On January 22, 1964, the members of the then two-month old Warren Commission were hastily assembled for a top-secret meeting. Half-way into their executive session, the Commissioners decided their words were so sensitive that they should not be recorded. Commission member Allen Dulles, the former CIA director, even suggested "this record ought to be destroyed." The incomplete stenographer's tape remained locked in government vaults for eleven years until, under pressure from a persistent researcher named Harold Weisberg, the National Archives retrieved it and forwarded it to the Pentagon for transcription. The result was a blow to anyone who ever entertained the belief that the Warren Commission set out in good faith to investigate the murder of President Kennedy and discover the full truth.
It was never a secret that the Commission relied almost entirely on the FBI to conduct the bulk of its investigation. In its own Report, the Commission boasted of this relationship: "Because of the diligence, cooperation, and facilities of the Federal investigative agencies, it was unnecessary for the Commission to employ investigators other than the members of the Commission's legal staff" (Rxiii). It was also no secret that this relationship was inherently compromising because the investigative agencies, particularly the FBI, had a vested interest in the conclusion that the President's murder was the unforeseeable act of a lone madman. In the aftermath of the assassination, the FBI was left holding the bag. Rumors immediately spread that Oswald had been an FBI informant and that the FBI knew of Oswald's potential for violence but failed to report his identity to the Secret Service. As Harold Weisberg succinctly put it as early as 1965, after President Kennedy was killed, all the federal agencies "had one objective, to take the heat off themselves."
By any reasonable standard, the last investigator to have been entrusted with the task of developing the facts surrounding the assassination was the FBI.
The Warren Commission realized this, but decided to rely on the FBI nonetheless. Its public position would be one of praise for the FBI's diligent cooperation. But the secret executive sessions and confidential memoranda tell another story: The Commission knew what J. Edgar Hoover was up to and played along.
The Commission convened in secret that January 22 to discuss the rumor that Oswald had been a paid informant for the FBI. As chapter 2 of this book documents, the FBI had already preempted the Commission by publicly claiming to have solved the assassination within three weeks of the event. At the January 22 session, an unidentified speaker, probably General Counsel J. Lee Rankin, explained the basic problem to the Commission: "That is that the FBI is very explicit that Oswald is the assassin . . . and they are very explicit that there was no conspiracy." However, the speaker noted, "they have not run out all kinds of leads in Mexico or in Russia. . . . But they are concluding that there can't be a conspiracy without those being run out." The inevitable question was raised: "Why are they so eager to make both of those conclusions . . . ?" Mr. Dulles claimed to be confused as to why the FBI would want to dispose of the case by finding Oswald guilty if, at the same time, Oswald was rumored to have been in the FBI's employ. Dulles's question was quickly answered by Rankin:A: They would like to have us fold up and quit.The Commission engaged in a more explicit discussion of the problem at its secret session five days later, on January 27. John J. McCloy noted "we are so dependent upon them [the FBI] for our facts that it might be a useful thing to have him [Hoover] before us" for the purpose of requesting further investigation "of the things that are still troubling us." The following discussion ensued:
Boggs: This closes the case, you see. Don't you see?
Dulles: Yes, I see that.
Rawkin [sic]: They found the man. There is nothing more to do. The Commission supports their conclusions, and we can go on home and that is the end of it.
Mr. Rankin: Part of our difficulty in regard to it is that they have no problems. They have decided that it is Oswald who committed the assassination, they have decided that no one else was involved, they have decided --
Sen. Russell: They have tried the case and reached a verdict on every aspect.
Rep. Boggs: You have put your finger on it. . . .
Mr. Rankin: . . . They have decided the case, and we are going to have maybe a thousand further inquiries that we say the Commission has to know all these things before it can pass on this.
And I think their reaction probably would be, "Why do you want all that. It is clear."
Sen. Russell: "You have our statement, what else do you need?"
Mr. McCloy: Yes, "We know who killed cock robin."
Thus, the Commission recognized the untenable position it faced being put in if it relied on the FBI for additional investigation when the FBI was claiming that the crime had been solved and no more investigation was necessary. Hoover had already staked the very reputation of his agency on a solution that demanded Oswald as the lone assassin. It would have been a naive Commission indeed that would have expected the FBI to destroy its own "solution" of the crime with further investigation. In light of these secret discussions, the Commission's heavy dependence on the FBI is nothing less than culpable.
The central FBI conclusion, which the Commission adopted as its own, was that Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President Kennedy. This conclusion was sustained solely on the finding that bullets from Oswald's rifle had caused the wounds to President Kennedy and Governor Connally. If this one finding crumbles, the case for Oswald's guilt must crumble with it. It was thus of paramount importance that the Commission independently verify this FBI finding.
The Commission was certainly aware of its responsibility. In secret, the members admitted to each other the inadequacy of the Bureau's ballistics findings as set forth in the FBI Report. At the executive session held December 16, 1963, Mr. McCloy complained, "This bullet business leaves me totally confused." Chairman Warren concurred: "It's totally inconclusive." Members of the Commission's staff, noting the FBI's sloppy work, recognized a need "to facilitate independent analysis of the Bureau's ballistic conclusions" and to "secure from the FBI and consider the underlying documents and reports related to the rifle and shells."
As I explain in chapter 3, the only way the Commission could possibly have established a firm link between bullets fired from Oswald's rifle and the wounds inflicted during the assassination was to compare the metallic composition of all the ballistic specimens through a meticulous scientific process called spectrographic analysis. The FBI claimed to have run such tests and arrived at inconclusive results. The Commission took the FBI at its word, based on nonexpert testimony, without ever having looked at the spectrographer's report or having put the relevant documents into its record. Evidence has since been developed by Harold Weisberg that a far more detailed comparative process, neutron activation analysis (NAA), was utilized by the Commission through the Atomic Energy Commission. Proper NAA testing could at once have settled the doubts that plagued the Commission.
