Sunday, 08 February 2015 13:23

Introduction to the 2013 Presentation on the HSCA

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Jim DiEugenio traces the behind-the-scenes history of the House Select Committee on Assassinations and the forces which turned it away from its original investigative direction.

Because of the creation of the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) we now know a great deal more about what went on behind the scenes during the years of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). When Robert Blakey took over that committee, a veil of secrecy descended over it. This differed from the approach his predecessor, Richard Sprague, had taken. Sprague realized that a serious problem with the Warren Commission was that it had worked too much in secret. There was no kind of open, transparent democratic process involved in their efforts. Sprague wanted to avoid this. Therefore he announced that he would have open hearings and public experiments.

When Sprague was forced out, Blakey pretty much reversed this policy. He did have public hearings near the end of the inquiry, but as we know today, these were largely scripted. And that was about it for transparency. This was actually even worse than the Warren Commission. Because with the executive branch agencies—which the Commission was—one can use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ferret out records and testimony. And to a degree, this did happen. (Although, contrary to what some obtuse commentators say, there was still material being withheld by the Commission even after the ARRB closed down. Like the working papers of David Slawson.)

But there is no FOIA law for the legislative branch, which the HSCA was. Thus it was not really possible to find out if their reports concealed anything from their proceedings. With the declassification of the ARRB, we now know that the HSCA did do this. For example, as Gary Aguilar has noted, the HSCA medical report lied about witnesses at Bethesda Medical Center not seeing a gaping hole in the rear of Kennedy’s head during the autopsy. So today, there is large agreement about both witnesses from Parkland Hospital and Bethesda seeing this large, avulsed wound in the rear of Kennedy’s head. Which strongly indicates a shot from the front. We also know that the HSCA covered up evidence in their report that proved it was Clay Shaw driving the car in the Clinton-Jackson incident with David Ferrie and Lee Oswald, not Guy Banister, because Sheriff John Manchester swore to this under oath in executive session (William Davy, Let Justice be Done, p. 106). The HSCA also concealed the fact that it was not just Jack Martin who saw Oswald at Guy Banister’s office in the summer of 1963. Several other witnesses also saw him there (James DiEugenio, Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition, pgs. 110-14). The HSCA Report also did not reveal that investigators Dan Hardway and Ed Lopez prepared perjury indictments for David Phillips and Anne Goodpasture for lying to them about Mexico City. And lastly, Robert Blakey did not mention in his report that there was massive interference with the committee’s work by the CIA. He does admit that today.

Further, many of the so-called scientific panels and experts that Blakey relied upon have also been called into serious question. For example, Vincent Guinn’s bullet lead analysis has today been completely discredited (James DiEugenio, Reclaiming Parkland, pgs. 71-76). Thomas Canning, his trajectory analyst, has also been undermined (Destiny Betrayed, p. 344). And Blakey accepted the so-called sniper’s nest evidence of the rifle and three shells. Further analysis has proven this evidence is dubious (ibid,, pgs. 343-44).

There were some good things in the published HSCA volumes. For example, Gaeton Fonzi’s work on Sylvia Odio and Antonio Veciana; the panel on Jack Ruby’s polygraph; the report on Rose Cheramie. But today most informed observers understand that this was a blown opportunity, the last chance to actually find out who killed President Kennedy became a victim of politics.

That political maneuvering was hidden at the time of the HSCA’s published report. Therefore, some critics – Peter Scott, Paul Hoch, and Josiah Thompson – actually took the report seriously. They then wrote an unpublished manuscript called Beyond Conspiracy. They worked from premises that were (falsely) developed by the HSCA. For example, that the single bullet theory was valid, and that the Chicago Mafia was a real player in the plot. Thank God, this book was never published. If it has been it would have 1.) given more ballast to a false narrative, and 2.) eventually would have deposited a lot of egg on the authors’ collective faces – though that may be hard to do in Hoch’s case, since at the end of the inquiry, he actually said he preferred Blakey’s approach to Sprague’s. As Gaeton Fonzi noted, Tony Summers also fell for Blakey’s mob did it scenario. As he was reviewing the galleys for Summers' first edition of Conspiracy, he was taken aback by how much of the mob angle Summers included. But it was actually worse than that. In a later edition, Summers actually included the CIA memo saying that John Roselli had met with Jim Garrison in Las Vegas. This was preposterous on its face. But not only Garrison, but as Joan Mellen has shown, Roselli and even Richard Helms denied it happened.

Today, with the declassification process, we know much more about the HSCA and why it failed. This visual presentation does not at all pretend to the tell the whole story of how that happened. It serves only as a précis of that wasted opportunity. But it does so with much new information culled from those files. And it shows, as Ben Franklin said long ago, that secrecy is the enemy of democracy, not security.


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Last modified on Wednesday, 07 December 2016 23:44
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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