Author Topic: A review of Gerald Posner, Case Closed by Peter Dale Scott  (Read 10093 times)

Alan Dale

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A review of Gerald Posner, Case Closed by Peter Dale Scott
« on: July 11, 2013, 01:16:11 AM »
A review of Gerald Posner, Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (New York: Random House, 1993).
by Peter Dale Scott

Posner's Case Closed is a special book about a special case: the two, indeed, are part of a single phenomenon. From the outset, the Kennedy assassination has attracted -- along with cranks, ideologues, paranoid obsessives, charlatans, and a clairvoyant -- two special kinds of student: the lawyers and the scholars. From the outset there have been reasons (persuasive reasons) of state to close the case; and from the outset there have been glaring problems with the evidence which have kept it open. Over the years there has been no shortage of people (not just lawyers) meeting the persuasive needs of state, nor of people (including some lawyers) following the lure of truth.

If anything has become more clear about the case since the Warren Report, it is that officials of many government agencies have lied, sometimes repeatedly, to maintain the Warren Commission's conclusions. Congressional Committees have established that FBI agents lied about Oswald's visit to the Dallas FBI office before the assassination, and that CIA officials gave false statements (even within the Agency) about CIA surveillance of Oswald at the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in Mexico City. (1) These official lies have created a touchstone against which new books about the assassination can be tested. Are lies transmitted uncritically, in lawyerly fashion, as evidence? Or are they exposed by scholarly investigation? As we shall see, Posner's performance is a mixed one (he deals with the FBI falsehoods, but not the CIA ones). On balance, unfortunately, it is a lawyerly performance.

Case Closed may seem to uninformed readers to be the most persuasive of the succession of books that have urged readers to accept the lone-assassin finding of the Warren Report. But to those who know the case it is also evidence of on-going cover-up. For Posner often transmits without evaluation official statements that are now known to be false, or chooses discredited but compliant witnesses who have already disowned earlier helpful stories that have been disproven. He even revives a wild allegation which the Warren Commission rejected, and reverses testimony to suggest its opposite.

These are serious charges. There are in fact books on both sides of the Kennedy assassination controversy about which similar accusations could be made, and normally one might conclude that such books did not merit a serious rebuttal. But Case Closed is a special book, in which Posner more than once acknowledges help from "confidential intelligence sources." (2) It has since been granted major publicity in the media, from U.S. News and World Report to the Today show and 20/20.

There are many places where one can agree with Posner's rebuttal of particular critics on particular points (such as the Garrison investigation, and its as-yet unproven allegation that Oswald knew another alleged suspect, David Ferrie). Concerning the physical and medical evidence, he promotes new arguments by others which appear to be worthy of serious consideration. One must grant also that on a topic of this range and complexity no one's book will be flawless.

But in Case Closed some of the weakest sections of the Warren Commission argument have been strengthened by suspect methodologies and even falsehoods, so systematic they call into question the good faith of his entire project.

On the now-hoary question of whether Oswald's protector in Dallas, George De Mohrenschildt, had a CIA relationship, Posner reverts to the Warren Commission method of letting the CIA answer the question: "CIA officials have provided sworn testimony that there was no De Mohrenschildt-U.S. intelligence relationships." (3) That will not work in 1993. In 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations revealed that, when leaving Dallas in May 1963 for Haiti, De Mohrenschildt traveled to Washington and took part in a Pentagon-CIA meeting with De Mohrenschildt's business ally, a Haitian banker named Clemard Joseph Charles. A former CIA contract agent has since suggested that one of De Mohrenschildt's purposes in moving to Haiti was to oversee a CIA-approved plot to overthrow Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. (4)

There is no excuse for Posner's repeating, uncritically and without footnotes, another old CIA claim, that at the time of the assassination, "Oswald's CIA file did not contain any photos" of Oswald. (5) This false claim is an important one, since the CIA has used it to justify the false description of Oswald which it sent to other agencies on October 10, 1963, six weeks before the assassination. But as Anthony Summers pointed out thirteen years ago, the CIA pre-assassination file on Oswald contained four newspaper clippings of his defection to the Soviet Union in 1959, and two of these contained photographs of him. (6) One could argue that the original error arose from an innocent oversight; although this is unlikely, since it is part of a larger pattern of CIA misrepresentations concerning the photos. (7) One cannot offer such an innocent defense for Posner's repetition of the falsehood. His discussion of the photo issue is a running argument with Summers, and indeed in this section he repeatedly disputes Summers' allegations. (8)

In short, this book is not "a model of historical research," as the historian Stephen Ambrose has claimed. It is a lawyer's brief.

