September 06, 2004

Not the Fourth Man: the Svengale

Ah. A piece of news about Roy Hoffman, one of the Swift Boat liars, and the supposed fourth crewman whom none of the other three remember. (Mike Pridmore and Bruce Moomaw correct me: Schacte said he was the invisible fourth man on the boat with Kerry, Bill Zaladonis and Pat Runyon. Hoffman is the... entrepreneur, shall we say.)

We knew that the Swift Boat liars include in their number one of Nixon's hatchetmen: John O'Neill, who was a disciple of Charles Colson during Colson's criminal days working for Nixon, but did not follow Colson into repentance. We knew that they include Jerome Corsi: a guy whose ravings make everyone watch him carefully for fear that someday he'll decide to put his words into practice.

And now it looks like we know that the Swift Boat liar Roy Hoffman is (at least) a war-criminal-wannabee:

bakersfield.com | Robert Price: Reconstructing one day on a Swift boat:

Bill Means needed to talk to me, he said. Right away.

I didn't ask why; I figured it had something to do with Vietnam. We'd talked briefly a couple of months earlier about the war and about Swift boats. Thirty-five years ago, as a Navy seaman, Means had patrolled the southern coastline of the South China Sea and the mangrove-dense rivers of the country's interior -- 12 months in all, mostly spent in the pilot house of one of those 55-foot, aluminum-hulled Navy fighting boats.

About a week ago, we made tentative plans to talk again. Then I didn't hear from him until he called abruptly, urgency in his voice.

We sat down together and, agitated and emotional, he laid it all out for me.

It bothered him, seeing Vietnam brought back into play as a political game piece. The left had done it to war veterans three decades ago. Returning servicemen had been vilified -- spat upon, in fact, as if they'd been the architects of U.S. foreign policy rather than just the young men and women obligated by law and duty to carry it out.

Now the right had seized upon the Vietnam War, too -- specifically the role, in uniform and out, of Sen. John Kerry. And to Means, it seemed just as wrong.

Means, a 55-year-old investigator for several Bakersfield law firms, was particularly annoyed by the words of one retired admiral. Roy F. "Latch" Hoffman, one of the co-founders of the pro-George W. Bush group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, had publicly criticized Kerry, a former Swift boat commander, for having brought back stories about alleged war crimes by U.S. forces -- often carried out, Kerry said in 1971, "with the full awareness of officers at all levels."

Seemed to him, Means said, his own Swift boat crew had come close to committing a war crime themselves one day. A senior officer, hitching a ride up the coast aboard their Swift boat, had ordered the crew to fire on a small group of unarmed Vietnamese fishermen working their nets in unrestricted waters, Means said. The boat's commanding officer had refused to comply.

Was that the way the boat's commander remembered the incident too, all these years later? Means had to know.

So he got on the Internet and hunted down Thomas W.L. "Tad" McCall, the retired Navy captain who'd commanded Means' boat, PCF 88, as a newly minted ensign. Means called him.

Not only did McCall remember the day in question, and that confrontation off the coast of South Vietnam, he remembered the name of the officer who had given the command to shoot: "Latch" Hoffman himself, then a Navy captain in charge of the entire Swift boat task force in Vietnam.

The next morning Means told me the whole story. Then I called McCall myself.

McCall, now 60, remembers March 14, 1969, because it was his 25th birthday. He'd only been running a Swift boat for a few weeks, having arrived in Vietnam in January 1969, the same month as Means.

At the time, McCall said, the Navy was having trouble finding qualified officers to command those hazardous-duty patrol boats; lieutenant j.g.'s were in increasingly short supply. McCall, the son of Oregon's sitting governor, Republican Tom McCall, was only an ensign. That, the Navy was beginning to realize, would have to do.

"I was really green," said McCall, who joined the Navy as an enlisted man in 1967 and retired in March 1992 as a captain and a JAG, or military attorney.

McCall's crew was supposed to be off duty that day. But McCall was told Hoffman needed a ride up the coast to the base at Nha Trang to visit a seriously wounded Navy SEAL.

"I was excited, nervous and kind of pleased we were going to get to take the commander of the task force up the coast, an hour and a half each way," McCall said. "A beautiful trip, an honor for us. The crew didn't think it was an honor, though. They thought it was a pain in the butt."

Hoffman got to the boat at mid-morning, a distinguished-looking officer in brown camouflage.

From the start, Hoffman made it clear the trip would be no pleasure cruise. He wanted to search every Vietnamese boat they passed, it seemed. McCall protested mildly; he knew many of those boats from having patrolled those same waters almost daily.

