Electronic Assassinations Newsletter
Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (New York: Random House, 1993), and "Special Report: The Man With A Deadly Smirk," U.S. News & World Report, August 30-September 6, 1993, p. 62-98, cited as USNWR.
I decided to begin with a small detail, and to analyze it at some depth, focusing on the author's methods of assembling, presenting, and evaluating evidentiary materials, and of "sourcing" or documenting his work. The reader is asked to take it on faith - for now - that the "small detail" I have chosen is not unique, but very representative of Posner's overall methodology - and that of a disturbingly high proportion of all the literature on the assassination.
It's a methodology that persists in confusing rather than clarifying the key issues in the case; one that rarely engages in analytical dialogue with the basic sources and with previous accounts and interpretations. More often than not, it misrepresents, distorts or ignores them, and instead pursues a never-ending spiral of new witnesses, new documents and new "sources." It virtually guarantees that the case will never be closed. Gerald Posner of course asserts the oppposite, backed up with unusual vigor by his champions in the media. Claims like the following, therefore, invite the most searching scrutiny:
But the troubling issues and questions about the assassination can be settled,, the issue of who killed JFK resolved, and Oswald's motivation revealed. Presenting those answers is the goal of this book. (Posner, p. xi.)
Posner achieves the unprecedented. He sweeps away decades of polemical smoke, layer by layer, and builds an unshakable case against JFK's killer... Posner now performs the historic office of correcting the mistakes and laying the questions to rest with impressive finality, bringing the total weight of evidence into focus more sharply than anyone has done before... The high quotients of common sense, logic and scrupulous documentation found in "Case Closed" are niceties not often found in the field of assassination studies. (USNWR, pp. 62, 64, 68.)
Some general comments: For someone "performing an historic office" Posner provides no historical or political context for the assassination at all - other than some 200 pages of Lee Harvey Oswald "personal history" that lull the reader into asssuming what must be proved - that lone nut Oswald murdered President Kennedy for motives best to psychiatrists to explain. He chides the critics and conspiracy theorists for neglecting Oswald's background (e.g. pp. 13, 31). This evades the fact that such information becomes relevant when and if Oswald is conclusively linked to the crime: Did he have the means and the opportunity to murder the President? In short, he puts the cart before the horse. And having thus "set up" his readers, Posner then connects Oswald to the assassination with "common sense, logic, and scrupulous documentation" like the following. (1)
1. The Frazier - Randle Testimony
After that USNWR buildup, what "buff" could keep from plunging right in? Especially since Gerald Posner himself authored the "adaptations" from his book that appear in USNWR. Here's the first item that caught my eye:
At 7:15 a.m., when Lee Oswald arrived by foot at Buell Frazier's house one block away, he carried a long paper-wrapped object parallel to his body, one end tucked under his armpit, the other end not quite reaching the ground. (USNWR, P. 74; emphasis added.)
I was startled. "if memory serves, " I said to myself, " I think Frazier testified that Oswald had one end of the object under his armpit and held the other end by his hand, alongside his body. So to say that the 'other end' reached nearly to the ground is stretching things quite a bit - pun fully intended. But maybe I'm mistaken... Or maybe this 'adaptation,' despite carrying Posner's by-line, is edited and condensed, and doesn't say what Posner meant to say."
So I turned to the book, to find that, while the magazine account is indeed condensed, the main point remains unchanged: "he held one end of the brown-paper-wrapped object tucked under his armpit, and the other end did not quite touch the ground." (Posner, p. 224.)
Bear with me while I explain why this "little detail" is such a troubling issue:
To build "an unshakable case" for Lee Harvey Oswald as JFK's killer, it must be established that (1) Oswald owned or had access to the alleged murder weapon, and (2) he got the weapon from its storage place (allegedly Ruth Paine's garage in Irving) to the Texas School Book Depository where he worked, and where he presumably fired fatal shots. After the assassination, a home-made "paper bag," constructed from Book Depository wrapping paper and tape, was found near the "snipers nest." The bag presumably was used to hide the murder weapon as it was carried into the building and up to the sixth floor. This was 38 inches in length, sufficient to conceal a disassembled Mannlicher-Carcano rifle, which measured 35 inches long.
