Saturday, 9 August 2014

How Dave Reitzes Gets it Wrong Part 5

The Assassin

After spending a few paragraphs dismissing—to his own satisfaction if nobody else's—usual suspects like the Mafia and the CIA, Reitzes turns his attention to Lee Harvey Oswald. “How do we navigate a path through the complex morass of claims, speculation, rumors, and confusion...?” He asks. “We use critical thinking tools to discern the most reliable evidence” he answers, right before demonstrating that he has no idea what either critical thinking or reliable evidence actually means.

Reitzes writes that immediately after the shooting “eyewitnesses directed police” to the depository building and the Knoll. In point of fact, many officers made their own way to the Knoll having either made up their own mind about the source of the shots or having been ordered to do so by Police Chief Jesse Curry and Sheriff Bill Decker. (see 21H390-91) Reitzes then makes a point of noting that “no one had actually seen a gunman” behind the fence—again failing to mention the previously discussed smoke consistent with a rifle discharge—and that a search of the area turned up “no suspect, no weapon, no spent shells, and no other evidence of a crime.” This is all undeniably true but, once again, does not tell the full story.

Firstly, it is hardly surprising that officers did not encounter a man standing with smoking gun in hand waiting to be caught. And since the acoustics indicates that if there was a Knoll gunman he only fired a single shot, picking up one shell and taking it with him would hardly have been a taxing exercise. Secondly, and more importantly, officers did encounter a still unidentified man who was brandishing fake Secret Service credentials before he disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. We know the ID was fake because there were no Secret Service Agents in the area, having all accompanied the motorcade to Parkland Hospital. (5HSCA589) Commission apologists like Vincent Bugliosi have tried to explain this away by claiming that Dallas policeman Joe Marshall Smith, who confronted the fake agent, was mistaken and probably just “assumed” the man showed him Secret Service ID. (Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, p. 865) But this ignores what Smith himself told author Anthony Summers: “The man, this character, produces credentials from his hip pocket which showed him to be Secret Service. I have seen those credentials before, and they satisfied me and the deputy sheriff.” [my emphasis] (Summers, Conspiracy, p. 36-37) So the very real possibility exists that this man with the fake ID was, if not a gunman himself, an accomplice who helped one to escape. And the fact that, after all these years, no one has ever come forward to identify himself and explain who he was and what he was doing up on the Knoll with Secret Service credentials supports that contention.

Although Smith later noted that the man's appearance “didn't ring true for the Secret Service” and came to believe that he “should have checked that man closer”, (Ibid) on the day of the assassination officers were unaware that no genuine agents were in the area so they saw no reason to treat him with suspicion. It is understandable, then, that they soon came to concentrate their efforts on the Texas School Book Depository where a man with a rifle had indeed been spotted. Inside the building they found an old, bolt-action, Mannlicher Carcano rifle and three spent shells. According to Reitzes “Documentary evidence...established that the weapon had been purchased through the mail under an assumed name by Lee Harvey Oswald...” This is not nearly the clear-cut issue he makes it out to be but rather than waste time on the details here, I will instead refer the reader to chapter 4 of Jim DiEugenio's excellent book, Reclaiming Parkland. For the sake of argument let us accept the premise that Oswald did indeed mail-order the rifle found on the sixth floor of the depository building. That in itself raises some intriguing questions.

Oswald had never shown much of an interest in guns. His brother Robert testified to the Warren Commission that he had only ever known Lee “to own but one firearm in his life” which was a small, .22 caliber rifle that he owned briefly as a teenager before selling it to Robert for $10. (1H397) His buddy in the Marines, Nelson Delgado, recalled that Oswald was often getting in trouble for failing to clean and take care of his weapon and “didn't give a darn” about keeping up his rifle practice. (8H235) And when he was living in Russia Oswald apparently joined a hunting club but, as his wife Marina told the Secret Service, “he never attended any meetings.” The only reason he had joined the club is because it entitled him to “free transportation in an automobile which enabled him to go out of town.” (CD344, p. 22) It is quite clear that throughout his life guns had held no special fascination for Oswald. So why, in early 1963, would he suddenly decide to purchase a rifle from Klein's Sporting Goods, of Chicago, and a pistol from Seaport Traders, of Los Angeles? This mail-order purchase, made using a false name, seems all the more bizarre in light of the fact that, at the time, he was living in Texas where it was easy to obtain firearms over the counter without leaving a long paper trail.

