Wednesday, 18 December 2013 11:46

Howard P. Willens, History Will Prove Us Right

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Author Martin Hay writes about Warren Commission lawyer Howard Willens and his continued belief in the conclusions of the Warren Report.


Nobody likes to admit they were wrong, even on small, trivial issues. So imagine you screwed up – whether by accident or design – something as monumental as the investigation into the murder of the President? How much time do you think would have to pass before you were ready to hold up your hand?

Apparently, for former Warren Commission lawyer Howard Willens, even 50 years is not long enough. Because, despite close to five decades of criticism, Willens remains defiant and unapologetic in his defense of the Commission and its now-defunct conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. And it is not as if that criticism has come entirely from conspiracy "buffs." Far from it. The Commission's findings and methods have been questioned by historians, pathologists, lawyers, district attorneys, state governors, US senators, presidents, and even members of the Commission itself.

For example, in 1979 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that "The Warren Commission failed to investigate adequately the possibility of a conspiracy to assassinate the President." (HSCA report, p. 256) It went on to say that "the committee found fault with the manner in which the conclusions of the Warren Commission were stated...There were instances, the committee found, in which the conclusions did not accurately reflect the efforts undertaken by the Commission and the evidence before it...the Commission overstated the thoroughness of its investigation and the weight of its evidence in a number of areas, in particular that of the conspiracy investigation...It is a reality to be lamented that the Commission failed to live up to its promise" (Ibid, 259-261). Indeed this failure to do as promised and fully explore the possibility of a conspiracy is the reason why one of the Commission's own members, Senator Richard Russell, later admitted to not being satisfied that Lee Harvey Oswald really had planned and executed the assassination all by himself.

Professor emeritus of history, Gerald McKnight, goes much further in his landmark book, Breach of Trust: How the Warren Commission Failed the Nation and Why. McKnight describes the Warren Report as "a shoddily improvised political exercise in public relations and not a good-faith investigation into the Kennedy assassination." (McKnight, p. 7) He explains that the Commission "favoured witnesses who strengthened the case for Oswald's guilt and discounted or even suppressed testimony (and evidence) of those who jeopardized the prosecution case the government was building against a dead man." (Ibid, p. 3) McKnight does not just say these things, he proves them over and over again, using the government's own records almost exclusively.

Willens is having none of it. He dedicates his book "To my colleagues on the staff of the Warren Commission who knew that Truth was their only client". And he insists, presumably with a straight face, that "In the nearly fifty years since the report was published in 1964, not one fact has emerged that undercuts the main conclusions of the commission that Oswald was the assassin and that there is no credible evidence that either he or Ruby was part of a larger conspiracy." (Willens, p. 11)

This is patently absurd. After careful study of the Warren report and its 26 volumes of hearing and evidence, first generation critics like Harold Weisberg, Mark Lane, and Sylvia Meagher proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that the evidence before the Commission undermined, contradicted, and flat-out disproved its central conclusions. That was over 40 years ago and the Commission's conclusions do not look any better today.

There is a word for Willens's stance: denial. Quite frankly, Willens needs to step up and admit that the world is round.

At the time of the assassination, Howard Willens was a lawyer in the Justice Department's criminal division. After President Lyndon Johnson announced that he was putting a Commission together, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach hand-picked Willens to "help the commission get up and running." (Ibid) This is significant because Katzenbach made his own objectives abundantly clear within hours of Oswald's murder on November 25, 1963. "The public must be satisfied", he wrote in his now infamous memo to Bill Moyers, "that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large, and that the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial." He also suggested that "speculation about Oswald's motivation ought to be cut off" and that the government should rebut "thought that this was a Communist conspiracy or...a right-wing conspiracy to blame it on the Communists."

In other words, the buck stops with Oswald. This was long before the facts of the case had been established. On November 25th the authorities did not have a single credible eyewitness against Oswald, had not yet "found" his print on the rifle, and had performed a nitrate test that indicated he had not fired the weapon. It had not even been established that Oswald was the gunman let alone that there was no conspiracy. Clearly, the real solution to the crime mattered very little to Katzenbach.