It is alleged that Oswald made this bag during working hours at the Depository, bringing it to Irving the night before the assassination. Oswald rode to Irving - and back to Dallas the next morning - with Buell Wesley Frazier, a fellow worker at the Depository. Frazier lived with his sister, Linnie Mae Randle, about a block from Ruth Paine. Frazier and Randle did see Oswald with a bag Friday morning (according to Frazier, Oswald said it contained curtain rods for his rented room in Dallas). So their descriptions of the bag - especially its size - and of how Oswald carried it, became crucial pieces of evidence in connecting Oswald to the Mannlicher-Carcano, as well as explaining how he got it to the murder site.
A bag tucked under the armpit and held at the bottom by the hand could not measure 35 inches; it would have to be several inches shorter. But if Posner is right, and one end was under Oswald's armpit with "the other end not quite reaching the ground," then the "critics" have been wrong all these years.
My internal conversation continued: "maybe I misread the testimony. Maybe the critics have misinterpreted what Randle and Frazier had to say. After all, USNWR states quite emphatically that, "On issue after issue, Posner catches Stone and all the major conspiracy writers in serious misrepresentations of the evidence. " (USNWR, p. 68.) Even skeptics tend to believe what they read.
In 1964, Warren Commission Counsel Joseph Ball took extensive sworn testimony from Randle and Frazier on this point. Since Mrs. Randle was the first to see Oswald with the package, let's start with her account:
Mrs. Randle: He was carrying a package in a sort of heavy brown bag, heavier than a grocery bag it looked to me. It was about, if I might measure, about this long (apparently indicating), I supppose, and he carried it in his right hand, had the top sort of folded down and had a grip like this, and the bottom, he carried it this way, you know, and it almost touched the ground as he carried it.
Ball: ...And where was his hand gripping, the middle of the package? (A fine example of "leading the witness:" Randle refuses the lead...)
Mrs. Randle No, sir, the top, with just a little bit sticking up. (2)
Frazier did not observe Oswald as he arrived at the house in Irving early that Friday morning. So Mrs. Randle's testimony is our only source for how Oswald was carrying the bag at that time. He was holding the bag in his right hand, at the top: nothing about an end tucked under an armpit. Frazier's first chance to watch Oswald carry the bag came when they arrived at the Depository parking lot:
Ball: (Drawing on earlier Frazier statements) When you saw him get out of the car, when you first saw him when he was out of the car before he started to walk, you noticed he had the package under the arm?
Frazier: Yes, sir.
Ball: One end of it was under the armpit and the other he had to hold it in his right hand. Did the package extend beyond the right hand?
Frazier: No sir. Like I say if you put it under your armpit and put it down normal to the side.
Ball: But the right hand on, was it on the end or the side of the package?
Frazier: No; he had it cupped in his hand.So there we have it: Posner has taken two seperate incidents involving Oswald's use of two seperate methods for carrying the bag, and conflated them into one. This of course conveniently conveys the impression that the bag was long enough to reach from the armpit to just above the ground - long enough to hold the disassembled rifle. And long enough to match, in size, the paper wrapper found at the sniper's nest and entered into evidence as a Warren Commission exhibit. Posner states flatly that, "Both Randle and Frazier said (the WC exhibit) looked like the same one Oswald carried that morning." (p.225n.) But did they say that? Let's listen:
Ball: Now we have over here this exhibit for identification which is 364 which is a paper sack made out of tape, sort of a home made affair...Does it appear to be about the same length?
Frazier: No sir.
Ball: When you were shown this bag, do you recall whether or not you told the officers who showed you the bag - did you tell them whether you thought it was or was not about the same length as the bag you saw on the back seat?
Frazier: I told them that as far as the length there, I told them that it was entirely too long.
So far, no resemblance, at least concerning size. Earlier, Ball asked Frazier what the package looked like:
Frazier: Well, I will be frank with you. I would just, it is right as you get out of the grocery store, just more or less out of a package, you have seen some of these brown paper sacks you can obtain from any, most of the stores, some varieties, but it was a package just roughly about two feet long.
Let's use intelligence guided by experience for a moment and ask: What would a reasonable person be likely to conclude from this?
That a grocery-store sack approximately two feet long does not bear much resemblance to a homemade wrapper held together by tape and measuring approximately three feet long.
It would be fair for such a reasonable person also to infer that Frazier, who worked with Oswald, would note whether the materials that went into the making of Exhibit 364 looked like materials used every day at work to wrap textbooks; and that he would recognize such materials if used in a package carried by Oswald; and that he would call attention to such a resemblance if he saw it - unless, of course, he was deliberately dissembling for some reason, always a possibility.
