Amid the glut of 50th anniversary JFK coverage, NPR’s interview with Jeremy Gunn, former general counsel for the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) from 1994 to 1998, stands out as one of the best recent pieces of journalism on the case of the murdered president.
Gunn is a quality witness. While largely unknown to both mainstream reporters and JFK conspiracy theorists, he was among the first people to see the vast body of JFK records made public by the ARRB in the mid-1990s.
A lawyer by training, Gunn conducted the ARRB’s interviews of key witnesses, including the medical personnel involved in JFK’s autopsy. He interviewed retired CIA officer Anne Goodpasture and elicited her admission that the CIA had a tape recording of accused assassin Lee Oswald, made in Mexico City in October 1963, something that the CIA had long denied.
With a high-level security clearance, Gunn was also able to review extraordinarily sensitive CIA records, such as the agency’s internal study of disgraced counterintelligence chief James Angleton.
Gunn, who now teaches in Morocco, spoke with reporter Marcus Rosenbaum. A faithful reader of JFK Facts passed along some of his most interesting comments.
What the ARRB found
“There were many things that were disturbing,” Gunn said of the ARRB’s discoveries.
One concerned Dr. James Humes, the Navy doctor who conducted JFK’s autopsy.
“Dr. Humes admitted that the supposedly original handwritten version of the autopsy that is in the National Archives is in fact not the original version,” Gunn said.
Humes had never said that publicly before, even to the Warren Commission, he observed.
Gunn was disturbed by the FBI’s odd handling of Lee Harvey Oswald’s political activities in New Orleans in August 1963. After being arrested for an altercation with the members of the anti-Castro Cuban Student Directorate, Oswald asked to see an FBI agent. He was interviewed by agent John Quigley.
A few days later Gunn says, someone at headquarters in Washington saw that Oswald was engaged in pro-Fidel Castro activities and instructed the field office to interview him. But the FBI field office didn’t reply that it had already interviewed him. Instead, it said that it would see what it could do.
All the FBI files were in order, Gunn said. Nothing seemed to be missing. So why wouldn’t the New Orleans field office mention the previous interview?
“It doesn’t make sense,” Gunn said.
Exculpatory Oswald evidence
“There is substantial evidence that points toward Oswald and incriminates Oswald” in JFK’s assassination, he said, “and the only person we can name where there is evidence is Oswald. But there’s also rather important exculpatory evidence for Oswald, suggesting he didn’t do it, and that he was framed.”
Besides, Gunn says, the Warren Commission genuinely believed that Oswald had killed Kennedy.
“So they wanted to write the document in a way that would reassure the American public that it was a single gunman acting alone, somebody who’s a little bit unstable, and that that’s the explanation for what happened.”
Since the facts aren’t clear, though, that document can look like a whitewash.
“There are serious problems with the forensics evidence, with the ballistics evidence, with the autopsy evidence,” Gunn said. “And, in my opinion, if they had said that openly, it would have not put the issue to rest.”
Faced with that, the Warren Commission went with what it believed.
Gunn says that wasn’t enough. It’s not that he thinks all the loose ends needed to be tied up.
“It wouldn’t be unusual if Oswald had done the crime — or not done the crime — to have evidence that’s inconsistent,” he said.
It’s the big mysteries that cause him the most trouble.
“If the president had been killed as part of a conspiracy, that needed to be known,” he said.
“The institution that had the opportunity to best get to the bottom of this, as much as it was possible, was the Warren Commission, and they didn’t do it,” he said. “Now it’s too late to do what should have been done originally.”
I don’t share Gunn’s pessimism that “its too late,” but his opinion is certainly well informed.