Friday, July 29, 2011

Howard Roffman's Presumed Guilty

Howard Roffman


A Decade of Deceit: From the Warren Commission to Watergate

Whoever killed President John F. Kennedy got away with it because the Warren Commission, the executive commission responsible for investigating the murder, engaged in a cover-up of the truth and issued a report that misrepresented or distorted almost every relevant fact about the crime. The Warren Commission, in turn, got away with disseminating falsehood and covering up because virtually every institution in our society that is supposed to make sure that the government works properly and honestly failed to function in the face of a profound challenge; the Congress, the law, and the press all failed to do a single meaningful thing to correct the massive abuse committed by the Warren Commission.

To anyone who understood these basic facts, and there were few who did, the frightening abuses of the Nixon Administration that have come to be known as "Watergate" were not unexpected and were surprising only in their nature and degree.

This is not a presumptuous statement. I do not mean to imply that anyone who knew what the Warren Commission did could predict the events that have taken place in the last few years. My point is that the reaction to the Warren Report, if properly understood, demonstrated that our society had nothing that could be depended upon to protect it from the abuses of power that have long been inherent in the Presidency. The dynamics of our system of government are such that every check on the abuse of power is vital; if the executive branch were to be trusted as the sole guardian of the best interests of the people, we would not have a constitution that divides power among three branches of government to act as checks on each other, and we would need no Bill of Rights. Power invites abuses and excesses, and at least since the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, an enormous amount of power has been assumed and acquired by the president.

Political deception is an abuse that democracy invites; in a system where the leaders are ultimately accountable to the people, where their political future is decided by the people, there is inevitably the temptation to deceive, to speak with the primary interest of pleasing the people and preserving political power. There probably has not been a president who has not lied for political reasons. I need only cite some more recent examples:

Franklin Roosevelt assured the parents of America in October 1940 that "your boys are not going to be sent into foreign wars"; at the time he knew that American involvement in World War II was inevitable, even imminent, but he chose not to be frank with the people for fear of losing the 1940 election.

Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 denied that the American aircraft shot down by the Russians over their territory was a spy-plane, when he and the Russians knew very well that the plane, a U-2, had been on a CIA reconnaissance flight;

John F. Kennedy had the American ambassador at the United Nations deny that the unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs was an American responsibility when exactly the opposite was true.

So, deception and cover-up per se did not originate with the Warren Commission in 1964 or the Nixon administration in 1972. They had always been an unfortunate part of our political system. With the Warren Commission they entered a new and more dangerous phase. Never before, to my knowledge, had there been such a systematic plan for a cover-up, or had such an extensive and pervasive amount of deception been attempted. And certainly never before had our government collaborated to deny the public the true story of how its leader was assassinated.

In the face of this new and monumental abuse of authority by the executive, all the institutions that are supposed to protect society from such abuses failed and, in effect, helped perpetrate the abuse itself. As with Watergate, numerous lawyers were involved with the Warren Commission; in neither case did these lawyers act as lawyers. Rather, they participated in a cover-up and acted as accessories in serious crimes. The Congress accepted the Warren Report as the final solution to the assassination and thus acquiesced in the cover-up of a President's murder. And, perhaps most fundamentally, the press failed in its responsibility to the people and became, in effect, an unofficial mouthpiece of the government. For a short time the press publicized some of the inconsistencies between the Warren Report's conclusions and the evidence; yet never did the press seriously question the legitimacy of the official findings on the assassination or attempt to ascertain why the Johnson administration lied about the murder that brought it into power and what was hidden by those lies.

It was only a small body of powerless and unheralded citizens who undertook to critically examine the official investigation of President Kennedy's murder, and among them it was still fewer who clearly understood the ominous meaning of a whitewashed inquiry that was accepted virtually without question. It was only these few who asked what would happen to our country if an executive disposed to abuse its authority could do so with impunity.

It was in 1966, long before the press and the public saw through the thicket of deception with which we had been led into a war in Vietnam, long before this country was to suffer the horrors of Watergate, that a leading assassination researcher, Harold Weisberg, wrote and published the following words:

If the government can manufacture, suppress and lie when a President is cut down -- and get away with it -- what cannot follow? Of what is it not capable, regardless of motive . . .?