The Commission knew the value of NAA and recognized the need to apply the technology to the evidence in the assassination. Indeed, the AEC had immediately offered its services to the FBI, only to be snubbed by Hoover. Then, on December 11, 1963, Paul C. Aebersold of the AEC wrote a letter to Herbert J. Miller at the Department of Justice explaining how the NAA process might be of vital importance in the investigation of the President's murder. Aebersold noted that "it may be possible to determine by trace-element measurements whether the fatal bullets were of composition identical to that of the purportedly unfired shell" found in the chamber of Oswald's rifle. Likewise, "Other pieces of physical evidence in the case, such as clothing . . . might lend themselves to characterization by means of their trace-element levels." The Justice Department forwarded Aebersold's letter to the Commission, which immediately took the matter up with Hoover. The Commission sought "your advice regarding the feasibility and desirability of taking advantage of [the AEC's] offer." When the Commission assembled on January 27, 1964, Mr. Rankin advised as follows:
Now, the bullet fragments are now, part of them are now, with the Atomic Energy Commission, who are trying to determine by a new method, a process that they have, of whether they can relate them to various guns and the different parts, the fragments, whether they are part of one of the bullets that was broken and came out in part through the neck, and just what particular assembly of bullet they were part of.
They have had it for the better part of two and a-half weeks, and we ought to get an answer.
Indeed, an investigative Commission aware of its obligation to verify ballistic findings on which the case against an alleged presidential assassin depended "ought" to have insisted upon and received an immediate "answer" from an independent agency employing a sensitive new technology. But this Commission never got an answer.
And that was exactly how J. Edgar Hoover wanted things.
Still awaiting the AEC's test results, the Commission on March 16, 1964, had staff lawyer Melvin Eisenberg discuss the NAA process with FBI Special Agent John F. Gallagher, the man who had run the Bureau's earlier spectrographic analysis. Among the questions raised by Eisenberg was the application of NAA to President Kennedy's clothing, particularly to the overlapping holes in the shirt near the collar button, which the FBI had been unable to relate spectrographically to the passage of a bullet. Hoover disapproved the idea, writing the Commission on March 18 that "It is not felt that the increased sensitivity of neutron activation analysis would contribute substantially to the understanding of the origin of this hole and frayed area" (20H2). The Commission bowed to Hoover's wish and never subjected the alleged bullet damage in President Kennedy's and Governor Connally's clothing to NAA. The secrets that might be held by the minuscule traces of metal left on the clothing would not be unlocked by this Commission charged with evaluating "all the facts" of the assassination (R471).
For what its own record discloses, the Commission merely forgot about the scientific tests it knew were crucial and proceeded without them to assemble a case against Oswald (see chapter 2). The Commission took not a word of testimony about NAA's of the ballistic specimens, and allowed into the published evidence references only to NAA's of the paraffin casts of Oswald's hands and cheek made by the Dallas Police (R562). Even at that, as late as September 5, 1964, a week before the Warren Report was set in type, the staff was still trying to obtain from the FBI a description of the NAA process.
The only word the Commission ever officially received relating to these vital tests was communicated not through the AEC but through Hoover, whose brief letter remained buried in the Commission's unpublished files until Harold Weisberg dug it out. Hoover did not write the Commission until July 8, 1964, after sections of the Report naming Oswald as the assassin had been preliminarily drafted. Although he then attempted to play down the value of the NAA's, his letter stands as a monument to the deliberate inadequacy of the Commission's investigation.
To begin, Hoover's July 8 letter informed the Commission that the NAA's conducted were incomplete:Thus, according to Hoover, there were no NAA comparisons of any of the copper components of the recovered bullets and fragments. Hoover's listing also excluded several items of ballistics evidence possessed by the Commission, among them the unfired cartridge and the metallic traces on the clothing. What were the results of this examination of fatally limited scope? Hoover reported the following only:
Because of the higher sensitivity of the neutron activation analysis, certain of the small lead fragments were then subjected to neutron activation analysis and comparisons with larger bullet fragments.I invite the reader to unscramble these semantics. It is indeed impossible to know what Hoover considered a "larger bullet fragment," especially because a whole bullet, Commission Exhibit 399, was alleged to have been tested but seems not to have been included within the above description of the test results. In short, Hoover told the Commission very little, if anything, about the NAA results, and provided no documentation to support or clarify his incomprehensible summary.
While minor variations in composition were found by this method, these were not considered sufficient to permit positively differentiating among the larger bullet fragments and thus positively determining from which of the larger bullet fragments any given small lead fragment may have come.
The Commission, having already decided that Oswald was the assassin, was content to leave the record in this hopeless state. One researcher, Harold Weisberg, was not, and tried to force the government to release the entire record concerning the spectrographic analysis by filing a suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as described in chapter 3. After I completed the text of this book, a federal court of appeals decided against Weisberg and allowed the Department of Justice to continue suppression of the spectrographer's report. The decision was so contrary to the FOIA that Congress almost immediately moved to overrule it legislatively. A 1974 amendment to the FOIA cited the Weisberg case as a frightening precedent and expressed Congress's intent that the government not be permitted to suppress reports involving well-known scientific procedures such as spectrography. By February 1975, when the new law took effect, Weisberg was back in court, demanding not only the spectrographer's report but also the full report on the NAA's performed by the AEC for the Warren Commission. The government produced a batch of almost incomprehensible working papers, most of them incomplete, some containing tables of elements with statistical data missing. These, it claimed, represented the full extent of the relevant documents within its files. The government's claims defied belief: the spectrographer's report that FBI Agent Robert Frazier swore had been made "a part of the permanent records of the FBI" (5H69) did not exist; the NAA's that Rankin described to the Commission on January 27 had not been conducted until May 15; and the experts of the FBI and AEC are equipped with such computerlike memories that they could understand and evaluate the results of the spectrographic and NAA testing without tabulating or recording literally thousands of multi-digit figures. Bald as the government's representations were, they satisfied a federal district judge. Once again, release of meaningful, possibly determinative scientific data on the assassination awaits the appellate process.
