'Case Closed' doesn't close the Oswald file

September 22, 1993|By John Newman | John Newman,Contributing Writer

The first thing that strikes you upon opening this new book on the assassination of John F. Kennedy is that author Gerald Posner has not seen the hundreds of thousands of pages of newly released documents. They were declassified pursuant to the JFK records act and signed into law by then-President Bush in January. I have spent countless evenings immersed in these files over the past six months and find that the very title of Mr. Posner's book is presumptuous: It asks us to believe he has closed the case before we have had a chance to digest the facts that have only now been made public.

Mark Lane's "Rush to Judgment," a 1966 attack on the Warren Commission's Oswald-acted-alone theory, was "an admitted brief for the defense by a skilled advocate," Gerald Posner writes. Mr. Posner could -- but does not -- add an honest admission of his own: that "Case Closed" is a brief for the prosecution.

Not much in "Case Closed" will provoke new debate between the critics and defenders of the Warren Commission. Take his chapter on New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison: Garrison unsuccessfully prosecuted Clay Shaw, a businessman in the city, for alleged involvement in the assassination. Anyone familiar with "the conspiracy press," as Mr. Posner derisively calls it," knows that Garrison's work was long ago abandoned as not credible.

In fact, to the extent that Mr. Posner succeeds in -- as he says -- "purging many falsehoods that clutter the field," he helps both sides in the ongoing debate. He rightfully points out that there were many witnesses in Dealey Plaza in Dallas whose observations support the contention that someone -- perhaps Oswald -- was shooting from the Texas School Book Depository.

Arguing Oswald was a nut

Mr. Posner painstakingly builds his case for Oswald as a nut, prone to violence and with an overriding need for attention -- leaving out much of Oswald's positive side that we know from the record. If readers are not convinced by the end of the first chapter that Oswald was crazy, they soon will be. For the next nine chapters, Mr. Posner litters the pages with an endless string of beatings that Marina Oswald suffered at the hands of her husband.

Judging from early reviews and news stories, some in the national press are ecstatic over "Case Closed." There are major systemic flaws in this work, however, that the national media, in its zeal to embrace Mr. Posner as a paragon of meticulous research, has yet to pick up on. Mr. Posner sets up criteria that he says -- often with justification -- the "conspiracy press" violates, and then repeatedly and matter-of-factly violates himself.

For example, he hammers critics for accepting accounts by witnesses that deviate from those they offered at the time of the event. The problem is that Mr. Posner is guilty of the same offense throughout his book -- and not just on minor points, but on most of the major ones: accounts of such witnesses as Texas Gov. John Connally, the Texas doctors and even FBI agents.

Similarly, Mr. Posner accuses critics of selecting only the data that support their theories while discarding the data that do not. Yet he does this often. He contends, for instance, that "the latest computer enhancements of film and evidence" demolish the conspiracy theories once and for all. This "latest" computer data was compiled by Failure Analysis Associates (FAA), and Mr. Posner's presentation of the FAA project was only half a loaf.

Mr. Posner fails to inform readers that the FAA work was part of a mock trial in which FAA had two teams -- one arguing Oswald was guilty and the other that he was innocent. One can understand that Mr. Posner should be free to argue the merits of which team did the better work, but the impression he gives -- that the FAA work supports only his side -- is not only highly selective, but also just plain devious.

Another defect of the book

Another major defect of "Case Closed" is Mr. Posner's propensity to resort to ad hominem assaults on critics when arguing his case. In this regard, he constantly uses nasty quotes from the critics: So-and-so "is a beast" is how he quotes one critic attacking another. One would be justified in asking why Mr. Posner uses material from people he does not believe in to make his case and discredit major arguments in the Kennedy assassination controversy. But then, that is what lawyers do best -- he is an attorney and reporter for the Wall Street Journal -- and there is much in "Case Closed" that reminds one of a divorce proceeding.

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