July 23, 2004

Bush's Military Records Fail to Dispel AWOL Charges

By REUTERS

Filed at 7:14 p.m. ET

New York Times

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some of President Bush's missing Air National Guard records during the Vietnam War years, previously said to be destroyed, turned up on Friday but offered no new evidence to dispel charges by Democrats that he was absent without leave.

His whereabouts during his service as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard in the United States during the Vietnam War have become an election-year issue. Bush's Democratic presidential challenger, John Kerry, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran.

The Pentagon, which had announced two weeks ago that the payroll records had been accidentally destroyed, blamed a clerical error for previous failure to find them.

In May 1972, Bush moved to Alabama to work on a political campaign and, he has said, to perform his Guard service there for a year. But other Guard officers have said they have no recollection of ever seeing him there.

Bush was the son of a U.S. congressman at a time when National Guard service was seen as a way for the privileged to avoid being drafted for Vietnam War duty.

Questions over his record resurfaced this year as Bush sought, in the midst of the Iraq war, to cast himself as a ``war president'' in his drive to win reelection on Nov. 2.

The documents released on Friday by the Pentagon included two faded computerized payroll sheets showing Bush was not paid during the latter part of 1972 and offer no evidence to place Bush in Alabama during the latter part of 1972.

Still, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said: ``They show the president served in the military and completed his service, which is why he received an honorable discharge.''

``UNANSWERED QUESTIONS''

The Democratic National Committee called the ``supposed discovery'' of Bush's payroll records late on Friday -- on the eve of the Democratic National Convention -- ``highly questionable.''

``If the Bush administration continues to search, maybe they'll find answers to the long list of unanswered questions that remain about George W. Bush's time in the Air National Guard. Bush's military records seem to show up as randomly as he did for duty,'' said DNC spokesman Jano Cabrera.

In February, the White House released hundreds of pages of Bush's military records. The White House included a footnote to those earlier records saying that files for the 3rd quarter of 1972 had apparently been lost in microfilm processing.

Defense Finance and Accounting Service spokesman Bryan Hubbard said the microfilm payroll records were found in a Denver facility.

``We're talking about a manual process for records that are over 30 years old,'' Hubbard said.

He said officials had previously looked in the wrong place for the records relating to the first quarter of 1969 and the third quarter of 1972, and concluded incorrectly that they had been destroyed.

Hubbard said that after the Pentagon announced two weeks ago that the records were lost, officials went back to double check, and found an ``unlabeled binder'' that led them to the right place.

The Pentagon had announced on July 9 that microfilm payroll records of large numbers of service members, including Bush, were ruined in 1996 and 1997 in a project to save large, brittle rolls of microfilm.