Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Questions about Bush's Guard service unanswered

August 24, 2004
Questions about Bush's Guard service unanswered
By Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard

WASHINGTON — At a time when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has come under fire from a group of retired naval officers who say he lied about his combat record in Vietnam, questions about President Bush's 1968-73 stint in the Texas Air National Guard remain unresolved:

•Why did Bush, described by some of his fellow officers as a talented and enthusiastic pilot, stop flying fighter jets in the spring of 1972 and fail to take an annual physical exam required of all pilots?

•What explains the apparent gap in the president's Guard service in 1972-73, a period when commanders in Texas and Alabama say they never saw him report for duty and records show no pay to Bush when he was supposed to be on duty in Alabama?

•Did Bush receive preferential treatment in getting into the Guard and securing a coveted pilot slot despite poor qualifying scores and arrests, but no convictions, for stealing a Christmas wreath and rowdiness at a football game during his college years?

The White House has released hundreds of pages of records, but the files released so far haven't answered those questions. Since the documents were released in February, at least a half-dozen news organizations, including USA TODAY, have filed new requests for Bush's military records under the Freedom of Information Act.

In an e-mail to USA TODAY last week, presidential spokesman Dan Bartlett said: "The president has authorized the release of his records and we are complying with all requests. Some are taking longer than others, but all will be addressed."

Past military service and qualifications to be commander in chief have become a central theme in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Questions about Bush's record predate the current campaign. The apparent gap in his Guard service first surfaced before the 2000 election, when The Boston Globe reported that Texas Guard commanders were unable to account for Bush's whereabouts from May 1972 to April 1973.

Bush has not said what he did in the Guard during that period. Aside from a statement by a former Alabama Air Guard officer who said he saw Bush report for duty there in the fall of 1972, the only evidence he was at Dannelly Air National Guard Base in Alabama was a record of a dental exam on Jan. 6, 1973, at the base.

Bush said in a TV interview in February that he would make all his military records available. That month, the White House released more than 400 pages of Bush military records, including some duplicates, and said the documents were a complete catalog of his personnel files.

But some documents still have not been made public. The White House did not release Bush's medical records from his Guard files but allowed a group of reporters who cover the White House to review them for 20 minutes. They found nothing unusual. Kerry released some of his military records earlier this year. He has also declined to release his complete medical records but showed them to reporters as Bush did.

Since February, the White House has banned all Guard and military commanders outside the Pentagon from commenting on Bush's records or service. Requests for information must go to the Pentagon's Freedom of Information Act office.

The Pentagon last week responded to a 4-month-old request from USA TODAY for additional records from Bush's files by sending another copy of documents that were released by the White House in February. The documents do not address the unexplained year in Bush's Guard service or his decision to stop flying.

The Associated Press filed a lawsuit this summer requesting copies of Bush's military records stored in a Texas archive on microfilm. It sought information that might explain why Bush did not take his flight physical and whether he showed up for duty in Alabama in the fall of 1972, AP spokesman John Stokes said.