Saturday, October 15, 2005

Who Shot John?

Every fall, as the anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination approaches, a new account exculpating his killers emerges. So I was not surprised by the story on page 22 of Rupert Murdock’s Chicago Sun-Times — “Mob boss ordered JFK hit, book says.” (Jim Ritter, 10/10/2005)

The new book is JFK and Sam, by Antoinette Giancana, Dr. John Hughes (neurologist), and Dr. Thomas Jobe (psychiatrist). The essence of the story comes from Antoinette, the daughter of Sam Giancana, an organized crime figure of some renown. According to the authors, Sam Giancana helped rig the 1960 election in Chicago in expectation of John Kennedy’s future cooperation. But J.F.K reneged on the deal, sending his brother — then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy — after the Mafia boys. Sam, it is claimed, retaliated.

To Jim Ritter’s credit, he cites William Brashler’s criticism. Brashler, arguably a top authority on Sam Giancana, is the author of The Don: The Life and Death of Sam Giancana (1977). Brashler interviewed Antoinette for his book and concluded that she knew next to nothing about her father’s business.

To Ritter’s shame, he also cites the assessment of Ruth Ann Rugg, of the Sixth Floor Museum at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. Ritter writes that “[c]onspiracy buffs have proposed 250 theories” about the assassination, but Rugg says the only credible account is the lone gunman story. A drifter named Lee Oswald defected to the Soviet Union, re-defected to the U.S., and killed the President. Alas, many people find it hard to accept the fact that an insignificant loner could so affect history. “We want to believe that there was more to it, that there were huge forces involved.”

Pop psychological diagnoses, unfortunately, are poor substitutes for facts. The presidency, for instance, wasn’t the only office contested in 1960. Here in Chicago, Democrat Benjamin Adamowski was successfully fighting organized crime. After a dispute with Daley’s machine, Adamowski bolted the party and ran for state’s attorney in 1960 as a Republican. Organized crime had a strong interest in defeating Adamowski, so they worked to get out the vote.

Did that help J.F.K.? Yes. Does that mean gangsters backed J.F.K.? No. As a Senator in the late 1950s, John Kennedy served on the [John] McClennan Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management. Robert Kennedy was the committee’s chief counsel. His sharp questioning of Sam Giancana made headlines. His war with Jimmy Hoffa became legendary. Robert Kennedy wrote about organized crime in his book, The Enemy Within, where he described organized crime as the Private Government. His book was published in February of 1960, months before his brother received the Democratic nomination. The Kennedys’s pursuit of mobsters was well documented. Are we really to believe that Giancana and Hoffa wanted the Kennedys to hold high office?

Incidentally, Senator John Kennedy was elected President by a razor-slim majority in the popular vote. Yet in the electoral college, where Illinois had 27 votes, he beat Vice-President Richard Milhous Nixon by 84 votes. If Kennedy had lost Illinois, he still would have carried the electoral college by 30 votes. Winning Illinois certainly didn't hurt J.F.K., but the state was not as critical as Kennedy critics claim.

In my previous post, Free the Files, I noted the success of the 1992 Assassination Records Collection Act. One result was the declassification of F.B.I. documents on the surveillance of Giancana before, during, and after the 1960 elections. Supporters of the-mob-did-it story don’t quote those documents, and it’s not hard to understand why. Those documents don’t contain anything to support the claim that mobsters backed J.F.K. And federal investigations uncovered no evidence that mob bosses knew in advance about the assassination, discussed it with anyone, or hired anybody to pull the triggers.

In the process of rebutting JFK and Sam, the Chicago Sun-Times advanced the equally silly story that a disgruntled loner did the deed. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Lee Oswald killed anyone. By way of clarification, I will close with the questions posed by New Orleans Parish District Attorney Earling Carothers (Jim) Garrison, the only man to bring a trial in the murder of the President. Could the mob send Oswald to Russia and get him back? Could the mob change J.F.K.’s motorcade route in Dallas? Could the mob illegally remove J.F.K.’s body from Dallas and arrange a military autopsy in Washington, D.C.? Could the mob appoint a presidential commission to classify the evidence for 75 years? Could the Russians do that? The Cubans? Who did that?


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.