One need not await the release of the full documentation, if it exists, to ask why it was not published by the Warren Commission and made part of a complete historical record. Nor can one avoid the observation that the Commission's investigation cannot have been complete or legitimate absent this most fundamental scientific evidence, the value of which was only too well known to the Commission.
One conclusion is both basic and irrefutable: the people have been lied to about the murder of their president and how that murder was investigated by the government. Without a doubt, the falsehoods and misrepresentations disseminated by the government and the media concerning the assassination of President Kennedy are as odious in our society as the assassination itself. The freedoms guaranteed under the law are without meaning unless the people are honestly and competently informed. Indeed, when a government can get away with whitewashing the truth about a president's murder, the suggestion of authoritarianism is more than apparent.
The reader should understand that I regard the significance of the Warren Commission's failure not as part of an intriguing "whodunnit" but rather as a frightening breakdown of the principle of governmental accountability. Surely the question of who killed the President must concern us all, but over twelve years after the murder, speculation about who was responsible becomes a futile exercise of questionable value. I have yet to see a shred of credible evidence linking any known group or individual with the President's murder. Yet speculation on that score is as rife today as it is profitable. Those who engage in it have been dubbed "conspiracy theorists."
In this book I do not deal with theory; I deal with fact. The facts are that we do not know who killed President Kennedy, that the Warren Commission named the wrong man as the assassin and never searched for the truth of the crime. Although I do not allege that the Commission or its staff knew that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the assassin, the documents presented here reveal that no possibility other than Oswald as the assassin was ever considered in the investigation. What this means, regardless of motives (about which I am not competent to speculate), is that the Commission left President Kennedy's murder unsolved, tacitly allowing the real assassin or assassins to go free.
A reader approaching the field of critical works on the assassination faces a thicket of conflicting theories, doctrines, and allegations. I think it only fair to let the reader know in advance where I believe my book stands within the maze. First, however, it would be helpful to review briefly the events of the assassination and its subsequent history.
President Kennedy was shot to death at 12:30 P.M., c.s.t., on November 22, 1963, as he rode through the streets of Dallas, Texas, in a motorcade. Texas Governor John Connally, seated in the President's open limousine, received serious bullet wounds in the shooting. Immediately, the motorcade sped to nearby Parkland Hospital, where a team of doctors tried in vain to save the President's life. The President's death was announced, and, over the objections of the local authorities, who then had exclusive jurisdiction in the crime, the body was forcefully removed from the hospital and flown back to Washington. Before the plane bearing the President's body took off, Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, who had ridden in the motorcade, took the oath of office and assumed the duties of President.
Within forty-five minutes of the assassination, a Dallas Police Officer, J. D. Tippit, was shot to death in a Dallas suburb. A half-hour later, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in a movie theater a half mile from the site of the Tippit murder. He was first accused of killing only Tippit, but by that evening he became the prime suspect in the murder of the President as well. Throughout that hectic weekend, the Dallas Police made repeated public accusations of Oswald's guilt. Oswald steadfastly maintained that he was innocent and said he would prove it when he was brought to trial.
The trial never came, however. On November 24, Oswald, still in police custody, was shot to death by Jack Ruby.
Elimination of the only suspect in the assassination precluded a trial that might have turned up the facts about the President's murder through the adversary system of justice. In its stead, President Johnson on November 29 appointed a commission to "evaluate and report upon the facts relating to the assassination . . . and the subsequent violent death of the man charged with the assassination"(R471). Earl Warren, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, presided over this commission, whose members included Senators Richard Russell and John Sherman Cooper, Representatives Hale Boggs and Gerald Ford, Allen Dulles, and John J. McCloy. This panel, which became known as the Warren Commission, appointed a General Counsel, J. Lee Rankin, who headed a group of fourteen Assistant Counsel and twelve staff members. Throughout the Warren Commission's ten-month investigation, it was this staff of lawyers under Rankin who took virtually all the testimony and composed the final report.
The Commission itself conceded that its task was not executed by its prestigious but preoccupied members. In the words of the Warren Report, it was the staff that "undertook the work of the Commission with a wealth of legal and investigative experience." "Highly qualified personnel from several Federal agencies, assigned to the Commission at its request" also assisted in the investigation(Rxi). Members of the legal staff, divided by subject into teams, were responsible for analyzing and summarizing much of the information originally received from the various agencies, and for "determin[ing] the issues, sort[ing] out the unresolved problems, and recommend[ing] additional investigation to the Commission"(Rxii).
On September 24, 1964, the Warren Commission submitted an 888-page report to the President. (This report was later to become known as the Warren Report.) The Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald alone had assassinated President Kennedy, and maintained that it had seen no evidence indicating that Oswald and Ruby, together or alone, had been part of a conspiracy to murder the President. Two months after the issuance of its Report, the Commission published as a massive appendix the evidence upon which the Report was allegedly based, including transcripts of witness testimony, evidential exhibits, and thousands of documents. This evidence is contained in twenty-six volumes.
Immediately upon its release, the Warren Report was met by an overwhelmingly favorable response from the nation's "establishment" press. This response, analyzed objectively, was in fact a blatant instance of irresponsible journalism, for newsmen lavished praise on the Report before they could have read and analyzed it -- two months before the evidence upon which it rested was released to the public.
