Thursday, 20 October 2016 23:38

Howard Willens and The American Scholar

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This essay on [Willens' and Mosk's] work for the Warren Commission they served on is more notable for what they omit from the official record than what they include, writes Gary Aguilar.

How far the Warren Report has fallen in public estimation is an almost humorous subject. When it was first issued in the fall of 1964, the report was met with almost universal acclaim as an historically unquestionable document. All branches of the media – the press, television, periodicals and radio – accepted it with almost no reservations. Perhaps because none of the commentators had read the nearly 15,000 pages of accompanying evidence, which was not published until a month later. To show just how strange this reception was, and how lacking in rigor the media examination was, CBS prepared a two-hour documentary on the Warren Report the day it was published! Clearly, this show was being prepared in advance of the release of the report. In other words, CBS had accepted the Warren Report without reading it. Or, someone in the government passed them a copy before anyone else had it.

Yet, this mass propaganda deployment did not hold. Within three years, the majority of Americans now doubted the main tenets of the Warren Report. And that figure has never dipped below a majority in the nearly fifty years since. Which is a tribute to both the work of the critical community and the good sense of the American people. Because the members of the Warren Commission have never let up in their attempts to reinculcate the public with their fallacious verdict based upon, at best, incomplete evidence.

For instance, when Oliver Stone’s film JFK was released, David Belin appeard at the National Press Club to criticize the film. (Click here for that appearance When the late Dr. Charles Crenshaw, who was in residence at Parkland Hospital in 1963, published his book Conspiracy of Silence suggesting something was awry with the autopsy of President Kennedy, Belin appeared in the pages of the Dallas Morning News to denounce his book. Years earlier, Commission attorneys David Slawson and Wesley Liebeler communicated with the Justice Department to construct a limited medical examination that would hinder Jim Garrison’s investigation in New Orleans. And as Pat Speer has shown, in all probability, before Arlen Specter passed away, he got in contact with New York TImes journalist Phil Shenon to coax him into writing his limited hangout book, A Cruel and Shocking Act. (Click here for our review)

Wesley Liebeler, Arlen Specter and David Belin have all since passed away. So today, Commission counsel Howard Willens is the most active participant in sustaining the verdict of the Warren Commission into the new millennium. In 2013, he wrote an ill-titled volume called History Will Prove Us Right. The review at this site by Martin Hay was so scathing, Willens actually replied to it on his personal web site. (Click here for Hay’s review, and here for Willens’ reply Willens’ reply was so weak and unfounded that Martin had little trouble demolishing it also. (Click here Apparently, Willens did not learn his lesson. Or he is a glutton for punishment. He has sallied forward again. This time he has joined forces with survivng member Richard Mosk.

Attorneys Willens’ and Richard Mosk’s latest defense appears in, of all places, The American Scholar. This essay on their work for the Warren Commission they served on is more notable for what they omit from the official record than what they include. “What the critics often forget or ignore,” they write, “is that since 1964, several government agencies have also looked at aspects of our work” (American Scholar, Summer, 2016, p. 59). As if the Church Committee and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) had reviewed and applauded the commission’s work. Indeed, they did look at it. But rather than plaudits, they issued stinging rebukes, principally for the commission’s having been rolled by J. Edgar Hoover, and to a lesser extent, by the CIA and the Secret Service.

“It must be said that the FBI generally exhausted its resources in confirming its case against Oswald as the lone assassin,” the HSCA concluded, “a case that Director J. Edgar Hoover, at least, seemed determined to make within 24 hours of the of the assassination.”1 In essence, the experienced investigators concluded that Hoover had divined the solution to the crime before the investigation began, and then his agents confirmed the boss’s epiphany. The intimidated commission went right along. And with good reason, only part of which Mr. Willens tells.

He admits that the “FBI had originally opposed the creation of the Warren Commission,” and that Hoover “ordered investigations of commission staff members.” But he doesn’t reveal that Hoover deployed one of his favorite dirty tricks to deal not only with lowly support staffers, such as Mr. Willens, but also with the heralded commissioners themselves. “[D]erogatory information pertaining to both Commission members and staff was brought to Mr. Hoover’s attention,” the Church Committee reported.2 (emphasis added)

Willens and Mosk also forgot to mention that Hoover had a personal spy on the Warren Commission, then Rep. Gerald Ford, who tattled on Commissioners who were (justifiably) skeptical of the Bureau’s work. "Ford indicated he would keep me thoroughly advised as to the activities of the Commission," FBI executive Cartha DeLoach wrote in a once secret memo. "He stated this would have to be done on a confidential basis, however he thought it should be done."3 At the bottom of the memo, Hoover scrawled, “Well handled.”4 The success of Hoover’s machinations was obvious to subsequent government investigators.

The HSCA’s chief counsel, Notre Dame Law Professor Robert Blakey, an experienced criminal investigator and prosecutor, was impressed with neither the Commission’s vigor nor its independence. “What was significant,” Blakey wrote, “was the ability of the FBI to intimidate the Commission, in light of the Bureau’s predisposition on the questions of Oswald’s guilt and whether there had been a conspiracy. At a January 27 [1964] Commission meeting, there was another dialogue [among Warren Commissioners]:

“John McCloy: ‘… the time is almost overdue for us to have a better perspective of the FBI investigation than we now have … We are so dependent on them for our facts … .’

“Commission counsel J. Lee Rankin: ‘Part of our difficulty in regard to it is that they have no problem. They have decided that no one else is involved … .’

“Senator Richard Russell: ‘They have tried the case and reached a verdict on every aspect.’