When Katzenbach picked Willens for the job, one can assume he trusted Willens would not rock the boat. And his own actions suggest that Willens did not want to disappoint. As he writes, "Beginning on December 20, 1963, I devoted the next three weeks to assisting [J. Lee] Rankin in getting the commission staffed and organized." (p. 37) But Willens did not look for brilliant, independent-minded, professional investigators as would be expected in a genuine pursuit of the truth. He brought in a bunch of Ivy League lawyers; men whose skills lay not in investigating, but in assembling a case. Which, of course, suited the desires of Katzenbach and the Commission perfectly, since they intended to rely on the FBI and other federal agencies to supply the evidence while they put the correct spin on it for their report.

What's more, the men Willens picked were mostly business or corporate lawyers. One staff member, Burt Griffin, admitted later on that when he arrived in Washington he "was struck by how few of his new colleagues had been prosecutors or had any other experience in law enforcement." (Philip Shenon, A Cruel and Shocking Act, p. 124) This only got worse when several members of the staff left before the work was done. With a report yet to be finished, Willens brought in men with virtually no legal experience at all. One of these, Murray Lauchlit, began working for the Commission the day after he received his diploma! (Ibid, p. 404) Did Willens really think this staff was up to the task of solving the assassination? Or were they picked because they would most likely fulfill Katzenbach's objectives?

II

History Will Prove Us Right is a whitewash of a whitewash that seeks to undermine long-established truths about the Commission's aims and methodology. Willens writes, "The repeated claim by critics that the White House, a federal agency, or unspecified powerful forces influenced the extent of the commission's investigation or the content of its report is simply false." (Willens, p. 266) In order to make this seem plausible, he has to distort or omit reams of relevant information – including the aforementioned memo written by his boss, Nicholas Katzenbach, from which he avoids quoting at all costs.

To me, the way in which Willens deals with Earl Warren's acquiescence to chair the Commission is a perfect example of his desire to hide, and unwillingness to confront, the evidence that casts serious doubt on his claims. It is well known that Warren did not want to take the job, but gave in after President Johnson called him to the White House. In Willens's account of their meeting, there is no mention of the way in which the Chief Justice was reportedly brought to tears by LBJ's dire warning that millions of lives were in jeopardy. Johnson later reported telling Warren, "Now these wild people are chargin' Khrushchev killed Kennedy, and Castro killed Kennedy." He then raised the possibility that if the American public came to believe this story, they might call for a retaliation that could lead to a nuclear exchange with the Soviets. "If Khrushchev moved on us", he said, "he could kill 39 million in an hour, and we could kill 100 million in his country in an hour. You could be speaking for 39 million people." (Shenon, p. 60-61) Understandably, these words had a profound effect on Warren who, according to historian David Wrone, "From the day he assumed chairmanship of the Commission until the day of his death...firmly believed that a Soviet conspiracy had assassinated President John F. Kennedy." (Wrone, The Zapruder Film, p. 245) So, understanding his duty was to take a Soviet conspiracy out of the equation, Warren agreed to take the chair.

On January 20, 1964, Warren held his first meeting with the Commission staff. There, he impressed upon them the seriousness of the situation, restating LBJ's concerns. The contents of the meeting were recorded in a revealing memo written by staff member Melvin Eisenberg:

"After brief introductions, the Chief Justice discussed the circumstances under which he had accepted the chairmanship of the Commission...The President stated that rumors of the most exaggerated kind were circulating in this country and overseas. Some rumors went so far as attributing the assassination to a faction within the Government wishing to see the Presidency assumed by President Johnson. Others, if not quenched, could conceivably lead the country into a war which could cost 40 million lives. No one would refuse to do something which might help prevent such a possibility. The President convinced him that this was an occasion on which actual conditions had to override general principles."

