Electronic Assassinations Newsletter
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 marks a watershed in American history. Had Kennedy not been killed, the Vietnam war and the war on poverty may have never happened as we know them. Yet the cause of his death is still highly controversial. According to the Warren Commission, JFK was shot by a lone gunman, but according to the later House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), he was the victim of a Mafia conspiracy.
Hundreds of books have been written on the JFK assassination, and all but a few have argued that Kennedy was killed as the result of a conspiracy involving high government officials. Those that reject a conspiracy altogether are so rare that they tend to get more attention. In that category, Case Closed by Gerald Posner [Posner] has received unprecedented publicity and high praise. Posner presents perhaps the most convincing case yet in support of the non-conspiracy version of the JFK assassination. But how convincing is it? Has Posner finally closed this extraordinary case? To answer this, it is useful to first review a few basic facts.
Dealey Plaza. The famous Zapruder film shows Kennedy's head moving slightly forward, then snapping violently back and to the left at the instant of the head shot. It also shows Jackie Kennedy climbing back on the rear of the car to retrieve a fragment from her husband's skull. Over fifty witnesses, including virtually all in the immediate vicinity of the so-called grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza, have said that a shot or shots came from behind the foliage-covered wooden fence on the knoll, to Kennedy's right front. Photos and films show two policemen with guns drawn and many bystanders running toward the fence shortly after the shooting in an apparent attempt to apprehend the shooter.
Parkland Hospital. The doctors who treated Kennedy at Parkland Hospital in Dallas held a press conference shortly afterward in which they stated plainly and repeatedly that they thought Kennedy's head and neck wounds were the result of shots from the front. Virtually all of them have maintained since then that Kennedy had a small bullet wound in his throat about a half centimeter in diameter that appeared to be an entrance wound, and that a large hole in the lower rear (occipital) portion of his skull, slightly to the right of center, was blasted out in what appeared to be an exit wound.
Texas Law. An intense argument erupted at Parkland Hospital between the Dallas County Medical Examiner, who insisted that the autopsy be done in Texas, and federal agents, who wanted the autopsy to be done in the Washington, DC area. In prevailing, the federal agents blatantly violated the law, because Texas state law required the autopsy to be done in Texas, and no federal law superceded the state law--not even for the President of the United States. The armed federal agents were so concerned about the autopsy location that they used the persuasive power of their firearms to overrule the Justice of the Peace, who had ruled against them.
The Autopsy. The conclusion of the autopsy was that Kennedy was hit from the rear only. However, the autopsy has been widely and heavily criticized by forensic experts, including many who accept its conclusions. It was performed by military pathologists with virtually no forensic experience. The chief pathologist destroyed his original autopsy notes, which is unusual. Routine procedures such as tracing bullet paths through the body and sectioning the brain were not performed. Such procedures would have left no doubt about the direction of the shots. The brain itself, which was supposed to have been preserved and sectioned, has mysteriously disappeared. Several of the Parkland doctors who treated Kennedy in the emergency room have publicly disputed the autopsy conclusions.
Lee Harvey Oswald. The official suspect was Lee Harvey Oswald, but of course he never got his day in court. Oswald had joined the U.S. Marines at age seventeen and became a radar operator with at least a secret clearance at Atsugi Air Base in Japan, a known CIA operations center, where the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was based. Although Oswald openly and regularly espoused Communism as a marine at the height of the cold war, the Marines did not seem to care. One day Oswald defected to the Soviet Union, boldly announcing his intention to divulge everything he knew to the Soviets. He stayed for a couple of years and got married, then he came back home with his wife. He was welcomed back hospitably by the U.S. government, which even paid his travel expenses back. He was never prosecuted for treason. After his arrest for the Kennedy assassination, he was questioned intensively for many hours without legal representation, despite his pleas for such. Supposedly, no notes or recordings of the interviews were kept. A couple of days after his arrest, Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby on national television.
Jack Ruby. Jack Ruby was a tough night club operator with strong ties to both organized crime and the Dallas police force. It was said that he would not let a cop be charged for a drink in his club, and he was well known by many of them. When Oswald was moved from the Dallas police headquarters to the county jail, Ruby somehow penetrated a secure area of the building and shot Oswald, who died a short time later. Ruby had arrived at the building about five minutes before Oswald was escorted out, despite the fact that the move had been delayed by nearly an hour from the officially scheduled time. After the incident, Ruby repeatedly requested to be taken to Washington, DC so that he could safely expose the grand conspiracy that he claimed to be a part of, but his request was denied. He died of cancer about three years later.
