Skipper John F. Kerry continues to fire back on the charges by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth–that Kerry grossly exaggerated his heroism with respect to his brief 1968/1969 tour of duty in Vietnam–with his usual Kerry-esque tactics: not countering the Swifties’ allegations with factual assertions, but instead continuing to scream that the Swifties are all in the employ of the Bush campaign. On Thursday, in a speech to the International Association of Fire Fighters, Kerry denounced the 250-member veterans’ group, many of whose members are socially conservative Midwest Democrats, as a “front for Bush.” Over the weekend the Kerry campaign filed a complaint urging the Federal Elections Campaign to put the lid of censorship on the Swifties’ media ads.

The grounds? Horror of horrors, a major donor to the Swifties’ ad campaign also gave money to G.W. Bush! Now, the Washington Post reports today, the Kerry campaign has announced its plans to run its own ads in the battleground blue-collar states home to many other Dems who are also socially conservative war veterans. Again, no counter-facts in the proposed ads, just a demand for Bush to denounce them or else.

Meanwhile, the Post yesterday aired a big, highly detailed story by reporter Michael Dobbs on the conflicting claims–Swifties’ vs. Kerry camp’s–over the events that culminated in Kerry’s three Purple Hearts and his Bronze and Silver stars. Most of the story centers on Kerry’s March 1969 rescue of Jim Rassmann, one of his Swift boat crewmen during a river skirmish with Viet Cong during which Rassmann was thrown overboard. The Swifties say that Kerry’s boat left the scene of the fighting and returned to rescue Rassmann only when the shooting had stopped. Kerry, Rassmann and others say there was still shooting when Kerry’s boat returned.

Here’s what’s amazing: Although Dobbs’ story is subtitled “Critics Fail to Disprove Kerry’s Version of Vietnam War Episode,” Dobbs’s actual conclusion is the Kerry fails to prove his own version, either. At best, says Dobbs, “although Kerry’s accusers have succeeded in raising doubts about his war record, they have failed to come up with sufficient evidence to prove him a liar.”

Fair enough, say I–witnesses’ memories can differ, especially over events occurring during the stress of battle, and the Swifties have opened up a valuable public debate about what happened and who among the participants is to be believed. Dobbs also writes:

“Some of the mystery surrounding exactly what happened on the Bay Hap River in March 1969 could be resolved by the full release of all relevant records and personal diaries. Much information is available from the Web sites of the Kerry campaign and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and the Navy archives. But both the Kerry and anti-Kerry camps continue to deny or ignore requests for other relevant documents, including Kerry’s personal reminiscences (shared only with [official Kerry] biographer [Douglas] Brinkley), the boat log of PCF-94 compiled by Medeiros (shared only with Brinkley) and the Chenoweth diary.

“Although Kerry campaign officials insist that they have published Kerry’s full military records on their Web site (with the exception of medical records shown briefly to reporters earlier this year), they have not permitted independent access to his original Navy records. A Freedom of Information Act request by The Post for Kerry’s records produced six pages of information. A spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command, Mike McClellan, said he was not authorized to release the full file, which consists of at least a hundred pages.”

Jack Chenoweth, a member of Veterans for Truth, commanded another one of the five Swift boats involved in the skirmish. And I agree with Dobbs: Jack, let’s see your Vietnam diary. But that’s the only Swiftie document that Dobbs complains hasn’t been disclosed. Compare that one diary to the three, perhaps four (if you count the briefly displayed medical records) sets of Kerry documents totaling perhaps hundreds of pages that the Democratic presidential candidate has refused to make available to the press. And then start thinking: Which side between the two seems the more credible?

And the answer to that question perhaps lies in the Kerry camp’s treatment of yet another issue raised by the Swifties and by Swiftie John O’Neill in his best-selling anti-Kerry book Unfit for Command: Kerry’s claim, repeated numerous times from 1979 and 2003, that he and his Swift boat spent Christmas Eve in 1968 up the Mekong River on a secret mission inside Cambodia, even though such forays behind the Cambodian border were manifestly illegal, were verboten by Cambodia’s leader, Prince Sihanhouk, a U.S. ally, and were (according to Kerry) deceitfully concealed by the U.S. government. Weekly Standard reporter Matthew Continetti has outlined the several occasions in which Kerry made the Christmas-in-Cambodia claim in a movie review of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, in testimony to Congress, and in an interview with a reporter.

Then, when, um, all written records, including Brinkley’s official biography and some statements by Kerry himself, turned out to show that neither Kerry nor his boat–nor any Swift boats–ever got inside Cambodia, the Kerry campaign issued a statement saying Kerry’s boat was merely “in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia,” which it maybe inadvertently crossed. (Read Michael Barone’s fine column in this week’s U.S. News for a good precis of Kerry’s Cambodian Yuletide and its aftermath–and also this blog-post by Hugh Hewitt.) Kind of makes you wonder about all kinds of things doesn’t it, such as Kerry’s capacity for distinguishing between truth and fiction, not to mention for distinguishing between truth and fibs? Is this the kind of guy we want for president? Continetti continues:

“And yet, on August 19, when Kerry addressed the International Association of Fire Fighters, he did not respond to any of the charges made by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. He did attack the group’s integrity, however. ‘Here’s what you really need to know about them,” Kerry said, his voice rising. “They’re funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They’re a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the president won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you everything you need to know–he wants them to do his dirty work.’ Then, late last week, a Kerry campaign spokesman, along with some liberal commentators, urged Regnery, publisher of Unfit for Command, to pull the book, accusing the company of ‘retailing a hoax.'”

This is the best the Kerry campaign can do? As Continetti points out, it’s very strange that Kerry’s run for president now centers on things that either did or did not happen during a four-month window of time some 36 years ago. But that’s because Kerry has made those distant four months the very center of his campaign. And that’s because he can’t very well run on the rest of his public life: his career as John Fonda, bushy-haired 1970s retailer of alleged atrocities committed by the men he served with; his Senate career spent opposing nuclear (and all other) weapons; his hobnobbing, also while in the Senate, with his Marxist dictator pal Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and so forth. It’s got to be ‘Nam for Kerry 24/7. And so, what my fave conservative commentator Mark Steyn calls the John Kerry Cambodia Christmas Album has got to be playing all the time.

Meanwhile, I like the take on Kerry (reported by the Washington Post) of former Sen. Bob Dole, who lost his right arm at Anzio during World War II:

“‘One day he’s saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons,’ Dole said on CNN’s ‘Late Edition.’ ‘The next day he’s standing there, “I want to be president because I’m a Vietnam veteran.” Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn’t the only one in Vietnam.’

“Dole, the GOP’s 1996 nominee, also questioned Kerry’s commendations. ‘Three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of,’ Dole said of the medal one gets for a combat injury. ‘I mean, they’re all superficial wounds. And as far as I know, he’s never spent one day in the hospital. I don’t think he draws any disability pay. He doesn’t have any disability. And boasting about three Purple Hearts when you think of some of the people who really got shot up in Vietnam.'”