Perhaps the key sentence in this memo is the one about it being "an occasion on which actual conditions had to override general principles." As historian Jim DiEugenio asked, "How could the message be made any clearer to a bunch of Yale, Stanford, and Harvard law school graduates? The threat of 40 million dead was going to take precedence over the general legal principles he had espoused." (DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, p. 254-253). Willens hides all of this from his readers. And because he does not disclose Warren's reasons for accepting the chairmanship, Willens does not have to explain just who it was that got LBJ worried about a conspiracy involving Krushchev and Castro. It was the CIA.

The echoes of gunfire in Dealey Plaza had barely stopped ringing when the CIA began a campaign to lay the blame for the assassination at Castro's feet through the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE) – an anti-Castro Cuban exile group the Agency funded. According to journalist Jefferson Morley, "the DRE was perhaps the single biggest and most active organization opposing Fidel Castro's regime." CIA veteran George Joannides "was giving the leaders of the group up to $25,000 a month in cash for what he described as 'intelligence collection' and 'propaganda.'" (Morley, The Man Who Didn't Talk and Other Tales from the New Kennedy Assassination Files.) The DRE was known to have had contact with Oswald during the summer of 1963. Within hours of his arrest on November 22, a representative of the group telephoned Clair Booth Luce (wife of TIME magazine publisher, Henry Luce), to tell her that Oswald was part of a hit team organized by Castro. The DRE then assembled a package for the media which included photographs of Oswald and Castro under the heading "Presumed Assassins." Thus, as Mark Lane noted, "it was the CIA and Joannides that paid for, organized and published the very first conspiracy theory about the assassination" (Lane, Last Word, p. 234).

Having planted a seed in the press, the CIA turned its attention to the White House. On Saturday, November 23, LBJ met twice with CIA director John McCone who briefed him about Oswald's alleged visit to Mexico City two months earlier. Based on information sent to headquarters by the CIA's Mexico City station, McCone reported that Oswald had been in contact with Soviet consular Valery Kostikov, whom, it was alleged, was an expert in assassinations. Shaking Johnson up some more, the CIA followed this up on Monday, November 25, with a cablegram from Mexico City Station Chief Winston Scott, who claimed to have uncovered evidence that Castro, with Soviet support, had paid Oswald to kill Kennedy. (McKnight, p. 24 & 66-67) The effect these stories from the CIA had on Johnson cannot be overstated since he was already of a paranoid disposition. According to Kennedy military aide, General Godfrey McHugh, LBJ was already crying about a plot to "get us all" before Air Force One had even left Dallas on the afternoon of the assassination. And there seems little doubt that Johnson was convinced by the CIA reports, because years later, he said to ABC News anchorman Thomas K. Smith, "I'll tell you something that will rock you. Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got to him first." (Shenon, p. 526)

When we take all of the information above and put it together, it paints a fairly clear picture. The CIA fed false information to the press and the White House, blaming Castro for the assassination. A terrified Johnson balked at the idea of retaliation that might lead to a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets and so appointed Earl Warren to chair a Commission that would ensure the blame rested squarely on Oswald's shoulders. Warren, in turn, tacitly explained to the Commission's staff at its very first meeting the perceived severity of the situation and just what was expected of them. Consequently, as McKnight puts it, "the Warren Commission went through the motions of an investigation that was little more than an improvised exercise in public relations." (McKnight, p. 361) Little wonder, then, that Willens leaves all of these details out of his book.

III

If there is a "Rosetta Stone" to the Kennedy Assassination, it is Oswald's alleged sojourn in Mexico City. Because the evidence suggests that the whole episode was staged in advance of the assassination so that it could be exploited afterwards to precipitate an attack on Cuba (as detailed above).