Nevertheless, the Warren Report, which was introduced to the public as the definitive and final word on the assassination, was soon to be seriously questioned; a national controversy would erupt in which the Warren Commission, its Report, its evidence, and its workings would be challenged by a broad range of critics.
Criticism of the Commission and doubts about the assassination were brewing prior to the issuance of the Report, although they did not command broad public attention and were regarded more as suspicious rumblings of foreign origin. By the end of 1965 things were beginning to change. Vincent Salandria published a well-documented critique of the medical/ballistics conclusions of the Commission in a small left-of-center magazine. The Oswald Affair, by respected correspondent Leo Sauvage, was published in France, challenging the conclusion that Oswald was guilty. In late 1965, The Unanswered Questions About President Kennedy's Assassination, a hasty critical analysis by reporter Sylvan Fox, was published. Whitewash, written in 1965 by Harold Weisberg, was the first full-length book to examine in detail the Commission's investigation, and bore the unenviable burden of "breaking" the subject of Warren Report criticism in the United States. After Weisberg published his book in a private printing at his own expense, several other works critical of the official version of the assassination appeared on the market, including, in chronological order of publication: Inquest, by Edward Jay Epstein; Rush to Judgment, by Mark Lane (Lane had been among the first to defend the dead Oswald, and, at his own urging, gave testimony before the Warren Commission); The Second Oswald, by Richard Popkin; Whitewash II and Photographic Whitewash, by Harold Weisberg; Accessories After the Fact, by Sylvia Meagher; and Six Seconds in Dallas, by Josiah Thompson.
These books were widely reviewed and often appeared on best-seller lists. They were responsible for generating a considerable national controversy over the findings of the Warren Commission, in which several responsible periodicals called for a new investigation and about two-thirds of the public rejected the allegation of Oswald's lone guilt.
Early in 1967, New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison made the dubitable announcement that his office, after conducting an extensive investigation, had "solved" the assassination. One figure in the plot alleged by Garrison died immediately before he was to be arrested. Soon after, a New Orleans businessman, Clay Shaw, was arrested and charged with conspiring to murder President Kennedy. Finally the assassination was to get its day in court. But Shaw did not come to trial until January 1969, and he was easily acquitted after a two-month proceeding in which all the shocking evidence against him promised by Garrison failed to materialize. Garrison was in consequence widely condemned by the media, and the New Orleans fiasco caused the virtual destruction of whatever foundation for credibility had previously been established by critics of the Warren Report. Garrison did not refute or in any tangible way diminish the legitimacy of several responsible and documented criticisms of the official version of the assassination. But his unethical behavior and the mockery of justice (involving only Shaw) perpetrated under him were "bad press"; it left the public and the media highly suspicious of Warren Report criticism.
Then, in June 1972, there was the break-in at the Watergate and the beginning of a new national consciousness, a skepticism toward government and an unwillingness to believe the official word. By the time President Nixon resigned in August 1974, deception, dishonesty, and malfeasance in government were accepted as the reality, even expected as the norm. Suddenly, the notion that the government had not told the truth about John Kennedy's murder did not seem so outrageous.
It was not long before there formed a new wave of doubt about the Warren Commission's findings. Revelations about the illegal domestic activities of the CIA led President Ford to appoint a presidential commission in February 1975. This commission's scope was quickly expanded to include allegations that the CIA had been involved in the Kennedy assassination as well as numerous plots against foreign leaders, notably Fidel Castro of Cuba. However, the commission, whose investigation was headed by an ex-staff lawyer for the Warren Commission, David Belin, chose to "investigate" only the most unfounded of the charges against the CIA relating to the assassination. The outlandish allegations of Dick Gregory and A. J. Weberman that E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis were arrested in Dealey Plaza on November 22 provided easy targets for Mr. Belin's selectively aimed investigative cannons. It soon became public knowledge that the United States had indeed been involved in the assassination business, having used the CIA and the Mafia to make attempts on the lives of Castro, Trujillo, and Lumumba, among others. Doubts grew. In the fall of 1975 it was revealed that the Dallas office of the FBI, on orders from J. Edgar Hoover, had destroyed a threatening note left there by Oswald. After the FBI confirmed this deliberate destruction of evidence, no one could deny that there had been some sort of conspiracy to conceal by the government. Representative Don Edwards announced that his subcommittee would hold hearings into the FBI's withholding of evidence from the Warren Commission, and two Senators on a select committee investigating the CIA formed a special subcommittee to study the need for a congressional investigation of the assassination. Clearly the tide was turning. Even the Commission's staunchest defenders were forced to call for a new investigation, including David Belin and President Ford, both Warren Commission alumni.
I support the movement toward a new investigation, but the vital question now concerns what should be investigated. A congressional reopening of the case should focus on those areas which will yield meaningful findings and serve a constructive national purpose. Such an investigation would inevitably have to deal with the question of "Who killed Kennedy?" However, my own familiarity with the evidence leads me to believe that an inquiry limited only to that question would be doomed to achieving very little. The major question at this point is "Who covered up the truth about the murder, how, and why?" A congressional investigation could establish with little effort that the Warren Report's "solution" of the crime is erroneous; the Commission's files, as well as the files of other federal agencies, would provide a fertile starting point for the determination of responsibility in the cover-up. The participants in all stages of the official investigation of the assassination are either known or identifiable, and those individuals still living can be subjected to cross-examination. I do not personally believe that the federal investigators knew who killed President Kennedy. But the evidence is certain that decisions were made, at times and levels now unknown, that the truth about the assassination should not be discovered, that falsehood should be disseminated to the people. When such decisions are made by the government, the Congress has a reason, indeed an obligation, to investigate and to assure that the executive is made to account.
