Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry promised to post all of his military records online by today, although his campaign is withholding some relevant documentation.

“They will be posted on the Web site beginning later this evening as the campaign completes the process of scanning them in,” the campaign said in a terse statement issued late yesterday after two days of criticism over retreating from an earlier promise to release the records.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Kerry was asked whether he would release all of his military records as President Bush did earlier this year.

“I have,” Mr. Kerry responded. “I’ve shown them — they’re available for you to come and look at.”

He then invited people to his campaign headquarters to review them.

However, when a Boston Globe reporter showed up Monday, Kerry campaign officials refused to release any records that the Globe had not already reviewed during its research into Mr. Kerry’s military history. Specifically, the campaign wouldn’t release evaluations by his Navy commanding officers and some medical records.

That decision drew derision from Republicans, in particular the Bush re-election campaign.

“Senator Kerry’s record of nondisclosure and his flip-flop on this important issue should concern voters,” Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said yesterday.

“The Kerry campaign has waffled on the release and claim the need for what they now say is due diligence,” Mr. Mehlman said. “Well, due diligence is different than the standard he set on Sunday, different than the standard he set in 1996, and we believe that Senator Kerry should make the records available … and they should include military and medical records as well.”

Added Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie: “Guess it depends on what your definition of the word ‘all’ is. Voters aren’t stupid, and [John Kerry] shoudn’t treat us as if we are.”

But it’s not clear whether the records that the Kerry campaign is posting on its Web site will answer all the questions that have surfaced about the first of his three Purple Hearts earned during his four months of fighting.

Although none of the injuries that Mr. Kerry sustained during his tenure in Vietnam caused him to miss more than a couple of days of service, his first Purple Heart has come under special scrutiny.

Mr. Kerry’s commanding officer in Vietnam, Grant Hibbard, recently questioned the severity of the wound that led to Mr. Kerry’s Purple Heart, saying the injury was so minor that it could have resulted from a fingernail scratch and questioning whether Mr. Kerry’s crew had even come under enemy fire that day.

The Kerry campaign emerged from its bunker yesterday to give the Associated Press 13 pages of records that already had been distributed and documented two of Mr. Kerry’s Purple Hearts, his Silver Star and his Bronze Star.

The documents include declassified reports that explain Mr. Kerry’s wounds that led to two of his Purple Hearts. They show Mr. Kerry had shrapnel wounds in his left thigh after his boat came under intense fire on Feb. 20, 1969, and he suffered shrapnel wounds in his left buttocks and bruises on his right forearm when a mine detonated close to his boat on March 13, 1969.

The documents do not include, however, a report explaining how Mr. Kerry received the wounds that led to his first Purple Heart.

To back up Mr. Kerry’s injury claims leading to that award, campaign spokesman Michael Meehan showed the Associated Press at the Kerry campaign headquarters a “Sick Call Treatment Record” dated Dec. 9, 1968.

That document, which the campaign would not release or allow to be copied, said: “Shrapnel in left arm above elbow. Shrapnel removed and appl bacitracin dressing. Ret to Duty,” according to the Associated Press.

It was Mr. Kerry’s third Purple Heart that allowed him to transfer out of Vietnam to a desk job in New York.

The records that will be posted on the campaign’s Web site are 150 pages of Navy records that Mr. Meehan said had been requested just last month.

The document dump is similar to one by Mr. Bush earlier this year after he faced intense scrutiny over his service in the Texas Air National Guard. Among those who were notably silent about Mr. Bush’s records was Mr. Kerry, who had ridiculed Mr. Bush about various aspects of his military service but never demanded that he release his military records.

“It’s not up to me to talk about them or to question them at this point,” Mr. Kerry told reporters when asked about the accusations over Mr. Bush’s records. “But I think it’s up to the president and the military to answer those questions.”

But the Bush campaign’s demand that Mr. Kerry release his military records was an about-face from their initial stance on Mr. Bush’s records.

Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said the public deserves to see Mr. Kerry’s records, especially because he promised to reveal them.

“Kerry has criticized the president on a number of issues, including his military record,” Miss Iverson said. “He has an obligation to make good on his promises and come clean on his military records.”

When questions arose earlier this year about Mr. Bush’s National Guard duty during the Vietnam War, Bush supporters deflected criticism by saying that Democrats were concerned about something that happened “30 years ago” and that what was most important was Mr. Bush’s performance in office as commander in chief.

Miss Iverson said the issue is now a question of consistency and honesty, not necessarily a need to reciprocate a close examination of the two men’s service during the Vietnam War.

“The point here isn’t whether [Mr. Kerry’s] records are relevant,” Miss Iverson said. “The point is that both candidates for president have been asked by the press to release their military records.”

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