Quite a few in the community that insists a conspiracy must have been behind the assassination of President Kennedy have adopted Martin Hay as their new cheerleader. Mr. Hay, who identifies himself as a United Kingdom citizen, wrote a review of my book featuring arguments that are, in fact, centered on the principal mistakes that the conspiracy community makes in assessing the evidence. Here is my take on Hay’s mistakes.
Hay points to a memo on November 25, 1963, three days after the assassination, by Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to Bill Moyers in the White House and the concerns expressed by President Lyndon Johnson in urging Chief Justice Earl Warren to chair the commission. This memo, he says, supports the proposition that the commission’s investigation was a total fraud on the American people. In short, he contends that each of the seven members of the commission and each of the twenty-seven members of the staff deliberately compromised the commission’s investigation (and findings) so that there would be no serious examination of a possible foreign or domestic conspiracy.
This is sheer foolishness. Once the commission was appointed, no one – not President Johnson, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, or Katzenbach – attempted to or could have influenced any commission or staff member to do anything other than devote their professional skills fully to the task defined by the executive order – “to evaluate off the facts and circumstances surrounding” the assassination and “to report to me its findings and conclusions.”
Katzenbach was one of the first advisors to recommend a presidential commission, among other reasons because its members would be independent of the federal government and the State of Texas and free, therefore, to exercise their independent judgment as to the scope of the investigation and the findings that resulted. When I was asked to assist the commission, neither Katzenbach nor anyone else gave me any directions as to what I should do and, in my many subsequent conversations with Katzenbach, he was interested only that the Warren Commission do the most complete investigation possible and report fully to the American people.
No member of the staff who heard Chief Justice Warren at his first meeting with the staff came away with any reservation about his determination to explore all the relevant facts regardless of their national or international consequences. Our general counsel, Lee Rankin, who had served in the Eisenhower Administration as the Solicitor General, reminded the staff of its obligations in this regard on many other occasions during the nine months of the commission’s existence. In fact, most of the staff lawyers were eager to prove that the FBI’s initial report was incorrect in some important respects and to find a conspiracy if it existed.
Hay criticizes the commission for hiring “a bunch of Ivy League lawyers” rather than “brilliant, independent-minded, professional investigators as would be expected in a genuine pursuit of the truth.” I expect that at least Frank Adams (Fordham University), Joe Ball (University of Southern California), David Belin (University of Michigan), Leon Hubert (Tulane University), Bert Jenner (University of Illinois), and Jim Liebeler (University of Chicago) would have strongly resisted being dismissed as “Ivy League lawyers.” Hay ignores the fact that the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and other federal agencies had been investigating aspects of the assassination for a week before the commission was appointed and for some six weeks by the time that the commission had organized its staff in January 1964. Rankin explained before the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978 why it was simply not practical to look outside the federal government to replace the entire federal investigative effort. In fact, the commission did solicit expert input from non-federal officials on important points, such as ballistics. But Hay misses the more important point: we did not “rely on the FBI and other federal agencies to supply the evidence” but instead insisted on using compulsory legal process for our very careful and determined independent lawyers to obtain sworn testimony from 550 witnesses. It was this testimony – not the reports of investigative agencies – on which the commission based its conclusions.
The rest of Hay’s review is a very familiar mishmash of allegations claiming that the CIA immediately after the assassination began a “campaign to lay the blame for the assassination at Castro’s feet” through an anti-Castro exile group that he claimed was funded by the CIA and had some contact with Oswald during the summer of 1963. Although the CIA deliberately withheld information from the Warren Commission about assassination plots directed at Castro, the commission and staff were well aware of the tense relations between the two countries and Castro’s recent statement in 1963 that US officials engaged in covert action against his country should consider the possibility of his retaliation against the US. The commission found no linkage between Oswald and the CIA, or any of the Cuban exile groups, which suggested his actions resulted from a conspiracy. No subsequent investigation – not the Rockefeller Commission in 1975, not the Church Committee in 1976, not the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978-9, not the Assassination Records Review Board in 1998 – has found any evidence of CIA responsibility.
Hay points to the inclusion of Allen Dulles, the former head of the CIA, on the Commission as a suspicious element. I have often wondered myself as to why he was named, and perhaps more consideration should have been given to possible public perceptions before he was appointed. However President Johnson and his advisers probably had no more knowledgeable person in the private sector about the clandestine activities of both Russia and Cuba than Dulles, who had been involved in intelligence activities since WWII. They probably decided that the needed someone experienced in assessing the fragmentary and often contradictory information that characterizes intelligence work. I have no first-hand information about this appointment, but I know that Dulles never interfered or interrupted any staff work to follow up any lead with respect to any potential conspiracy.
What is truly amazing about Hay’s review is the total absence of any recognition that the critical findings of the Warren Commission have been examined on several occasions since 1964 and found, without exception, to be correct. While trumping up the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations created in 1977 to undertake a fresh review of the JFK assassination, he somehow fails to acknowledge its conclusions, which confirmed the Warren Commission’s findings that Oswald fired the two shots that killed the president and that there was no evidence of a conspiracy involving the Soviet Union, Cuba, the mafia, anti-Castro exiles, or any agency of the US Government…After two years of investigation, with facts not known to the commission (for example, the CIA’s assassination plots) and advances in technology not available to the commission, the committee concluded that Oswald was the assassin based on these findings:
- Kennedy was struck by two rifle shots fired from behind him, based primarily on a unique approach developed by the committee.
- The shots that struck Kennedy were fired from the sixth floor window of the southeast corner of the depository, based on scientific analysis, witness testimony, and firearms evidence.
- Oswald owned the rifle that was used to fire these shots based on handwriting analysis and photographs.
- Oswald had access to and was present on the sixth floor of the depository building shortly before the assassination based on the testimony of depository employees and the physical evidence of his presence.
- Oswald’s other actions tend to support the conclusion that he assassinated President Kennedy, in particular his murder of Office Tippit.
The House Committee also concluded that there was no evidence of a conspiracy involving the Soviet Union, Cuba, organized crime, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, or the Secret Service. In the concluding chapter of my book I review the work of this committee, other Congressional committees, and the work of forensic specialists who have examined the autopsy materials that were not made part of the public record by the Warren Commission. It is this history of the commission’s findings that supports my contention that no fact (as distinct from speculation, rumor, or suspicion) has come to light since 1964 that undercuts the conclusions of the Warren Commission.Readmore