Kerry’s “Less Than Honorable” Discharge?
N.Z. Bear and others (e.g., Glenn Reynolds, Big Trunk, and Ed Morrissey) have roundups and analysis of the long-rumored charge that John Kerry was originally discharged from the Navy with an other than honorable discharge. The only semi-credible source I’ve seen on this is the NY Sun, which has this story:
A former officer in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps Reserve has built a case that Senator Kerry was other than honorably discharged from the Navy by 1975, The New York Sun has learned. The “honorable discharge” on the Kerry Web site appears to be a Carter administration substitute for an original action expunged from Mr. Kerry’s record, according to Mark Sullivan, who retired as a captain in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps Reserve in 2003 after 33 years of service as a judge advocate. Mr. Sullivan served in the office of the Secretary of the Navy between 1975 and 1977. On behalf of the Kerry campaign, Michael Meehan and others have repeatedly insisted that all of Mr. Kerry’s military records are on his Web site at johnkerry.com, except for his medical records. “If that is the case,” Mr. Sullivan said, “the true story isn’t what was on the Web site. It’s what’s missing. There should have been an honorable discharge certificate issued to Kerry in 1975,if not earlier, three years after his transfer to the Standby Reserve-Inactive.” Another retired Navy Reserve officer, who served three tours in the Navy’s Bureau of Personnel, points out that there should also have been a certified letter giving Mr. Kerry a choice of a reserve reaffiliation or separation and discharge. If Mr. Meehan is correct and all the documents are indeed on the Web site, the absence of any documents from 1972 to 1978 in the posted Kerry files is a glaring hole in the record.
The applicable U.S. Navy regulation, now found at MILPERSMAN 1920-210 “Types of Discharge for Officers,” lists five examples of conditions required to receive an honorable discharge certificate, four required to receive a general discharge “not of such a nature as to require discharge under conditions other than honorable,” and seven for “the lowest type of separation from the naval service. It is now officially in all respects equivalent to a dishonorable discharge.”
Given this, it is likely that a legal review took place that effectively purged Mr. Kerry’s Navy files and arranged for the three-year-late honorable discharge in 1978.There were two avenues during the 1977-1978 time period. This could have been under President Carter’s Executive Order 11967, under which thousands received pardons and upgrades for harsh discharges or other offenses under the Selective Service Act. Or it might have merged into efforts by the military to comply with the demands of the 1975 Church Committee. Mr. Sullivan was personally involved in the 1976 and 1977 records review answering Senator Kennedy’s demands to determine the scope of any counterintelligence abuses by the military.
In the Foreign Surveillance Act of 1977, legislation introduced by Mr. Kennedy to enforce the findings of the Church Committee, there is language that literally describes the behavior of Mr. Kerry. The defined behavior that could no longer be subject to surveillance without warrants includes: “Americans having contact with foreign powers in the case of Americans who were active in the protest against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Some of them may have attended international conferences at which there were representatives of foreign powers, as defined in the bill, or may have been directly in communication with foreign governments concerning this issue.”
I’m incredibly skeptical of the story. An “Honorable” discharge is the default position and, certainly, it is what one would expect for someone who was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with “V” device, and three Purple Hearts during his tour of duty. The worst discharge Kerry could have had without a Special Court Martial is a “General” discharge.
The presumption in the Sun story is that Kerry got into trouble with the Navy for his meetings with the enemy, which strikes me as reasonable enough, but one would think this is something that would have surfaced long before now. Kerry has been in heated races before. Unless things worked considerably differently in the early 1970s than they do now–a possibility that I grant–Kerry would have received an “Honorable” discharge upon his release from active service and a second discharge upon his release from the Navy altogether. (Indeed, I’ve got at least three “Honorable” discharges to my credit–upon my release from the U.S. Military Academy in 1986; my release from Active Duty in 1992; and my release from the Individual Ready Reserve in 2003. I might also have gotten one upon my release from the Army Reserve in 1988 before going on Active Duty; I don’t recall.) So, even if the story is true–which I doubt–Kerry would have received an “Honorable” discharge before he didn’t. Which, come to think of it, would be fitting.