Thus, it is my conviction that the only responsible approach to be taken toward the assassination at this point is to focus upon the question of the Warren Commission's failure, rather than to speculate about conspiracies and solutions for which there is no evidence. My own review of the critical literature and the varied positions of those opposing the Warren Report persuades me that this approach is in fact the only viable one. I hope that a brief elaboration will help the reader to understand my position.
The early writings on the assassination by Weisberg, Meagher, Lane, and Epstein focused on the inadequacy of the official solution to the crime. Each author approached the subject in his or her own manner, although, in my estimate, the books by Lane and Epstein were seriously flawed.
Harold Weisberg was the first and the strongest advocate of the doctrine that the assassination should be studied from the perspective of the official noninvestigation. Weisberg has continually stressed the great implications of the fraudulent investigation for our government and our society. His own words on the subject forcefully convey his approach:Perhaps the simplest statement of the context enunciated by Weisberg is contained in the quotation that I included in the Preface of this book: "If the government can manufacture, suppress and lie when a President is cut down -- and get away with it -- what cannot follow?"
In its approach, operations and Report, the Commission considered one possibility alone -- that Lee Harvey Oswald, without assistance, assassinated the President and killed Officer Tippit. Never has such a tremendous array of power been turned against a single man, and he was dead. Yet even without opposition the Commission failed. . . .
A crime such as the assassination of the President of the United States cannot be left as the Report . . . has left it, without even the probability of a solution, with assassins and murderers free, and free to repeat their crimes and enjoy what benefits they may have expected to enjoy therefrom. No President is ever safe if Presidential assassins are exculpated. Yet that is what the Commission has done. In finding Oswald "guilty," it has found those who assassinated him "innocent." If the President is not safe, then neither is the country.
Much more does it relate to each individual American, to the integrity of the institutions of our society, when anything happens to any president -- especially when he is assassinated.
The consignment of President John F. Kennedy to history with the dubious epitaph of the whitewashed investigation is a grievous event.
Above all, the Report leaves in jeopardy the rights of all Americans and the honor of the nation. When what happened to Oswald once he was in the hands of the public authority can occur in this country with neither reprimand nor question, no one is safe. When the Federal government puts its stamp of approval on such unabashed and open denial of the most basic legal rights of any American, no matter how insignificant he may be, then no American can depend on having those rights, no matter what his power or connections. The rights of all Americans, as the Commission's chairman said when wearing his Chief Justice's hat, depend upon each American's enjoyment of these same rights.
The basic focus of Mrs. Meagher's book is set forth in its very appropriate title, Accessories After the Fact: The Warren Commission, The Authorities and The Report. Mrs. Meagher scrupulously contrasts the statements contained in the Warren Report with the Commission's published hearings and exhibits. She finds that:As stated by Mrs. Meagher, the corollary to this finding is as follows:
The first pronounces Oswald guilty; the second, instead of corroborating the verdict reached by the Warren Commission, creates a reasonable doubt of Oswald's guilt and even a powerful presumption of his complete innocence of all the crimes of which he was accused.This is to say that the Warren Commission and the federal authorities, regardless of their motives or conscious intent, made themselves accessories after the fact in the President's murder by constructing a false solution that allowed the real criminals to go free.
Because of the nature of the investigation, it is probable that the assassins who shot down President John F. Kennedy have gone free, undetected. The Warren Report has served merely to delay their identification and the process of justice.
Mark Lane's best-selling Rush to Judgment was presented as a critique of the Commission's investigation. One may question Lane's selection and presentation of evidence; certain basic flaws in the book raise more serious questions about its value as a "critique" of the official inquiry. The Warren Commission's investigation cannot be understood without reference to the relationship between the Commission and its staff, for it was the staff that handled virtually all of the work and digested the information that filtered up to the Commission members. Yet in Rush to Judgment the staff is never identified. Where questioning of a particular witness is quoted, names of individual staff members have been replaced by an anonymous "Q." An introduction by Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper states: "It is clear that the bulk of the work fell upon the Chairman and upon the assistant counsel and staff [who for Lane's readers are nameless]." This assertion unjustly singles out Earl Warren for blame, although he never came close to doing "the bulk of the work." Trevor-Roper seems immediately to thwart the supposed purpose of the book by offering the assurance that "moderate, rational men will naturally and . . . rightly" reject the idea that the Commission and the "existing agencies" "sought to reach a certain conclusion at the expense of the facts . . . that they . . . were dishonest . . . [that the] Commission . . . engaged in a conspiracy to cover up a crime. . . ." Lane surely no longer accepts this kind but false view of the Commission's work, and has omitted the introduction by the prestigious Trevor-Roper from the 1975 paperback reissue of his book. In the intervening years, however, Lane has taken public stances that have seriously compromised his credibility. In the midst of his close association with Jim Garrison prior to the acquittal of Clay Shaw, Lane told the press that he knew the identities of the real murderers of President Kennedy. During the 1968 presidential campaign, in which he ran for Vice-President on a ticket with Dick Gregory, Lane held a press conference in Philadelphia to announce that Garrison "has substantially solved the assassination conspiracy. He knows who was involved and has strong evidence. I've seen the evidence; I've talked to the witnesses." Lane also claimed to have two copies of this evidence, which he promised to release if the government kept Shaw from going to trial. The evidence presented at Shaw's trial, needless to say, did not solve the assassination; neither Garrison nor Lane ever possessed the dispositive evidence each claimed to have.