Pristine Bullet. The Warren Commission concluded that a single bullet had penetrated both Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally, who was sitting in front of Kennedy in the same car. This ``single-bullet theory'' was necessary to support the conclusion that Oswald was the lone assassin, because Oswald couldn't have fired two shots fast enough to cause those wounds, plus he supposedly fired only three shots and the other two were accounted for. The bullet that supposedly caused those wounds was found on a stretcher in Parkland Hospital in virtually pristine condition.
Deceptive Film. The Zapruder film was deceptive, we are essentially told. Kennedy's head snapped back and to the left at the instant of the head shot, not because he was hit from his right front, as a naive observer might think. No, he was hit from the rear, and a combination of the ``jet effect'' and a neuromuscular spasm made his head move by coincidence in the direction seemingly consistent with a shot from the grassy knoll, where so many of the witnesses thought the shots had come from.
The ``jet effect'' is the idea that the bullet and ejected matter carried away to the front more momentum than the bullet itself had carried in from the rear, causing the head to jerk back toward the the gun at the rear. Though counterintuitive, the basic concept is physically possible. In this case, however, it is difficult to square with the fact that Jackie Kennedy reached back for a piece of skull on the trunk lid of the car, and the fact that many eyewitnesses reported that matter flew to the left rear. In fact, a policemen who was on a motorcycle immediately to Kennedy's left rear at the instant of the head shot had the front of his windshield splattered so hard that he thought he was hit.
Unreliable Witnesses. As for the witnesses, Posner attempts to discredit them one by one. Some changed their original story years later, he claims, and some are just after noteriety or money. Nobody doubts that some witnesses may be unreliable, but could nearly all of those in the immediate vicinity of the grassy knoll--over fifty witnesses--be wrong? Many insisted emphatically that they not only heard shots from the grassy knoll, but that they saw and smelled gunsmoke there. Furthermore, if none of them really saw or heard any gunshots from the grassy knoll, why did a couple of policemen and many bystanders run in that direction in an apparent attempt to apprehend the gunmen?
Interestingly, some of the witnesses said that men with what appeared to be official identification cleared bystanders out from the area behind the fence on the grassy knoll just before the motorcade came by. However, no government agency had personnel officially assigned to that area at that time. Also, three supposed tramps were found in a train in the yard behind the fence on the knoll. They were marched down to the police station, questioned, and released. The whole episode was captured on films and photos but, amazingly, all official records of the incident have disappeared.
Mistaken Acoustics Experts. According to the Warren Commission, Oswald fired only three shots, and Posner claims that a majority of the witnesses heard only three shots. Whether that is true or not, a large number did claim to hear more than that. If some of the shots were fired nearly simultaneously from different directions, as many believe, more than three shots could easily have been perceived as three, but that possibility apparently never occurred to Posner. Never mind that the HSCA found, by expert analysis of a police dictabelt recording of the shooting, that at least four shots were indeed fired.
By carefully mapping the acoustic impulse responses of Dealey Plaza and comparing it with the dictabelt recording, the experts determined (with 95 percent confidence) that more than three shots were fired and that at least one of them came from the grassy knoll area. The timing of the shots matched up well with the Zapruder film. This startling revelation came just as the HSCA was winding down, and essentially forced the government to concede that a conspiracy had occurred. Rather than continue to pursue the matter, however, the HSCA simply blamed the Mafia and immediately dropped the case.
The National Academy of Sciences later set up a panel to review the acoustic data. The panel eventually rejected the earlier conclusion that more than three shots had been fired. However, the head of that panel had made public statements before the review even began that showed extreme prejudice against the earlier conclusion.
When copies of the dictabelt recording were later distributed to the public, someone found a previously undetected voice in the background (in a section of the tape that had apparently not been analysed in detail). The voice was of a policeman directing the search for the assassins, which couldn't have happened until well after the shots. This was widely taken to mean that the supposed shots could not have been shots at all, a notion that Posner concurred with. However, it seems unlikely that random noise could match both the acoustic signature of Dealey Plaza and the timing of the Zapruder film well enough to fool experts. It could be that the crude dictabelt recording device simply slipped or recorded over the shots without completely erasing them. In any event, the notion that the whole case rests on the acoustic data is ridiculous.