Such a person might also fairly judge that Frazier knew what he was talking about when it came to bags and packaging. He not only worked at the Book Depository, but earlier at a department store. Ironically, one of his tasks there had been to uncrate bundles of curtain rods; one might reasonably infer he would have a pretty good idea about what a package of rods would look like.
He told me it was curtain rods and I didn't pay any attention to it, and he had never lied to me before so I never did have any reason to doubt his word.
It might be stretching the limits of valid speculation, but such a person might also wonder about Frazier's roundabout, convoluted answer, especially the opening, "Well, I will be frank with you..." My experience suggests that this sounds like a person hesitant about giving an unwelcome answer, albeit an honest one: the bag he saw did not look like the Exhibit bag. But our purpose is to test Posner's reporting of this evidence, not Fraziers' evidence itself. So far he's swung and missed twice: at how Oswald carried the package, and at how the package looked to Frazier. But that's only two strikes. Let's see how the bag looked to Linnie Mae Randle:
Ball: We have got a package here...You have seen this before, I guess, haven't you, I think the FBI showed it to you... Now, was the length of it similar, anywhere near similar?
(Again, "leading the witness;" it sounds like a plea.)
Mrs. Randle: Well, it wasn't that long, I mean it was folded down at the top as I told you. It definitely wasn't that long.
Ball: This looks too long?
Mrs. Randle: Yes, sir.
Ball: You figure about two feet long, is that right?
Mrs. Randle: A little bit more.
Ball: There is another package here. You remember this was shown you. It is a discolored bag. What about length?
Mrs. Randle: ... There again you have the problem of all this down here. It was folded down, of course...
Ball: Fold it to about the size you think it might be.
Mrs. Randle: This is the bottom here, right? This is the bottom, this part down here.
Ball: I believe so, but I am not sure. But let's say it is. (Hold on to that amazing statement for a moment: it becomes very pertinent. In the meantime, Mrs. Randle folds the bag to its size as she saw it.)
Ball: ... Is that about right? That is 28 and 1/2 inches.
Mrs. Randle: I measured 27 last time. (She had done a similar experiment before her formal testimony.)
Strike three: Not even close to the necessary 35-38 inches; not one bit of evidentiary support Posner's bald assertion that "Both Randle and Frazier said [the bag] looked like the one Oswald carried that morning." All the testimony suggests quite the opposite: they did not think the bag in evidence looked like the one Oswald carried.
But Posner doesn't give up: he's like a strike-out victim trying to reach first base when the catcher drops the ball:
Frazier later admitted the package could have been longer than he originally thought: "I only glanced at it... hardly paid any attention to it. He had the package parallel to his body, and it's true it could have extended beyond his body and I wouldn't have noticed it." (Posner, p. 225; emphasis added.)
Posner 's source? London Weekend Television's docudrama, "Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald"! Incredible! But par for the course in a field where "scholars" on all sides of these issues rush into print with "research" that is inconsistently and inadequately documented. Here we have an example of the most common of these sourcing errors - the selective use of a single, secondary source to support a controverted point.
So let's go again to a primary source - Frazier's sworn testimony to the Warren Commission - to find out what this is all about:
Ball: ...Put it [the bag] under your armpit...Are you sure his hand was at the end of the package or at the side of the package?
Frazier: Like I said, I remember I didn't look at the package very much, paying much attention, but when I did look at it he did have his hands on the package like that.
Ball: but you said a moment ago you weren't sure whether the package was longer or shorter.
Frazier: ...What I was talking about, I said I didn't know where it extended. It could have or couldn't have, out this way, widthwise not lengthwise.
Ball: In other words, you say it could have been wider than your original estimate?
Ball: But you don't think it was longer than his hands.
Frazier's "later admisssion" is actually clearly consistent with his original testimony: he did not pay close enough attention to be sure of the bag's width. But he never wavered in his observations about its length. Note that a bag or package 38 inches long (the Commission exhibit obviously could be folded to the Randle-Frazier estimate of 24-29 inches. But such a bag could not then accomodate a 35-inch-long disassembled Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. So Randle and Frazier are either badly mistaken, or lying, or else the package Oswald carried that morning did not contain the rifle. By itself, the complete and correct Randle-Frazier testimony is not conclusive or definitive - either way - as to whether Lee Harvey Oswald fired shots with the Mannlicher-Carcano on November 22, 1963. Similarly, Posner's manipulation and misrepresentation of evidence in this matter is not conclusive for judging his entire book. And he does try to "set the record straight."
