), John O'Neill.
Mr. O'Neill, thank you for being with us. Thank you for...
JOHN O'NEILL, AUTHOR, "UNFIT FOR COMMAND": Hi, Sean.
COLMES: This is Alan. As we said before, and I've said to you before, thank you for serving. I think that everybody who serves, in my view is an American hero.
But look, here we have a situation where Larry Thurlow, story in the Washington Post today, who swore in an affidavit that he was not under fire, that Kerry was not under fire. And now documents revealed today say exactly the opposite.
How do you respond?
O'NEILL: Yes, I'd like to respond to that, Alan. Larry Thurlow was probably the most decorated officer in our entire unit. The Bronze Star he received was by no means the highest medal he received.
What the Washington Post article claimed is that a citation that Larry Thurlow received that day made reference to fire in the citation.
It's a citation that Larry Thurlow had never prepared. It's a citation that was prepared, based on a report that John Kerry prepared that day on March 13, an after-action report.
It's interesting because that same Washington Post reporter that prepared that, we contacted him on Monday and Tuesday of this week when we had 50 swift boat people here and invited him to talk to the seven or eight people who were involved in the March 13 incident who knew that there was no fire. He declined that invitation.
The other important thing in this article is he admits for the first time that the "no man left behind" story told by Kerry at the Democratic convention is false.
He admits that that of the five boats, Kerry's story being all five boats ran away and then Kerry came back. He admits what really happened is one boat was blown up, three boats stayed with it. Kerry took off, and Kerry simply came back to where the other boats were.
COLMES: That is not Kerry's story. And by the way, you know, the after-action report. John Kerry's camp denies that John Kerry wrote that.
You're claiming that John Kerry wrote those reports. And you're claiming the information revealed by the Washington Post are Kerry's words. But that is not being claimed by Kerry or anybody other than the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, your group.
And there's a district contradiction between what the Washington Post unveiled and got as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request and what Thurlow has said. They directly contradict each other.
O'NEILL: Actually, what the article says, is quote, "For much of the episode Kerry was not in a position to know firsthand what was happening on Thurlow's boat, as Kerry's boat had sped down the river after the mine exploded."
So we know now that there was one boat that left the scene of the stricken PCF-3. That was Kerry's boat, and it came back.
As to whether or not there was fire, here's the state of the information.
On one side, we have the citation prepared a hundred miles away, based on a report that Kerry prepared. How do I know Kerry prepared it? Because anybody reading it with practical knowledge would know that, because each of the boat officers say Kerry prepared it.
More importantly, as to the direct information whether there was fire, here's what we have. We have every other officer on the scene, four of them, four boat commanders. They say there was no fire beyond the original mine. We have three enlisted guys on the scene.
Most importantly we have all the physical evidence. None of this in the Washington Post by the way. This is a 75-yard wide creek that these boats are on. They were on this creek rescuing the three-boat for a period of an hour and a half.
Not a single person was wounded after the original mine explosion. There's not a bullet hole in any of those three boats, not one.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: John, welcome back to the program. Sean Hannity.
Where did you go to college, by the way?
O'NEILL: I graduated from the United States Naval Academy in the class of 1967.
HANNITY: And you went to school after that and got a law degree, didn't you?
O'NEILL: I graduated from the University of Texas law school, and I stood first in my class.
HANNITY: You were first in your class. OK. And how many years did you serve, a full year in Vietnam, a full tour?
O'NEILL: I actually served that tour and earlier than that I was on the USS Woodpecker, which operated along the Vietnam waters.
HANNITY: I want to ask you this and I think this is very important. How many swift boat guys now are a part of your group that are speaking out against John Kerry? How many total?
O'NEILL: Two hundred and fifty-four. Of the 23 guys that bunked with John Kerry during the short period he was there on the mother ship, 17 of them have joined our group, the entire chain of command.
HANNITY: And the entire chain of command. Because he talks about his "band of brothers" and Mr. Rassman, who we've had on this program. But that represents how many people that take his side?
