Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- February 17, 2004


The cover-up that's worse than the crime

Ernest Partridge, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers

The weekend media gasbags seem to believe that "Guard-Gate" will soon fade, leaving little damage to Bush's election prospects. Thus saith the pundits on PBS's "Washington Week," and CNN's "Capital Gang."

I am not convinced. There are compelling indications that George Bush's military record is a time bomb that might (repeat, might) toss Dubya out of the White House come January, 2005 -- or even, perchance, off the GOP ticket in November.

Much depends upon whether the media are prepared, at long last, to do their proper jobs -- investigating and reporting. And there are indications that they just might, if the public demands it. The sleeping giant is stirring.

The White House behavior to date has the distinct odor of a cover-up -- in the form of what Nixon's Watergate gang called a "modified limited hangout." Bush himself just vaguely states that he fulfilled his responsibilities and received an Honorable Discharge. About the specifics of his alleged duties in Alabama -- what he did, who he met, who and what might vouch for his appearance -- he is silent. The Busheviks are clearly behaving as if they have something to hide.

For consider: if the story were exactly as Bush would have us believe, there would be overwhelming evidence to back him up -- dozens of eye-witnesses and bales of paper. Clearly there is not, despite his handlers' desperate effort to produce this evidence.

As an illustration of this point, consider the military service of Partridge, E. D., Hospital Corpsman, US Naval Reserve. And, if you served in the Reserves or the National Guard, compare it with your own experience.

During my eight year stint in the Naval Reserve, I was required to attend monthly "drills" and an annual two week training exercise. I apparently did so to the satisfaction of the Navy Department, for there is a certificate of Honorable Discharge in my files.

I can vividly remember that at each monthly drill, I "mustered in" and thus a paper record was made of my attendance. During my summer duties at various Naval hospitals, I signed numerous papers, before, during and after, that tour of duty. At the close, the supervising officers wrote out an evaluation report for my file.

All of this, and much, much, more remains to this day in the several copies of my Service Record; one in original "hard copy," another stored in microfiche media, and portions thereof in various naval bases and hospitals.. In addition, I worked closely with numerous fellow corpsmen, doctors, nurses, and officers. If you asked me today to validate the presence of many of them at the Oak Knoll, California, or the St. Albans, New York, Naval Hospitals, I could do so, as, conversely, they could identify me.

Accordingly, if, say, I were to be charged today with an armed robbery that took place simultaneously with, and hundreds of miles away from, my duty station, I would have a rock-solid alibi.

This, mind you, is the paper trail of a lowly USNR enlisted man. Not that of a commissioned Air Force officer, trained at hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer expense, given a coveted appointment ahead of hundreds of applicants, and the son of a Congressman and former Ambassador with a distinguished military record.

Now we are asked to accept Bush's word, on the strength of a few ambiguous documents, the record of a dental appointment, and the memory of one politically motivated "eyewitness" whose "confirmation" is of the wrong date. In the "data dump" of some 400 pages, that, apparently, is all that he has to offer us. Add to this the failure of any contemporaneous officers or fellow trainees to step forward and validate Bush's attendance during the time period in question.

Ex-Hospital Corpsman Partridge could, with his Service Record, provide indisputable proof of his service, and particularly of the time and place of his training assignments.. Why not Lt. G. W. Bush, who served as an Air Force officer several years later?

Now consider this: If Bush in fact failed to fulfill his military obligation in its fifth year, that would be a politically troublesome embarrassment. But additionally, if so, then he told a flat-out lie to Tim Russert and to the millions of citizens who watched or heard of the Meet the Press interview. And that is a far greater offense.

But it gets even worse.

Retired Air Force officer Bill Burkett now claims, as he reported at the time to numerous friends and associates, that he saw members of then-Governor Bush's staff "cleanse" Bush's Service Record of embarrassing documents. This report has been vehemently denied by the individuals who allegedly did the "cleansing." One unsworn testimony against others: "He said, she said."

What is particularly interesting about Burkett's report is that it may matter very little whether or not he can validate it. What does matter, is whether or not Bush's Service Record is complete. If it is not, it might be a very simple matter, not only to prove that it is incomplete, but also to identify which documents are missing.

This is so, because a Service Record is not a random collection of disjointed documents. On the contrary, many of those documents are required for the record, and others are cross-referenced with other documents. Thus proving that a record is incomplete is as straightforward and unequivocal a task as proving that a deck of playing cards is incomplete.

Thus a claim that "unfortunately, we don't have that document" (e.g. attendance or medical records) should not end an inquiry. It should open a more serious issue: namely, "why not?"

"Absence of evidence" might be evidence of a coverup.

Furthermore, "cleansing" a Service Record (a felony, by the way) is a fruitless exercise, since a separate and complete Records exists in microfiche. A successful "purging" must end up with perfect congruence of all copies: paper and microfiche. This is unlikely, especially in view of the military's fabled intoxication with paper, wherein nothing official happens that is not recorded in quadruplicate -- doubly so for commissioned officers. Thus if Bush's attendance and medical records happen to be missing from his Service Record, they are probably obtainable from the microfiche on file in Colorado, and parts thereof from the Texas and Alabama Air Force Bases.