This government did manufacture, suppress and lie when it pretended to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

If it can do that, it can do anything.

And will, if we let it.

Weisberg, in effect, warned that the executive would inevitably commit wrongdoing beyond imagination so long as there was no institution of government or society that was willing to stop it. That one man of modest means could make this simple deduction in 1966 is less a credit to him than it is an indictment of a whole system of institutions that failed in their fundamental responsibility to society.

My political maturity began to develop only in the past few years; all of my research on the assassination was conducted while I was a teenager. Yet the basic knowledge that my government could get away with what it did at the murder of a president made me fearful of the future. On October 10, 1971, when I was eighteen years old, I wrote what I hoped would be the last letter in a long and fruitless correspondence with a lawyer who had participated in the official cover-up as an investigator for the Warren Commission. I concluded that letter with these words:

I ask myself if this country can survive when men like you, who are supposed to represent law and justice, are the foremost merchants of official falsification, deceit, and criminality.

It was to take three years and the worst political crisis in our history for the press and the public to even begin to awaken to the great dangers a democracy faces when lawyers are criminals.

It is with pain and not pride that I look back and see that so few were able to understand what the Warren Commission and the acceptance of its fraudulent Report meant for this country. This was not omniscience, but simple deduction from basic facts. I cannot escape the conviction that had the Congress, or the lawyers, or especially the press seriously endeavored to establish the basic facts and then considered the implications of these facts, we all might have been spared the frightening and threatening abuses of Watergate. If the institutions designed to protect society from such excesses of power had functioned in 1964, it is possible that they would not have had to mobilize so incompletely and almost ineffectively in 1972 and 1973.

Watergate has brought us into a new era, hopefully one in which all institutions will work diligently to see that our government functions properly and honestly. As of now, the reasons for optimism are still limited. It was not the press as an institution that probed beneath the official lies about Watergate and demanded answers; essentially, it was one newspaper, the Washington Post, that, true to its obligations, bulldogged the story that most of the nation's press buried until it became a national scandal. It was not the law as an institution that insisted on the truth; it was one judge, John Sirica, who best served the law by settling for no less than the whole truth, and he was and continues to be deceived and lied to by those whose responsibility it is to uphold and defend the law. Whether Congress will adequately respond to the crimes and abuses of the Nixon administration remains to be seen.

Our very system of government and law faces its most profound challenge today. A nation that did not learn from the Warren Commission has survived to relive a far worse version of that past in Watergate. It would do well to live by the wisdom of Santayana, for it is doubtful that American democracy could survive another Watergate.

Howard Roffman
January, 1974


Throughout twelve hours of interrogation over the weekend of the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald steadfastly denied that he had shot the President (R613, 627). He repeated that denial before hundreds of newsmen crowded into the narrow corridors of the police headquarters: "I'm just a patsy," he exclaimed (20H362, 366). Even as he lay dying on a stretcher, the police pressed him for a final confession. But Oswald merely shook his head; he would die protesting his innocence (12H185).

Oswald's plea was ignored amid the clamor of official voices, which hastened to assure the public of Oswald's guilt.

The Dallas Police wasted no time in announcing their verdict. Of course, it is preposterous to assume that even the most competent police force could have solved one of the century's most complex crimes overnight. Yet this was precisely the claim made by the Dallas Police when, on the day after the assassination, they told the world that Oswald was beyond doubt the lone assassin.

Two weeks later the FBI claimed that it too had conclusively determined that Oswald was the lone assassin. This was indeed an unwarranted conclusion since, in its "solution" of the crime, the FBI failed to account for one of the President's wounds and a shot that missed the car. The FBI seems never to have anticipated that concerned citizens would probe its thoroughly flawed report. It made sure that everyone knew the conclusion reached in the report by leaking to the press everything it wanted known. The report itself, however, the FBI decided to keep secret.

