The Assassination of John Kennedy

excerpted from the book

The Assassinations

Probe magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK , and Malcolm X

Edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease

Feral House, 2003, paper


The Creation of the "Warren Commission"
by Donald Gibson

Most of the people who have done research on or are knowledgeable about the performance of the so-called Warren Commission are convinced that a number of its members and counsel played an important role in the post-assassination cover-up. Those seriously interested in its work, including the author, are convinced that the commission's oversights, distortions, and other shortcomings represent something that is explainable only in terms of the intentions of people such as Allen Dulles, John J. McCloy, J. Lee Rankin, and Gerald Ford.

Although a massive amount of work has been done on the Commission's performance, the story of how the Commission was created has remained incomplete. This story needs to be completed because both reason and the facts indicate that the formation of the Commission, like the performance of elements of the FBI and the media, was as much a part of the cover-up process as was its Report.

We can get closer to that complete story now because of the release in 1993 of the White House telephone transcripts for the period immediately following the assassination. In combination with material already in the public domain, those transcripts allow us to clearly identify the people who were directly responsible for the establishment of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, later dubbed the "Warren Commission."

These transcripts demonstrate that the people who have been "credited" with the creation of the Commission had little to do with it-like LBJ's longtime friend and advisor Abe Fortas. Or they were following the lead of others, as with President Johnson and Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. The transcripts show that the idea of a commission was pushed on LBJ by people who were outside of the government at that time and that this effort began within minutes of Lee Harvey Oswald's death. Until Oswald was dead, there was no way that such an effort could be undertaken.

The first extensive and official description of the events leading to the creation of the Warren Commission appears in the 1979 account from the Select Committee on Assassinations of the House of Representatives (HSCA). Two stories emerge from their hearings. One is the Committee's description of the events; the other is in the testimony of Nicholas Katzenbach, Deputy Attorney General at the time of the assassination. The two accounts are not identical even though the first is ostensibly dependent on the second.

The Select Committee's Report contains a section entitled "Creation of the Warren Commission." It begins by saying that on November 22nd, "President Johnson was immediately faced with the problem of investigating the assassination." This is misleading. As long as Oswald was alive, there wasn't any real question about the investigation; it would be conducted in Dallas during a trial of Oswald. Second, as the evidence will show, President Johnson "was faced" with a problem after Oswald was killed, not "immediately" after the assassination. The problem for LBJ was not just one of investigating the assassination. There was also a problem presented to him by people trying to shape the investigatory process.

The Committee's rendition of events goes on to say that on November 23, 1963, J. Edgar Hoover "forwarded the results of the FBI's preliminary investigation to him (LBJ). This report detailed the evidence that indicated Lee Harvey Oswald's guilt." In fact, Hoover told LBJ on the morning of the 23rd that the case against Oswald was not then very good. The Committee's account goes on to say that on the 24th, Hoover called LBJ aide Walter Jenkins and said that Katzenbach had told him that the President might appoint a commission. (As the record will show, Katzenbach was not speaking for the President, who on the 24th opposed the idea of a commission.) Hoover expressed his opposition to the creation of a commission, suggesting that the FBI handle the investigation and submit a report to the Attorney General. Hoover makes a vague reference to problems a commission might cause for U.S. foreign relations. He also mentions that he and Katzenbach are anxious to have "something issued so we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin."

The Committee's report then summarizes parts of Katzenbach's testimony to the Committee, stating that Katzenbach was very concerned about the multitude of conspiracy theories which had already emerged. Consequently, he wrote a memo on November 25th to LBJ aide Bill Moyers which emphasized the need to quiet these rumors. The Katzenbach memo recommends that a statement be issued immediately indicating that the evidence shows Oswald did it and that there were no conspirators. The memo suggests furthermore that the FBI would be the primary investigating body and that a Presidential commission would "review and examine the evidence and announce its conclusions." The memo went on to say that there is a need for "something to head off public speculations or Congressional hearings of the wrong sort.