2. "Cooking" The Evidence
Nearly 50 pages later, Posner discusses the single Oswald fingerprint and the single Oswald palmprint that the FBI found on the "sniper's nest bag" - prints not found by the Dallas police. Remember Linnie Randle asking Ball which end was the bottom of the package? And Ball's remarkable statement that he wasn't sure? All the more remarkable because the Warren Commission concluded that the palmprint was at the bottom of the bag, which, according to Posner, "concurred with how Buell Frazier and his sister, Linnie Mae Randle, testified he carried the package." (p. 272;) Of course, Mrs. Randle did not testify to this method of carrying the bag. And of course Posner made absolutely no allusion to this testimony of Frazier - alone - in his earlier, principal discussion of the Randle-Frazier evidence on pp. 224-225. There he distorted testimony by conflating it, combining elements of two seperate accounts into one. Frazier's "armpit" combined with Randle's package "not far from the ground" allows him to posit a package plenty long enough to accommodate a rifle, and to claim the testimony of two witnesses in its support. Now on page 272, Posner distorts by ommission: not a word about an armpit, and specifically how Frazier alone saw Oswald with one end of the bag tucked under his armpit, the other end held by his right hand. Having made his main point on pp. 224-225 about the length of the bag, Posner qualifies the point 47 pages later. On a "technicality," Posner could claim to be complete and accurate. After all, he has mentioned both methods used to carry the bag. And both witnesses did say Oswald gripped the bag in his right hand! Posner's distortions may not necessarily be deliberate, but only the result of slipshod methods and/or unfamiliarity with the issues and evidence. No matter: the book simply abounds with similar attempts to "have it both ways." Examples:
*On page 225, the unqualified assertion that "The FBI discovered the bag contained microscopic fibers from the blanket with which Oswald kept his rifle wrapped in the Paine garage." Case closed? Flip to p. 272, where we find that the fibers "were too common to be linked exclusively to that blanket."
*Page 245: "There were a good many witnesses who saw the actual shooter, or the rifle itself, and in every instance they identified the same location - the southeast corner of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository." Case closed? Turn to page 246, the testimony of Malcolm Couch, a news photographer: "And I remember glancing up to a window on the far right, which at the time impressed me as the sixth or seventh floor...: ( Posner takes pains to discredit witnesses who claimed to see (a) more than one man near the sniper's nest, or (b) a gunman in a different window: pp. 229- 231.)
*Page 247: James Worrell looked up at the Depository after the first shot and "saw something few others did, the rifle actually fire, ' what you might call a little flash of fire and then smoke." No comment from Posner. Now turn to page 256, where now the subject is possible rifle smoke seen on the grassy knoll: "In addition, since modern ammunition is smokeless, it seldom creates even a wisp of smoke." "Technically," Posner can't be faulted. After all he can claim that the judgment on p. 256 also applies to the incident from p. 247, nine pages earlier. But is this an impartial, evenhanded, consistent, and thorough evaluation of all the evidence? Hardly. Besides, the claim about smokeless ammunition itself must be qualified.
Continuing our sampler of Posner's evidence-tampering, here is a partial listing of assertions that are (1) stated very authoritatively; (2) yet casually, as if they were not new, or important, or controversial; and (3) without any documentation or citation whatsoever:
*p. 210 - Why information about FBI agent James Hosty was left out of the FBI's typed version of Oswald's address book (an incredibly contrived explanation, by the way).
*p. 112 - Firearms experts on how easy it would be for Oswald to sight the rifle.
*p. 26 - An almost offhand explanation for Oswald's VD in line of (Marine Corps) duty." Again, the point: we demand and deserve some citation, some documentation for such assertions.
Yet another list could be compiled of Posner's selective ommissions of very relevant facts that are on the record. See especially p. 143, where no mention whatsoever is made of David Ferrie's Texas trip of November 22-24, 1963, an inexcusable "oversight" in any discussion of Ferrie's role.
