Warren Commission wanted to avoid transparency

H/T Pat Speer,

An interesting entry from the journals of Howard Willens, attorney for the Warren Commission, about how the Commission wanted to avoid transparency “for a year or two.”

Willens, a retired attorney turned historian,  is the author of the book, History Will Prove Us Right, which defends the Warren Commission’s work and conclusions. (For an excerpt of the book, read here.)

Willens wrote on August 21, 1964:

“Mr. Rankin also told me that he had raised with the Commission the problem of Archives handling of Commission materials. There is apparently a feeling among the members of the Commission that it would be desirable if all the material of  the Commission were not available to the public for a year or two after the report comes out. They suggest that the organization and the screening of these materials will take this long, but of course the principal interest here is making sure that sufficient time elapses before any real critics can get access to material other than those which the Commission desires to publish simultaneous with its report. Apparently the Chief Justice intends to talk with the National Archivist on this subject.”Willens is the author of the book, History Will Prove Us Right, which defends the Warren Commission’s work and conclusions.

On the Education Forum, Speer writes, “To me, this is quite significant. I don’t believe there is any other document in which the Warren Commission’s desire to hide stuff from the critics until the media can sell their conclusions is made clear.”

36 comments

  1. Dan says:

    Bill Kelly has written that in January 1965 the Mayor of Cedar Rapids Iowa, Robert M.L. Johnson, wrote to the White House recommending strongly that the Warren Commission records be opened to the public and not sealed for 75 years. The letter was referred to McGeorge Bundy, who conferred with the Attorney General, and responded to the Mayor in April 1965 that the vast bulk of the Warren Commission records would be made available as soon as agency and Archives staff had been able to process it.

    Link- http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=18918

  2. Jonathan says:

    In his book Willens writes:

    “The Warren Commission conducted perhaps the most extensive criminal investigation in history. We interviewed over 550 witneosses and produced 26 volumes full of evidence.”

    What Willens does not tell his readers is that: (a) the Warren Commission turned the investigatory groundwork over to he FBI, which had every reason under J.Edgar Hoover to cover up the true facts of the assassination; (b) the testimonies taken by Commission lawyers were not of an investigatory or truth-seeking nature, because the witnesses were not subject to cross-exam; and (c) the Commission ignored a lot of important witnesses, such as George Burkeley.

    If Willens was so worried about critics in 1964, he should have done some introspection and come to realize the reason there would be critics of the Commission’s product was that the product was indefensible.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      As to cross-examination on behalf of the alleged assasin, this is what the WC did, as stated on pages xiv and xv of the WCR:

      In fairness to the alleged assassin and his family, the Commission on February 25, 1964, requested Walter E. Craig, president of the American Bar Association, to participate in the investigation and to advise the Commission whether in his opinion the proceedings conformed to the basic principles of American justice. Mr. Craig accepted this assignment and participated fully and with out limitation. He attended Commission hearings in person or through his appointed assistants. All working papers, reports, and other data in Commission files were made available, and Mr. Craig and his associates were given the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, to recall any witness heard prior to his appointment, and to suggest witnesses whose testimony they would like to have the Commission hear. This procedure was agreeable to counsel for Oswald’s widow.

      From what I understand in all of my readings about this case, I do not recall if Walter E. Craig was much of an advocate for the late Lee Harvey Oswald.

      • leslie sharp says:

        Gerry Simone, it would also only make sense that Mr. Craig had been in contact with Dallas Bar Association president H. Louis Nichols, possibly the only defense law expert to meet Oswald before the murder on Sunday. Close study of Mr. Nichols, his affiliations with Dallas establishment, suggests that Oswald might have been justifiably skeptical of his sincerity; essentially Oswald did not have legal representation from the moment he entered the police station. This suggests to me that Mr. Craig had a heavy burden and at the very least did not rise to the occasion nor meet his obligation.

        • Gerry Simone says:

          Agreed.

          I can’t recall the source but I vaguely remember reading that Walter Craig did not show up much (he had assistants but what clout did they have to protest against the leading style of questioning by more prominent WC staff lawyers?) or do anything substantive.

          In short, the notion of any adversarial check or balance within the WC proceedings was a joke.

  3. Jonathan says:

    The title of Willens’s book, “History Will Prove Us Right”, is exactly what Earl Warren said to Willens when Willens worried aloud about what the critics might say.

    How Warren could say that is beyond me. He may not have had a very good grasp of the facts of the case and may have over-relied on deceivers in the FBI and the CIA, but he had three very savvy Commissioners who saw the folly of the SBT and wanted no part of it. He must have had some doubt.

