Friday, July 27, 2007

Non-Remembrance of Things Past

The attorney’s performance was amazing. Asked at the eleventh hour to aid the defense in a civil case, he quickly had the plaintiff’s witnesses, and the plaintiff himself, stumbling to correct their tales. But the judge wasn’t interested. It was a slander case brought by an itinerant preacher, Oliver Brindley “The Walking Bible” Owen (aka Jerry Owen), against KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. As far as Judge Jack A. Crickard was concerned, the circumstances surrounding the issue, especially the secrecy and malfeasance of the Los Angeles police, were off limits. Crickard found for the plaintiff. He ordered KCOP to pay $35,000 for reporting Owen’s possible involvement in the assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy. The defense attorneys, Michael Wayland and Vincent T. Bugliosi, lost. Yes, in 1975, Vincent Bugliosi, the man who had prosecuted the Charles Manson murder conspiracy, suspected a cover-up in R.F.K.’s death. He also faced a judge who didn’t want to hear it.

Owen’s connection to the assassination is too complex to relate here. But essentially, evidence indicated that Owen had a pre-existing relationship with Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, the man falsely convicted of killing Senator Kennedy. Owen had arranged to meet Sirhan outside the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the murder, ostensibly to sell him a horse. Bugliosi managed to bring out some information about Owen, but Crickard effectively prevented disclosure of key details. Bugliosi noted in his closing argument for KCOP that:

we are talking about a conspiracy to commit murder, a conspiracy to assassinate someone who was a major candidate for the presidency of the United States, a conspiracy the prodigious dimensions of which would make Watergate look like a one-roach marijuana case.

In fact, before the trial, when another judge had ordered a review of the ballistics evidence in R.F.K.’s death, Bugliosi told the press:

Gentlemen, the time for us to keep on looking for additional bullets in this case has passed. The time has come for us to start looking for the members of the firing squad that night.

Vincent Bugliosi had no trouble recognizing a cover-up in Senator Kennedy’s assassination. And he learned that searching for the truth brought ridicule, not praise. A few weeks after the Owen vs. KCOP trial, he announced his candidacy for district attorney, pledging to uncover the facts in Robert Kennedy’s murder. The Los Angeles Times opposed him, claiming that “Bugliosi believes he has an emotional issue that he can exploit” in his quest for office. Bugliosi lost the election.

Three decades later, Bugliosi has redeemed himself; and he is no longer a conspiracy buff. This year, he published Reclaiming History: the Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Weighing in at 1,612 pages, Reclaiming History is nearly twice as long as the Warren Report on President Kennedy’s murder. Drawing out the lie at greater length, however, doesn’t make it true. It remains an embarrassment of errors, omissions, and faulty reasoning.

Bugliosi appeared on the Colbert Report (6/21/2007) to promote his work, and he began by listing a number of “facts” which are simply not facts at all. And since Bugliosi is convinced that alleged assassin Lee Oswald acted alone, I couldn’t help wondering how he explains C.I.A. officer Everette Howard Hunt, Jr.’s confession in the J.F.K. murder. Alas, the topic never came up. Colbert cracked jokes; and Bugliosi responded in kind, calling Colbert a “clone of Oliver Stone.”

It was an odd remark considering Bugliosi’s work on the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Maybe, I thought, Stone is a clone of Bugliosi! — the young Bugliosi who recognized when a case was fixed.

For an extensive account of Oliver Owen and Bugliosi’s role in the case, see The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: the Conspiracy and Coverup, by William Turner and Jonn Christian. It is full of information on the crime and praise for Bugliosi. Has Vincent forgotten the Walking Bible?

Sometimes, coincidences seem to stretch out forever, don’t they? For example, Oliver Owen had a friend named Gail Aiken. One of her brothers was William Bremer, Jr., who was convicted of a confidence swindle. His lawyer was Ellis Rubin. Rubin later represented Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker, Eugenio Martinez, and Virgilio Gonzalez after they were caught in the Watergate Hotel.

Gail had another brother, Arthur, the man who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in 1972. Everette Howard Hunt, Jr., of J.F.K. assassination fame and another Watergate burglar, was sent to search Arthur’s home after the shooting to find evidence implicating the Democrats. But Arthur Bremer turned out to be merely another lone nut seeking fame. Like Lee Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan, Arthur Bremer supposedly really wanted to kill Richard Nixon, but settled for another victim instead. It’s amazing how many lone assassins in America wanted to kill Richard Nixon but ended up killing somebody else.


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Let Justice be Undone

George Bush, Jr. commuted the sentence of Irving Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Jr., thereby supposedly incurring the ire of both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats complained that Junior was simply making good on a deal; Republicans insisted that Scooter should have a full pardon. Wasn’t it punishment enough that he had to pay a $250,400 fine, that he may never be able to practice law again, that he may face probation? And didn’t Bill Clinton grant a bunch of pardons just before he left office?

Within days of his sentencing, Libby had paid his fine; and commutation may exempt him from probation. What bothers me, however, is the matter of his license. Exactly what kind of law does “Scooter” practice?

Yes, Clinton issued a lot of pardons before he left office. But who were the beneficiaries? He did not pardon Leonard Peltier, who certainly deserves it.* He did, however pardon Marc Rich, a billionaire international commodities trader. In 1983, Rich was indicted for tax evasion and for trading with Iran during the hostage crisis. His ex-wife had donated to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Library, but the Republicans were curiously uninterested. They insisted Rich was innocent. In any case, he really didn’t need Clinton’s mercy. He’d been living splendidly abroad since his indictment; he just couldn’t enter the United States without facing possible arrest. The pardon ended his torment.

Naturally, Rich had top-notch representation; his attorney was Irving Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Jr. When Clinton issued the pardon, Libby was on the phone congratulating poor Mr. Rich.

Rich, incidentally, had been indicted by then-U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani. Today, Giuliani is a 9/11 hero and a Republican presidential candidate who agrees with Bush’s decision to commute the sentence of Rich’s lawyer. Libby, you may recall, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame case, where the identity of a covert C.I.A. operative following evidence on weapons traffic was disclosed to retaliate against her husband because he contradicted the administration’s claim of attempted Iraqi uranium purchases prior to the 2003 invasion. Thankfully, Libby didn’t lie about a sexual indiscretion, or he would have been in real trouble.

Libby has clearly travelled in powerful circles for a long time, so it’s hard to know exactly how many backs are being scratched here. Unfortunately, that’s often the case. To “heal the nation” three decades ago, President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for any crimes Nixon might have committed while in office. (Believe me, the list is longer than “Watergate.”) And out-going President George Bush, Sr. pardoned Caspar W. Weinberger and others for the Iran-hostage-contra-cocaine operation.

Luckily, they weren’t caught in any lies about sexual indiscretions, or they might have been thrown in the pokey.

Do Presidents ever pardon deserving petitioners? Of course, although I fear that practice is in decline. Do Presidents ever abuse their power? We elect them in the hope that they will do what is right. But their conception of right and ours often vary.

The Libby controversy has brought renewed attention to presidential powers to override court decisions or by-pass the judicial system entirely. A tit-for-tat argument about which President freed the most people misses the point. Who is getting off the hook? By pardoning Rich and commuting Libby’s sentence, didn’t Bill and George serve the same constituency?

* Peltier was falsely convicted of killing two F.B.I. agents on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in 1975. See In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen.


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