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Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to get into the debate over the Vietnam service of the presidential candidates on Sunday but said if the United States ever went back to mandatory enlistment, everybody should be "equally liable" for war service. Powell made the remark on "Fox News Sunday," explaining his opposition to Vietnam-era policies that allowed many, including his boss, President Bush, to serve in Reserve and National Guard units instead of on the battlefield. Powell said he disagreed with the policies that allowed people like Bush to serve out the war in a National Guard unit. "But those were the policies that were in place at that time," Powell said. "And President Bush and Senator Kerry volunteered to serve their nation under the policies that were in place. And both served honorably and both were discharged honorably." The war records of Bush and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was decorated for his service in Vietnam, have been a subject of heated debate in the presidential campaign. "The policies determining who would be drafted and who would be deferred, who would serve and who would escape, who would die and who would live, were an anti-democratic disgrace," Powell, a leading black in the Republican administration, said in his 1995 autobiography, "My American Journey." "I am angry that so many sons of the powerful and well-placed managed to wangle slots in Reserve and National Guard units," wrote Powell, a 35-year career soldier and four-star general who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush's father, former President Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton, informs Reuters. According to USATODAY, The first week of the fall campaign is behind us, and a wild week it has been. It began with news that President Bush, riding a wave churned up by his largely successful nominating convention in New York, had pulled ahead of Democrat John Kerry in the polls after running neck and neck with him for months. And it ended with the candidates remembering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people three years ago Saturday. In between, a stunned Kerry, whose strategists were expecting that Bush would get little or no bounce out of his convention, shook up his campaign staff by adding a bevy of advisers with ties to Bill Clinton. Then, they went on an all-fronts attack against the president — on his leadership in the war in Iraq, on the economy, on his National Guard service in the early 1970s and on his management of rising health-care costs. Journalists and politicos have been trying off and on for a decade now to suss out exactly what George W. Bush did in the National Guard more than 30 years ago. The basic facts are not very mysterious: Bush got a coveted homeland gig in the Guard, just as many other well-connected college graduates did, while hundreds of thousands of other young men got drafted and sent to Vietnam. Ever since Bush ran for Texas Governor in 1994, details of the subplot have dribbled out, suggesting that he was a slacker in his later days as a pilot in the Guard and may not have fulfilled his obligations to the military. Bush hasprolonged the intrigue by never fully answering questions about his service. His representatives repeat, like a mantra, that Bush was honorably discharged from the service, so why keep asking us about these pesky details? With critics of Democratic challenger John Kerry raising unsubstantiated claims that he exaggerated his heroism as a swift-boat commander in Vietnam, the matter of Bush's own service is back in the spotlight. Various search dogs, partisan and not, barked madly up and down the hills of people's memories last week, sometimes scenting truth and other times falling off the cliff entirely. CBS released several damning new memos, which may or may not be authentic (more on that later), that sent forensic experts researching the history of the type font Times New Roman and bloggers dusting off their old IBM typewriters. Welcome to the final stage of a tight race. Now let's pause for a few reality checks. On the question of whether Bush got preferential treatment as the son of a Texas Congressman and later the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Ben Barnes, a former speaker of the Texas House, has long been on record saying he did. After years of denying he had done anything special for Bush, he reluctantly said in a 1999 deposition that he had pushed to get Bush into the Guard at the request of a friend of the Bush family. Recently, Barnes, who has become a fund raiser for Kerry, has again spoken out about the matter, acknowledging at a Texas rally and on CBS that he had helped Bush. Bush has always denied that he or his family asked for any favors. After Bush joined the Guard in Texas in 1968, he received positive evaluations. But records clearly show that his performance dropped off suddenly in 1972. After he transferred to an Alabama unit so he could work on the Senate campaign of a family friend, Bush began missing regular Guard duty. Only one member of Bush's unit has come forward to say he saw Bush reporting for duty in Alabama, but his recollection places Bush in the state before Bush was officially assigned there. A new TV commercial produced by the Democratic-allied group Texans for Truth features a member of Bush's Alabama unit vowing that he never saw Bush there. A gap in service was not unprecedented, though; members of the Dallas Cowboys served in the Guard and routinely disappeared during the football season. In a report last week, the Boston Globe zeroed in on a document showing that before Bush moved to Cambridge, Mass., in 1973 to attend Harvard Business School, he pledged to register with a local unit. In 1999 his spokesman Dan Bartlett told the Washington Post that Bush had indeed done so. Bartlett told TIME last week he had misspoken. Bush never registered locally. But he did not have to, Bartlett now claims, because the military's central registry in Denver knew his whereabouts. It remains unclear, however, what exactly the registration rules were at the time, publishes the Time.

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