Then Hoffman set his attention on a small cluster of fishing boats, four small vessels with perhaps 10 fishermen, about 1,000 yards offshore. "We had seen them in the water there many, many times," McCall said. "They were fishing at a good fishing place ... in traditional fishing waters. 'Another patrol is coming up behind us soon,' I told him. 'We're taking you for a ride, not patrolling.'"

But Hoffman ordered a crewman to hail the fishing boats on a bullhorn. The fishermen didn't respond. So Hoffman ordered a crewman to fire his M-16 in their direction, splashing the water around them. The fishermen, perhaps not understanding what they were supposed to do, still didn't respond.

"Shoot closer," McCall remembers Hoffman saying.

"I can't shoot closer, sir, I'll hit them," the crewman said.

"Well, do it," Hoffman said.

The meaning of those words were clear to everyone aboard PCF 88, McCall said. Hoffman was ordering the fishing party destroyed, the fishermen killed.

The officers argued policy; McCall realized it was ultimately his call.

He ordered his men to stand down, leave the fishermen alone and move on. He sent Hoffman below deck, and the captain, cursing, complied.

"From that day on," said Means, who witnessed the exchange from his post at the wheel, "McCall was our hero."

When McCall got back to the base at Cam Ranh Bay, he was told he would receive an administrative punishment -- a 30-day benching known as being "in hack," for which official records were not kept.

"There was no animosity afterward," McCall said, noting that when Hoffman left Vietnam, the sailors at Cam Ranh Bay threw him a party.

"I think, if I remember right, he gave me a hug," McCall said. "He was a rascal, a colorful guy. We had an amicable parting of the ways. I just thought his leadership at the time was misguided."

Hoffman did not return my e-mail message asking for his comment.

After leaving the Navy, McCall served as a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, a civilian post, from 1994 to 2001. Since that time he has worked as a consultant to the Army on environmental matters.

He has been approached by representatives of the Kerry campaign about telling his story, he said. He's not particularly political, so he's not interested.

Means feels the same -- to a point.

"We weren't Republicans and Democrats on those Swift boats," he said. "We were (expletive) trying to stay alive. (Things) happened, but we can't go back and reconstruct it from 35 years ago."

But if others, whatever their motivation, insist on trying to do so now, Means is willing to try too. In his view, his commanding officer did the right thing 35 years ago by speaking up. Speaking up himself, Bill Means believes, is the least he can do today.

Posted by DeLong at September 6, 2004 01:30 PM | TrackBack
Comments

Speaking of Swift Boat Liars, I noticed that John O'Neill has been invited to speak at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco at noon this Friday. He'll be joined by his fellow Regnery writer, Robert "Buzz" Patterson, a notorious liar from the Clinton White House years. I'm appalled that the Commonwealth Club is giving these two frauds a forum for their odious views.

I see no need for the Commonwealth Club to give these two more credibility than they deserve. That's why I plan to be protesting on the sidewalk outside the Commonwealth Club on 595 Market St, starting at 11:00 am. I hope I'm not alone in doing so.

Posted by: Mushinronsha at September 6, 2004 02:11 PM

Exactly the kind of thing we need, but in the end, it doesn't really show him to be a bad guy unless we find alot of those things. It just shows him to have been confused about the Law of Armed Conflict, and angry for awhile at being corrected.

Here is something I hope you will consider:

The Debate We Should Be Having.

Many of us tire of hearing Vietnam being dragged through the public discourse during this years Presidential campaign. Problem is, there are serious issues within this debate that draw parallels greater than who went and who didn't. It may well be imperative that we have this particular debate, at this particular time no matter how painful it is.

Beyond the bleeding edge of this debate is a larger, perhaps more important parallel between Vietnam war protests and the ongoing debate about whether we should have attacked Iraq. That parallel is drawn by recent attempts to characterize then citizen John Kerry's testimony to congress as unpatriotic and ultimately damaging to the war and those who fought it.

That the Vietnam war was in the end unpopular is not news. That era marks one of the most contentious since the Emancipation Proclamation. Protests and the songs that fueled them were soundly credited with forcing an end to a war largely considered to be unnecessary. Those protesting were resolute in their belief that the war was being fought mostly for political reasons, they didn't feel a threat to their way of life from that far away land, just as many today feel the Iraq war is being fought for similar reasons, and that there is no threat to the USA. I'll let history be your guide to the effect of the Vietnam war on the spread of communism, and to whether there was indeed a direct threat to America by that spread. It is just beyond the context of the issue at hand.