The tamer version of the story as eventually reported by the Commission, and obviously not questioned by Willens, is that Oswald arrived in Mexico City on September 27, 1963, and soon after visited the Cuban embassy to apply for a visa to visit Cuba on his way to Russia. There he was informed by Cuban consul Silvia Duran that he could not get a Cuban visa until he obtained one from the Soviets, and that could take several months. An angry Oswald kicked up a stink, made futile attempts to obtain a visa from the Soviet embassy, and finally returned home angry and disillusioned. The trouble with this story is that Oswald denied making the trip and, before his wife Marina was threatened with deportation, she too said she knew nothing about any such visit. As we shall see, and as the FBI discovered, the evidence indicates that someone was impersonating Oswald in Mexico City.

The CIA, which was the initial source of all information placing Oswald in Mexico City, claimed it had photographs of Oswald visiting, and a tape recording of a phone call he made to, the Soviet Embassy. But when the photographs appeared, they showed a middle-aged, heavy-set man who looked nothing like the slight, 24-year-old Oswald. The Agency later changed its tune, saying that the cameras were inoperable on the day of Oswald's visit, which turned out to be another lie. The tape recording of the phone call made its way to the FBI the day after the assassination. Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover then wrote a memo to Secret Service Chief James Rowley stating that the FBI agents who had participated in Oswald's interrogations in Dallas had listened to the tape and concluded that it was not the voice of Lee Harvey Oswald. (Lopez Report, Addendum to footnote #614) Hoover telephoned President Johnson and informed him that "it appears that there is a second person who was at the Soviet Embassy down there." (McKnight, p. 67) This, of course, was all kept from the American public who were instead told that the tapes had been routinely destroyed beforethe assassination. But not only did the tapes of this Oswald imposter survive until November 22, 1963, they were still in existence in the spring of 1964.

In History Will Prove Us Right, Willens reveals that on April 8, 1968, he accompanied Commission lawyers William Coleman and David Slawson on their trip to Mexico City to "investigate" the whole affair. What he doesn't reveal is what Coleman and Slawson told author Anthony Summers which is that while they were there, they too listened to the tapes "mainly to check that they corresponded with the CIA transcripts." (Summers, Not in Your Lifetime, p. 277) Slawson would later characterize the CIA's claim that the tapes had been destroyed before the assassination as "a goddamned lie". (Shenon, p. 296) Needless to say, these tapes never made it back to Washington and were not entered into evidence by the Commission. The obvious reason being that the tapes would have proven that somebody was impersonating Oswald, which would cast the assassination in an entirely different light.

Also not making it back to Washington was crucial eyewitness Silvia Duran. Duran was a Mexican national who worked at the Cuban embassy and, as noted above, supposedly dealt with Oswald's visa request. Without the tapes and photographs, the entire story of Oswald's visit rested on her shoulders and yet she was never called to testify before the Commission. Willens tries to explain this away by saying that "...bringing Duran and her husband to Washington involved certain risks – including antagonizing Mexican law enforcement authorities – and we understood Warren's position. We already had a clear and documented report of her encounters with Oswald based on Mexican authorities' interview of Duran, corroborated by the wiretaps, and the additional information she might have provided about Oswald was unlikely to be important enough to justify assuming these risks." (Willens, p. 133) Not only did they choose not to take her back to Washington to testify, none of the staff members even bothered to contact her while they were in Mexico City.

Whatever Willens says, the real reason the Commission and its staff avoided Duran like the plague is because they no doubt understood that when she was first questioned, she refused to identify Oswald as the man she dealt with in the Cuban consulate. The CIA then directed its assets in the Mexican police to arrest Duran and place her in solitary confinement. A fearful Duran soon agreed to sign a statement identifying Oswald (Lane, p. 204).

Once released, she began to complain about her treatment at the hands of Mexican police, unaware that the CIA was calling the shots. The Agency then sent a priority cable ordering her rearrest and requesting that "to be certain that there is no misunderstanding between us, we want to ensure that Silvia Duran gets no impression that Americans are behind her rearrest. In other words, "we want Mexican authorities to take responsibility for the whole affair." [emphasis in original] (Ibid) Years later, Duran told the HSCA that the man identifying himself as Oswald was "Short...about my size" (3HSCA103) Duran was only 5'3" whereas the real Oswald was 5'9". She also said that he had "blonde hair" and "blue or green eyes" (Ibid, p. 69) neither of which is true of the real Oswald.