The FBI's ploy had one salient effect: it preempted the Warren Commission and left the Commission little choice but to affirm the FBI's conclusions. The alternative was for the Commission to conduct a genuinely independent investigation and announce that the FBI had erred. In 1964, given the FBI's reputation as the greatest law-enforcement investigative agency in the world and the pervasive, although then unspoken fear of J. Edgar Hoover's power, this was an unthinkable alternative for the conservative Commission members. The choice was made to rely on the FBI -- in effect, to let the FBI investigate itself.

Thus, from the very beginning of its investigation, the Commission planned its work under the presumption that Oswald was guilty, and the staff consciously endeavored to construct a prosecution case against Oswald. One Commission member actually complained to the staff that he wanted to see more arguments in support of the theory that Oswald was the assassin. There could have been no more candid admission of how fraudulent the "investigation" was than when a staff lawyer secretly wrote, "Our intention is not to establish the point with complete accuracy, but merely to substantiate the hypothesis which underlies the conclusions that Oswald was the sole assassin." In its zeal to posthumously frame Oswald -- and falsify history -- the staff often considered ludicrous methods of avoiding the facts -- as in the suggestion of one staff lawyer that "the best evidence that Oswald could fire as fast as he did and hit the target is the fact that he did so."

The Commission, in presuming Oswald guilty, abdicated its responsibility to the nation. But did the Commission, in spite of its prejudices, arrive at the truth? Does the evidence establish that Oswald was the assassin?

The medical evidence actually disassociates Oswald's rifle from the wounds suffered by President Kennedy and Governor Connally. The nature of the bullet fragmentation within the President's wounds rules out full-jacketed military bullets such as those allegedly fired by Oswald. Bullet 399, discovered at Parkland Hospital and traced to Oswald's rifle, could not, in any conceivable way, have produced any of the President's wounds. Likewise, 399 could not have produced the Governor's wounds without having suffered some form of mutilation; bullets simply do not smash through two or three bones and emerge in the condition of 399, with no apparent distortions and no disruption of their microscopic markings.

The medical evidence leads one to believe that Oswald's rifle played no role in the shooting and that all the evidence that seems to link Oswald to the shooting was in fact planted. The only evidence that might conclusively show whether bullet 399 and the two fragments traced to Oswald's rifle were actually involved in the wounding of either victim is the spectrographic and neutron activation analyses, and they are withheld from the public. One need not be an expert analyst to deduce that the government would hardly suppress this evidence if it corroborated its account of the assassination. The only credible explanation for the suppression of this crucial scientific evidence is that it must establish conclusively what the medical evidence established to but a reasonable degree -- that Oswald's rifle played no role in the shooting.

The evidence of the rifle, the cartridge cases, and the bullets is significant because it creates the powerful assumption that Oswald was the assassin. The medical evidence, in disassociating Oswald's rifle from the crime, makes it apparent that unknown persons deliberately planted the recovered ballistic items with the intention of leaving evidence that would point to Oswald as the murderer. Such planting of evidence does not necessarily imply an enormous conspiracy, as some of the Commission's defenders have suggested. Two accomplices, one at the Book Depository and one at Parkland Hospital, are all that would have been required. Conditions at both sites were so chaotic at the time that such accomplices could easily have escaped detection.

Once it is established that Oswald's rifle was not involved in the shooting, there is not a shred of tangible or credible evidence to indicate that Oswald was the assassin. The evidence proves exactly the opposite.

The circumstantial evidence relating to Oswald himself is almost entirely exculpatory. Every element of it was twisted by the Commission to fit the preconceived conclusion of Oswald's guilt. I have documented that, through its staff and its Report, the Commission:

1. Drew undue suspicion to Oswald's return to Irving on November 21, although the evidence indicated that Oswald did not know the motorcade route and broke no set pattern in making the return;

2. Ignored all evidence that could have provided an innocent excuse for Oswald's visit;

3. Wrongly discredited the reliable and consistent testimony of the only two witnesses who saw the package Oswald carried to work on the morning of the assassination; because their descriptions meant that the package could not have contained the rifle, the Commission claimed to have made this rejection on the basis of "scientific evidence," which did not exist;

