The veterans organization that sparked controversy last month when it questioned John F. Kerry's military service in Vietnam plans to launch a new commercial today that equates Kerry with Vietnam War protester Jane Fonda and accuses the Democratic presidential nominee of secretly meeting with "enemy leaders" during the conflict.
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth said it will spend $1.3 million to air its advertisement in five battleground states and on national cable television networks over the next week. The ad, titled "Friends," makes no assertion of any direct link between Kerry and Fonda, but it suggests that their contacts with North Vietnamese leaders during the war were equally dishonorable.
"Even before Jane Fonda went to Hanoi to meet with the enemy and mock America, John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris," begins the spot, with grainy footage of the actress and a young Kerry. ". . . Then he returned and accused American troops of committing war crimes on a daily basis. Eventually, Jane Fonda apologized for her activities, but John Kerry refuses to."
The group, whose members served in the Navy at the same time as Kerry, is referring to a meeting Kerry had in early 1971 with leaders of the communist delegation that was negotiating with U.S. representatives at the Paris peace talks. The meeting, however, was not a secret. Kerry, a leading antiwar activist at the time, mentioned it in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April of that year. "I have been to Paris," he testified. "I have talked with both delegations at the peace talks, that is to say the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and Provisional Revolutionary Government," the latter a South Vietnamese communist group with ties to the Viet Cong.
Kerry's campaign said earlier this year that he met on the trip with Nguyen Thi Binh, then foreign minister of the PRG and a top negotiator at the talks. Kerry acknowledged in that testimony that even going to the peace talks as a private citizen was at the "borderline" of what was permissible under U.S. law, which forbids citizens from negotiating treaties with foreign governments. But his campaign said he never engaged in negotiations or attended any formal sessions of the talks.
"This is more trash from a group that's doing the Bush campaign's dirty work," Kerry spokesman Chad Clanton said. "Their charges are as credible as a supermarket rag."
In an interview yesterday, John O'Neill, an organizer of the Swift boat group and co-author of the anti-Kerry book "Unfit for Command," said it would be "unprecedented" for a future commander in chief to have met with enemy leaders. "It would be like an American today meeting with the heads of al Qaeda," he said.
Historian Douglas Brinkley said Kerry's trip to Paris, after his honeymoon with his first wife, Julia Thorne, was part of Kerry's extensive fact-finding efforts on the war. "He was on the fringes," said Brinkley, the author of "Tour of Duty," a book about Kerry's military service. "But he was proud of it. . . . He wanted to make his own evaluation of the situation."
The Swift boat group's first ad gained widespread exposure last month through talk-radio programs, cable television talk shows and newspaper articles because of its assertions that Kerry had exaggerated his war record as the commander of a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam.
Some of the independent organization's assertions were refuted, and several links between it and President Bush's campaign subsequently came to light. But the media storm created by the ad put Kerry and his campaign on the defensive.