3. Posner as Scientist: The Medical/Ballistics Evidence
Like spectators at a ping-pong game, we're treated to a continual back-and-forth over whether President Kennedy was first struck in the back or in the neck. If the wound was in his back, then the famous "throat wound" could hardly be a wound of exit, but virtually conclusive as evidence for at least one shot from the front of the mororcade. Even Posner gets tired of the game, and discovers a new and exquisitely precise anatomical location, the "shoulder/neck." For example, on page 288 we read that DR. Carrico, at Parkland, "missed the small bullet entrance in JFK's upper shoulder/neck." The confusion looks almost comical as it unfolds in a single column of Posner's USNWR adaptation (USNWR, p. 90):
*The Warren Commission thought "... it was the first bullet that struck Kennedy in the base of the neck."
*Secret Service Agent Glen Bennett sees the President struck "about 4 inches down from the right shoulder."
*"When [Bennett] made his notes it was not known that the President had been hit in the rear neck/shoulder."
"Science," by itself, cannot be faulted for the confusion surrounding the physical evidence in JFK's murder. Ballistics analysis and forensic medicine - to name two very relevant applied sciences - have well established methods, procedures and documentation standards. It is reasonable to conclude that, had these methods and standards been applied to the evidence as they were meant to be applied, there would be little room for confusion or doubt over such a basic fact as the location of President Kennedy's wounds. Most disturbing is not so much the dispute over how to interpret such facts, but that the "facts" themselves are still described with such unscientific imprecision...like Gerald Posner's anatomical rarity, "the shoulder/neck." In the absence of conclusive "scientific" evidence about such an elementary fact, it seems that the most reasonable recourse is to go to the (next) best evidence: what people observed and reported they observed at the relevant time - November 22-23, 1963.
To do this, of course, one must overcome the pseudo-scientific vogue of maligning eyewitness testimony. Given their performance in this case, one might also expect that the scientists would maintain an embarrassed silence and listen to the witnesses - at the relevant time - speak for themselves: (3)
1. Two autopsy witnesses, FBI agents Sibert and O'Neill, wrote a formal report stating that "Dr. Humes located an opening which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the middle line of the spinal column."
2. Secret Service agents Kellerman and Greer, who also witnessed the postmortem; both placed the wound in the "right shoulder."
3. Secret Service agent Clint Hill was more specific than his compatriots about what he observed at the autopsy: "I saw an opening about 6 inches below the neckline to the right hand side of the spinal column." (4)
4. The Autopsy Descriptive Sheet, as prepared in the morgue by Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, similarly locates the wound. Let's "tell it like it is" for a change" to plead that Boswell was so grossly mistaken about the location of a wound is simply - stupid.
5. Some real physical evidence: the hole in the back of Kennedy's shirt - 5 3/8 inches below the top of the collar, the hole in his jacket - 5 3/4 inches below the top of the collar. (5)
Any discussion of the single-bullet theory (essential if Oswald is to be convicted as the lone assassin) or of Kennedy's throat wound (which must be an exit wound for the same conviction to stand) must take into account this preponderance of evidence. Otherwise the very premise of the theory - the location of Kennedy's back wound - is fatally flawed. No bullet traveling downward and striking President Kennedy nearly six inches below the neck could (a) exit from his throat; (b) resume a downward course to strike Governor Connally in the back, and (c) conclude a downward passage through Connally's body to end in his thigh.
Fifty-six pages of discussion and a nine-page illustrated appendix cannot obscure how Posner sidesteps all this by evading the key starting-point - the location of Kennedy's back wound. Hence the whole analysis is rooted in a premise contradicted by the weight of evidence. Instead he relies extensively on scientific work performed by company called Failure Analysis Associates to demonstrate that the single-bullet theory may be plausible. The reader is asked to trust the superior, up-to-date methods and techniques of this firm, but searches in vain for any basis for such trust - information about the company, its track record, or about what it actually did (the note on p. 318 is very uninformative). Not even an address! It is yet another example of the author's casual approach to documentation - his disregard for the very methods and restraints of science itself. (6)
4. Posner as Psychiatrist: The Hartogs Testimony
Posner's main thesis hinges on a Lee Harvey Oswald who was none-too-tightly wrapped. No one has ever argued that Oswald was "just an average guy." However...