4. Concluded that Oswald made a paper sack to conceal the rifle, citing no evidence in support of this notion and suppressing evidence that tended to disprove it;
5. Concluded that the sack was used to transport the rifle, although its evidence proved that the sack never contained the rifle;

6. Used the testimony of Charles Givens to placed [sic] Oswald at the alleged source of the shots 35 minutes too early, even though Givens described an event that physically could not have taken place;

7. Claimed to know of no Depository employee who saw Oswald between 11:55 and 12:30, basing its claim on an inquiry in which it (through General Counsel Rankin) had the FBI determine whether any employee had seen Oswald only at 12:30, completely suppressing from the Report three distinct pieces of evidence indicating Oswald's presence on the first floor during the period in question.

8. Failed to produce any witness who could identify the sixth-floor gunman as Oswald; both rejected and accepted the identification of one man who admitted lying to the police, who constantly contradicted himself, and who described physically impossible events; and ignored evidence of clothing descriptions that might have indicated that Oswald was not the gunman;

9. Reconstructed the movements of Baker and Truly in such a way as to lengthen the time of their ascent to the second floor;

10. Reconstructed the movements of the "assassin" so as to greatly reduce the time of his presumed descent; a valid reconstruction would have proved that a sixth-floor gunman could not have reached the second-floor lunch-room before Baker and Truly;

11. Misrepresented Baker's position at the time he saw Oswald entering the lunchroom, making it seem possible that Oswald could have just descended from the third floor, although, in fact, the events described by Baker and Truly prove that Oswald must have been coming up from the first floor (as Oswald himself told the police he did);

12. Misrepresented the nature of the assassination shots by omitting from its evaluation the time factor and other physical obstacles, thus making it seem that the shots were easy and that Oswald could have fired them;

13. Misrepresented the evidence relevant to Oswald's rifle capability and practice, creating the impression that he was a good shot with much practice, although the evidence indicated exactly the opposite. The conclusion dictated by all this evidence en masse is inescapable and overwhelming: Lee Harvey Oswald never fired a shot at President Kennedy; he was not even at the Depository window during the assassination; and no one fired his rifle, the Mannlicher-Carcano, on that day. Beyond any doubt, he is innocent of the monstrous crime with which he was charged and of which he was presumed guilty. The official presumption of his guilt effectively cut off any quest for truth and led to the abandonment of the principles of law and honest investigation. At all costs, the government has denied (and, to judge from its record, will continue to deny) Oswald's innocence and perpetuated the myth of his lone guilt.

With this, a thousand other spiders emerge from the walls.

It can now be inferred that Oswald was framed; he was deliberately set up as the Kennedy assassin. His rifle was found in the Depository. We know that it had to have been put there; we also know that it was not Oswald who put it there. Someone else did.

We know that a whole bullet traceable to Oswald's rifle turned up at Parkland Hospital; we also know that this bullet was never in the body of either victim.Someone had to have planted it at the hospital. The same applies to the two identifiable fragments found in the front seat of the President's limousine.

We know that someone shot and killed President Kennedy; we also know that Oswald did not do this. The real presidential murderers have escaped punishment through our established judicial channels, their crime tacitly sanctioned by those who endeavored to prove Oswald guilty. The after-the-fact framing of Oswald by the federal authorities means, in effect, that the federal government has conspired to protect those who conspired to kill President Kennedy.

It is not my responsibility to explain why the Commission did what it did, and I would deceive the reader if I made the slightest pretense that it was within my capability to provide such an explanation. I have presented the facts; no explanation of motives, be they the highest and the purest or the lowest and the most corrupt, will alter those facts or undo what the Commission indisputably has done.

The government has lied about one of the most serious crimes that can be committed in a democracy. Having lied without restraint about the death of a president, it can not be believed on anything. It has sacrificed its credibility.

Remedies are not clearly apparent or easily suggested. Certainly, Congress has an obligation to investigate this monumental abuse by the executive. But first and foremost, the people must recognize that they have been lied to by their government and denied the truth about the murder of their former leader. They must demand the truth, whatever the price, and insist that their government work honestly and properly.

Until then, the history of one of the world's most democratic nations must suffer the stigma of a frighteningly immoral and undemocratic act by its government.

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