O'NEILL: About 12 or 15 as near as we can count, as opposed to 254.
HANNITY: And you have 60 some odd guys. They're not hiding behind spokespeople. These guys that you quote and document in your book are telling their experiences -- these are decorated heroes themselves, correct?
O'NEILL: Let me tell you, Sean, we had them right here in town. We had them right at the Key Bridge Marriott. We begged the Washington Post to come out and interview them. And they would not show up and interview them. That's the truth.
HANNITY: Well, John Kerry is accusing you of being connected to the Bush campaign.
Now, the Bush campaign has said they don't want any of these ads on, including yours. They have been clear on that. And the president has gone on record praising the service of John Kerry and called it honorable.
Do you have any connection to the Bush campaign at all?
O'NEILL: Absolutely no connection at all. If John Kerry were running as a Republican, every one of us would be here, all the guys from his unit, exactly the same way. We're here because we believe he's unfit to be commander in chief.
HANNITY: If George Bush asked you to stop running these ads would you?
O'NEILL: I'd tell him, "Forget it." It's not a matter of politics to us. It's a matter of very deep personal conviction, based on service in our unit and based on watching him lie about it and his own record later on.
HANNITY: All right. One of the things that bothered me about -- they have groups like MoveOn.org. They ran ads that compared George Bush to Hitler.
We have Ted Kennedy, who repeatedly calls the president a liar, a surrogate for, and a spokesman for Kerry.
Let me just run some of the attacks that Kerry's friends have made, just a small amount in the short time we have here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has brought deep dishonor to our country, the most dishonest president since Richard M. Nixon.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MASS.: Week after week after week after week we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.
GORE: He betrayed this country.
REV. AL SHARPTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Why do people lie? Because they're liars. He lied in Florida. He's lied several times and I believe he lied in Iraq.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The administration still isn't telling the truth to the American people.
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president should be ashamed of himself. This president needs to go home to corrupted Texas right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: That doesn't include MoveOn.org, Michael Moore, "Fahrenheit 9/11", Terry McAuliffe saying he's AWOL. Do you think there's a double standard in what Kerry is saying today?
O'NEILL: I think it's unbelievable, Sean. MoveOn.org -- which I didn't know very much about -- is funded by a man named George Soros. They've now spent millions and millions of dollars to try and stop our little organization from putting a few ads on that we've been able to afford.
HANNITY: You have only 75 days left until Americans go to the polls and make their judgment about John Kerry's war record.
But one of Senator Kerry's biggest supporters may have his own Vietnam issue. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has been using some downright nasty rhetoric to attack Vice President Cheney on the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TOM HARKIN, D-IOWA: He said we needed a tough policy on these terrorists and we have to go kill them. You know, when I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who is a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: But The Wall Street Journal reported in 1991 that Senator Harkin embellished his own Vietnam record, claiming at one point that he flew combat missions over Vietnam and then later admitting that he was stationed in Japan and never flew any air patrol.
So does Senator Harkin and Kerry have some more explaining to do?
We continue now with the author of "Unfit for Command," John O'Neill.
Let me look at the big picture here. Because you have George Soros, you have all these guys attacking the president on a regular basis.
Here's one group of veterans and I think you and all of your swift boat veteran allies, you've earned the right, as an American fighting for your country to tell your story.
But Senator Kerry is calling you guys a liar today. Earlier, he had his lawyers and the DNC lawyers trying to intimidate these television stations into not running your ads.
It seems like this is a pattern, though, because he did this in the past. Sixty-four guys on the record in your book. He's insinuating you guys are all liars.
And here's what he said about you guys, the Vietnam vets, when he got back from Vietnam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do. They told stories of times that they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: Trashed vets then. Is he trashing you now? Is there a smear campaign by Kerry and the surrogates now against you?
O'NEILL: That's exactly what's going on. Sean, the book "Unfit for Command," is a very detailed, very factual book. Additional information can be found on SwiftBoats.com. We list all the people that have joined us right there.
