Bush National Guard: New Witnesses — and Witness Intimidation

The Bush AWOL story is still alive as more evidence appears and more witnesses come forward. Besides Mrs. Knox, Robert Strong, and Bobby Hodges, a fourth contemporary witness, Richard Via, has also confirmed that Killian’s opinion of Bush was about the same as that expressed in the challenged memos.

These witnesses should expect the worst. Here‘s what happened to a different Robert Strong once the real Robert Strong’s testimony came out:

“Last week, if you typed the words Professor Robert Strong in the popular search engine, a webpage that happens to be about me appeared at the top of the list. For those who have been filling my e-mail inbox with vicious vitriol, that was apparently evidence enough.

At first, I found all of this a bit funny. Here I was in the midst of my 15 minutes of fame, and it was just a case of mistaken identity. But the more e-mails I read, the less amused I became. The meat they contain is more raw and distasteful than any spam I have ever encountered…..

But how does that get them to the conclusion that I am a ”liar,” the ”biggest dirty trickster since Watergate” and “a paid agent of George Soros”?

My e-mailers apparently think that the folks at 60 Minutes were sloppy in checking the facts about Bush’s service in the National Guard. Where do they get their facts? How can they be utterly oblivious to their own inability to discover the simplest facts about me?”

Here’s another example. Dr. Philip Bouffard is an authentication expert who first said that the Killian memos looked fake, and then was quoted by the Boston Globe as having changed his mind. All hell broke loose: “I have people calling me and e-mailing me, and calling me names, saying that I changed my mind. I did not change my mind at all!”

Bouffard is apparently no longer giving interviews. To the blogger quoting Bouffard, the Globe’s alleged misquotation of Bouffard was the story; to me, the flood of abusive phone calls is the story.

So that’s what happened to two people who were wrongly thought to have testified against Bush — think what it must be like for people who actually do testify against him. In the SBV case there was a definite pattern of witnesses either falling silent, changing their stories (several of the SBV’s contradicted their own official Vietnam-era reports about Kerry), or both in succession. Staudt, normally a Bush supporter, refuses to talk. Burkett, accused of being the source of the memos, refuses to talk. George Elliot, a former commander of Kerry’s, changed his story three times in two days and refused to talk after that.

In the memo case, Bobby Hodges originally confirmed the CBS story, and then later claimed that CBS had deceived him. Comparing his two statements, we can see that he accepted the memos as expressing Killian’s point of view, though he did not examine the actual physical memos and was not aware of questions about their authenticity. It seems reasonable to conclude that after Hodges’ first statement, someone got to him and explained that, not only could he get away with retracting his previous statement, but that that would be a very good idea indeed.

Bob Somerby and others have documented how the SBV organizers wrote a script and put words in people’s mouths — and in fact, several of the supposed SBV’s have said that their names were used against their wishes. The whole SBV campaign was an orchestrated political operation, and as the months go by we’ll find out more and more about how fraudulent it was. And without denying that the opponests of the Killian memos may have scored some points, we can be sure that they’re an orchestrated operation too, and we should fight them as such.

The conclusion we should come to is that we’re in the middle of a street fight. The other side is willing to say and do pretty much anything, and they have an enormous pool of volunteer trolls to intimidate witnesses. (People who are only annoying posting on internet political sites can be frightening when they’re flooding an individual with anonymous phone-calls and emails.) They also are willing to manufacture evidence, bear false witness, and put words in people’s mouths. It’s a mistake to take anything that comes from them at face value. It’s all part of the fight.

As usual, I’ve had arguments during the last week with the finer sort of genteel liberal. To them the main story has been: “Are the memos authentic?” For me, the question is: “What are those guys up to now?” It’s not that the validity of the memos is irrelevant — it isn’t — but if we lose a point on that question we should just fight to get the point back somewhere else. Drawing attention to the fact that four witnesses confirm the substance of the memos is a good place to start.

One opinion I’ve heard expressed is that the National Guard question and the memos themselves are distractions from the real campaign. Agreed, and if we can get the campaign on an issues track, we should. But the genie is out of the bottle, and we have no choice but to fight whichever fights our semi-criminal opponents send our way. We cannot pretend to be “above the battle”.

Everything that comes up in the next seven weeks, and above all in the last week, should simply be treated politically. If a report comes out that Kerry tortured kittens in his youth, or had a torrid affair with a STASI agent in East Berlin, or was a heroin addict in Vietnam — and we know that something will come out around October 28 — we should not spend any time at all thinking about the truth value of the reports, but should just fight back with all we’ve got.

But I’m a political hack, and Democrats aren’t supposed to be political hacks. We’re supposed to be nice guys, in the finish-last sense of the word. And my expectation is that on Oct. 30 the liberal blogosphere will be asking itself whether Kerry is really a kitten-torturer, and if so, whether a man who tortured kittens in his youth can be trusted to lead this great nation.

David Brock on media treatment of memo controversy

Revised 9:15 a.m. PDT.