Time for the truth

November 21, 2003|By Jerry McKnight

NEARLY 40 YEARS ago, the Warren Commission released its findings on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The report and its 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits, with 17,000 pages of testimony and more than 10 million words, initially were celebrated as the most comprehensive investigation in history. The commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald alone assassinated JFK - there was no domestic or foreign conspiracy behind the tragedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

Over the years, the conclusions of the presidential commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren have come under sustained attack by critics who charge that they were nothing more than official mythology, a massive deception to cover up the politically unacceptable truth that Mr. Kennedy was a victim of a conspiracy. Defenders of the Warren Commission Report, while acknowledging its shortcomings in some areas, still insist that the evidence supports the commission's findings that Mr. Oswald acted alone in the killing of America's 35th president.

With the passage and amending of the Freedom of Information Act and the so-called JFK Act of 1994, millions of pages of documents related to the assassination have been released to the public.

An examination of this massive official record raises unanswered questions and impossibilities galore regarding the ballistic evidence, the nature of Mr. Kennedy's wounds, the ignored testimony of key witnesses, the suppression and destruction of Mr. Kennedy's autopsy report and other forensic evidence that exonerates Mr. Oswald. It exposes the government's case against Mr. Oswald as a public relations exercise and not a good-faith investigation into the Kennedy assassination.

The following are a few examples of what the official records and documents disclose about the assassination that cannot be found in the Warren report, the official history of what happened in Dallas:

The commission was never able to place Mr. Oswald on the sixth floor of the Texas school book depository building (the so-called sniper's nest) with a rifle when Mr. Kennedy was shot. Four witnesses (Caroline Arnold, Victoria Adams, Terrance Ford and Pierce Allman) placed Mr. Oswald on the first floor of the depository when the president was shot.

On the weekend after the assassination, the Secret Service turned over to the CIA for analysis a copy of the Abraham Zapruder film, that historic 6-foot length of film that captured the assassination. CIA Director John McCone had the agency's National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), the finest photo interpretation center in the world, analyze the film.

NPIC's analysis concluded that the first shot could not have come from the "sniper's nest" and, even more destructive to the official story, that there was more than one shooter. Weeks later, the FBI's analysis of the film confirmed NPIC's conclusion that the first shot could not have come from the sixth floor of the depository.

FBI ballistics expert Robert Frazier admitted to his commission questioners that he never ran a swab test on the alleged murder weapon that belonged to Mr. Oswald. The swab test is the standard textbook procedure to determine if a weapon had been recently fired.

The first JFK autopsy report was destroyed and a second protocol written after it was learned that Mr. Oswald was assassinated by Jack Ruby and there would be no trial and testing of the evidence in the case.

What should have been inconceivable when it came to Mr. Kennedy's autopsy (the best evidence in a homicide) became commonplace. A detailed comparison of the official autopsy report with what the Warren Commission said were the doctors' autopsy notes reveals this: Seventy-two percent of the medical-legal facts in the autopsy report that appear in the Warren Report cannot be found in what the commission represented as the notes the doctors made during the autopsy.

In other words, 72 percent of the autopsy facts in the autopsy report have no existing source. All of the three subsequent government investigations into the medical evidence of the case (the Ramsey Clark panel, the House select committee medical panel and the Assassination Records Review Board of the 1990s) were silent about these contradictions and omissions.

The official Kennedy death certificate, signed Nov. 22, 1963, by Dr. George G. Burkley, Mr. Kennedy's personal White House physician, does not appear in the Warren Report or in the 26 volumes of hearings and exhibits. The reason for this suppression was that the death certificate describes wounds that invalidate the official version of the assassination.

After four decades, it is time we pulled the plug on the Warren Commission Report's life-support system. The intolerable alternative is to remain imprisoned by the report, an interim fabrication that was intended only to satisfy immediate political needs and not to answer the who and why of Dallas.

Jerry McKnight is a professor emeritus at Hood College in Frederick and co-director of the Harold Weisberg JFK Assassination Archive.

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