Today we are faced with an open attempt to frame those protesters as traitorous, ultimately discouraging prisoners of war and soldiers alike. Senator Kerry, and by association, those who protested are being blamed, for causing a cowardly end to a war that presumably could have been won. We are, in this debate, being asked to accept without any thought, the premise that the war could have, and should have been won. We are being asked to forget the lessons learned from Vietnam by our nations military leaders and accept instead that freedom of speech is the reason we lost that war.

We can see this premise cast a shadow on debate and criticism of President Bush and the Iraq War. Those with the gall to speak out unfavorably were called unpatriotic before the first shot was fired. Even today, we are admonished for daring to speak ill of the President or the war. That these sorts of statements seem servile and slanderous to our forefathers should be obvious but isn't. Instead we reel from the debate because we want to discuss what the candidate's propose to do for our future. Sen Kerry has spent the summer discussing in general terms how he would lead the country and has released a book with some specifics. We have had four years to learn what President Bush intends. I am sure both of these candidates will have plenty of time to address their policies in further detail, but that is not more important than the debate we are trying to shrink from.

The reality of this debate is that those who shrink away from discussing a contentious war decades past, may well be turning their backs the Bill of Rights, specifically concurring through their silence with the destruction of freedom of speech and the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Posted by: Fr33d0m at September 6, 2004 02:44 PM

"Ah. A piece of news about Roy Hoffman, one of the Swift Boat liars, and the supposed fourth crewman whom none of the other three remember."

I believe you're getting your liars confused, Brad -- which is perhaps forgivable, given how provably many of them there now are. William Schacht was the THIRD crewman -- in the Kerry 1st Purple Heart Affair -- that neither of the other TWO crew members say they remember. (Nor does Dr. Louis Letson, despite his calling Kerry a liar himself.) Schacht, asked about all this by the NY Times, refused to comment -- which didn't stop Bob Novak a few days later from approvingly reprinting Schacht's story in his column without mentioning any of the witnesses who object to it.

Hoffman's lies are equally plentiful, but of a different type. Specifically, he has (like Adrian Lonsdale and Larry Thurlow) radically changed his earlier story about Kerry just in the last month in an attempt to make him look much worse:

http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-kerryviet5jul05,1,6498671.story?coll=la-center-elect2004

http://mediamatters.org/items/200408060011 (with links)


Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 6, 2004 03:00 PM

What Bruce said, sort of. Admiral Schachte (ret.) was the fourth man in the three man operation.

Hoffman was certainly one of the leaders in organizing the Swiftees, and did not like his depiction in the book (too reminiscent of Duvall in Apocalypse Now).

Schachte interview with Lisa Meyers:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5840657/

Posted by: Tom Maguire at September 6, 2004 03:05 PM

Ah. Thanks. I guess I need a scorecard...

Posted by: Brad DeLong at September 6, 2004 03:11 PM

Well, Tom, as I say, Hoffman did a lot more than "organize the Swifties". Take a look at his pre-August and post-August comments about Kerry, as reported in the URLs I mentioned, and see if YOU can reach any conclusion other than that he's radically switched now to saying that he knew from personal observation that Kerry was a lousy officer.

As for Lonsdale, all one needs to do is compare http://www.s-t.com/daily/11-96/11-04-96/d01lo120.htm and http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/nation/president/2004-08-08-kerry-vets_x.htm .

And as for Thurlow, we find him telling "USA Today" in April that Kerry "was extremely brave, and I wouldn't argue that point":
http://www.usatoday.com/news/politicselections/nation/president/2004-04-12-kerry-vietnam_x.htm
...but now telling Judy Woodruff that Kerry "fled downriver" as soon as the first mine went off in the Bronze Star affair despite the fact that no other boats did so and that there was no gunfire (on which point Thurlow has since been convincingly revealed as a liar by the testimony of his own petty officer, which he tried to conceal from the press).

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 6, 2004 03:20 PM

"The reality of this debate is that those who shrink away from discussing a contentious war decades past, may well be turning their backs the Bill of Rights..." this insight, well articulated, has unsettled me as well. It appears that the minions of the right wing apparat are in the very intentional process of rewriting history through advanced media campaigns.

"We just didn't know what we were doing or what to do, so we just kept the course and escalated."
Robert McNamara

Posted by: delecti at September 6, 2004 04:48 PM

Robert McNamara is so right. Thanks.

