“Passing the Torch” - The Wecht Symposium – October 2013 – Duquesne U. – PittsburghRather than another, typical, boring conference, it’s quite fitting they called this one a “symposium,” which stems from the ancient Greek “symposion” – which means to drink together and discuss important issues, and what can be more important than the assassination of the President?
A unique aspect of this conference was the total lack of anyone to represent the radical extremist view that one lone nut killed President Kennedy alone, though there were some in the audience, including Marquette Professor John McAdams and official Warren Commission apologist Max Holland, both of whom were mentioned from the podium as untrustworthy CIA media assets.Usually, as with the 2003 Conference when Warren Commission attorney Arlen Specter defended his “Single Bullet Theory” before a skeptical audience, there is at least one spokesman for the Lone Nut viewpoint, but this time it was a no holds barred attack on the official government position that JFK was killed by one man alone and he was murdered by another.
And the drinking part came into play twice and maybe three times during the three day symposium at the Wecht Center for Forensic Science and Law and held in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.On Thursday night, after the first day of the symposium, they held a joint program between the Wecht Center and the Sen. John Heinz History Center was held at the HHC, a remarkable center city building filled with local history that is officially affiliated with the Smithsonian in Washington.
The program included “Our Man in Mexico” author Jefferson Morley, David Talbot of “Brothers” fame, Lisa Pease, who co-authored “The Assassinations,” Bush family chronicler Russ Baker, Gerry Policoff, who first wrote “All the JFK Assassination News the New York Times Finds Unfit to Print” in Paul Krasner’s “Realist Magazine,” and film maker Oliver Stone.The lack of any mainstream journalist or media asset on the panel left some questions unanswered, and I thought that Max Holland should have been invited to join the fray to balance things out, but he was relegated to sit silent in the audience and listen to what conspiracy theorists think of him and his “coincidence theories,” as John Judge later put it.
Having been preceded by a cocktail party amidst the historic artifacts like Trolley cars and jeeps, the program’s presenters were smooched as well as some of the impending audience, and a grand time was had by all.Hosted by the beautiful and vivacious local TV anchor Sally Wiggin, Cyril Wecht introduced her by saying he still doesn’t understand why he didn’t hit on her when she first interviewed him a few decades ago, setting the tone for the entire evening.
I hope the program was recorded because although I took notes, it was certainly an evening I would like to later recount if the video is released or archived on the internet, as I hope it will be.The following evening, after the symposium’s proceedings were completed, there was an interesting panel discussion on what can and should be done to advance the case – with Robert K. Tannenbaum, Jim Lesar and Dan Hardway, which began a conversation that continued over cocktails later that evening at Dr. Wecht’s modest but stylish home in the quaint and typically Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.
As recounted by one spectator, Tanenbaum was the passionate cheerleader, saying that we have to continue the good fight, have to bring new people into the battle, get beyond the partisan politics and at least try to get the government to do the right thing, and then Jim Lesar, the legal expert, quietly and carefully outlined what had to be done – free the remaining files, get Congress to hold oversight hearings on the JFK Act, and left unsaid were the possibilities of convening a JFK grand jury and getting a new autopsy. There seemed to be some momentum going, and the audience was willing to be seduced, but then Dan Hardway threw a cold bucket of water on the hole deal, a pessimistic,Dan had earlier that day gave a presentation on his experiences as a young law school student who came to Washington with Cornell Professor G. Robert Blakey, who replaced Richard Sprague as the chief counsel to the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA).
Dan, along with his equally young side kick, Ed Lopez, were assigned to review CIA, Cuban and Mexico City records and investigate certain leads, but they were repeatedly frustrated by CIA bureaucrats, who describe Hardway in their memos as “young, immature and arrogant,” but the CIA won and most of the records that Hardway and Lopez sought are still being withheld from the public for reasons of national security.Hardway’s pessimisms were hard earned, and he objected to any attempt to get congress to reinvestigate the assassination because he’s already learned that congress is not the place to do that. But Lesar wasn’t asking for that, he is asking Congress to conduct the mandated and required oversight of the JFK Act, fifteen years after the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) had ceased to exist. The JFK Act and the work of the ARRB have never seen any oversight at all.
While Hardway objected to being cast as the one who put a damper on what really is needed to legally occur, his sober and straight pessimism does put things in the proper perspective in that it will be very hard to get truth and justice, but Hardway said that’s the order we have to get them. In his words, “the first necessary step is to reverse the government’s policy on secrecy,” and get all of the relevant records released.That is a necessary first step before any other step can be taken, and that won’t happen overnight, or maybe ever.
And maybe if the order of their presentations were reversed, and Hardway went first, and described how difficult it will be go get the government to release the records, get Congress to hold oversight and getting the DOD to properly investigate political assassinations, then Lesar explained what has to be done, Tanenbaum’s pep rally speech could have put it over the top.
Tanenbaum did get a short rebuttal and reiterated the need, indeed he said it was our "responsibility" to finish the task at hand, whatever it takes, and Hardway said the first step is to end the government's policy on secrecy, and I agree with both of them.