Crackpot Surgeons. As for the Parkland doctors, such as McLelland and Crenshaw [Crenshaw], who dispute the autopsy conclusions, they are simply crackpots or publicity seekers, according to Posner. After all, some of the other doctors who publicly disagree with them, such as Perry, said so. Never mind that Perry, who publicly accepts the autopsy conclusions, had originally stated on national television that the shots appeared to have come from the front. Posner lectures elsewhere in the book about why the earliest recollections of a witness are usually the most reliable, but in this case he conveniently puts more credence in Perry's statements after he became aware of the autopsy conclusions than before.
Apparently, it never occurred to Posner that Perry may be afraid or otherwise reluctant to contradict the autopsy conclusions. That should be obvious to any objective researcher, who would immediately dismiss as useless the statements made by the doctors under great pressure after being told of the autopsy conclusions. In fact, the official transcripts show that the Warren Commission had to nearly ``pull teeth'' to get several of the Parkland Doctors to concede that the shots could have come from the rear. Needless to say, that is not the best way to find the truth.
Magic Bullet. Posner swallows the single-bullet theory whole, of course. According to this theory, a single bullet went through Kennedy's back, came out his throat, then went through Governor Connally's chest and wrist, breaking dense bones, and finally ended up lodged in his thigh. If a single bullet did not do all that, a second shooter would be implicated because Oswald couldn't have fired two shots that quickly with the crude rifle he supposedly used, and his other two supposed shots were accounted for anyway.
The bullet that supposedly did all that damage was conveniently found on a stretcher in Parkland hospital in nearly pristine condition. Even if that is possible, anyone who knows anything about ballistics knows that it is very unlikely--another one of those strange occurrences that seem to permeate this case. Furthermore, Connally himself insisted until his death many years later that he was not hit by the same bullet that hit Kennedy in the neck. Additional serious problems with trajectory and timing are too involved to discuss here, but since the magic bullet can defy common sense, it should come as no surprise that it can also defy the laws of physics!
Forensic Fiasco. The autopsy itself has been heavily critized, even by those who accept its conclusions--but not in the least by Posner, who is apparently unwilling to question anything that supports his case. First of all, it was not done in Texas as it should have been, by law. Then, the doctors assigned were junior military pathologists with virtually no forensic experience. They got their initial forensic training on the President of the United States, and they did not do very well. They either forgot or were ordered not to trace the path of the bullets through the body and brain. Their request for access to Kennedy's clothes was denied. The brain, which was supposed to have been preserved and sectioned, has mysteriously disappeared. In short, the autopsy was a travesty by nearly all accounts. This has all been pointed out, along with other glaring deficiencies and discrepencies, by Cyril Wecht, M.D., J.D., a past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences [Wecht]. If that does not constitute grounds for suspicion of a coverup, what would?
Who was that man? The day before Oswald was shot on national television by Jack Ruby, a press conference was held in the Dallas Police Headquarters in which someone stated erroneously that Oswald was a member of the ``Free Cuba Committee.'' An unidentified man in the background corrected the error, stating that Oswald was actually a member of the ``Fair Play for Cuba Committee.'' The incident seemed insignificant, and nobody cared or paid much attention at the time. However, it turned out to be monumentally important. The man who corrected the name of the organization was none other than... Jack Ruby. The incident was broadcasted for all to see on national television.
According to the Warren Report and Gerald Posner, Jack Ruby had absolutely nothing to do with the assassination prior to the day he shot Oswald. What, then, was he doing in the Dallas Police Headquarters the day before he shot Oswald? Even if all the other mountains of evidence in this case are dismissed, this single incident blows the lone gunman theory completely to pieces and virtually proves the existence of some kind of conspiracy. Perhaps someday you will have the opportunity to see the film of the incident for yourself. If so, pay close attention. The man was Jack Ruby.