Posted by: lise at September 6, 2004 05:08 PM

columnist Christopher Caldwell on Gregory Vistica account of the Thanh Phong massacre:
"In this light, one of the great merits of Vistica's article is its portrait of the Kurtz-like psychopath who commanded Kerrey's Navy task force, Capt. Roy Hoffmann.

http://archive.salon.com/opinion/conason/2004/05/04/swift/index1.html

Posted by: weel at September 6, 2004 06:39 PM

Not to rain on anybody's parade here or anything, but the fact that everybody involved in the smear is a liar is completely unimportant. What's important is that the smear has worked PERFECTLY, and no amount of expose will make it go away. So check out this week's NY Times bestseller list:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/12/books/bestseller/0912besthardnonfiction.html

And, yes, it's the number one bestseller over at Amazon as well. It truly pains me to say this, but I think Kerry is all but lost. And when he does lose, we are really going to hell, and faster than you might think. I'm not the biggest fan of his, but Juan Cole claims that the rumors in D.C. are that we are going to try and re-take Fallujah right after the election. No explanation is given, but one obvious one is that we probably cannot succeed at anything in Iraq if city after city become part of the "no-go zone". Now it's difficult to estimate this kind of thing, but it seems to me that any attempt to re-take a city of 300,000 people currently held by Islamic fundamentalists will involve casualty numbers that will make our worst months in Iraq look like nothing special. But we have to re-assert control if we want to have any credibility in our threats to invade the next country, whichever one that turns out to be.

But now what could possibly defeat Bush? I'm guessing that even frank espionage indictments against senior officials won't do it, since that's just too abstract for your average undecided voter. That leaves spectacular financial melt-down (iffy that it would work), some hyper-juicy scandal about Bush himself (could cost him the popular vote), or leaked documents about a Defense Department plan to re-instate the draft. I severely doubt that anybody is even whispering about the latter, though, however inevitable the move seems given our current situation and Bush's likely future plans. Restarting the draft would cross a line that with a considerable chunk of the electorate. So if Kerry really wants to win, he'll learn from the Swifties and make Bush deny repeatedly that he's going to do that in his second term.
The "beauty" of this approach is that there is not good answer. I don't think Bush can afford to say "Yes, I will", but any waffling on the question will be seen by everybody as a sign that the draft will come back, anyway. So it could all come down to how convincingly he can say "no". If he's very convincing, he wins the election. If people think he's lying (and they *will* study carefully what he says on this issue), then he might just be vulnerable. But we have to do better than Kerry's current ploy, which is tantamount to a suggestion that he has a secret plan to win the war and get our troops back inside of four years.

Posted by: Jonathan King at September 6, 2004 09:27 PM

A 4-point lead for Bush (which is today's consensus among the pollsters as to what he REALLY had after the Convention) hardly strikes me as an "all but lost" election. Gore blew an 8-point one at Labor Day last time.

What you're right on is that Kerry has the desperate need -- both for his campaign and for his administration -- to develop some kind of a coherent military strategy for dealing with the current crisis. If he does so, and presents it convincingly (especially during the TV debates), he'll win; if he doesn't, he'll lose. And he could do much worse than embrace the talking points George Will helpfuly suggested for him on August 27 ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40277-2004Aug27.html ). The trouble with Kerry's military policy, it's now clear, is that (to the extent that it exists) it bears too close a resemblance to Bush's -- and the trouble with both of them is not that they're too hawkish, but that they're hawkish in an entirely wrongheaded and strategically stupid way.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 7, 2004 12:05 AM

Clarifying note: by "the other two crew members", I wasn't counting Kerry himself (who also says he doesn't remember Schachte). After all, we all know he's a biased witness... I do plead guilty, however, to forgetting the "e" on the end of Schachte's name.

Interesting that a genuine conservative like Caldwell should turn out to be such a savage opponent of the Vietnam War -- even if he was using this to bash Bob Kerrey (who, I think, deserves it).

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 7, 2004 12:35 AM


Lise...I'm sure the vietnamese will be gratified by McNamara's *mea culpa* ...and if any of them read this thread be even more gratified by your endorsement of said *mea culpa*

Posted by: venky at September 7, 2004 01:51 AM

Bruce Moomaw writes:
> A 4-point lead for Bush (which is today's consensus among
> the pollsters as to what he REALLY had after the Convention)
> hardly strikes me as an "all but lost" election. Gore blew an 8-
> point one at Labor Day last time.

And the fact that Gore blew an 8-point lead is supposed to make me feel good because why exactly? OK, so if you check the historical Gallup poll results posted helpfully at www.washingtonmonthly.com you'll see the real reason I'm pretty depressed right now. Since 1960, Republicans have improved from their Labor Day numbers every time except the weird election of 1992. That's not too surprising, for a number of reasons, but it means that when Bush is standing at 49% in this poll on Labor Day, all he needs is to gain 1% or so and he's got the election guaranteed. Unlike Kerry, Bush could win the Electoral Vote if he were as many as 3 to 4 million votes *down* in the popular vote. (The aftermath would be hyper-ugly, but that doesn't change the result.) So the positives here for Bush is that he is ahead despite his having nothing to run on, and he enjoys the situation where the NYT (and eveybody else's) #1 non-fiction book is an outright libelous slander on his opponent. The press is still fawning, and our soldiers can die by the dozens in Iraq without any substantive coverage. I see no positives here.