This was not just a latter day recollection. Even in her original November 27, 1963, statement she insisted that the man was "blonde, short, dressed unelegantly" but this information was edited out before it was published by the Warren Commission. (Lopez Report, p. 186-190) Based on the above, for Willens to claim that there was little point in the Commission taking testimony from Duran because she would have had little to add is ridiculous. He might argue that the staff was unaware of some of this in 1964, which I doubt. But the fact remains that we are all aware of it today. And to leave these facts out of a book published in 2013 is extremely disingenuous.

Today we know that there were no photographs of Oswald in Mexico City as there should have been since the CIA had both the Cuban and Soviet embassies under constant surveillance. And we know that the tape recordings and eyewitness testimony indicate that he was impersonated. According to Mark Lane, David Atlee Phillips, who was working at the CIA's Mexico City station in 1963, admitted in a live debate in 1977 that "there is no evidence to show that Lee Harvey Oswald ever visited the Soviet embassy." (Lane, p. 229) So it seems that Philips in 1977 was more forthcoming than Willens is in 2013. Which tells you an awful lot about this book.

IV

In 1961, following the Bay of Pigs debacle, President Kennedy fired Allen Dulles from his position as director of the CIA; a position he had held for longer than anyone else. Two years later, Dulles was made a member of the Commission charged with investigating Kennedy's brutal murder. Ever since, critics and researchers have been scratching their heads over how such a thing came to be. Even the least sceptical of minds would have to admit that this is a curious set of circumstances. Dulles had every reason to feel at the very least resentful towards the deceased President and little obvious reason to care about finding those responsible for his death. In fact he was once heard to remark, "That little Kennedy...He thought he was a god." (James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, p. 16.) So what on earth was he doing on that Commission?

Willens has an answer to this question that he presumably hopes will dispel any sinister implications. He claims that President Johnson asked JFK's brother Robert Kennedy for suggestions on Commission members, and that it was he who recommended Dulles. (Willens, p. 26) This Willens sources to Robert Caro's flawed biography of Johnson, The Passage of Power. Obviously I have no way of knowing whether or not Willens really believes this tale, but I do know that it is nonsense and I believe anyone else with an ounce of sense would realise that too. The original source of this lie is Johnson himself. But he did not say it until after Robert Kennedy was dead and, therefore, unable to contradict him. And the fact of the matter is that there is not a shred of evidence to support it.

It is believed that Johnson settled on the idea of appointing a Commission on November 28, 1963. The following day he telephoned Dulles and asked him to serve on the Commission. There is no known record of any meeting or phone call between Johnson and RFK on the 28th or the 29th, so it does not appear that Kennedy even had the opportunity to offer suggestions at that time.

Further, when LBJ floated the names of prospective Commission members past Hoover in a phone call on the afternoon of November 29, he asked him, "What do you think about Allen Dulles?" without mentioning RFK. And when LBJ called Dulles, he said to him "you've got to go on that for me", [my emphasis] making no reference to any recommendations by Robert Kennedy. But the capper comes from the call Johnson made to Senator Russell that same day. Russell asked Johnson point blank if he was going to let RFK "nominate someone" and he responded with a simple and direct "No." So the contemporaneous record completely contradicts Johnson's latter day claim.

It is also worth noting at this point that the very notion that Robert Kennedy would have recommended Dulles, of all people, to investigate his brother's death is ludicrous. RFK had served on the board of inquiry into the failure at the Bay of Pigs and, as a result, was heavily involved in the firing of Dulles. Once he was gone, Kennedy asked Secretary of State Dean Rusk if there were any other Dulles family members serving in the administration. When Rusk told him that Dulles's sister Elanor worked under him at the State Department, RFK told him to fire her too because "he didn't want anymore of the Dulles family around." (DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, p. 395) So the idea that he would then recommend Dulles for the Commission is simply not worthy of serious consideration.

