Tuesday, 06 January 2004 13:08

Posner in New Orleans: Gerry in Wonderland

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Case Closed deliberately suppresses and distorts the evidence that Oswald was involved in clandestine activities in New Orleans, writes Jim DiEugenio.


Listening to the media accompaniment surrounding the release of Gerald Posner's 600 page volume Case Closed, one was reminded of the trumpet blare which sounded when the Warren Report was released 29 years ago. Reading US News and World Report, a usually staid and reserved publication, one would have expected an investigatory effort worthy of Scotland Yard or the Mossad. What emerges after all the sound and fury is an effort more comparable to the Dallas or Los Angeles Police Departments.

Before getting to the main focus of this essay, one needs to comment on some general matters regarding Mr. Posner and his book. Reportedly, like John McCloy and Allen Dulles, Mr. Posner is a Wall Street lawyer. Based on three interviews with sources who read his previous book on Mengele, Posner whitewashed that notorious Nazi's ties to the Hitler regime before his McCloy-aided escape to South America after World War II. This may help explain Posner's quite questionable use of sources.

About the first half of Case Closed deals exclusively with the life and careers of Lee Oswald. Like the Warren Commission and the five volume FBI report on the assassination, Posner's focus is on Oswald and it is in extreme close-up since it is always easier to portray a man as a lone nut if you draw him in a virtual vacuum.

But to rig the apparatus even further, Posner uses the most specious witnesses imaginable in his single-minded prosecutorial proceeding. Scanning his footnotes for the first ten chapters, a rough approximation would estimate that about 75% of them originate from the Warren Commission volumes. In turn, many of these citings come from the testimony of Marina Oswald who, as lawyer Posner must know, could not have testified at Oswald's trial. Also, Posner never reveals to the reader how Marina was abducted and then stowed away at the Inn of the Six Flags Hotel and how she was virtually quarantined while she was being threatened with deportation. Posner never points out any of the problems and inconsistencies with her Warren Commission testimony, which even some of the Commission members had reservations about, and which a skillful defense lawyer would be able to exploit to great advantage.

If that were not enough, Posner quotes liberally from the testimony of both Ruth Paine and George DeMohrenschildt, two people who --- to say the least --- have questionable motives in this case and both of whom have direct and indirect ties to the CIA. Again, Posner ignores those ties and actually states that DeMohrenschildt had no connection to American intelligence (p. 86), when the CIA admitted those connections over 15 years ago. Posner also uses Oswald's "Historic Diary" against him when everyone, even Edward Epstein, admits that it was not a "diary" at all, but was composed in 2 or 3 installments, probably as part of Oswald's cover as an espionage agent.

Finally, Posner quotes liberally from the work of Priscilla Johnson McMillan, the newspaper correspondent who interviewed Oswald in Russia, then helped the Warren Commission find Oswald's tickets to Mexico after the FBI could not. She then locked up Marina Oswald for 13 years with a book contract until Marina and Lee, the mother of all "Oswald-did-it" books, appeared in 1977. The working papers of staff lawyer David Slawson reveal that even the Warren Commission suspected Ms. McMillan had ties to the CIA.

This is all prelude to what the author does when his book reaches the locale of New Orleans. Posner seems all too aware that the city and Oswald's actions there in the summer of 1963 pose a serious threat to the main thesis of his book. Perhaps this is why his bibliography lists all of Harold Weisberg's books except Oswald in New Orleans. For to admit that Oswald was associating with clandestine operatives like Clay Shaw, David Ferrie and Guy Banister poses a big problem for a man intent on painting Oswald as a demented communist zealot. Consequently, Posner shifts into a denial mode and sustains it by any means necessary.

For instance, Posner begins Chapter 7 by stating that, according to Marina, Oswald was home early every evening for the couple's entire stay in New Orleans. Posner has often stated that he had access to the late Jim Garrison's files. If he did he would have found out that Oswald stayed overnight on more than one occasion in a room adjacent to the French Quarter restaurant, "The Court of the Two Sisters." The room was arranged by a mutual friend of Shaw and Ferrie. Posner mentions that Oswald worked at Reily Coffee Company while in New Orleans but leaves out the facts of the Reily family's connections to Cuban exile groups and the peculiar coincidence of Oswald's colleagues being transferred from Reily to the NASA complex at nearby Michaud Air Force Base. Posner states that Oswald's expenditures of nearly $23.00 on pro-Castro leaflets was not exorbitant even though it was about one-sixth of what he was making per month, or the equivalent of a man making $3,000 per month spending about $500 on political flyers.

