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Bush trying to deflect charges on mly duty

Published Feb 12, 2004 12:00am

WASHINGTON: US President George W. Bush on Tuesday sought to quiet a damaging election year controversy by making public documents aides said proved the president fulfilled his military duties at the height of the Vietnam War.

Two days after Bush told NBC television "there may be no evidence" that he met all of his requirements as a combat pilot in the National Guard, the White House released annual retirement point summaries and pay stubs. "These records clearly document the president fulfilling his duties," spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

While the summary of points earned was released in the 2000 campaign, the White House only received the pay stubs on Monday from the Air Reserve Personnel Center based in Denver, Colorado, said McClellan. "The Personnel Center in Denver, Colorado, it is my understanding, on their own went back and looked for these records," after the issue arose again, said McClellan.

Bush, 57, avoided combat in Vietnam by enlisting in 1968 as a fighter pilot in the Air National Guard, but some Democrats seeking his defeat come November have revived questions about his attendance record.

The issue drew brief media scrutiny in 2000, when a Boston Globe investigation found no evidence Bush performed Guard duties between May 1972 and October 1973. But it has acquired more traction in 2004 amid the failure of US-led troops in Iraq to find the alleged weapons of mass destruction at the core of the Bush administration's case for war.

The White House had previously sought to counter challenges on Bush's guard service by pointing to his honourable discharge, but apparently decided it need to do more to shore up his credibility.

Asked whether the newly produced documents would do the trick, McClellan replied: "You'd have to go and ask those who made these outrageous accusations if they stand by them in the face of this documentation that demonstrates he served and fulfilled his duties."

The Democratic front-runner, Senator John Kerry, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran who has not been shy about campaigning with former comrades in arms while openly questioning whether Bush did his duty.

And Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe recently tarred Bush as "AWOL" - absent without leave - while touting Kerry as " a war hero with a chest full of medals."

The president himself sought to tackle the matter in a rare, hour-long Sunday interview with NBC television, forcefully counterattacking critics who suggest he ducked guard service.

There have been questions about whether Bush enjoyed special treatment by the guard thanks to family connections - his father, former president George Bush, was a member of the House of Representatives at the time his son enlisted.

Bush told NBC he was allowed to leave the National Guard eight months early so that he could attend Harvard Business School, but insisted he did show up during the period for which no records exist. -AFP