The above oddities leave open the possibility that, if Oswald actually did purchase those weapons, he did so at somebody else's suggestion or request. It is known that at the very time Oswald allegedly placed his orders, a Senate Subcommittee led by Senator Thomas Dodd was investigating the availability of firearms through the mail and both Klein's and Seaport had been named as companies involved in illegal practices. (Alex Cox, The President and the Provocateur, p. 127) Whether or not there is any connection between the activities of the Dodd Committee and Oswald's alleged decision to break the law by mail ordering two weapons under a false name is unknown. However, it is curious to note that Oswald also “defected” to Russia during the period of time that the CIA was running a fake defector program, and launched a one-man FPCC chapter that ended up embarrassing the organization at the same time the FBI and CIA were conducting their own anti-FPCC campaigns. Perhaps these are all coincidences. Then again, perhaps not.

Regardless, the central question is not why (or indeed if) Oswald purchased the rifle but whether or not he had it in his hands at 12:30 pm on November 22, 1963. Even by the official account, it was certainly not in his possession in the two months leading up to the assassination when it was allegedly sitting in the garage of Ruth Paine—although nobody actually saw it there. Reitzes writes matter-of-factly and without elaboration that “Oswald's palm print was found on the weapon”. But Reitzes knows that this claim is hotly contested. And with very good reason. The print was supposedly found on the underside of the barrel by Dallas police lieutenant J.C. Day on the evening of November 22, 1963. But when FBI fingerprint expert Sebastian Latona carefully inspected the entire rifle a few hours later he found “no latent prints of value” anywhere on it. (4H23) It was not until after Oswald was dead at the hands of Jack Ruby that the Dallas police suddenly announced they had found his print on the rifle. Lt. Day claimed that he had “lifted” the print before sending the rifle to the FBI but could never adequately explain why he had failed to inform the Bureau of his discovery when he handed the evidence over. Nor could he explain why he failed to photograph the print before it was “lifted” in accordance with proper procedure. To make matters worse, Day later declined “to make a written signed statement” when the Bureau asked. (26H829)

An FBI memo that was suppressed until 1978 reveals that even the Warren Commission was dubious of Day's claims. The memo dated August 28, 1964, states: “[Warren commission general counsel J. Lee] Rankin advised because of the circumstances that now exist there was a serious concern in the minds of the commission as to whether or not the palm impression that has been obtained from the Dallas Police Department is a legitimate latent palm impression removed from the rifle barrel or whether it was obtained from some other source and that for this reason this matter needs to be resolved.” FBI Special Agent Vincent Drain, who had collected the evidence from the Dallas police on November 22, 1963, was also highly skeptical when he was interviewed by author Henry Hurt in 1984: “'I just don't believe there ever was a print,' said Drain. He noted that there was increasing pressure on the Dallas police to build evidence in the case. Asked to explain what might have happened, Agent Drain stated, 'All I can figure is that it [Oswald's print] was some sort of cushion, because they were getting a lot of heat by Sunday night. You could take the print off Oswald's card and put it on the rifle. Something like that happened.'" (Hurt, Reasonable Doubt, p. 109)

With the above in mind one has to ask, is this really Reitzes' idea of “the most reliable evidence”? Quite obviously, had Oswald lived to face trial, any defense lawyer worth his salt would surely have argued that the palm print should be thrown out for lack of proof. And were it actually admitted, it would most certainly have become the focus of his appeal. But even if we choose to take Lt. Day at his word and accept the print as genuine, it still does not place the rifle in Oswald's hands at the time of the assassination. Why? Because Day would only say it was an “old dry print” that “had been on the gun several weeks or months”, (26H831; Summers, p. 54) a detail which Reitzes and his fellow anti-conspiracy buffs never fail to omit.

Reitzes goes from bad to worse when he writes that in addition to the palm print, “fingerprints lifted from the trigger housing were later determined to be” Oswald's. Which, quite frankly, is just nonsense. The partial prints in question were discovered by Lt. Day who could not identify them as belonging to Oswald. As he told the Warren Commission, “ fingerprinting it either is or is not the man. So I wouldn't say those were his prints...from what I had I could not make a positive identification as being his prints.” (4H262) The prints were then examined by the FBI's Sebastian Latona who also judged them to be “of no value”. (4H21) Another FBI expert, Ronald Wittmus, agreed with Latona's assessment. (7H590) 15 years later, yet another expert examined the prints on behalf of the HSCA and once again they were said to be “of no value for identification purposes.” (8HSCA248) And in 2003, researcher James K. Olmstead reported that a new analysis had been conducted using the FBI laboratory computer software. The computer had failed to find a match. (Thomas, p. 85)