Doubters who sought a rational and scholarly treatment of the Commission's failure flocked to Edward Jay Epstein when his critique of the inner workings of the Commission, Inquest, was published in 1966; they were soon to be disappointed. Many of Epstein's most telling points were based on unrecorded interviews with Commission members and staff lawyers and thus could not be verified when the inevitable denials came. Yet, for all his pretenses, Epstein actually defended the official investigation. According to Epstein, the Warren Commission was involved in a situation that might have excused lying in the "national interest." He rightly asserted that the "nation's faith in its own institutions was held to be at stake." But, in concluding his book, he found that "in establishing its version of the truth, the Warren Commission acted to reassure the nation and protect the national interest." This, he implied, justified the failure to make "it clear that very substantial evidence indicated the presence of a second assassin." Three years after writing his book, Epstein totally reversed his position in a New York Times Magazine article. "Nor is there any substantial evidence that I know of," he wrote in 1969, "that indicates there was more than one rifleman firing." Suddenly, to Epstein, it was incidental that the Commission "had conducted a less than exhaustive investigation." Of the "great number of inconsistencies" between the official evidence and the official conclusions, he could say only that "there is no formula for adding up inconsistencies and arriving at the truth," as if this platitude would rescue the Commission's findings. Those who suggest that these massive "inconsistencies" prove the invalidity of the Warren Report, Epstein opined, merely engage in "obfuscatory rhetoric."
Perhaps the two best-known books departing from the perspective of the inadequacies of the official investigation and entering into the realm of alternative theories are Richard Popkin's The Second Oswald and Josiah Thompson's Six Seconds in Dallas. Both books cite a wealth of evidence but are thoroughly inadequate in themselves, and thus, to my thinking, are counterproductive. The Second Oswald was introduced as "the third stage of a great case" and promoted as "the startling new theory of the assassination." The theory -- that someone, resembling and posing as Oswald, planted incriminating circumstantial evidence during the two months before the assassination -- was hardly new. Harold Weisberg had devoted a chapter of his Whitewash to it, although not in the context of suggesting a solution to the crime. Weisberg's copyrighted work was never acknowledged by Popkin, who falsely claimed singular and original credit. Popkin's preoccupation with the importance of solving the crime has led him into strange pursuits, the latest of which was to inform President Ford that John Kennedy was killed by "zombie assassins," programmed like robots by the CIA. Professor Thompson's book, a slick presentation utilizing numerous photographs, refuses to name any assassins but offers a scenerio [sic] in which three assassins fired four shots in Dealey Plaza. The theory is hopelessly flawed. It is based on a first shot fired later than the evidence indicates; it relies heavily on interpretations of the Zapruder film that are tenuous at best; it fails to account for at least one shot that missed the car; and it is riddled with basic inaccuracies such as the misidentification of a cartridge case first forwarded to the FBI by the Dallas Police (an integral part of the "theory").
Of all those critics who began with a desire to help but who wound up damaging their credibility through irresponsible action, no one has been more of a disappointment than Dr. Cyril Wecht. For years Dr. Wecht was an outspoken and highly qualified critic of President Kennedy's autopsy. His exceptional credentials in forensic pathology were of great value to many critics researching the case. Then, in 1972, Dr. Wecht applied for and was granted access to the photographs and X rays of President Kennedy's body taken during the autopsy. Most critics rejoiced that finally an expert from "our side" would be allowed to study this long-suppressed evidence.
I had great reservations as to the advisability of Dr. Wecht's viewing this material. Affirmatively, there was little that the pictures and X rays could tell because the autopsy itself had been hopelessly botched. The report of an earlier examination by an expert panel convened at the government's behest in 1968 had already revealed enough information to destroy the official reconstruction of the crime and suggest perjury in the testimony of the autopsy pathologists before the Warren Commission. Thus, I felt that an examination by Dr. Wecht in 1972 could accomplish little and actually be disserving, because Dr. Wecht, for all his expertise in forensic pathology, was never an expert on the assassination. I knew that Dr. Wecht was closely advised by critics whom I considered irresponsible, and I feared the sort of public posture he would assume as a result of their counsels. When Dr. Wecht solicited my help prior to viewing the pictures and X rays, I advised him of my position and received no response. Years later I learned that he was so enraged at my suggestions of caution that he forbade his panel of "advisers" from ever communicating his findings to me.
Dr. Wecht's behavior subsequent to viewing the suppressed photographic material has exceeded my worst expectations. His early statements and writings sensationalized the fact that President Kennedy's brain was missing, seriously overrating the evidential value of the brain. He initially chose to temper his remarks about the pictures and X rays themselves by claiming that the incomplete state of the evidence made a conclusive determination of the source of the shots impossible. However, Dr. Wecht did not hesitate to offer unfounded speculation about the assassination or the murder of Officer Tippit. On one occasion he stated: "I believe the evidence shows conclusively . . . that the assassination was the work of a conspiracy, and that the Central Intelligence Agency -- the CIA -- was definitely involved." When Dr. Wecht ultimately reduced his findings to an article for a medical journal, his position changed, although hardly for the better. He toned down his earlier caveats about the limits of the medical evidence and concluded that the available evidence led him to believe that President Kennedy was struck by two bullets from the rear. In my opinion, it was highly irresponsible for Dr. Wecht to announce such a tenuous conclusion while ignoring the irrefutable evidence that the pictures and X rays destroy the integrity of all the medical evidence upon which the Warren Report was based -- as he himself had testified in open court years before. In some cases it is difficult to believe that errors in Dr. Wecht's article could have been inadvertent. The article casually notes that an X ray of the President's head revealed at least three fragments of metal in the left hemisphere of the brain; the article also claims to vouch for the accuracy of the description of the same X ray contained in the report of the 1968 panel review. What Dr. Wecht failed to tell his readers is that the 1968 panel stated that there were no metallic fragments depicted on the X ray to the left of the midline of the head, a finding which, according to that panel, renders the theory of a frontal shot "not reasonable to postulate." If Dr. Wecht's observation is correct, he deceived his readers in claiming to verify the earlier panel report and in failing to note the glaring discrepancy.
