WASHINGTON – Anti-John Kerry veterans unveiled a new ad denouncing Kerry’s 33-year-old stance against the Vietnam war, Kerry filed an official complaint against them, and Democrats aired their own ad featuring a former Air Force chief lauding Kerry as ready to command.

So went Friday’s skirmish in the ongoing war over the war ads that are dominating the hot summer days of the presidential campaign.

The new commercial by the Republican-backed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth depicts three former Vietnam POWs condemning Kerry’s April 22, 1971, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he described alleged U.S. atrocities against the Vietnamese and called for an end to the war.

“He betrayed us in the past. How could we be loyal to him now?” Ken Cordier, a retired Air Force colonel who was a POW in North Vietnam for seven years, asks in the ad.

Kerry’s testimony before the committee that day 33 years ago put him in the national spotlight. Though the ad makes it appear as if Kerry is recounting atrocities he witnessed, he was in fact reciting claims made by soldiers earlier that year during an anti-war gathering in Detroit. “They had personally raped, cut off heads, cut off ears,” he told senators.

Reflecting on those comments this year, Kerry said they were too harsh. “I think some of the language that I used was a language that reflected an anger. … The words were honest, but on the other hand, they were a little bit over the top,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in April.

Kerry’s campaign has made his service as a skipper of a Navy Swift boat in Vietnam a central element of his appeal to voters. Lately, Kerry has sidestepped his equally high profile role as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

Kerry’s opposition to the war and his claims that U.S. troops had engaged in atrocities have reopened a split between veterans who salute his military service and those who object to his subsequent protests against the war.

The anti-Kerry veterans earlier this month aired another ad questioning the circumstances under which Kerry won a Bronze Star in Vietnam, prompting a tough response from Kerry on Thursday in Boston. Kerry accused the veterans of being a front for the Bush camp and said, “If he (President Bush) wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: Bring it on!”‘

The Kerry camp on Friday filed a legal complaint with the Federal Election Commission, claiming the veterans’ group illegally coordinated with the Bush-Cheney campaign and with the Republican National Committee. They cited as evidence news reports linking some of the financiers behind the veterans’ group to Bush campaign officials. The Bush camp, the RNC and leaders of the veterans’ group have denied collaborating, which would be against the law.

Earlier this year, Bush and the RNC filed their own complaint with the FEC claiming that the Kerry camp was illegally coordinating with Democratic-leaning independent groups. The FEC has not acted on that complaint.

On Friday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: “I do think that Senator Kerry losing his cool should not be an excuse for him to lash out at the president with false and baseless attacks.”


Kerry himself has danced around direct criticism of Bush for serving stateside during Vietnam in the Air National Guard. But his close aides and supporters were ramping up their attacks on Friday.

“Maybe if George Bush had seen combat up close, his hired-gun mouthpiece wouldn’t be so flip about the dishonest and dishonorable attack funded by the president’s Texas pals,” Kerry spokesman David Wade said.


The Democratic National Committee aired its own ad Friday featuring retired Gen. Merrill (Tony) McPeak, former Air Force chief of staff, offering testimonials to Kerry. In a teleconference with reporters, McPeak described his ad as positive. “I’m not highlighting the fact that Dick Cheney got five deferments or President Bush played dodge ball during Vietnam,” McPeak said.

(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-08-20-04 1843EDT

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