So where does Reitzes get his claim that the prints were “determined to be Oswald's”? Well, if you can believe it, from a TV show. In 1993, the producers of the PBS documentary Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald? asked two experts to review the fingerprint evidence. The first, former head of the FBI's latent print section, George Bonebrake, reached the same conclusion as every expert who came before him and stated that the prints were “simply not clear enough to make an identification”. The second, Vincent J. Scalice, claimed that not only had he positively matched the prints, but he had found 18 points of identity! At this point, the real skeptics and critical thinkers out there might well be wondering how it was that Scalice was able to see what no other expert could see. And they might find it all the more bizarre to learn that one of opinions he was disagreeing with was, in fact, his own since he was the very same expert who had told the HSCA that the prints were “of no value for identification purposes”.

So what had changed between 1978 and 1993? Well, nothing. Scalice claimed that he was able to reach his conclusion after carrying out various enhancements on the photographs that Lt. Day took of the prints on the evening of November 22, 1963. But unlike Scalice, Day and the FBI experts were not just working with photographs, they were working with the rifle and the actual latent prints when they concluded that they were “insufficient” for identification. And no amount of enhancement, no matter how sophisticated, can bring out more detail in the photographs than was visible on the actual prints. Scalice's claim is simply not worthy of serious consideration and not surprisingly, neither PBS nor Scalice has ever made available a chart displaying his alleged 18 match points so that they can be corroborated or refuted by independent experts. It hardly needs pointing out that by no stretch of the imagination was Reitzes using “critical thinking tools to discern the best evidence” when he cherry-picked Scalice's unsupported and highly contradicted “determination” over that of all the other experts. That he presented this malarkey to readers as if it were established fact is blatant dishonesty.

Having utterly failed to put Oswald in the depository building with a rifle in his hands, Reitzes next seeks to establish that all of the shots were fired from the sixth floor window. “The autopsy of the President...” he writes, “confirmed that the shots had come from above and behind the limousine, not the grassy knoll.” This, of course, was the rushed and incomplete autopsyperformed by inexperienced and under qualified prosectors—that former president of the American Academy of Forensic Science, Dr. Cyril Wecht, described as “a botched autopsy, a terrible piece of medicolegal investigation.” (Wecht, Cause of Death, p. 23) This does not worry Reitzes who claims that “Later reviews of the autopsy photographs and X-rays by panels of forensic experts appointed by Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968, the Rockefeller Commission in 1975, and the HSCA in 1978 affirmed the conclusions of the autopsy report.” But once again Reitzes is not telling the whole truth.

The first group of experts to “review” the autopsy materials—the “Clark Panel”—was convened by Attorney General Ramsey Clark in 1968 after he read the proofs of the not yet published book, Six Seconds in Dallas by Josiah Thompson. In the book, Thompson used the Zapruder film, the autopsy report, and the testimony of both the Parkland and Bethesda physicians to make a case for two shots striking President Kennedy's head almost simultaneously; one from the rear and one from the Knoll. He also highlighted a seeming trajectory problem that had gone ignored by the Warren Commission. In their report, the autopsy doctors described an entry wound low down in the back of the skull, “2.5 centimeters to the right, and slightly above the external occipital protuberance.” To illustrate the trajectory the bullet took through JFK's head, the Warren Commission published a drawing prepared according to Humes' verbal descriptions by Naval artist Harold Rydberg. This illustration showed Kennedy with his head tilted significantly forward as if looking at the floor of the limousine. The problem, as Thompson demonstrated, was that at frame 313 of the Zaprduer film the position of Kennedy's head was nothing like that shown in the Rydberg drawing. When the head was placed in the correct position it became clear that the bullet, supposedly travelling downwards from the sixth floor window at an angle approaching 16 degrees, would have had to have taken a steeply upward trajectory through the skull.

Maryland Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Russell Fisher, who led the Clark Panel, later admitted in an interview for the March, 1977, Maryland State Medical Journal that the Attorney General was so “concerned” by what he had read in the proofs that he created the panel “partly to refute some of the junk that was in [Thompson's] book”. Clearly, if Fisher and his colleagues were being told what they had to “refute”, then they were never tasked with an honest and objective assessment of the autopsy materials. And they never made one. They did, however, deliver as promised and found a creative solution to the apparent trajectory problem by moving the entry wound four inches up the skull! Quite obviously, the Clark panel claiming the autopsy doctors were completely wrong about where the bullet entered the skull stands in stark contradiction to Reitzes' claim that the panel's review “affirmed the conclusions of the autopsy report.”