Reversing the Verdict on Jack Ruby and Organized Crime

One would have thought that one issue now resolved beyond question is that Jack Ruby indeed had, as the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded, a "significant number of associations" with organized crime leaders both nationally and in Dallas (AR 149). Eight pages on this topic in the House Committee Report were supplemented by a staff volume of over a thousand pages. Once this important point is conceded, it is hard not to agree that the Warren Commission's portrait of Ruby as a loner, based on misleading reports and suppression of evidence by the FBI, was a false one.

To avoid this problem, Posner has produced a witness who revives the Warren Report's portrait of Ruby as "a real low-level loser," - adding that only "conspiracy theorists" would "believe that Ruby was part of the mob." The witness is Tony Zoppi, whom Posner describes as a former "prominent entertainment reporter for the Dallas Morning News." (9) He does not mention that Zoppi had been the source of an innocent explanation for Jack Ruby's 1959 visits to the Havana casinos, an explanation so swiftly demolished by the Committee that Zoppi himself retracted it. Thanks to this episode we now know that Zoppi, as well as Ruby, was close to a casino employee of Meyer Lansky's called Lewis McWillie, and was himself working for a mob casino in Las Vegas, the Riviera, by the time the Committee interviewed him in 1978. (10)

Why would Posner choose a discredited casino employee to claim that Ruby was not connected to the mob? The answer, surely, that he is a lawyer out, like the Warren Commission, to "close" a case. Posner opposes the thousand pages of House Committee documentation, not with new rebuttal documentation, but by extended oral interviews with just four witnesses, each of them dubious. One is Jack Ruby's brother Earl, investigated by the House Committee because of allegations that his business and personal incomes increased after Oswald's murder (AR 159). Another is former FBI Agent William Roemer, from the Chicago FBI Office that covered up Ruby's organized crime links in the first place. (The House Committee concluded that the FBI "was seriously delinquent in investigating the Ruby-underworld connections;" AR 243.) (11)

The fourth is Dallas Deputy District Attorney Bill Alexander, who on November 22, 1963 "decided to 'shake things up a bit,' " and told his friend Joe Goulden at the Philadelphia Inquirer "that he intended to indict Oswald for killing the President 'in furtherance of a Communist conspiracy.' " (12) Posner transmits Alexander's admission to him (in the second of four interviews) that he has been an important liar about the case. (13) And yet Posner interviewed Alexander over "several days" (p. 503), and cites him, as a "significant source," on at least sixteen different occasions.

Crucial to closing the case is rebuttal of the House Committee's finding that Ruby may have had "assistance" from Dallas policemen in entering the Dallas Police Basement (AR 157). It learned that doors to another stairway had apparently been left unlocked, and the men guarding these doors reassigned elsewhere shortly before the murder. It learned also that "the Dallas Police Department withheld relevant information from the Warren Commission," particularly that at the time the sergeant responsible for the reassignments, Patrick Dean (an acquaintance of Dallas mob boss Joe Civello) had been given, and failed, a polygraph test (AR 158).

Posner ignores these disturbing indications of conspiracy. He writes (p. 393) that "it was never clear whether the door near the public elevators was properly locked," but offers no reason to counter the admission by Sergeant Dean, the officer in charge, that the door was not locked. Like the Warren Commission, he concludes that Ruby entered by a different route, a vehicle ramp, even though no witnesses saw Ruby enter that way and eight witnesses (Posner mentions only two) said that he did not. (14) His only evidence for the ramp route is the Warren Commission's: Ruby's own say-so, as testified to later (but not at the time) by four Dallas policemen, one of them Dean. (15)

Here again Posner downplays an important Committee finding, by turning again to questionable witnesses, and totally ignoring the evidence of official cover-up, in this case by the Dallas Police.

read the full review here
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