If these documents are thus recovered, there remains the very troublesome question of explaining their absence from the hard-copy "original" Service Record. "Sorry, we can't find that document" just won't cut it.

The crime of purging a military service record can not be concealed from a diligent investigator. Bush's only hope is that he can quash a diligent investigation and keep the media's attention away from the issue. Sadly, based on past experience, such a result is not out of the question.

The Prosecution rests. Let's hear now from the Defense.

Bush's most direct encounter with the charges was on "Meet the Press," a week ago Sunday. The interrogation by Tim Russert was not of a quality that Perry Mason would envy. Even so, Bush did not help his case.

Russert: [DNC Chairman Terrance McAuliffe] said this last week: "I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a chest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. He didn't show up when he should have showed up." ...

Bush: Political season is here. I was -- I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge. I've heard this. I've heard this ever since I started running for office. I put in my time, proudly so.

Jumping ahead for a moment:

Russert: The Boston Globe and the Associated Press have gone through some of their records and said there's no evidence that you reported to duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.

Bush: Yeah, they're they're just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report; otherwise, I wouldn't have been honorably discharged. In other words, you don't just say "I did something" without there being verification. Military doesn't work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.

Note first that the second and third sentences are directly contradictory. On the one hand, he says "there may be no evidence, but I did report." But then he goes on "you don't just say 'I did something' without there being verification." But that's exactly what he just said (sentence two)!

But leaving that aside, if "the Prosecution's" case is solid, here is a flat-out lie: "They're just wrong... I did show up in Alabama." Well, there is no evidence that he did. (Arguably, there is "wiggle room" here. He did, it seems, "show up in Alabama" to have his teeth cleaned. But if a lie is defined as a deliberate attempt to deceive, then he lied. It does not depend on what the meaning of "is" is).

Back now to the "skipped" portion of the interview (immediately following "... proudly so"):

(Bush): I would be careful to not denigrate the Guard. It's fine to go after me, which I expect the other side will do. I wouldn't denigrate service to the Guard, though, and the reason I wouldn't, is because there are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard and who are serving in the National Guard today in Iraq.

This is what propagandists and stage magicians call "displacement" -- turning attention away from the relevant issue. Nobody, but nobody, among the accusers is "denigrating the Guard." Indeed, the critics would readily agree that "there are a lot of really fine people who served in the National Guard." The point at issue is whether or not George W. Bush was among them.

Next to the question of access to Bush's military records:

Russert: When allegations were made about John McCain or Wesley Clark on their military records, they opened up their entire files. Would you agree to do that? ... Would you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period? ... Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?

Bush: Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.

Another lie. The very fact that new documents are appearing now proves that Bush did not "release everything" in 2000. Add to this a broken promise: Q. "Would you authorize the release of everything to settle this?" A. Yes, absolutely. Well, he hasn't. He has held back his medical records.

Obviously I've edited this conversation in the interest of clarity. Those who suspect (incorrectly) that I have edited out exculpatory context are invited to see the uninterrupted portion of the transcript dealing with Bush's National Guard service here, or the transcript of the entire interview

The portion edited out above contains a lot of incoherent babble from Bush. To wit:

Bush: Yeah. Listen, these files -- I mean, people have been looking for these files for a long period of time, trust me, and starting in the 1994 campaign for governor. And I can assure you in the year 2000 people were looking for those files as well. Probably you were. And absolutely. I mean, I --

Russert (again): But would you allow pay stubs, tax records, anything to show that you were serving during that period?

Bush: Yeah. If we still have them, but I - you know, the records are kept in Colorado, as I understand, and they scoured the records. And I'm just telling you, I did my duty, and it's politics, you know, to kind of ascribe all kinds of motives to me. But I have been through it before. I'm used to it. What I don't like is when people say serving in the Guard is -- may not be a true service. [THAT again! EP]

That passage takes me back to..., now where? Ah, yes! Captain Queeq's defensive ranting in The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.

As embarrassing as all that is to read, much worse was the audio and visual images -- the tone of voice, the facial expressions, the body language. Much like Nixon's debacle in 1960 in the first debate with Kennedy, the visual image of Bush was much more damaging than the audio, which in turn was worse than the written transcript.

Even Bush's most steadfast supporters were embarrassed. For example, Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan's speech writer, observed:

The president seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. His answers were repetitive, and when he tried to clarify them he tended to make them worse. He did not seem prepared. He seemed in some way disconnected from the event. When he was thrown the semi-softball question on his National Guard experience--he's been thrown this question for 10 years now--he spoke in a way that seemed detached.

Bad as all that was, Press Secretary Scott McClellan's defense of Bush's military career at a White House press conference was arguably worse. Clutching a sheaf of copies of ambiguous military documents, like a Titanic passenger grasping an overcrowded lifeboat, he repeated, over and over: "these records verify that [the President] met the requirements necessary to fulfill his duties." Repeated attempts by atypically aggressive White House reporters to storm past that verbal gate were unavailing.