Instead of answering, specifically, item by item, the effort is simply, as he did in 1971 to categorize us all as hacks or in some other way.
HANNITY: Let me ask you this question, though. But he admits himself when he got back, he says, "I committed the same kind of atrocities as other vets," he said. Including, and he admits that he burned down villages. Is this a legitimate issue?
I mean, how does someone get medals after admitting to violating the Geneva convention and the Hague conventions, admitting to atrocities and admitting to burning down buildings.
Should that be an issue in this campaign, considering he has basically based his whole campaign on his four-month service in Vietnam?
O'NEILL: Shockingly, Sean, I debated him in 1971, and he said he had never committed any personal atrocities. I heard him say he burned down villages. I didn't really believe it.
As you can tell, looking at this book, there is one horrific incident involving this guy. I never saw anything like that in our unit. I don't think it happened with anybody but him.
But he desperately doesn't want people to read this book or learn the truth, because he's one big paradox. He shifts from purported hero to purported criminal to purported hero to purported criminal, depending on who he's talking to.
COLMES: Mr. O'Neill, it seems like the shifting, in my view, has been along some of the people who are supporting you.
We mentioned what happened with Larry Thurlow. And I still contend, The Washington Post directly contradicts statements he has made.
We know, for example, that George Eliot, who has been back and forth and changed his story a couple of times, about how in 1996 he said that John Kerry showed courage, an act of courage winning the Silver Star.
Now he has a different story. He sys he only got it because he basically shot himself as all units opened fire and beached directly in front of the enemy. Now I will put on at the screen now the citation signed by the secretary of the navy actually says about that.
It says, "Unhesitatingly, Lieutenant Junior Grad Kerry ordered his boat to attack as all units opened fire and beached directly in front of the enemy ambushers. This daring and courageous tact Awarded to Mr. Eliot says now but as Mr. Eliot did say in 1996.
A number of your people have changed their stories.
O'NEILL: That's just not true. George Eliot is a man devoted to the truth.
In 1996 where there was a charge that Kerry had committed war crimes by shooting a lone Viet Con teenager who was running away, George Eliot came forward, in effect helping Kerry by saying there was no war crime.
It's ironic that you read that particular part of his citation, because that's exactly what he did not do himself in the Silver Star incident. He didn't go ashore and chase a dozen Viet Cong soldiers. That's exactly what didn't happen.
What actually did happen is he went ashore. He faced one lone Viet Cong kid. The kid was shot in the legs. He tried to get away, Kerry jumped off and shot him in the back. I don't think that was wrong to do that. I might not have done it myself, but I just don't think it's Silver Star material. It's ironic that you read that.
COLMES: I think the public deserves to hear all sides of the story and make up their own mind.
COLMES: So I think you should be here, but I think the other side should be heard, too. And I trust the people to decide.
But the most recent affidavit signed by Eliot, he states, "I do not claim to have personal knowledge as to how Kerry shot the wounded, fleeing Viet Cong."
He doesn't have personal knowledge. And you said on this program just last week you never knew John Kerry in Vietnam. The people who knew him best who were on his boat, except for one person, Gardner, support him in his presidential race.
O'NEILL: Actually, they don't support him -- they don't claim he went to Cambodia. These fabulous, fantastic lying stories, they don't support most of those.
It is true that some of them support him for president, even a majority. The problem he has is that more than 60 guys have come forward and asked what happened with the Silver Star. There was no doubt about it. He shot one kid in the back. Everybody admits it.
HANNITY: These guys are all on the record, and it's well documented. But we'll let our audience decide as they read your book.
COLMES: New polls from some important swing states mean good news for John Kerry today. And they could mean bad news for the swift boat veterans.
The new Gallup poll has John Kerry leading President Bush in Ohio by a whopping 10 points among registered voters in the must-win state. A brand new Quinnipiac poll has Kerry leading by five points in Pennsylvania, where President Bush was campaigning just the other day.
And a new Republican poll in Wisconsin has Kerry leading President Bush in a tight race by only a point, 74 to 46.