Political Bias. Finally, Posner points out that many people are biased in favor of the idea of a conspiracy. No great revelation there. The reason he gives for such a bias, however, is rather silly: reluctance to believe that a lone lunatic could single-handedly stop a great president. More likely, the bias is simply political. Posner neglected to mention, of course, that many people are biased the opposite way for other political reasons. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out, but apparently it takes more than Posner has to offer.
Given the national embarrassment and civil unrest that an exposed conspiracy could have caused, not to mention the difficulty of tracking down the conspirators, it would be ludicrous to deny that the Warren Commission preferred to find a lone gunman, Apparently that never occurred to Posner in his deep ruminations. At least no one can accuse him of trying very hard to hide his own bias.
Mock Trial. A few years ago the American Bar Association commissioned Failure Analysis Associates of Menlo Park, California to put on a mock trial of Lee Harvey Oswald. The trial was intended more as a technology demonstration project than as a search for the truth, but it was taken very seriously nevertheless. Prosecution and defense teams were formed and highly qualified experts were brought in to testify. Sophisticated computer models were developed. The trial was televised on Court TV.
Fundamental Misrepresentation. What Posner has done is essentially to put into book form the prosecution case in that mock trial. The CEO of Failure Analysis has expressed outrage over what he calls ``fundamental misrepresentation'' by Posner, who mentioned Failure Analysis, but who never bothered to explain the mock-trial project, and who leaves the unsuspecting reader with the distinct impression that he himself had commissioned or directed the work. In reality, Posner had nothing to do with the project.
Prosecution Overrules Jury. More importantly, Posner never mentioned that he had borrowed exclusively from the prosecution side of the mock trial and completely ignored the defense side. That would be inexcusable even if Oswald had been convicted, but the ultimate irony is that the mock trial resulted in a hung jury, nine to three in favor of acquittal of Oswald! The very title of Posner's book therefore constitutes a bold-faced lie.
Book Swallowed Whole. What makes Posner's book so interesting is not so much what is written in it as what has been written and said about it. This phoney book has been swollowed whole by most of the mass media. It has received more positive media coverage than perhaps all of the honest books on the JFK assassination combined. It has been widely regarded as the final word on the subject. Full page editorials in major newspapers have smugly said, ``See, we told you so,'' before launching into half-baked psychobabble about why we want to believe in a conspiracy. One popular weekly news magazine devoted an astounding twenty eight pages to the book, with hardly a whisper of criticism.
Could the television networks, newspapers, and popular magazines really be that naive, or is something else going on? Have journalists become so lazy they do not do even their most basic homework anymore? Or could it be that the media is controlled in some way by the government? That same mass media can be counted on to dub anyone who suspects government involvement in the assassination a paranoid lunatic, but how can any reasonable person who knows the basic facts not be suspicious?
Plain Lies. The media distortion on this issue often comes in the form of plain lies. For example, although the Zapruder film was not shown to the public until 1975, Dan Rather watched it and described it on the air on the day after the assassination. When Kennedy was hit in the head, Rather said that his head went forward. Although Kennedy's head did move slightly forward at first, it then snapped violently back and to the left, but Rather said nothing about that. In other words, Dan Rather apparently lied on national television about the motion of Kennedy's head at impact.
Insidious Skullduggery. For the twenty-fifth anniversary of the assassination, the PBS series Nova aired an hour-long program called ``Who Killed President Kennedy,'' narrated by Walter Cronkite. On the surface, the show was more balanced and fair than anything done by the commercial networks. The notion of a conspiracy was treated as a reasonable hypothesis, though hardly an inescapable conclusion. The unsuspecting viewer had no way of knowing what kind of insidious skullduggery was being used.
For example, in one segment of the Nova program, several of the doctors who had seen Kennedy's wounds at Parkland Hospital were allowed to view secret autopsy X-rays and photographs at the National Archives. They were then asked if any of it was inconsistent with what they had seen in Dallas. Their negative response seemed to squelch any notion of tampered medical evidence. However, Robert Groden [Groden] later interviewed those same doctors, along with some of the autopsy technicians, and found that they had serious problems with some of the official illustrations that were released to the public.
For example, one illustration shows the entire back of Kennedy's head completely intact, whereas the Parkland doctors had virtually all described a major defect in the lower rear (occipital) area. Groden even recorded the doctors on videotape explaining that the illustration had to be phoney. Yet Nova somehow managed to miss that angle.