On page 157, Posner writes that the altercation between Carlos Bringuier and Oswald on Canal Street in August of '63, which resulted in Oswald's conspicuous arrest, was not staged. Yet he never asks the logical followup question: if it was not staged then why did Oswald write about it days in advance? Of William Gaudet, one of the CIA agents who escorted Oswald on his strange tour of Mexico, Posner writes that he had no relation to the case outside of being next to Oswald when in line to buy a tourist card for south of the border. He adds that Gaudet was a "newspaper editor." Posner does not write that the newspaper Gaudet edited was a right wing propaganda sheet about South American politics, that one of his reporting duties was supplying infomation to the CIA, that one of the men he worked for earIy in his career was a business associate of Shaw's, and that Gaudet had a virtually rent-free office in the International Trade Mart which was provided to him by Shaw.

Posner frequently uses character assassination when he finds testimony contrary to his thesis. Orest Pena had stated to Harold Weisberg that he had seen Oswald at his bar, the Habana. That tavern was a frequent watering hole for Ferrie, Bringuier, Shaw, and other militant Cuban exiles. Posner states (p. 167), that Pena recanted his story at his first FBI interview and vacillated before the Warren Commission. Posner does not state that Pena was visited by both Bringuier and FBI agent Warren DeBrueys and warned about his official testimony. Posner tries to finish off Pena by adding that he was later charged with managing prostitutes out of his establishment and was aided in his legal defense by "leading conspiracy buff Mark Lane." What he faiIs to add is that his legal problems came about after his testimony before the Warren Commission and that the charges were so weak they never came to trial.

Posner's most breathtaking balancing act relates to Oswald's relationship with Ferrie and Banister. On page 143, he states that the many Civil Air Patrol cadets who testified to Oswald being in Ferrie's CAP before he joined the Marines must be either mistaken or lying since Ferrie was thrown out of the CAP in the mid-fifties when Oswald was supposed to be in his unit. Posner's blinders keep him from telling the reader that, at this time, Ferrie formed his own CAP unit in Metairie and it was this unit that Oswald was a member of. This information is available in the invaluable Southern Research Company investigation of Ferrie commissioned by Eastern Airlines during his dismissal hearings. These papers are on file at the AARC. Posner states he spent many hours there. Did he skip the Ferrie file? On page 428, Posner states that "there was no evidence that connected Ferrie and Oswald." In Garrison's files it is revealed that Ferrie stated this himself to two people --- Ray Broshears and Lou Ivon. He also told them he worked for the CIA. If Posner needs further evidence of the Ferrie-Oswald friendship he should ask Gus Russo, whom he credits in his acknowledgments. Russo found a photo of the two together from a friend who knew the pair in Ferrie's CAP.

Posner's efforts to keep Oswald away from 544 Camp Street have a touch of the ludicrous about them. He tries to discredit the reliability of every witness that places Oswald there: Delphine Roberts and her daughter, David Lewis, Jack Martin, Oswald himself and the HSCA. He portrays Roberts as off her rocker and says she now states she lied to Tony Summers in the late 70's about Oswald being in Banister's office. She says today that Summers gave her some money to appear on camera for a TV special and this is why she said what she did. Posner ignores the following: 1) Roberts told her story to Summers before he even mentioned anything about a payment; 2) on her own and without any promise of money, Roberts told essentially the same story to Earl Golz of the Dallas Morning News in a story that ran in December of 1978; and 3) her story about seeing a "communist" outside the office leafletting the area, telling Banister, and him laughing and saying that he was one of them is partly corroborated by an interview with a third party in Banister's office at the time. Again this is in the Garrison files that Posner says he had access to.

In his desperation to discredit anyone associated with either the Garrison or the HSCA investigation of the New Orleans part of the conspiracy, Posner occasionaly winds up swinging at air. On page 138, he writes that Gaeton Fonzi was the HSCA investigator on the issues of Banister, 544 Camp Street, and David Ferrie. He smears Fonzi and the validity of these reports by saying "he was a committed believer in a conspiracy." Fonzi's name does appear on the reports in Volume X of the House Select Committee appendices. But in those reports related to the New Orleans part of the investigation his name appears along with the names of Pat Orr and Liz Palmer. If Posner would have talked to any of these people before smearing Fonzi, he would have found out that Fonzi only edited the New Orleans reports. Orr and Palmer did the actual field investigations and original writing in these sections, something that Fonzi has no problem telling anyone. I know of no books, articles or interviews by Orr or Palmer which would show them to be a "committed believer in a conspiracy." In fact, both have reputations for reserved judgment and objectivity.

Posner's depiction of the Clinton episode in the late summer of 1963 and which connects Shaw, Ferrie and Oswald epitomizes his stilted, fundamentally dishonest approach. He obtained some of the original memorandums made by the Garrison probe into the incident and attempts to show that since the eyewitness testimony does not jibe, then the witnesses are lying and therefore Garrison coached them into telling a coherent story at the trial. First, let us note that it is Posner in his section on Dealey Plaza who writes that eyewitness testimony to the same event often differs (funny how his standards constantly shift). Second, I would like to know if Mr. Posner asked Shaw's attorneys --- lrvin Dymond and Bill Wegmann --- how they got these memos. But more to the point, Posner either doesn't know or doesn't think it important to inform the reader that the incident under discussion took place in two different towns. Oswald was first seen in Jackson, about 15 miles east of Clinton. Two of the witnesses who testified at the Shaw trial saw Oswald, or a double, in Jackson and in a different car than the one that appeared in Clinton later. Henry Palmer, one of the witnesses who talked to Oswald in Clinton --- and it was Oswald there --- interviewed him away from the voter ralIy, and did not get a good look at the car which contained Shaw and Ferrie. Oswald's last appearance in the area was at the hospital back in Jackson where two personnel secretaries took his application for a job.