Dr. Wecht's apparent desire to solve a crime that cannot be solved has earned him the dubious honor of being quoted extensively by defenders of the Warren Report. Even the 1975 presidential commission investigating the CIA cited Dr. Wecht's testimony and writings to support the notion that President Kennedy was shot only from behind. Dr. Wecht, ostensibly still a "critic," protested that he had been misrepresented and promised to eat the transcript of his testimony -- on the steps of the White House -- if he really said what had been attributed to him. Soon Wecht admitted that his words had merely been used out of context. But there would be no eating on the White House steps; the testimony had already consumed Dr. Wecht.
Facts, not theories, documentation, not speculation, are the only responsible approach to the sordid history of President Kennedy's murder. The evidence is simply insufficient to allow any determination of what really happened on November 22, 1963, and a critic attempting to fashion a solution without respecting the limits of the evidence is doomed to sacrifice his credibility.
The crime remains unsolved, and, as I document here, the federal government played a direct and deliberate role in assuring that it would remain unsolved. This is a fact far more frightening than even the most outrageous theory about who committed the crime. It is also intolerable. One of the few remedies available to the average citizen is to set the record straight, however and wherever it can be done, in order to lay the foundation for responsible congressional action.
To set the record straight is the purpose of this book. Here I present documented proof of two points essential to any understanding of the assassination and its official "investigation":
Lee Harvey Oswald did not fire any shots in the assassination;
The Warren Commission considered no possibility other than that Oswald was the lone assassin, and consciously endeavored to fabricate a case against Oswald.
It is not the critic's responsibility to explain the motives of the Commission members or their staff, or to name assassins and conspirators. The only responsibility of the critic is to deal with the facts and never to avoid or attempt to modify, without factual basis, the implications of the evidence. So, when the Commissioners decided in advance that the wrong man was the lone assassin, whatever their intentions, they protected the real assassins. Through their staff they misinformed the American people and falsified history. Regardless of whether their false solution to the crime was a "politically acceptable explanation," they did nothing to rectify the politically "unacceptable" fact. When a government can get away with what ours did at the death of its president, the presidency and the people are betrayed.
The assassination of a president is a total negation of the electoral process, which is the very foundation of democratic institutions. With the Warren Report, the government sacrificed its credibility, and undermined any legitimate basis the people might have had for confidence in it. Very simply, a government that disseminates blatant falsehoods about the murder of its chief executive and frames an innocent man is not accountable to and does not deserve the confidence of the people.
This is a disquieting reality, but one that must be faced if integrity is to be restored to our government and its institutions. The government must function properly, with decency, honesty, and respect for the law. In framing Oswald and exculpating presidential assassins, the Commission mocked the law and every principle of justice. In the words of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, "In a government of laws, the very existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously."
This book is not a call to the people to lose faith in their government. It is a call to reason, so that no one will unquestioningly accept governmental assurances without first checking the facts. In the end we must face reality; we must reckon with truth no matter where it is found.
Harold Weisberg, Whitewash: The Report on the Warren Report (Hyattstown, Md.: Harold Weisberg, 1965), p. 189.
Transcript of Warren Commission executive session of January 22, 1964, pp. 11-13. The transcript is reproduced in Harold Weisberg's Post Mortem (Frederick, Md.: Harold Weisberg, 1975), pp. 475ff.
Transcript of Warren Commission executive session of January 27, 1964, pp. 170-71. The full transcript is reproduced in Harold Weisberg's Whitewash IV: JFK Assassination Transcript (Frederick, Md.: Harold Weisberg, 1974).
Transcript of Warren Commission executive session of December 16, 1963, p. 11.
Memorandum dated February 10, 1964, from Charles Shaffer to Howard Willens, available from the National Archives. This document is reproduced in Weisberg's Post Mortem at p. 488.
Memorandum dated January 23, 1964, from Francis Adams and Arlen Specter to J. Lee Rankin, attachment II, item (c), available from the National Archives. This document is reproduced in Weisberg's Post Mortem at p. 490.
See Post Mortem, chap. 29 and pp. 407ff.
Aebersold's letter is available from the National Archives. The letter notes: "Our work leads one to expect that the tremendous sensitivity of the activation analysis method is capable of providing useful information that may not be otherwise attainable."
Letter from J. Lee Rankin to J. Edgar Hoover, dated January 7, 1964.
Transcript of Warren Commission executive session of January 27, 1964, p. 194.
Memorandum from Melvin Eisenberg to Norman Redlich dated September 5, 1964. This document is reproduced in Weisberg's Post Mortem at p. 477.
See Post Mortem, chap. 29 and p. 607.
Weisberg v. U.S. Department of Justice, 489 F.2d 1195 (D.C. Dir. 1973).
During the Senate debate on the 1974 FOIA amendments, Senator Edward Kennedy expressed his understanding that one of the proposed amendments would "in effect override the court decisions in the court of appeals on the Weisberg against United States." Senator Philip Hart, who had written the amendment, responded: "That is its purpose." Congressional Record of May 30, 1974, S9329-30. The official legislative history is contained in the Conference Report, H. Rep. 93-1380, 93d Congress, 2d Session, 1974.
Weisberg's second FOIA suit for the spectrographic and NAA results is described in detail with much of the accompanying documentation reproduced in Post Mortem, pp. 407ff. See also the affidavit of FBI Agent John W. Kilty filed by the government in the suit, at pp. 623-24.
E.g., see Anthony Lewis's coverage of the Warren Report and editorial comment by James Reston, New York Times, September 28, 1964; Washington Post coverage of the same date, including praise by Robert Donovan, p. A14, Roscoe Drummond, p. A13, Marquis Childs, and an editorial saying the Report "deserves acceptance as the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," a favorable editorial in the Washington Evening Star, September 28, 1964, p. A-8; Time (October 2, 1964) and Newsweek (October 5, 1964) carried lengthy "news" features praising the Report.