About 80% of this "Oswald persona" material is based on Marina Oswald's testimony - often as mediated through Priscilla Johnson/McMillan. This does not by itself negate or discredit the testimony. But Marina's story is a controverted subject, one that an honest and thorough author would be bound, I think, to comment on. Posner does not want us to know that the Warren Commission itself had heavy reservations about Marina's changing stories: one commission lawyer was moved to write that she "has lied to the Secret Service, the FBI and this Commission repeatedly on matters which are of vital concern..." (7) Yet this is the material Posner relies on to build his own case against Oswald - with no reference whatsoever to challenges to it. Marina's story deserves as much critical scrutiny as those of, say, Jean Hill, or Sylvia Odio. Lest we forget, she is the only primary source for things like the Walker attempt and the Nixon threat, key "incidents" in making a case for a violence-prone assassin.
Posner makes much of the one professional psychological assessment of Oswald that can be documented. It was done in 1953 when Oswald was 13. In the spring of that year he was referred to Youth House in New York after weeks of truancy from Bronx's PS 117. Renatus Hartogs was the clinical psychologist who evaluated Oswald.
Eleven years to the day after this assessment, April 16, 1964, Hartogs testified before the Warren Commission. (8) Posner accurately but incompletely reports that Hartogs recalled finding Oswald had "definite traits of dangerousness," (sic) and a "potential for explosive, aggressive asaultive acting out..." Posner further quotes him as telling the Commission that he diagnosed "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-aggressive tendencies."
Enough to frighten any reader; enough to predispose any reader to be hostile towards Oswald. But don't go away: Posner admits that Hartogs' 1953 evaluation did not explicitly mention Oswald's potential for violence: to have done so would have mandated the boy's institutionalization. (He offers no citation or documentation for this "casual" and innocent-looking remark.) Hartogs - out of kindness, we are to presume - lets someone he found with "traits of dangerousness" and capable of "explosive, assualtive acting out" in efffect "go free!" Hartogs' professionalism or credibility (or both) must be called into question. Especially when we imagine an analogous medical situation - e.g., a patient found with an appendix ready to burst: any doctor, we would hope, would urge immediate hospitalization ("institutionalization"). Or if we recall the diagnostic/treatment attitude in psychology forty years ago, which was much more "institutionalization-oriented" than today's. It looks like one of those situations that just "don't add up".
But sure enough, investigation reveals that, once again Posner has resorted to selective sound-bites of evidence to make his case Oswald as psychopath. What gave the game away for me was his claim that "critic" Jim Marrs "disingenuously" handled the Hartogs' testimony. Of course he offers no citation to help the reader, but I found the relevant passages in Marrs' Crossfire. (9)
If Marrs was disingenuous, so was the Warren Commission. Here's what that body concluded in its report - the basis of Marrs' judgement:
Contrary to reports that appeared after the assasination, the psychiaric examination did not indicate that Lee Oswald was a potential assassin, potentially dangerous, that "his outlook on life had strongly paranoid overtones," or that he should be institutionalized. (10)
The Commission went on to give a fuller quotation from Hartogs' 1953 report: "No finding of neurological impairment or psychotic mental changes could be made. Lee has to be diagnosed as "personality pattern disturbance with schizoid features and passive-agressive tendencies." (11)
"But," you say, "didn't Hartogs explain he left the 'violence' material out of his evaluation so Oswald would not be institutionalized?"
Yes - or so Posner claims (without any documentation, remember). But that begs the question of why the Warren Commission failed to include the material in its own assessment, especially since it would have strengthened its case.
What is on record, and what Posner fails to cite, is the fact that, after Hartogs gave the "traits of dangerousness" testimony we have quoted, Commission Counsel Wesley Liebeler wondered about the discrepency between Hartogs' 1953 assessment and his views in 1964. So he asked Hartogs to review his 1953 report. After re-reading his own report, Hartogs conceded that it failed to mention potential violence, or assaultive or homicidal potential. He testified that if he had found such traits he would have mentioned them in his report. Not a word about leaving them out so Oswald could escape institutionalization. "He did not agree, however, with Liebeler's logical suggestion that his categorical comments before rereading his report might have been based on mistaken identity, and that he had no personal recollection of Oswald at all." (12)
Strangely, Posner quotes from the very page from Sylvia Meagher just cited, where Hartogs' important "concessions" are discussed, but he makes no mention of them. Nor does he mention that the Warren Commission was quite obviously unpersuaded by Hartogs' 1964 version of Oswald's psyche. This is not to defend or endorse the Commission's assessment of Oswald, but to call attention Posner's highly selective, distorted and incomplete rendering of the record. On this score, at least, the Warren Commission acted far more responsibly.
After placing such stress on the importance of Hartogs' evaluation, Posner's handling of the issue looks all the more suspicious. Neither his reporting nor citing of evidence can be trusted, it seems. But Posner adds fuel to the fire burning in his own house by castigating the "critics" for their neglect of Hartogs' testimony (p. 13n). Of course, citing a psychologist's evaluation is relevant only if Oswald has been connected to the crime. Since the critics cited do not connect him to the crime - at least as a lone, mentally-disturbed, otherwise motiveless assassin - Hartogs' testimony would be irrelevant to them (as it would be in a court of law). Posner's charge against Jim Marrs proves to be itself disingenous, and his use of Sylvia Meagher is self-servingly selective.
5. Posner as Psychologist: More Things That Don't Add up
One of the fallacies in assessing human behavior is that people are expected always to act according to form: "rationally" and consistently. People do not always behave with logical consistency, yet such discordances are the exception rather than the rule. Posner makes no attempt to sort out exception from rule in the behavior patterns of Lee - and Marina - Oswald. Lee is depicted as regularly beating and abusing Marina - basically holding her like a hostage. Yet she regularly taunts and teases him (example: p. 129; "Hidell") when one would expect she would shut up for fear of further beating. Another consistent anomaly: Oswald seems always wanting to be rid of Marina, yet always wanting her back. Marina herself exhibits similar ambivalence - always eager to welcome her tormentor home (pp. 125-128). To repeat, such things happen in human relationships, but it's hard to understand how a well-informed author like Posner would not see them, be curious about them, and comment on them.
Another telling inconsistency: Lee's violently abusive control over Marina; yet her apparent influence and control over him. For example (p. 118), she is able to persuade him to go to New Orleans to keep him from trying to kill General Walker again! That hardly fits the overall picture. Also, after the Walker attempt, she is able to keep from him the "instructions" he left for her in case he were caught. Predictable behavior from the Oswald Posner describes would be for him to literally beat that incriminating paper away from her.
But the largest and strangest anomaly is this: Posner offers no political context at all for the assassination event.Yet he presents Oswald as a highly political person with an unusual degree of sophistication about politics and ideology, and with a wide-ranging appetite for reading material (the daily press, Time, The Militant, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf, Animal Farm, etc. - see page 30, for example.
Oswald supported desegregation, and expressed his fears about American rightists like General Walker. So his choice of John Kennedy, of all people, as an assassination target is very strange indeed. Unless, of course, we buy Posner's main thesis that Oswald lived in a totally self-absorbed fantasy world (e.g. page 91). He would have done well to have read American Assassins, by James W. Clarke. (13)
Clarke's abysmally-informed portrait of Oswald (with conclusions no different from Posner's!) has of course made him anathema to conspiratorialists. Nonetheless his overall perspective is sound. He takes issue with the "pathological" theory of assassination, which sees all American assassins as acutely disturbed, isolated, bitter persons, delusional, deranged and schizophrenic:
Most disturbing is the fact that this circular and pyramiding body of questionable literature provides the basis for the conclusions of important official documents...and defines the operational understanding of asssassins for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service. This literature fails to examine the political context of the assassination: They reduce the complexities of the act to the presumed pathology of unconscious motives as defined by the social and political values of the examiner...The contaminating effect of social value judgements is a very serious problem in psychiatric diagnoses. (14)
One would think that Posner used these statements as instructions for compiling his "authoritative" psychobiography! As well as for the neo-Freudian jargon he brings to the task of discrediting unwelcome witnesses, like Sylvia Odio (pp. 175-180), and the man in the Dallas jail, dismissed by the FBI because he had been arrested for "lunacy." (pp. 229-230.) Thus psychology - Posner style - gets allied with ideology.
Posner's onesidedness is also revealed in how he constantly draws attention - in a perjorative way - to the "uncorroborated" stories of his mentally-disturbed witnesses. On page 180, for example, Sylvia Odio's account of the follow-up phone call about "Leon" has "no corroborative evidence" (as if there could be such evidence, unless her sister was listening in on an extension, or the phone was tapped).
He's right, of course: Odio's testimony on this point is hers alone. He had a chance to be equally "right" by pointing out all his "uncorroborated" evidence against Lee Harvey Oswald, especially Marina's. But that's a chance someone bent on "closing the case" could not afford to take.
Case Closed is a fatally flawed, intellectually dishonest effort. One wonders then at the adulation being heaped on it in the media and academic professions. One marvels at the obsession which the guardians of the national story bring to the task of closing off discussion of what is - in their eyes - nothing more than a thirty - year old "aberration" in American history, an unfortunate "interruption in our regular programing" by a lone nut who didn't want to be part of the American story anyhow. So why bother?
To close the Kennedy case, as Gerald Posner would have us close it, is to tell the American people that a whole range of "cases" ought to be closed: cases, in other words, that are none of the American public's business; cases that in dollar cost alone are sufficient to acccount for the entire national deficit. Like how Desert Storm came about, or the BCCI and savings-and-loan scandals, or how the U.S. government to this day is the major clandestine support for the international drug trade; or how taxpayers spent one million dollars a day for ten years in covert support for "death squads" in El Salvador; or maybe even the AIDS epidemic. (15)
That's why "assassination research" must be closed off.
And that's why it must be done well.
Notes 1. For a thorough, "case-closing" piece of work, Posner's bibiography is surprisingly thin - only 68 books and articles by my count. Of course an author can - and should - be selective. But something's lacking in a definitive account (it seems to me) that fails to come to grips with key and controversial works like Turner and Hinckle, The Fish is Red; Newman, JFK and Vietnam, and Clarke, American Assassins, to name a few. 2. The pertinent Frazier-Randle testimony appears in Warren Commission, Hearings and Exhibits, Vol. II, pp.225-250. Sylvia Meagher, Accessories After The Fact (NY: Vintage edition, 1976) reprints the key sections of this testimony, pp. 55-57. In this and all quoted selections that follow, the underlined emphasis is my own. 3. I stress "at the relevant time" deliberately. I insist that common sense shold place more credence on such testimony than that derived from layer after layer of " re-intererviews" over 30 years. Memories and stories do change - not always for the better. Additionally, we must largely take the writers' word for it that they are quoting the witnesses they interview accurately. But we have Posner ascribing statements, to the Parkland staff especially, that are flatly at variance with their quoted remarks to others. I'm inclined to think that Posner is providing "selective sound bites" from his own interviews here - a la his handling of Frazier-Randle. But who can tell? One would like to see complete transcripts of these interviews. See, for example, p. 310, where Posner cites the Parkland physicians, "in their discussions with the author," as flatly contradicting how they were reported in High Treason; and as "almost unanimous...in supporting the autopsy findings...and that there was no sign of damaged cerebellum." The statement about the cerebellum, is particularly amazing! Given the 30-year record, there is no way anyone even casually familiar with the sources and issues can accept "discussions with the author" as adequate or authoritative documentation on such a point! 4. These accounts, of course, have been published in a number of sources. As I write, I have before me me Mark Lane, A Citizens Dissent (NY: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1968), pp. 224-228. 5. Boswell's sheet and the shirt - jacket measurements are also commonly reported. Lane, Dissent, reproduces the Boswell sheet as an appendix, and reports the clothing measurements on p. 231. 6. Posner, Case Closed Chapter 13, pp. 286-342; Appendix A pp. 473-482. 7. Cited in a number of works, for example, Anthony Summers, Conspiracy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981) p.98. Priscilla Johnson McMillan's account is Marina and Lee (New York: Harper and Row, 1977). 8. Found in WC, Hearings and Exhibits, VIII, 217 ff. Posner's Case Closed discussion is on pp. 12-13. 9. Jim Marrs, Crossfire (New York: Carroll and Graf, paperback edition, 1990), pp. 97-98. 10. Warren Commisssion Report, p. 379. Emphasis added. 11. Ibid p. 380. Emphasis added. 12. Meagher, Accessories, p.244. 13. James W. Clarke, American Assassins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982). 14. The quoted material is from Clarke, pp. 5 -12. Somehow I can't resist the following: Clarke remarks that this psychological literature exhibits "scant evidence of any primary research. Rather, the references reveal a heavy reliance on secondary sources as well as a kind of incestuous process of citing each other's work to 'document' the same questionable conclusions." (p. 7) (This of course never happens in assassination research!) 15. A sampling of recent "assassination-related" literature: Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne, The Outlaw Bank: A Wild Ride Into The Secret Heart of BCCI (New York: Random House, 1993); Alfred McCoy, The Politics of Heroin (NY: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991. Revised update of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. NY: Harper & Row, 1972); Louis Sproesser, compiler, AIDS...The Truth (Enfield, CT: Southern New England Assassination Information and Research Center, 1992).