Saturday, October 15, 2005

Free the Files

(Written in June of 2005)

Millions of movie-goers left Oliver Stone’s JFK wondering what the ¡*≠∂#?÷! they had just seen. The film prompted so much interest and outrage that thousands of people called their representatives in Washington, demanding to know if it was true that the government still held secret evidence in the case.

It was true.

Congress responded with the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. Decades of secrecy were undone by the Act which declared that “All government records concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy should carry a presumption of immediate disclosure.” The Act created a review board charged with compiling and releasing the largest possible collection of assassination-related materials — including transcripts, photos, films, audio recordings, and physical evidence. The review board also acquired material from foreign countries, several states and municipalities, and numerous individuals. By the time the board expired in 1998, they had assembled an archive of more than 4,500,000 pages covering a breath-taking range of subjects: organized crime; U.S. policy on Cuba and Vietnam; federal investigative procedures; local, state, and federal corruption; prominent politicians; and on and on. Because of the release process established by the board, the archive continued to grow even after 1998.

It was the most successful declassification process in the history of mankind. That’s probably why you never read about it in the newspapers; it doesn’t set a good example. Imagine a panel of librarians, historians, and archivists empowered to review and declassify documents on, say, contra-cocaine. That could ruffle some feathers.

In 1963, there were no laws to compel disclosure. J.F.K.’s killers had a reasonable expectation of official secrecy for the foreseeable future.

The files make it terribly clear, in extensive detail, that the “facts” in the case were bent, nudged, fudged, folded, spindled, mutilated, smeared, ignored, twisted, destroyed, or just plain made up — or classified. It’s doubtful a lone assassin could have arranged all that. Perhaps others were involved.

Federal investigative records on the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remain secret until the year 2029.

In the fall of 2001, the Congressional Black Caucus was preparing an act to release the evidence in the assassination of Dr. King. But then came 9/11, our new Pearl Harbor, and the attention of Congress was diverted.

Last May, Representative Cynthia McKinney introduced H.R. 2554 to create the sort of disclosure process which proved so successful in the Kennedy case. Hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — of pages of material on King’s murder are being kept hidden from the public.

Conspiracy theories are occasionally pooh-poohed for a seemingly obvious reason: How could all those involved possibly keep a secret like that? The answer, of course, is that they couldn’t; and they knew it. There’s a huge amount of review and editing that must take place to support the operation. Intelligence agencies, particularly in so-called open societies, recognize that total secrecy is the ideal; but it’s not something they count on. Fallback positions must be part of the plan. Delaying tactics must be part of the plan.

Control the investigation, classify the details, and let the public complain. If anyone does, call them names for a decade. Resist; string it out. Play it right, and you can even use belated disclosures to demonstrate your openness and concern.

The organizing principle, at every level, is the conscious diminishment of accountability. Organized crime operates on the very same principle.

In 1994, Mexican presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was killed by a lone assassin who later confessed. A second investigation exposed the first and sought other conspirators, including the man who videotaped the crime. A third investigation went after the second; a fourth went after the third, and so on and so on. After seven special prosecutors, the investigation of the actual murder has long since ground to a halt.

The former President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas, left the country for a protracted vacation. His sister-in-law was arrested in Switzerland while trying to withdraw $80 million from one of her husband’s numerous accounts under false names. The account was already being monitored by the Swiss who suspected it was a conduit for laundered drug money.

In the essentially single-party state of Mexico in 1994, two factions fought it out for control. It was a stalemate, except in one respect. Colosio was still dead.

Yitzhak Rabin was killed by a lone assassin who confessed. The whole thing was caught on tape. The government investigated; the lone assassin defended himself badly; and subsequent revelations have raised serious questions. If the Israeli public wins full disclosure in 2020, Rabin will still be dead.

In 1995, to much media silence, critical U.S. documents on Pearl Harbor were released. Every aspect of the official story from 1941 has been, so to speak, blown out of the water. The United States intercepted and decoded a wealth of pre-attack messages; the Navy tracked the Japanese fleet from its assembly point in the Kuriles to the staging area north-west of Hawaii. In fact, fourteen months earlier, the Office of Naval Intelligence had laid out an eight-step plan to provoke an attack on Pearl. The men and ships at Pearl were considered a small price to pay against future U.S. interests in the Pacific.

We can’t undo the history of Dr. King’s death, but it still belongs to us. Our tax dollars paid for every single file that we are not allowed to read today.

So, write or email your Representatives, Senators, newspapers, tv stations, or just inform others. You don’t have to be an expert in the case. Just tell them that there’s a better way to spend our money. Support H.R. 2554. Free the files. We’ve waited long enough. King’s killers are beyond our justice, but an incomplete truth is still better than a total lie.

The text of H.R. 2554 is available at

A man named James Ray supposedly confessed to shooting Dr. King. Ray was tried and convicted.

But Ray never confessed to shooting Dr. King. He said he was part of a criminal conspiracy to run guns with a man named Raul. (And, no, I did not just misspell “Raoul.”) Ray’s lawyer made it clear that if King died as a result of the smuggling conspiracy, Ray shared guilt for the actions of Raul and others unless Ray could prove he was not witting.

Defense, however, was not on the defense attorney’s mnd. No witnesses were cross-examined by anybody at Ray’s trial. The prosecution made an opening statement; Ray’s attorney agreed with the prosecution and asked the jury for a 99-year sentence. The jury retired to reach a verdict and deliver it to the court. The whole thing took about four hours.


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