It is well documented that there was great animosity between RFK and Johnson. Kennedy described LBJ as "mean, bitter, vicious; an animal in many ways...incapable of telling the truth." Johnson in turn referred to Kennedy as a "snot-nosed little son-of-a-bitch". By 1969, LBJ was facing a ruined Presidency. His reputation was in tatters and he believed this was partly due to Robert Kennedy, whom he thought was behind the criticism of the Warren Report. Johnson told aides that he was sure that RFK was trying to keep the conspiracy theories alive. (Shenon, p. 509) This is most likely why he tried to cover his own ass by turning the tables and blaming RFK for Dulles's presence on the Commission.

The issue of who got Dulles the job is significant, because he came to play a dominant role on the Commission. At one of the its earliest executive sessions, Dulles handed out copies of a book on Presidential assassination attempts in America. He pointed out that they were all the work of lone nuts, saying, "you'll find a pattern running through here that I think we'll find in this present case." When John McCloy pointed out that the Lincoln assassination was a conspiracy, Dulles countered, "Yes, but one man was so dominant that it almost wasn't a plot." (WC Executive Session, December 16, 1963, p. 52.)

Dulles went on to become the most active member of the Commission. As author Walt Brown pointed out, Dulles attended more full hearings than any other member and also asked the biggest number of questions. This seriously undermines Willens's claim that Warren "probably spent more time on the commission's work than the other six members combined". (Willens, p. 222) In fact, in the number of questions asked, Dulles outdistanced Warren by a considerable margin; asking 2,154 questions to Warren's 608. (Brown, The Warren Omission, p. 83-85)

That Dulles had the best interests of the CIA at the forefront of his mind during his tenure on the Commission is proven by the fact that he withheld any and all information about the Agency's repeated attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. After these plots were made public by the Church Committee in 1975, several members of the Commission's staff expressed their dismay that this obviously relevant information had not been shared with them. As staff lawyer Burt Griffin told the HSCA, "If we had known that the CIA had wanted to assassinate Castro, then all of the Cuban motivations that we were exploring about this made much, much more sense. If we had further known that the CIA was involved with organized criminal figures in an assassination attempt in the Caribbean, then we would have had a completely different perspective on this thing." (11HSCA300) That Dulles kept these details to himself clearly demonstrates that he had an agenda that was of far more importance to him than the truth about Kennedy's murder.

V

Because Willens refuses to acknowledge that there was any more to the assassination story than Lee Harvey Oswald, he has no choice but to defend the Single Bullet Theory. And because the two are so heavily intertwined, he must also attempt to defend the Commission's handling of the medical evidence. Which is a very difficult thing to do today. The Commission told verifiable lies about the President's wounds and Willens has to tell more lies to explain away problems with the medical record.

The FBI handed the Commission what appeared to be a very simple case. The Bureau said that three shots were fired, two striking Kennedy, one Governor Connally, and all were fired by Oswald. But it soon became apparent that this scenario was untenable. When the staff gathered to watch the Zapruder film, they were confronted with the fact that Kennedy and Connally clearly reacted to gunshots at different times but too close together for Oswald to have squeezed off two shots from his antique bolt-action rifle, which required 2.3 seconds between shots. (3H407) On top of this, they had evidence that a shot had missed the Presidential limousine altogether, struck a curb and wounded bystander James Tague. Because of the time constraints imposed by the Zapruder film, the Commission could not admit to a fourth shot without admitting to a second rifle. But ambitious staffer Arlen Specter offered them a way out of the box, suggesting that JFK and Connally had been hit by the same bullet and Connally had simply suffered a "delayed reaction."