David Corn thus describes this performance by McClellan:

It was a remarkable exhibition of dissimulation that deserves to be studied by students of political spin. He avoided remaining questions. He kept insisting that these records meant there was nothing else to discuss. He denied reality and refused to acknowledge there was documentary evidence contradicting Bush's account. He was an automaton: these records showed that he served, these records showed that he served, these records showed that he served...

George W. Bush is lucky that Scott McClellan is not his lawyer and that the White House press briefing room is not a courtroom.

Finally, the usual partisan GOP suspects came to Bush's defense, led by RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie. In answer to DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe's AWOL charge against Bush, Gillespie responded: "This is a demonstrably false and malicious charge that would be slanderous under any ordinary circumstance. It's not unusual, however, for Mr. McAuliffe to not tell the truth on national television.'" And, displaying his aversion to "malicious charges," Gillespie went on to call McAuliffe "the John Wilkes Booth of character assassination."  Marc Racicot,  Chair of Bush's Re-election committee, aimed his rhetorical ordnance at John Kerry, not for what Kerry said but for his silence on the issue, thus implicitly "supporting a slanderous attack on the president by refusing to repudiate" McAuliffe.

And so, lacking substantive rebuttal, Bush's defenders fell back to that last desperate resort of the defeated court attorney: personally attacking the accusers. Pathetic!

The Bush defense team is battling a hydra-monster: an "answer" begets a multitude of new questions, each demanding new answers. Cover-ups must in turn be covered up. The edifice of defense becomes ever more complicated, incoherent, and unwieldy.

For example, we might imagine the following conversation (with all "excuses" drawn from news accounts):

"Bush didn't take his physical, because his personal physician was not available."

"But the Air Force requires the physicals be taken with Air Force doctors."

"OK, disregard the former excuse. Instead, Bush didn't take the physical, because he chose to discontinue flying."

"But an officer is not entitled to make such a decision on his own. He is required to have a hearing before a flying evaluation board. There is no record of Bush ever having that hearing."

"So strike that. Anyway, he stopped flying, because the Air Force was phasing out the F-102."

"But Bush's unit in Texas continued to use the F-102s a year after Bush left the Guard."

"Why do you hate America?"

Sound familiar? If you are old enough to remember the Watergate scandal, it should sound familiar.

And we all know how that eventually turned out.

First Nixon, then Clinton, and now Bush, all behave like the wolf that was snared by Peter's rope: the more they thrash about trying to break free, the tighter the knot that closes around them. And now, at long last, the press corps is waking up, smelling blood, and circling around the wounded prey.

Can the Bushistas continue to "fool enough of the people enough of the time" to survive? They have the grand champions of propaganda and spin in their corner, along with "the Mighty Wurlitzer" of the corporate media.

And yet the average American voter, though at times cognitively stupid, is capable of displaying intuitive brilliance. Offer him evidence and a logically structured argument, and Average Joe Voter will yawn. And if the argument leads away from his settled convictions, prejudices and hunches, he will resist, abandon the argument and stick with his beliefs. But if something "just doesn't smell right," he'll catch on. Bush's performance on "Meet the Press," in particular his tone of voice and body language, along with the partisan "defenses" that have followed, betray a whiff of desperation. They are failing the smell test. The media hounds are picking up the scent, and eventually this sense of desperation will "trickle down" to the ordinary folk who don't watch Tim Russert and the other Sabbath Gasbags. And as this happens, throughout the realm closed minds may begin to open up. The levee springs a leak: it begins with a few trickles and ends with a flood. It has happened before: just ask the surviving members of the Nixon administration.

As we conclude, let's assume, for a moment, our indictment of George Bush. (a) He dodged "without leave" about a year of his sworn commitment to the Air National Guard. (b) He lied about this on a nationally broadcast interview program. (c) Earlier, his surrogates purged his Service Record of damaging documents -- an act that could be exposed through a thoroughgoing investigation and comparison of variously located documents.

Assume all this is true of the President. Then assume further that the President is a Democrat, that the President in question is Bill Clinton, and that the opposing party has arranged to have a hostile special prosecutor with a budget of $70 million investigate these charges.

And then, as The Bard invites: "on your imaginary forces work."

"Equal justice under law?" I don't think so. Instead, we have one law for the Democrats and no law for the Republicans. Thus Bush, Inc., has adopted a variant of the Leona Helmsly maxim: "Rule of law is for the little people." And so it is, unless and until We the People put an end to this outlaw regime.

Granted, the alleged offense happened over thirty years ago -- ancient history. But the cover-up is now, and it is ongoing. And time and again, history has taught us that the cover-up is much worse than the offense. Thirty years ago, George Bush cut corners on his sworn obligation to the Air Force. Today, sitting in the Oval Office, he looks at a TV camera and through it to the American people, and he lies openly and without scruple. In so doing, he betrays his office and degrades the integrity of the United States government, and he erodes the credibility of that government to the American people and to the world.

Judging from what we have learned about the character of the man, if the issue persists and still more embarrassments come to light, they will be countered with still more cover-ups -- more lies, and more vicious attacks on the accusers.

The Busheviks devoutly hope that we've all heard about the last of "Guard-Gate."

I doubt that we have. We are likely to see much more Water run under that Gate.

Copyright 2004 by Ernest Partridge



Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .