Wednesday, June 14, 2017
A TRAIL WORTH TAKING
ON THE TRAIL OF THE ASSASSINS: ONE MAN’S QUEST TO SOLVE THE MURDER OF
PRESIDENT KENNEDY (New York, Skyhorse Publishing ed,, 2012; d. 1988)
By JIM GARRISON
Rev. by Hugh Murray
Why review a book published in 1988? Because it is pertinent today. Today in America we witness most of the major media engaged in an attempt to discredit President Trump: CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc., with news anchors and journalists determined to “expose” the exaggerations, distortions, bigotry, hatreds, ignorance, bullying, his hostility to women, to minorities, etc. Trump is the deplorable President elected by the Deplorables of America. Will the media succeed in taking Trump down? Recall what they did to New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison when he challenged the Establishment by charging businessman Clay Shaw with conspiring to assassinate President John Kennedy.
Garrison had to contend with hostile reports from NBC, CBS, the Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek, the New York Times, and the other major media of that day. While Garrison once appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show with host Johnny Carson (in a most unfunny and hostile interview), Trump was essentially called a c*** sucker by Stephen Colbert on CBS’s The Late Show, and comedienne Kathy Griffin posed with a severed head with the bloodied face of Trump. (Does Griffin laugh when she watches footage of the shooting of Kennedy in Dallas?) In late May 2017 CNN telecast a 2-hour special on the John Kennedy assassination. About the last half hour was devoted to the Garrison case against Clay Shaw, and though Warren Commission critic Mark Lane and DA Garrison made brief appearances, the thrust was that Garrison had no real evidence of conspiracy. When Shaw was found not guilty by the jury, the program used the verdict to vindicate the findings of the Warren Commission that Oswald had alone killed Kennedy. While Garrison was merely the DA of a major city, Trump is President, and therefore has more powers to defend himself. Or does he? Think JFK.
Jim Garrison has written an excellent book concerning his attempt to expose the conspiracy that led to John Kennedy’s killing. Garrison does make some strange omissions, however, but overall, his is a persuasive work.
In late November 1963 I noticed a short article in a local newspaper, probably the States-Item, stating that David Ferrie had been arrested in connection with the recent Kennedy assassination in Dallas. Could it be the same Ferrie? Surely, there could not be two people in New Orleans with that weird name. I clipped the article and sent it to my old roommate, Oliver St Pe. In the summer of 1960 we were the two white New Orleanians (along with 6 Blacks) who attended a CORE training institute in Miami. Among those teaching us the methods of non-violence for racial change were Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who that August was off-the-record supporting Kennedy and the Democrats in that presidential election year); baseball legend Jackie Robinson (then openly endorsing Richard Nixon and the Republicans against the Democrats), and others who had experience in civil rights activism. As part of our training, we tested various facilities, and in one test Oliver was arrested for sitting at a table with Blacks at Shell’s City Super Market. He was released in a day or two, and appeared on a national television news program about CORE. A few weeks later, we all returned home,- and a week after that, with 5 Blacks and another white, I was arrested in the first lunch-counter sit-in in New Orleans. The new census figures were not out yet, so New Orleans was still listed as the largest city in the South, more populous than Miami, Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas, and Houston. Because of the arrest, I had to move from my parents’ home, and Oliver, living in a suburb, wanted to reside closer to his university. I was a graduate student in history at Tulane; he was a senior majoring in sociology at Loyola U. (which was just next door to Tulane). We found an inexpensive apartment, and roomed together for the school year 1960-61.
Not until we roomed together did I become aware that Oliver was legally blind. Although I had graduated and he was a senior, he was about 2 years older than I. He had dropped out of school for a time as a youth, and had had troubles adjusting. He was probably on the path to what was then called delinquency, but was saved with the help of others. A cousin taught him the trade of an electrician, and much later, at Loyola, Father Fichte gave Oliver academic direction in perceiving, analyzing, and changing society. But long before Loyola, and most important, to get Oliver back on track, back in school, so he might even consider university, Oliver joined the Civil Air Patrol, where he was greatly impressed by and influenced by David Ferrie.
I worked at the Tulane U. Library on weekends, so Oliver and I did not share a social life. Sundays he attended Roman Catholic Mass, and on other occasions volunteered to instruct in Catholic doctrine; I taught Sunday school at the Unitarian Church (Plato’s Republic, Job, Dostoevsky, etc.). In the week I might earn extra small sums by reading to Oliver some of his text-book assignments. One day he said that the forthcoming weekend he was going to a party at his old friend’s home. He noted that he had not seen David Ferrie in awhile, and looked forward to seeing him again. After that weekend, when I saw Oliver again, I asked, how was the party? “Oh, Dave was playing soldier.” Oliver added that there were many military types were at the gathering. This would have been in spring 1961, about the time of the Bay of Pigs invasion. I never met Ferrie, but Oliver stressed that he was very intelligent, even involved in cancer research. I never met him, but with such a name, I did not forget David Ferrie. At the end of May 1961 our lease ended, Oliver graduated from Loyola, and we went our separate ways.
When I clipped the small article in November 1963 that mentioned the arrest of Ferrie in connection to the assassination, I sent it to Oliver who no longer resided in New Orleans. Oliver was working for the Agency for International Development in Laos, a new nation sharing a long border with North Vietnam. Garrison quotes John Gilligan, Dir. Of AID under Pres. Jimmy Carter, stating that the organization was infiltrated by the CIA from top to bottom.(pp. 62. 315) Oliver later told me he knew of some CIA people in Laos, but he never said he himself was one. I knew Oliver as a good Roman Catholic, kind, straight (hetero), almost a saintly man. In later years he became active in the disability movement, and a building is named for him on a university campus in New Orleans.
David Ferrie and the Civil Air Patrol were performing their function – training young people into capable, patriotic citizens in the 1950s. Did Ferrie perform the same function for Lee Oswald? Historian Larry Haapanen found that if Oswald had had a boy, he would have named him David Lee Oswald.(Joan Mellen, Farewell to Justice, pp. 43, 397) Oswald had only daughters. But one of Oliver’s sons was named David.
Garrison ignores all links between Oswald and Ferrie in the CAP. Garrison writes: “…the real Lee Harvey Oswald? It seemed to me that the best way to find out was to go back and study Oswald’s short but varied career.”(44) But the next page Garrison is researching Oswald in the marines. Yet, some allege that the man who may be most responsible for pushing Oswald toward enlisting in the marines was David Ferrie.
There are other strange omissions. After being elected District Attorney in late 1961, and sworn in in 1962, Garrison’s office became known for its anti-vice activities. He writes how his investigations struck at “strip joints, gambling operations, and other racketeer activities… B-drinking joints… closed down the last house of prostitution in New Orleans [and] ended the lottery operation.”(128) What Garrison fails to write is that his office engaged in anti-gay round-ups of single men who might simply be walking on the street in the wrong part of the French Quarter, or too near one of “those” bars. Long before the arrest of Clay Shaw, Garrison had earned the enmity of many gay New Orleanians. Indeed, American Grotesque, a large, very hostile book about the Garrison probe was written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner, James Kirkwood, best known for writing the book for The Chorus Line. Kirkwood simply viewed the Shaw trial as a show trial, an anti-gay witch hunt.
According to Kirkwood and others, Garrison was simply using general antipathy to gays to convict Shaw. But it was not only negative stereotypes. A friend assured me Shaw could not possibly be involved in the murderous conspiracy because he was a homosexual! I assume she meant gays were too flighty, too superficial, too weak, too incompetent, to partake in a murderous conspiracy. Of course, Shaw was capable enough to lead the International Trade Mart in New Orleans, quite an accomplishment in itself. He served in the army in WWII, and ended as a major, and he won medals from three nations for his service. Today, there is no doubt he had some connections to the CIA.
When Garrison discusses New Orleans Atty. Dean Andrews, he begins with the testimony from the Warren Commission in which Andrews related that shortly after the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas, Andrews received a phone call from Clay Bertrand asking Andrews to defend Oswald. Garrison neglects to mention that Oswald, while in New Orleans, had gone to the office of Andrews to ask for help in changing his dishonorable discharge from the marines; at the time Oswald was accompanied by several gay Latinos. Through much of his book, Garrison avoids use of the phrase “gay bars,” preferring euphemisms such as “some bars deep in the French Quarter, or ”raffish bars.”(83, 117) He writes of the Golden Lantern, Dixie’s, and the Galley House without mentioning that these were gay bars.(117, 119) Only later in the book does Garrison specifically speak of gays and homosexuals.
There is no doubt that the Establishment strongly opposed the Garrison probe. The day after Garrison arrested Shaw for conspiracy in the murder of Kennedy, the US Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, almost immediately spoke before the news cameras and declared that the Federal government had already investigated and exonerated Shaw. A newsman then “asked Clark directly if Shaw was checked out and found clear? ‘Yes, that’s right.’”(149) Suddenly, many people were wondering why and when the federals had investigated Shaw concerning Dallas. Clark’s comments only added to the speculation surrounding Shaw. On 4 September 1967 Chief Justice Earl Warren spoke asserting that Garrison had “produced absolutely nothing” to overturn the findings of the Warren Commission.(160) Of course, at that time, the trial had not yet begun. The national media mocked Garrison’s efforts more.
Garrison alleges that 1) an oilman sought to bribe Garrison to drop the investigation of the Kennedy murder; 2) that Ferrie and Shaw tried to hire a hitman to kill Garrison; and 3) on a trip there was an attempt to entrap Garrison in an airport toilet with a gay man – aiming to discredit Garrison and his probe. The evidence on all 3 of these seems flimsy, and may be paranoid fantasy. Or not. Garrison also maintains that several years after the loss of the Shaw case, the federals brought a trumped up charge of corruption against him in the midst of his campaign for re-election in 1973. There is no mention in this book of an allegation that occurred in summer of 1969, after the Shaw trial defeat. A male teenager claimed that Garrison fondled him at the NOAC, but despite articles about the alleged incident by national columnist Jack Anderson, the boy’s family never pressed the issue to court and Garrison was never convicted on such a charge.
This Garrison book makes clear – it is not easy to take on the federal government. Some of the episodes he includes may have been stories of crazy people (like Spiesel, who seemed good enough to place on the witness stand, and then under cross-examination, appeared like a total lunatic. (I was in the courtroom, and like most spectators, found it difficult to hold back laughter at the man the more he spoke about people getting his eye and making him impotent, and fingerprinting his daughter when she returned from college to make sure it was really her, the less credence he had. The Garrison effort suffered greatly by placing Spiesel under oath as a witness for the prosecution.) So too in this book, one may read some of the episodes with a grain of salt; there were crazies who went to Garrison; there were infiltrators from the feds inside his camp, and some of his suspicions may have seeped into paranoia. Recall the cliché: even paranoids have enemies, especially when one takes on the feds. However, there is no doubt that Garrison’s expose of some of the background of Oswald in New Orleans, and of events in Dallas, did much to demolish the myth propounded by the Warren Commission.
Because of the Garrison probe, we learned – from the sworn testimony by one of the doctors who performed the autopsy on Pres. Kennedy at Bethesda hospital, that the doctors performing the autopsy were not in charge of the autopsy. They were not permitted to give Kennedy a proper examination. Under oath! Under cross examination, Lt. Col. Pierre Finck was asked if he had probed the neck wound of Pres. Kennedy all the way through. No, he did not. Why not? He was ordered not to. Who ordered that? There were many generals and admirals in the room, and he was only a lt. col., so he followed orders. Those with higher ranks were not physicians. Dr. Finck had been a defense witness. Finck’s testimony revealed what a sham the Kennedy autopsy was. Also at the trial, Americans got to view the Zapruder film for the first time in years so one could judge for oneself which way the President moved when hit by the head shot. We learned from CORE workers on the Left and white townspeople on the Right in Clinton, Louisiana, that Oswald was in town in 1963 most likely in the company of David Ferrie and Clay Shaw. That Oswald in New Orleans that summer hung out at the office of Guy Banister, former FBI, and staunch anti-communist and anti-Castro activist. According to Garrison, Oswald was merely pretending to be a Marxist, but was really involved with the right-wing, anti-Castro groups who circulated with Ferrie and Banister.
Though the federal government had its major media minions to bolster the Warren Report, lone gunman theory, there was more freedom in the local New Orleans media. I recall watching on the local news channel Atty. Dean Andrews being interviewed. I don’t recall the exact question, but something like, “Was Clay Shaw the same as Bertrand?” “I can’t answer that,” Andrews replied in his jivey manner. In different words, the same question was again put to Andrews. Now he snapped, “If they can kill the President, they can squash me like a roach.” Also on local TV we could see the FBI man (probably William Walter) who revealed that a telex came into the local FBI office warning of an attempt to kill Kennedy in Dallas, just a few days before the assassination. He said the same telex was sent to FBI offices round the country, but nothing was done.(Garrison writes the telex came in 17 November 1963, pp. xiii, 222) But outside New Orleans, Walter probably was not invited on local TV, and certainly not on the national networks. In NO, on talk radio one could hear callers discuss the weapons they had seen stored in Banister’s office, his anti-Castro activities, etc.
When the NO jury acquitted Shaw of conspiracy, the national media celebrated and relaxed. The emphasis was that there was nothing to the charges against Shaw to begin with. With the jury’s verdict, the witch hunt was over! All could now understand now how Garrison was thoroughly discredited. Warren Commission critic Mark Lane interviewed all of those jurors after the verdict. They assured him, there was simply not enough evidence to convict Shaw. Yet, all of them were also convinced that a conspiracy had resulted in the murder of Kennedy in Dallas.(251) Most New Orleanians and about 2/3s of the nation continue to reject the Establishment theory that Oswald did it alone, despite all the TV programs propping up the official line.
Garrison had convicted Dean Andrews of perjury, and planned to get Shaw on the same charge, because under oath Shaw had denied ever meeting Ferrie. But with the loss of the main case against Shaw, the local press demanded that Garrison resign his office, and publicity against Garrison grew. 1969 was another election year, and a teen was now alleging that Garrison had molested him. A Federal judge enjoined Garrison from prosecuting Shaw for perjury. Despite all the bad publicity, despite losing the big case against Shaw, Garrison was re-elected to a 3rd term as DA – 81,000 to 61,000.(253)
In 1973 when Garrison prepared to run for his 4th term, the Nixon Administration’s Justice Dept. filed charges of corruption against Garrison. His Republican opponent was considered Mr. Clean. Garrison was in court defending himself and was unable to campaign. The press contrasted Mr. Clean with Mr. Corrupt. The jury found Garrison not guilty, but he felt he had little time left to campaign. Garrison lost his bid for re-election by 2,000 votes. Garrison does not mention the name of his victorious opponent in 1973, but today people throughout the world might recognize the name – Harry Connick, Sr., father of the singer, musician, actor, and TV host, HC, Jr. While at it, Youtube has a number of videos that seem to indicate one of the Latinos distributing pro-Castro, Fair Play for Cuba Comm. leaflets along with Oswald in New Orleans in 1963 was the father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. (Reinforcing the notion that the NO FPCC was not a left-wing, but an anti-Castro operation.)
Garrison’s book is not a catalog of all the discrepancies that can be found in the Warren Commission’s theory. It is the story of Garrison’s own initial acceptance of the Warren version of events. However, the more he studied Oswald’s actions in New Orleans, the more he read and heard witnesses from Dallas, the more Garrison was convinced a conspiracy had killed Kennedy. When Garrison sought to probe further, the federals, the media, the Establishment, obstructed, smeared, used the resources of the major media, the esteem of the Chief Justice, the prestige of the Attorney General, and all the lesser lights to dismiss, to mock, to infiltrate his investigation, to use hostile judges, to refuse to extradite important witnesses, generally to derail and destroy his case against Shaw.
Through all this, Garrison stands out as a very brave and intelligent man. Sometimes he was guilty of hubris, “Oh, I certainly solved the case,” and other overblown statements. Like the tweets of Trump, Garrison’s “certainty” caused some to view him as bombastic and without substance. A more modest beginning might have helped him, part of the way. But once he took on the feds – and not just the CIA; once he took on the Establishment (CIA, FBI, Warren, and the lesser stars), it was inevitable there would be the Establishment’s revenge, aimed at destroying him.
All Americans should rejoice that we have patriotic, truth-seeking individuals, willing to risk all, like the late Jim Garrison, New Orleans DA.