It appears that the idea of a Presidential commission to report on the assassination of President Kennedy was first suggested by Eugene Rostow, Dean of the Yale Law School, in a telephone call to LBJ aide Bill Moyers during the afternoon of November 24th. Although the time of this call is missing from the White House daily diary, it is possible to identify the period during which the call was made. Rostow refers to the killing of Oswald, so the call had to be after 2:07 p.m. EST, the time Oswald was pronounced dead. The call appears in the White House daily diary prior to a conversation at 4:40 p.m. between President Johnson and Governor Pat Brown of California. Rostow tells Moyers that he is calling to make a suggestion that a "Presidential commission be appointed of very distinguished citizens in the very near future."

The idea of a presidential commission did not come from President Johnson or from Abe Fortas. Katzenbach was involved in this in a significant way, but at the behest of others and not always with enthusiasm. Eugene Rostow is either the originator of the idea, the first active promoter, or both. We don't know the identity of the individual or individuals with whom he was discussing this on the afternoon of the 24th. Joseph Alsop is an important figure in these developments. This judgment is based on both his extensive jaw-boning with LBJ and the fact that he is one of the few people informed ahead of time by LBJ about the President's announcement that a Commission is being created. Dean Acheson almost certainly played a significant but undefined role in this.

Some potentially important gaps remain. Perhaps most important is the identification of the person or persons with whom Rostow was conversing on the 24th. Relative to Acheson's role, Alsop appears to have been acting on behalf of Acheson, just as Katzenbach acted at the behest of Rostow. Douglas Brinkley, author of the book Dean Acheson and the Director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, has additional information concerning Acheson's involvement. This information is apparently based on interviews with William Bundy. In telephone conversations with this author, Brinkley initially offered to provide copies of this interview. He subsequently changed his mind. This material may be of great significance.

In 1971 Lyndon Johnson himself provided important parts of the truth. His statement was closer to an accurate account than what was provided by the HSCA six years later. The Committee totally ignored LBJ's account and, as far as the author is aware, so did everyone else for over 20 years. In his book The Vantage Point, Johnson said that Eugene Rostow called the White House on November 24th and suggested a commission, and that Joe Alsop and Dean Rusk also recommended a commission. This account, although brief and incomplete, was closer to the truth than anything said about this between 1963 and 1993. Perhaps it is a tribute to LBJ's lack of credibility that no one paid any attention to this for over 20 years (including the author). The commission idea comes from Rostow, Alsop, and Acheson. It has immediate support from individuals at the Washington Post (James Wiggins) and the New York Times (James Reston). The idea is then supported by Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. Once again, with the declassification process, we can dispose of what was partly fiction and replace it with fact.

The Magical Bullet of the Kennedy Assassination
by Gary L. Aguilar

House Select Committee on Assassinations investigator Gaeton Fonzi tells the tale that one day, while sitting around the HSCA's offices during the reinvestigation of the JFK assassination in the late '70s, HSCA counsel D. Andy Purdy walked in after a high-level meeting and announced, "Well, we're going with the Single Bullet Theory."

Though this Warren Commission theory had long been scorned by skeptics, the "SBT," as it is sometimes referred to, was the sine qua non of the Warren Commission's case against Oswald. It offered a way of explaining how Kennedy and his limo mate, Governor John Connally, can both be seen in an 8 mm movie of the murder being struck during too short a time span for a single assassin to have fired twice. The SBT said Oswald did it with a single, lucky bullet, formally identified as Warren Commission Exhibit #399. Skeptics preferred to call it the "magic bullet." It was the famous missile that had apparently turned up at the hospital with negligible damage to itself, after having left seven flesh wounds in two men and two broken bones in its wake. (I will have more to say about its bona fides later.)

How on earth, Fonzi wondered, could people as sharp as the HSCA's savvy criminal investigators have bought that theory? There was at least one possible good reason: the improbable SBT offered the only way to explain known events without invoking an exquisitely choreographed and executed plot that depended on Oswald, the last person a conspirator or conspirators would ever have picked because, among numerous other deficiencies, he was a notoriously lousy shot. So, it had to be that the loner got lucky.

Was Commission Exhibit #399 Really Found at Parkland Hospital?