What Posner does with all this is worthy of a cardsharp. By implying that all the elements --- the car, the passengers, the rally, the witnesses --- are in one place at one time, he tries to cast doubt on the witnesses and aspersions on Garrison's use of them. It would be the equivalent of having a couple drive a different car into a service station, having a different car leave and go to another station, and then the original car returns with only the husband driving. Would we expect the two sets of witnesses to see the same thing? On the contrary, if they did we would have doubts about them. If this tactic would have seemed effective, wouldn't Dymond and Wegmann have used it at the trial? Posner lists the transcript of the Shaw trial in his bibliography. If he really read it he would say that Dymond's cross-examination of these people was quite gentle, he barely touched them. And when he tried to get tough, it backfired.

Posner writes of Clay Shaw that no one knew him as Bertrand (pp. 430, 437). I have been about half way through Garrison's files and related FBI files. There are 11 different references to Shaw as Bertrand. Posner passes out the old chestnut about Shaw being only a lowly "contract" agent who "like thousands of other Americans" was interviewed by the Agency about his foreign travels (p. 448). Posner does not state that Shaw filed 30 reports with the CIA over a six year period, that this relationship likely extended beyond the time period recognized by the CIA; that Shaw's connections to the European front organizations Permindex and Centro Mondiale Commerciale are, to say the least, suspect, that in the August 1993 CIA release made available at the National Archives, a document reveals that Shaw had a covert clearance for a top secret CIA project codenamed QKENCHANT.

This is too long to explore other related matters that Posner mangles. But let me briefly mention three of the "mysterious deaths" that Posner tries to set us straight on. On page 496, Posner insinuates that the death of Mary Sherman was neither mysterious nor relevant and that "she was killed in an accidental fire." Like John Davis, he lists the year of her death as 1967. Mary Sherman died on July 21, 1964, the same day that the Warren Commission began taking testimony in New Orleans. Posner could have checked the local newspapers on this because her death made headline news for days after. To this day her case is listed as an unsolved murder by the New Orleans police. There was a small fire in her apartment and some smoke, but they were certainly not the cause of death. Her severed arm probably had more to do with it; along with her discarded yet blood-drenched gloves (think about that one), and also the hack marks made from a butcher knife on her torso.

In the same section, Posner writes that there is no source for the claim that Gary Underhill was a former CIA agent, and "no corroboration that he ever said there was CIA complicity in the assassination." I hate to plug my own work, but in Destiny Betrayed, Posner would have learned there are several sources for Underhill's wartime OSS career and his later CIA consulting status, including Underhill himself. As for his accusations about the CIA and the murder of JFK, he related them quite vividly to his friend Charlene Fitsimmons within 24 hours of the shooting. She then forwarded a letter to Jim Garrison relating the incident in detail.

On the same page in which he discusses the Underhill case, Posner describes the murder of Mary Meyer in two sentences: "Mary Meyer (murdered) was allegedly one of JFK's mistresses. Except for her reported liaison with the President, she was not associated with any aspect of the case." Posner does not include Katherine the Great by Deborah Davis in his bibliography. If he would have read it he would have learned that Mary Meyer had been married to former CIA counterintelligence officer Cord Meyer. That several acquaintances stated that Kennedy was quite taken with the pretty and bright Meyer. And that since she had been married to a CIA officer, he confided in her about his plans to reorganize the Agency in his second term. Needless to say, the poor wretch accused of her murder was acquitted on weak evidence.

I have only dealt with a small part of Posner's work. I am sure if other specialists critiqued it they could come up with similar summaries in other fields of evidence. Suffice it to say that when an author evinces these kinds of tendencies, all exculpative of the CIA, all incriminating of Oswald, one has the right to question his bona fides. Posner is this year's version of the Breo and Lundberg show. And again the media has heralded him without a critical eye. Upon scrutiny, his work, like JAMA's is revealed to be a sham, maybe worse. And as with JAMA, two people are contemplating lawsuits against Random House and Mr. Posner. No doubt, the press will ignore the progress and revelations of those lawsuits.

For the rest of us, the ones who care enough to be serious, the struggle to reopen this case continues. No matter how many Moores, Breos, and Posners come down the trail, we must never lose sight of that aim. Perhaps then we can swear in Mr. Posner and ask him who exactly were the CIA confidential sources he consulted and why --- 30 years after the fact --- they still demand anonymity?

Last modified on Sunday, 09 October 2016 20:07
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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