Real Experts Ignored. The third annual ASK conference, a major conference on the JFK assassination, was held near Dealey Plaza in Dallas from November 18-21, 1993. Dr. David Mantik, M.D., Ph.D. (physics) showed conclusively by optical densitometry analysis that the JFK autopsy X-rays are phoney composites. He also showed that a bullet could not have possibly traversed Kennedy's neck as the Warren Commission said it did without also causing major damage to the cervical spine, which it did not. Many other speakers also showed that the Warren Report is a travesty and that the Report of the HSCA is not much better. Yet the dozens of top experts in several fields at this conference got less combined coverage than lawyer and media wonderboy Gerald Posner.
In the meantime, a covert anti-Castro alliance between the CIA and the Mafia has become well known, as has an elite CIA assassination squad that had its sights mainly on Castro. It is possible that Kennedy himself was unaware of either. The Mafia despised Kennedy because his brother Robert Kennedy, the U.S. attorney general, was trying to shut them down. And the Cuban refugees and the CIA widely regarded Kennedy as nothing less than a traitor for not ordering air support at the Bay of Pigs. At the same time, Kennedy felt duped by the CIA because they apparently told the refugees that he would order the air support, but they did not bother to check with him. Kennedy publicly threatened to shut down the CIA completely. Given all that, the notion that the CIA assassination squad and the Mafia would not turn its wrath on Kennedy seems almost naive.
Yet the mass media still snubs or ridicules anyone who believes that government officials were involved in a conspiracy to kill JFK. Now they have a new messiah, a hitherto unknown lawyer named Posner, to misrepresent mock trials and boldly lead us back to the glory days of the Warren Commission. The notion that Posner is now the top expert on the Kennedy assassination, or even one of the top fifty, should be an insult to the intelligence of the American people.
Then there are those skeptics who think that conspiracies are too fragile to hold together and that anyone who thinks otherwise is na´ve or paranoid. They apparently didn't notice how many potential witnesses were dying mysteriously. And if anyone knew about a conspiracy, Jack Ruby must have, but he tried in vain for years to tell his story, only to be labeled a crank. How many others like him did we never hear about? The notion that a conspiracy will fall apart the minute one person opens his mouth is absurd. Yet, ironically, those who believe it call others na´ve.
Ironically, the bizarre nature of the assassination plot may have actually helped the conspirators to get away with it. It was just too unbelievable for the skeptics, who did not think such an outrageous crime could be achieved or would even be attempted. When David Lifton [Lifton] wrote about the bizarre shell game that was played with the body and the two coffins, for example, he was regarded by the skeptics as an eccentric at best. But while the skeptics were busy explaining why conspiracies fall apart so easily, they failed to notice how sloppy the JFK assassination actually was. Were it not for their role in keeping the pressure off of government investigators, the crime might have been solved long ago and their notions about conspiracies corroborated.
Many of the other arguments against a conspiracy are also ridiculous. The point was once made in an essay in a major news weekly, for example, that the government is not competent enough to pull off a complicated conspiracy. The author ridiculed conspiracy believers for believing that a government bureaucracy could pull off the JFK assassination. He is obviously very confused, though, if he thinks that anyone believes it was a bureaucracy that pulled off the assassination. There is no standard form to fill out to have the president killed!
This article has of course barely scratched the surface of this infamous episode in American history. The historical importance of the JFK assassination is underrated and its bizarre and intricate plot dwarfs that of almost any work of fiction. The old adage that "truth is stranger than fiction" couldn't apply more than it does in this case. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the whole story, though, is that many Americans don't seem to understand the significance of a coup d'etat from within their own government. It was none other than Thomas Jefferson who said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what never will be."
[Wecht] Wecht, Cyril, M.D., J.D.: Cause of Death, Dutton, 1993.
[Crenshaw] Crenshaw, Charles A., M.D.: JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, Signet, 1993.
[Groden] Groden, Robert J.: The Killing of A President, Viking Studio Books, 1993.
[Summers] Summers, Anthony: Conspiracy, Paragon House, New York, 1989.
[Lifton] Lifton, David S.: Best Evidence, Carroll and Graf Publishers, New York, 1980.
[Marrs] Marrs, Jim: Crossfire.
Posner's Big Lie
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