The only nearly intact bullet found that supposedly linked Oswald to the crime was a bullet that was picked up off a Parkland Hospital stretcher by hospital employee, Darrell Tomlinson. As the Warren Commission would later reconstruct it via the Single Bullet Theory, that bullet was said to have passed through JFK from his back to his throat. After exiting JFK's throat, the same bullet then passed forward, causing all of Governor Connally's five wounds before falling out onto a stretcher at Parkland.

Warren Commission loyalists have a point that should not be lost on skeptic

When they argue, as some skeptics have, that all the Oswald-implicating, false JFK assassination evidence is the result of conspirators' machinations, the cast of necessary co-conspirators expands to preposterous dimensions. One needn't posit that myriad coconspirators charged off in the wrong direction, but only that, early on, a few who were influential did. J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles, men of enormous power and influence, no doubt inspired the men who conducted the investigation by expressing an early preference for the Lone Nut solution. They then sat back as men under their sway - the FBI and CIA men to whom the Warren Commission had given exclusive investigative authority - foraged for evidence.

The result was predictable. Regarding the FBI's investigation, the HSCA concluded, "It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin, a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the assassination."" Allen Dulles biographer Peter Grose observed, "Allen [Dulles] systematically used his influence to keep the commission safely within bounds and from the start, before any evidence was reviewed, he pressed for the final verdict that Oswald had been a crazed lone gunman, not the agent of a national or international conspiracy." The Warren Commission was captive of the FBI/CIA evidence because it lacked its own investigators, and therefore, the ability to independently check what it was given.

The Media and the Assassination
by Lisa Pease

In the popular 1998 movie The Truman Show (starring Jim Carrey and directed by Peter Weir), a character named Christof created a huge, fully contained bubble environment in which the title character Truman Burbank has been raised since birth. Truman doesn't know it, but Christof has been broadcasting every moment of Truman's life to the world on television by means of thousands of hidden cameras. Truman's only knowledge of the world comes from the one Christof has built for him, and as Christof so succinctly put it, "We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented." When Truman attempts to leave his hometown to see the rest of the world, he notices that the place he has lived in all his life presents him with strange obstacles to his escape and irrational coincidences. Truman's faith in his world serves to imprison him for most of the film. But when he finally comes to believe that the truth is other than what he has been presented with, Truman's mental freedom enables him to achieve physical freedom.

How many of us realize that, to some degree, we also live in a world that is not wholly as it appears? And like Truman's world, the barriers to our discovering the reality of that which goes on around us are not so much physical as psychological. The media presents to us a version of the world that does not tell the full story, and as Benjamin Franklin once said, "Half the truth is often a great lie." If, as the famous biblical quotation engraved in the wall at CIA headquarters says, the truth will set us free, then what do lies do to us? Keep us imprisoned, like Truman, in a fictitious bubble where we are "protected" from the real world? The lesson of The Truman Show is especially relevant to those who wish to make sense of the media's reportage on the assassination of President Kennedy. The truth is out there and it is not hard to find, but we must seek it out for ourselves. As this article will show, it is unlikely that the truth will ever be given to us freely by the media.

One of the first questions people raise when confronted with evidence of conspiracy in the Kennedy assassination is this: if any of the evidence for conspiracy is valid, why haven't the major media organizations told us? Wouldn't breaking the story about a conspiracy be a career-maker for an investigative reporter?

On the surface of it, the question appears to be legitimate. We assume that the purpose of the news media is to give us facts about newsworthy events to help us interpret life in our time. But is that a legitimate assumption?

Thomas Jefferson used to hold the opinion that the purpose of the media was to tell us the truth. His opinion changed radically once he knew more about the events being (mis)represented. Jefferson realized the importance of the press and the threat a less-than-honest press presents to a nation. In 1787, Jefferson said, "the basis of our government is the opinion of the people," and given choice between "a government without newspapers or newspapers without government," he would choose the latter. In 1799, having learned a bit more, he wrote, "Our citizens may be deceived for a while and have been deceived; but as long as the press can be protected, we may trust to them for light." But by 1807, the veil of idealism had completely fallen from Jefferson's eyes:

Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself ? becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really loo