In truth, as Dr. Wecht and others have pointed out, Kennedy's autopsy doctors did make many errors. However, it strains credulity to suggest that mistaking the top of the skull for the bottom was one of them. Even if one wants to argue that the three doctors were so utterly incompetent that they were unable to do what a child could do, there were at least four independent eyewitnesses who recalled seeing the entry wound and fully corroborated them. Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman, FBI Agent Francis O'Neil, Richard Lipsey (aide to U.S. Army General Wehle), and Bethesda photographer John Stringer all placed the wound low down in the back of the skull. Conversely, not a single witness recalled seeing an entrance in the top of the head where the Clark Panel claimed it was. In the years since, a number of experts including neuroscientist Dr. Joseph Riley, radiologist Dr. Randy Robertson, and pathologist Dr. Peter Cummings, have independently identified the same defect on the right lateral skull X-ray as being the entrance hole. And this defect sits to the right and slightly above the EOP—precisely where Humes said the entrance wound was. The Clark Panel's decision to move the wound upwards clearly had nothing to do with what the evidence showed and everything to do with “refuting” Josiah Thompson.

The next socially constructive assessment of the medical evidence was conducted on behalf of the Rockefeller Commission which had as its Executive Director none other than former Warren Commission lawyer David Belin. The make-up of the medical panel leaves no doubt about its loyalties or the pre-ordained nature of its conclusions. Dr. Werner Spitz and Dr. Richard Lindenberg were both close professional associates of Dr. Russell Fisher, having worked under him at the Maryland State Medical Examiner's Office. Dr. Fred Hodges worked alongside Clark Panel radiologist Russell Morgan MD at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. Pathologist Lt. Col. Robert R. McMeeken was a colleague of one of Kennedy's autopsy surgeons, Dr. Pierre Finck, at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. And Dr. Alfred Olivier had previously served as the ballistics expert for the Warren Commission. (Gary Aguilar, How Five Investigations into JFK's Medical/Autopsy Evidence Got it Wrong, Part IV) Is it any wonder that this particular group of individuals rubber-stamped the Clark Panel's report? Not hardly. As Dr. Cyril Wecht noted in a telephone conversation with Rockefeller Commission Senior Counsel Robert Olsen, given their strong ties to the government and especially to Dr. Russell Fisher, “it was wholly unrealistic to expect that anybody on this panel would express views different from those expressed by the Ramsey Clark Panel in 1968...” (Olsen, memo to file, April 19, 1975) Later, in a public press release, Dr. Wecht—alongside Professor of Criminalistics, Herbert MacDonell, and President of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Dr. Robert Joling—charged that the Commission had “set up a panel of governmental sycophants to defend the Warren Report.” (Aguilar, Op. cit.)

The trend continued with the HSCA forensic pathology panel which included Rockefeller medical expert and close Fisher associate, Dr. Werner Spitz, as well as Dr. Charles Petty who had spent nine years under Fisher at the Maryland Medical Examiner's Office. (Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death, p. 13) In fact, according to researcher Pat Speer, “of the nine pathologists on the HSCA panel, six had embraced a professional relationship with Dr. Russell Fisher...” The HSCA panel was chaired by Dr. Michael Baden who had contributed to Spitz and Fisher's book, Medicolegal Investigation of Death. Baden is himself a controversial figure. He was Chief Medical Examiner for the city of New York from 1978 until 1979 when he was dismissed for his “inability to work within the system.” (The New York Times, June 26, 1982) In 1995, in exchange for more than $100,000, he took the stand in defense of O.J. Simpson, claiming that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were killed by multiple assailants using multiple weapons. (Ibid, August 11, 1995) In 2007, he testified on behalf of the defense in the trial of legendary pop music producer, Phil Spector. Baden's wife, Linda Kenney Baden, just happened to be Spector's trial counsel. As Journalist Jonathan Turley noted, “ was fair game for the Spector prosecutors to challenge the objectivity of forensic pathologist Michael Baden...and the prosecution scored points on the issue, particularly after Michael Baden said he could not define a 'conflict of interest' and prosecutors asked if he would end up 'sleeping on the couch' if his testimony did not favour Spector's case.” (L.A. Times, September 11, 2007)

In his book Dead Reckoning, Baden wrote that "Physicians may be the worst witnesses. They are often swayed by whoever asked them to be an expert. If that lawyer is smart enough to ask their advice, they conclude, he must know what he is doing. That being the case, physicians therefore adopt whatever the lawyer tells them as the facts of the case and become, if only subconsciously, an advocate for the lawyer rather than an independent adviser." (Baden, p. 89) This is certainly true of Baden himself. According to original HSCA Deputy Chief Counsel Robert Tanenbaum, when the committee was being led by dedicated truth seeker Richard Sprague, Dr. Baden was saying that there had been a conspiracy with shots coming from the right front. (see this video) But when the leadership changed so too did Baden's expert opinion.