Now, these are important numbers, because Ohio and Wisconsin are states where the Swift Veterans for Truth have been running their television ad.
But it's also where the Kerry campaign will launch this new ad that was released today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: I'm John Kerry, and I approved this message.
ANNOUNCER: The people attacking John Kerry's war record are funded by Bush's big money supporters. Listen to someone who was there, the man whose life John Kerry saved.
JIM RASSMAN, RESCUED BY JOHN KERRY: It blew me off the boat. All these Viet Cong were shooting at me. I expected I'd be shot. When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.
ANNOUNCER: The Navy documented John Kerry's heroism and awarded him the Bronze Star. Today, he still has shrapnel in his leg from his wounds in Vietnam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLMES: We now continue with the author of "Unfit for Command," John O'Neill.
Jim Rassman says that John Kerry risked his life to save his. Does John Kerry not deserve some kind of valor award for that, and is Jim Rassman telling the truth?
O'NEILL: Jim Rassman originally said that all five boats fled and John Kerry came back and rescued him. But not even the Kerry campaign says that anymore.
They now say that four boats stayed to save the three-boat and that Kerry eventually came back and rescued Rassman shortly before Jack Chenoweth did.
As to all these Viet Cong all around, there was a single mine and virtually -- well, all of the other officers there and almost all the boat guys say there simply was no firing.
And the physical evidence in a 75-yard wide deal shows exactly the same.
COLMES: So John Kerry didn't risk his life?
O'NEILL: Absolutely not. John Kerry fled. The people who risked their lives were the guys who stayed to save the three-boat and who could have been shot at, had there been heavy fire.
COLMES: But he was there and you were not. He saved Jim Rassman's life. He was there with John Kerry. Wouldn't he be a better authority on this than you?
O'NEILL: Not at all. Jim Rassman was bobbing in the water. Jim Rassman was probably watching the swift boats themselves fire in the first 40 seconds.
HANNITY: How many people contradict Rassman's story that you have? How many guys?
O'NEILL: Eight. Eight: four officers and four enlisted, so far. Every one I've called, and they have exactly the same story.
HANNITY: I want to know something else. As a result of your book, the Kerry campaign -- he told a story about Christmas in Cambodia. That has been proven. They've had to recant that story.
This issue of "no man left behind," even The Washington Post acknowledges you were right.
There's this other issue. He has gone on the record saying he never threw his medals away. He said he threw some of his medals away. Then he said they were somebody else's medals that he threw away. He just threw his ribbons away; ribbons and medals are interchangeable.
But let's listen to what he said in an interview way back then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Betty has a picture of one of the many veterans who came to Washington last April and decided that the last resort that they had to try and wake the country up and tell it what was happening in Vietnam as well as what was happening back home to men who were veterans was to renounce the symbols of the -- renounce the symbols which this country gives, which supposedly reinforces all the things they have done. And that was the medals themselves, and so they decided to give them back to their country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many did you give back, John?
KERRY: I gave back, I can't remember, six, seven, eight, nine...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star and three purple hearts.
KERRY: Right. And among that I gave back others.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: There's 10 other stories about that. It turns out he never gave any back.
O'NEILL: It's exactly right, Sean. It's like him denying that he met with the North Vietnamese and now he admitted he met with them in the spring of 1970 while he was a naval office.
HANNITY: Here's what we know. He wasn't in Christmas in Cambodia as he claimed. His story about no man left behind is not true. The medal story isn't true. He admits to committing atrocities when he was there and burning down villages.
Isn't the bottom line here you've got 65 guys versus John Kerry on record, and the American people now have to decide?
O'NEILL: The tragic thing, truly, Sean, is if he came forward and just simply admitted the truth, apologized for the lies about war crimes, we could then go forward.
But what he's done by attacking all of us, by lying about Vietnam and right up to the Democratic convention, is he's made it worse.
COLMES: Thank you for being with us.
O'NEILL: Thank you very much.
COLMES: The Kerry campaign was set to come on to the program to respond. Late this afternoon they did decide not to appear.
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