> What you're right on is that Kerry has the desperate need --
> both for his campaign and for his administration -- to develop
> some kind of a coherent military strategy for dealing with the
> current crisis. If he does so, and presents it convincingly
> (especially during the TV debates), he'll win; if he doesn't, he'll
> lose.

I disagree. Sure, I'd like to believe that if he comes up with a great plan that it would matter, but Bush is ahead now, running on "stay the course" in an arena where we have takine thousands of casualties and inflicted even more. I'm pretty sure that the only way Bush could lose on this issue is if it suddenly strongly occurred to people that if Bush wins, their sons and daughters (or selves) would be subject to the draft. That brings the war back to every home, dramatizes the fact that Bush pulled strings not to serve, and gives people a powerful reason not to vote for Bush. Kerry saying that we'll be out inside of 4 years...has no effect. What Kerry needs is a commercial showing fresh-faced teen-agers announcing their names, their birthdates, their plans for the future, and the likely date of their future induction. Yes, that's a horrible thing to have to do, but I'm not seeing any clear alternatives.

Posted by: Jonathan King at September 7, 2004 06:26 AM

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Kerry would just come out and say something like: "The Swift Boat Veterans making these accusations against me are liars". Something that simple would work wonders.

Posted by: Bob H at September 7, 2004 07:01 AM

Wasn't Hoffman also the man that ex Senator Bob Kerrey referred to as a 'Take no Prisoner's' kind of guy ?

The real heart of the SBVT is O'Neill and Hoffman, both of whom have long-standing reasons to hate Kerry. IMHO, Kerry should have tried to patch up with some of the other SBVT people late last year (Longsdale, Hibbard etc.). Maybe just explaining to them that he didn't write Brinkleys book (which apparently pissed them off), he didn't share Brinkleys views etc. None of them would have supported them, but they would probably have sat out the election.

Posted by: Pi Zeta at September 7, 2004 09:06 AM

So they'd have only ~100 guys, and Dole would be saying, 'could 100 veterans be liars?'.

In the end, it was not hitting back, twice as hard, twice as often, and twice as mean.

Posted by: Barry at September 7, 2004 10:44 AM

THe thing is that Kerry would have had his commanding officers standing by him (as they did as recently as 1996), or at least staying out of the fray. That would have counted for a lot.

How can you hit back harder ? The fact that a lot of these people are veterans gives them a core credibility with the news media.

Posted by: Pi Zeta at September 7, 2004 12:46 PM

When you're under attack by a pawn, it doesn't matter than you can kill the pawn. The fact that you have to waste the move, lose momentum, and possibly position, is what the attack counts on.
The best we can hope for is that Kerry switches to talking about the economy (possibly thanks to a good segue provided by Clinton) and gets some traction and then possibly later returns to this battle once the Swift Boat Liars stories are old hat.
527 ads with O'Neill/Clarke/other pissed off Bush insiders? We can only hope...

Posted by: Anand Hattiangadi at September 7, 2004 01:18 PM

His bounce was caused by dual propaganda campaigns: the shrimp boat vets for lies and the hate-speech zell-athon of the RNC convention. Of course the timing was extremely important. They rehearsed this very well with Gore in 2000...and will stay on message in the next two months. The debates are a huge opportunity as Kerry hopes for Bush's Nixonian moment: Bush comes off as erratic, surly, unfocused, unscripted and unhinged. Gore tried to make him look stupid in the debates and that just played to Bush's base as "W" feined folksy while Gore puffed up like a girlie man.

Posted by: delecti at September 7, 2004 03:11 PM

Well, children, Rasmussen now says that any bounce Bush got out of the Convention has already totally vanished -- the race is now dead even again, down to the last 0.1%. (He gives Bush a 6-point lead in Missouri today, but that's only a 1-point gain over its last pre-Convention poll -- Missouri has always been a weak state for the Democrats this year, thanks largely to an unpopular governor.) No other polls that I can find yet.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at September 7, 2004 03:39 PM

Liar vs. Liar.

Christmas in Cambodia.

Who, exactly, are we to trust? The man who would be king or those who seek only to stop him?

In the Big Picture it doesn't matter if the Swift people lied...it _does_ if John Kerry does. And it seems that he has simply "embellished".

I guess that's good enough for some.

Posted by: Jody Dorsett at September 7, 2004 10:05 PM