Once Baden had decided to back the official story, he and the rest of the Fisher-influenced panel members went to work denigrating the autopsy surgeons and affirming the Clark Panel Report. In spite of the evidence to the contrary, Baden was determined to prove that the rear entry wound was in the top of the skull where Fisher claimed it was and not the bottom where the autopsy doctors had observed it. The HSCA panel claimed that the autopsy photographs of the back of Kennedy's head showed a “red spot” high in the rear and that this was the wound of entrance. But when the panel tried to impress this on the autopsy surgeons—the men who had inspected the actual wounds on the body—its interpretation was firmly rejected. Referring to the “red spot”, Dr. Humes stated, “I don’t know what that is...I can assure you that as we reflected the scalp to get to this point, there was no defect corresponding to this in the skull at any point. I don’t know what that is. It could be to me clotted blood. I don’t, I just don’t know what it is, but it certainly was not any wound of entrance.” (7HSCA254) Rather than accept that Humes may have had some idea what he was talking about, the HSCA pressured him to change his testimony.

When it came time to illustrate the entry wound, the HSCA did not publish the autopsy photo of the back of the head. Instead they presented a lifelike drawing of the photo prepared by professional medical illustrator Ida Dox. The difference between the photo and the drawing is that in the drawing the “red spot” has been greatly accentuated to look more like a bullet wound. At a JFK conference in 2003, Dr. Randy Robertson presented a stunning document from the newly declassified HSCA files. It was a note from Baden to Dox that said “Ida, you can do much better.” Attached to the note was a picture of a typical entrance wound from Spitz and Fisher's Medicolegal Investigation of Death. In other words, Baden was actually instructing her to make the red spot look more like an entrance wound than it really did in the photographs. Which just goes to show the lengths Baden was willing to go to in order to push the Clark Panel's more lone assassin friendly revision of the head wound.

There is another extremely important point that needs to be made when discussing these latter day reviews of the medical evidence. Even if the HSCA pathology panel had not been stacked with Russell Fisher acolytes and experts for hire like Dr. Baden, it would still have been hampered by the fact that crucial autopsy materials had long since “disappeared” from the archive. Photographs showing the interior of the chest and skull, microscopic tissue slides, Kodachrome slides of the interior of the chest, and even the President's brain were all among the items that were mysteriously missing by the time the HSCA came to inspect the evidence. Is it not reasonable to suggest that in order to make an accurate determination about the number and direction of bullets striking JFK it is important to have all the relevant evidence? Dr. Cyril Wecht, the HSCA panel's lone dissenting member, certainly believed so.

Dr. Wecht criticized his colleagues for engaging in “semantical sophistry and intellectual gymnastics”, for being “slavishly dedicated to defending the Warren Report”, and noted a “preconceived bias and professionally injudicious attitude vis-a-vis this case.” (7HSCA209-11) In his testimony before the committee, Wecht was asked why he felt his colleagues had taken the position they had. Apparently with the allegiances to Russell Fisher in mind, he responded, “There are some things involving some present and former professional relationships and things between some of them, and some people who have served on previous panels.” (1HSCA354) Years later he added that “many of these same people had a long-standing involvement with the federal government—many had received federal grants for research and appointments to various influential government boards. To be highly critical of a government action could end that friendly relationship with Uncle Sam.” (Wecht, p. 43-44) Indeed, it is not normally considered a sensible course of action to bite the hand that feeds.

Reitzes may pretend or even wish to believe otherwise but scientists do not operate in a vacuum. As Don Thomas writes, “science is a social process and...scientific conclusions are in fact, social constructs. The consequences of the results, as much if not more than the empirical evidence itself, will often steer the scientist to one conclusion over the other.” (Thomas, p. 8) The reports of the Clark, Rockefeller, and HSCA panels are the perfect example of what happens when genuine experts allow political considerations, as well as personal and professional biases, to cloud their judgement and dictate their conclusions.