E.g., see Life, November 25, 1966, pp. 38-48; Ramparts, October 1966, p. 3; Saturday Evening Post, January 14, 1967, and December 2, 1967, p. 88.
In May 1967 a Harris Survey revealed that 66 percent of the American public believed that the assassination was not the work of one man but was part of a broader plot.
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 25, 1967.
Washington Post, February 23, 1967.
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2, 1967.
Ibid., March 2, 1969.
New York Times, March 8, 1975.
New York Times, May 12, 1975. See Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States (June 1975), Chap. 19.
Dallas Times Herald, August 31, 1975.
New York Times, September 1, 1975, p. 7.
New York Times, November 23, 1975.
New York Times, November 27, 1975.
Weisberg, Whitewash, p. 188.
Weisberg, Whitewash II, p. 7.
Weisberg, Whitewash, p. 189.
Weisberg, Photographic Whitewash, p. 137.
Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After the Fact (New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1967), p. xxiii.
Ibid., p. 456.
Mark Lane, Rush to Judgment (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966), p. 8.
Ibid., pp. 15-16.
"Lane: I Know the Assassin," New York Post, March 21, 1967, p. 14.
Philadelphia Distant Drummer for bi-weekly period beginning November 1, 1968, p. 9.
Edward J. Epstein, Inquest (New York: Bantam Books, 1966), p. 2.
Ibid., p. 125.
Edward J. Epstein, "The Final Chapter in the Assassination Controversy?," New York Times Magazine, April 20, 1969.
Richard Popkin, The Second Oswald (New York: Avon Books, 1966), p. 9 and jacket blurb, back cover.
Dick Russell, "Dear President Ford: I Know Who Killed JFK . . . ," Village Voice, September 1, 1975.
Compare Josiah Thompson, Six Seconds in Dallas (New York: Bernard Geis Associates, 1967), pp. 34- 35, with Olson and Turner, "Photographic Evidence and the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy," Journal of Forensic Sciences, October 1971.
For example, Thompson claims that the precise moment of impact on Governor Connally is ascertainable because the Governor's right shoulder slumps, his cheeks puff, and a lock of hair flies up. Six Seconds, pp. 71-75. The shoulder slump would occur coincidentally with the impact of the bullet; the other signs necessarily would appear an instant after. Yet, the film reveals the shoulder slump at frame 238, with the secondary signs of impact first appearing in frame 237, before the supposed momentum transfer occurs.
Thompson suggests that a fragment from the head shot might have retained enough energy to travel 270 feet, strike a curbstone, and ricochet to wound a bystander, but adds that "270 feet is a long way for a fragment to fly." Ibid., pp. 230-33.
The three cartridge cases found in the Book Depository were given FBI identification numbers C6, C7, and C38. Only two cases were forwarded to the FBI on the night of the assassination. Thompson, attempting to "excite . . . suspicion" about C6, alleges that C6 was the case initially withheld from the FBI by the Dallas Police. Ibid., p. 143. However, the evidence establishes beyond question that C38 was the withheld case and that C6 and C7 were immediately forwarded to the FBI. See CE 717, and 24H262. In support of his assertion that C6 had been withheld, Thompson cites testimony by Dallas Police Lt. J. C. Day (4H254-55), which was erroneous and was later retracted by Day in a sworn affidavit (7H402). Thompson does not mention the retraction.
See Weisberg, Post Mortem, Part II.
Letter from Dr. Cyril H. Wecht to the author, dated July 20, 1972.
Letter from author to Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, dated July 26, 1972.
Tape of a conference between Dr. Wecht and several Warren Report critics, recorded August 23, 1972. The tape was made available to me by a participant in the conference. Of my letter, Dr. Wecht stated: "I'm a little too big of a boy to receive a letter from a punk kid like that, you know, 18 year old snotty nose kid." Dr. Wecht also expressed anger that Harold Weisberg disapproved of his examination.
"Mystery Cloaks Fate of Brain of Kennedy," New York Times, August 27, 1972, p. 1.
Philip Nobile questioned Dr. Wecht about the brain in a nationally syndicated column:
WECHT: The brain has disappeared because it would give us hard physical evidence that the Warren Commission is inaccurate regarding (1) the number of bullets that struck the president's head and (2) the direction the bullets came from.
NOBILE: In other words, you think the brain is the key to solving the assassination?
WECHT: Yes, it is.
Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel, November 19, 1972, p. 4E.
See Dr. Wecht's article in Modern Medicine, November 27, 1972.
E.g., see source cited in note 54.
National Enquirer, October 15, 1972.
In 1972 Dr. Wecht wrote, "So far as the available materials show, there might even have been shots fired from the front and right. . . ." Modern Medicine, November 27, 1972, p. 31. In 1974 Dr. Wecht wrote: "So far as the available medical evidence shows, all shots were fired from the rear. No support can be found for theories which postulate gunmen to the front or right-front of the Presidential car." Wecht and Smith, "The Medical Evidence in the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy," Forensic Science Gazette, April 1974, p. 128.
Wecht and Smith, Forensic Science Gazette, April 1974, p. 118.
Ibid., p. 114.
Report of the Ramsey Clark panel, 1968, p. 12.
E.g., see Jacob Cohen, "Conspiracy Fever," Commentary, October 1975. My citation of Cohen's article should not in any way be construed as an endorsement of it, for it is a gross and deliberate misstatement of fact, as I documented in collaboration with Jerry Policoff in the Washington Star, October 26, 1975, Section H.
Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States, June 1975, p. 264.
New York Times, June 12, 1975.
Philadelphia Inquirer, June 15, 1975, p. 3-A.
Dissenting opinion of Justice Brandeis in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).
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