“Senator Hale Boggs: ‘You have put your finger on it.’ (Closed Warren Commission meeting transcipt.)”5

Testifying before the HSCA, the Commission’s chief counsel J. Lee Rankin shamefully admitted, “Who could protest against what Mr. Hoover did back in those days?”6 Apparently not the President’s commissioners. The HSCA’s Blakey also reported that, “When asked if he was satisfied with the (Commission’s) investigation that led to the (no conspiracy) conclusion, Judge Burt Griffin said he was not.”7 Moreover, author Gus Russo reported that Griffin also admitted that, “We spent virtually no time investigating the possibility of conspiracy. I wish we had.”8

Thus, despite their clear misgivings, rather than truly investigate, the Commissioners bowed to the notoriously corrupt and imperious Bureau chief. This policy had serious repercussions when the Commission confronted two key issues: published claims that Lee Harvey Oswald had been an FBI informant, and the possibility Jack Ruby had a relationship with organized crime.

“The Commission did not investigate Hoover or the FBI, and managed to avoid the appearance of doing so,” HSCA investigators determined. “It ended up doing what the members had agreed they could not do: Rely mainly on the FBI's denial of the allegations (that Oswald had been a Bureau informant).”9 Hoover merely sent the Commission his signed affidavit declaring that Oswald was not an informant, and he also “sent over 10 additional affidavits from each FBI agent who had had contact with Oswald.”10 And with those self-exonerating denials, the case was closed.

About Jack Ruby: in 1964 the FBI had his phone records, yet failed to spot Ruby’s obvious, and atypical, pattern of calls to known Mafiosi in the weeks leading up to the assassination. After performing the rudimentary task of actually analyzing those calls, the HSCA determined that, if not a sworn member of La Cosa Nostra, Ruby had close links to numerous Mafiosi.11 Thus the HSCA found that the Commission was wrong in concluding that, “the evidence does not establish a significant link between Ruby and organized crime.”12

The list of Commission shortcomings the HSCA assembled is not short. A brief summary of them runs some 47 pages in the Bantam Books version of the report (pp. 289-336), which outlines what required much of the 500 pages of HSCA volume XI to cover (available on-line).13 “The evidence indicates that facts which may have been relevant to, and would have substantially affected, the Warren Commission's investigation were not provided by the agencies (FBI and the CIA). Hence, the Warren Commission's findings may have been formulated without all of the relevant information.”14 The Church Committee said that the problem was that “… the Commission was perceived as an adversary by both Hoover and senior FBI officials.” “Such a relationship,” Committee observed, “was not conducive to the cooperation necessary for a thorough and exhaustive investigation.”15

But the FBI did more than just withhold evidence from the Commission. Although he mentions that the FBI destroyed a note Oswald wrote to Agent Hosty and withheld that information from the Commission, Mr. Willens doesn’t mention that Agent Hosty reported that his own personnel file, and other FBI files, had been falsified.16 Nor that author Curt Gentry learned from assistant FBI director William Sullivan that there were other JFK documents at the Bureau that had been destroyed.17

Although too numerous to explore here, American Scholar readers should understand that legitimate questions persist about issues Messrs. Willens and Mosk consider settled. These include the notorious Single Bullet Theory and JFK's hapless autopsy,18 to name but two. But if the authors cannot even be completely honest with what the HSCA and Church Committee wrote about them, then should one trust them with those two radioactive issues?


1 House Select Committee on Assassinations Final Report, p. 128. On-line at:

2 In: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations, Book V, p. 47, on-line at: Also cited by: Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover – The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 549.

3 “Ford Told FBI of Skeptics on Warren Commission”, By Joe Stephens, Washington Post Staff Writer, Friday, August 8, 2008. On-line at:

4 See copy of actual memo at Mary Ferrell:

5 In: R. Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour – The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York: Berkley Books, 1992, p. 29. This testimony was also published in: Mark North. Act of Treason. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1991, p. 515-516.

6 House Select Committee on Assassinations, Vol. XI, p. 49, on-line at:

7 Blakey and R. Billings. Fatal Hour – The Assassination of President Kennedy by Organized Crime. New York: Berkley Books, 1992, p. 94.

8 Gus Russo. Live by the Sword. Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998, p. 374.

9 HSCA, Vol IX, p. 41. On-line at:

10 HSCA, Vol IX, p. 41. On-line at:

11 See excellent discussion in: House Select Committee on Assassinations Final Report, p. 148-156, on-line at:

12 Warren Report, p. 801. On-line at:


14 HSCA, Vol. XI, p. 59. On-line at:

15 In: Final Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations (Church Committee), Book V, p. 47, on-line at:

16 James P. Hosty, Jr. Assignment: Oswald. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1996, pp. 178-180, 184-185, 243-244.

17 Curt Gentry. J. Edgar Hoover – The Man and His Secrets. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991, p. 546, footnote.

18 The Chairman of the Forensics Panel of the HSCA, former New York Coroner Michael Baden, MD, has written, “Where bungled autopsies are concerned, President Kennedy’s is the exemplar.” See Baden, Michael M., Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner. New York: Ivy Books, published by Ballantine Books, 1989, p. 5. See also, Larry Sturdivan, The JFK Myths, chapter 10, “Bungled Autopsy,” St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, pp. 185-220.

Last modified on Monday, 16 January 2017 19:31
Gary Aguilar

Gary L. Aguilar, MD, is one of the few physicians outside the government ever permitted to examine the still-restricted photographs and X-rays taken during President Kennedy’s autopsy.  He has published widely on the medical evidence in professional journals, books and on-line.  He has  lectured before academic medical, academic medico-legal, and non-professional public audiences on the subject. He is currently Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology, U.C. San Francisco, and the head of ophthalmology and the Vice Chief of Staff at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco.

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