Before the Commission could endorse Specter's hypothesis, it had a big problem to overcome: the location of Kennedy's two non fatal wounds. For the SBT to work, the bullet had to pass through Kennedy on a downward trajectory of approximately 20 degrees. The problem is, the bullet hole in JFK's back was lower down his body than the wound in his throat. Which meant that any bullet travelling back-to-front would have followed an upward trajectory. Rather than admit to a faulty hypothesis, which would also mean admitting to a second gunman, the Commission got around this by ignoring the autopsy photographs and publishing a deceptive diagram that showed a bullet entering the back of Kennedy's neck. (see CE388, 16H977) Commissioner Gerald Ford then had the language changed in the Warren report so that it described a wound at the "base of the neck" rather than in the back. As unbelievable as it seems, the Commission actually moved the wound to suit its purposes.

Commission apologists like Vincent Bugliosi – for whom Willens has nothing but the highest praise – have claimed that the moving of the back wound was all an honest mistake, made because the Commission did not have access to the autopsy photographs. This assertion is utterly false and is disproven by the Commissions own records. The transcript of the January 27, 1964, executive session contains the following exchange:

RANKIN: Then there is a great range of material in regard to the wounds, and the autopsy and this point of exit or entrance of the bullet in the front of the neck...We have an explanation there in the autopsy that probably a fragment came out the front of the neck, but with the elevation the shot must have come from, the angle, it seems quite apparent now, since we have the picture of where the bullet entered in the back, that the bullet entered below the shoulder blade, to the right of the backbone, which is below the place where the picture shows the bullet came out in the neckband of the shirt in front, and the bullet, according to the autopsy didn't strike any bone at all, that particular bullet, and go through. So how it could turn—

BOGGS: I thought I read that bullet just went in a finger's length.

RANKIN: That is what they first said. [my emphasis]

There it is. No ifs, ands, or buts. The Commission knew all along that the wound in the back was below the wound in the throat and it had the pictures to prove it. Willens himself admits that Earl Warren did look at the photographs (p. 193-194), so no honest researcher can claim that Warren did not know the truth about the President's wounds. And yet he and the other members of the Commission signed off on the SBT knowing that the trajectory through Kennedy was actually an upward one. Of course, this assumes that the bullet which entered the back also exited the throat; which something that has never been proven.

The official autopsy report describes the back wound as one "presumably of entry" and the throat wound as one "presumably of exit." (ARRB MD3) Chief pathologist Dr. James J. Humes used such cautious language because his conclusion that the two wounds were connected was based on an inference and not on observation. During efforts to save Kennedy's life at Parkland Hospital, doctors had made a tracheotomy incision over the bullet hole in the throat. This apparently obscured the wound so that it was no longer visible when the body arrived at Bethesda Naval Institute for autopsy. Humes told the Warren Commission that he did not know the throat wound existed until the following morning, when he spoke Dr. Malcolm Perry of Parkland Hospital. (2H362) By that time Humes no longer had access to the body. Realising that he had made a major blunder by missing one of Kennedy's wounds, Humes burned the original draft of his autopsy report (3H373) and rewrote it to include a presumed exit in the throat. Which is all well and good except that a contemporaneous FBI report and the testimony of the two agents who wrote it tells us that, at the close of the autopsy, Humes and his colleagues were absolutely certain that the back wound was shallow with no point of exit.

The report of FBI agents James Sibert and Francis O'Neill, who were present for the entirety of the autopsy, notes that the back wound "was probed by Dr. Humes with the finger, at which time it was determined that the trajectory of the missile entering at this point had entered at a downward position of 45 to 60 degrees. Further probing determined that the distance traveled by this missile was a short distance inasmuch as the end of the opening could be felt with the finger." (ARRB MD44) O'Neill explained in his testimony for the Assassination Records Review Board that, using a metal probe, the autopsy doctors probed the back wound "to a point where they could not probe any further. In other words, it did not go any further. There – it only went in, I guess, the length of a half of a finger or something like that. And they could not push the probe any further." (O'Neil ARRB Testimony, p. 131-132) He also explained that Humes was certain that the bullet which caused the wound had "worked its way out through external cardiac massage" at Parkland. "There was not the slightest scintilla of doubt whatsoever that this is what had occurred...And viewing them with the surgical probe and their fingers, there was absolutely no point of exit...this was the exact thought when the entire autopsy was completed." (Ibid, p. 30-31)

As if the seemingly shallow back wound was not problematic enough for the SBT, there is also the uncertain nature of the throat wound. Dr. Perry described the wound as being 3 to 5 mm in diameter and looking very much like an entrance wound. He told the Commission that ""It's edges were neither ragged nor were they punched out, but rather clean cut." (3H372) Dr. Ronald Jones said it was a "very small, smooth wound." (6H54) And Dr. Charles Carrico described the wound as "4-7 mm...It was, as I recall, rather round and there were no jagged edges or stellate lacerations." (6H3) These descriptions are not what would be expected of an exit wound made by a 6.5 mm Mannlicher Carcano bullet. In tests performed for the Commission at Edgewood Arsenal, Dr. Alfred Olivier discovered that typical exit wounds created by Oswald's rifle at a distance of 180 feet (approximately the distance from the Texas School Book Depository to the Presidential limousine at Zapruder frame 224) were 10 to 15 mm; at least twice the size of the wound described by the Parkland physicians. (5H77, 17H846)

The Commission dealt with these issues mostly by pretending that they did not exist. The Sibert/O'Neil report was excluded from the Commission's published volumes and neither man was called to give testimony. The Parkland staff could not be so easily ignored, so instead they were pressured into testifying that the throat wound could have been either an entrance or an exit. In his attempt explain all this away, Willens takes a different tack. He writes that the FBI was mistaken about JFK's back wound because it "relied in part on the initial, but inaccurate, information from Parkland Hospital that the first bullet that hit Kennedy had not exited from his body." (Willens, p. 32) That's right, he conflates two separate events so that he can effectively make the controversy about the throat wound vanish whilst simultaneously making it appear as if the shallow probing of the back wound at autopsy was nothing more than a mistaken observation made by emergency room staff! This is one of the most disgustingly dishonest things I have ever read in any book dealing with the assassination of President Kennedy. It says a lot about Willens's integrity – and the desperation of the lone nut crowd in general – that he has to stoop so low.

VI

In this review I have concentrated on how Willens deals with the most crucial aspects of the assassination and the cover-up. It is widely understood that the medical evidence is the heart of any murder investigation. Any honest investigation would have made full use of the autopsy photographs and X-rays to deduce the precise cause of death. But to fit its pre-conceived "solution," the Commission ignored, misrepresented and lied about the forensic record. To his eternal shame, Willens attempts to uphold the Commission's deceptions and, even worse, tries to muddy the waters even further to hide that which destroys the Commission's fallacious and utterly absurd Single Bullet Theory. He knows he must, because as Commission lawyer Norman Redlich candidly admitted to author Edward Epstein, "To say that [President Kennedy and Governor Connally] were hit by separate bullets, is synonymous with saying that there were two assassins." (Epstein, Inquest, p. 38) Two assassins equals conspiracy; a conspiracy Willens, 50 years later, is still not ready to admit existed.

Most serious researchers agree that the Mexico City story is not only the key to unlocking the conspiracy but also the key to understanding how and why the cover-up was perpetrated. As we saw, in History Will Prove Us Right, Willens leaves out all of the crucial details that would shed light on the whole sorry Mexico City charade. He also keeps secret the panic that gripped Washington when the CIA began peddling its manufactured story and how this led to Earl Warren's decision to put "actual conditions" before "general principles". Or, in other words, politics before truth. Of course, Willens had to leave all of this out because, if he did not, he would have had no book. Or he would have had a very different book with a very different title. Perhaps something like "History Has Proven Us Wrong". That book might have actually been worth reading. Unfortunately, the one Willens wrote is not.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 November 2016 23:02
Martin Hay

Martin Hay is a writer and musician living near London. He has been a keen student of the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King for over 15 years and, as well as contributing popular articles to CTKA, maintains his own well-regarded blog, The Mysteries of Dealey Plaza.

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