    Without the SBT, the Warren Report collapses. Perhaps Warren was simply expressing the idea that history is written by the victors, and that the victors now and always would subscribe to Oswald did it alone. Which is pretty cynical for the guy who penned the unanimous opinion in Brown v. Board of Education.

  4. Kennedy63 says:

    Even the late President Nixon referred to the Warren Omission as “the greatest hoax ever foisted upon the American people.” Who should know about hoaxes better than “Tricky Dick” Nixon, also tied into the secretive dealing between the CIA and Mafia plots to assassinate Fidel Castro when he was still vice-President and headed the White House oversight regarding overthrowing Castro during the Eisenhower Administration.
    For a detailed look into the history of the Southeast Asian heroin dynamic of Vietnam, the Mob, CIA, and US policies, which eventually ended with the Nugen-Hand Bank, read the following 3 part series: https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/55389.

    • John McAdams says:

      Even the late President Nixon referred to the Warren Omission as “the greatest hoax ever foisted upon the American people.”

      This is a factoid.

      http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/nixon_hoax.htm

      • Mark Anthony Wright says:

        Thanks for highlighting that John, I am also concern when we take it as fact anything from sites like mudersolved.

    • Jean Davison says:

      It’s a myth that Nixon called the Warren Commission “the greatest hoax.” The actual quote is from a CNN transcript in which Nixon was complaining that liberals had blamed the Right for the JFK assassination. He said:

      “They [liberals] pinned the assassination of Kennedy on the right wing, the Birchers. It was done by a Communist and it was the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated.” (scroll down almost halfway):

      http://www-cgi.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0202/28/ip.00.html

      Also discussed here:

      http://www.history-matters.com/siteguide/siteguide_archivequotes.htm

    • Gerry Simone says:

      That hoax thing has been debunked but I wouldn’t trust Nixon as far as I could throw him.

      In any event and elsewhere in his taped conversations (or with aides like Haldeman), when Nixon referred to that ‘Cuba thing’, it was a troubling thought, and I doubt he was agonizing about Liberals.

      It’s ironic when Nixon speaks of pinning it on a Liberal when us doubters of the WC believe Oswald was the fall guy.

  5. Kennedy63 says:

    I’ve always wondered why those JFK assassination students and teachers refer to the Warren Omission Writ as a “Report.” It is a baseless travesty designed from inception to shield the government and deceive the American people (professed by Asst. US Attorney General Katzenbach) that Oswald was the sole assassin and had no confederates at large. If we start with the premise that JFK was a victim of a domestic coup, we can infer that the coup had backers, mechanics, and adherents in place to ensure success. In any coup, a overthrown regime is replaced and the usurping regime takes power. Johnson took power on 11\22\63 as a beneficiary/adherent of the usurping regime: Military/CIA/MOB. When Johnson had completed his part of his assignment (full scale war in Vietnam), he was moved aside in favor of the Military/CIA/MOB favorite son – Tricky Dick Nixon. Nixon expanded the war into most of southeast Asia through massive bombings, and this in turn greatly helped expand the Military/CIA/MOB heroin profits. It seems the Military/CIA/MOB operations were based on the French Colonial model of heroin trafficking.

    • Jonathan says:

      Kennedy63,

      I believe you have a flawed view of Nixon.

      I believe Nixon wanted to end the war in Viet Nam at any cost. He knew it was a loser. He knew the North would hang on like a tick. He launched the Christmas bombing in 1972 to send the leadership in Hanoi a message. It worked.

      Had Nixon not been deposed in 1974, Viet Nam could have turned out differently.

      South Viet Nam today could be a distinct country. Few in the South wanted the North’s dictates.

  6. Photon says:

    Obviously the Commission wanted to shield the Kennedy family from some of the more horrible aspects of the crime , such as the autopsy photos and their public release. The Kennedy family set the ground rules for release of information.

    • heather says:

      A person was murdered and it was the President. The Family had no right to determine which information should be released or investigated. They all belong to the people of the United States and any excuse for their non- release is a cop-out and a travesty.

      • leslie sharp says:

        heather, I agree fully, and add that there may be some discrepancy relating to events at Parkland and Jackie Kennedy’s alleged insistence that the president’s body be flown to D.C. immediately. A statement made in 1967 by Earle Cabell, former Mayor of Dallas suggests to me that Jackie was not ‘in charge’ by any stretch of the imagination:

        “Parkland Hospital, as all other hospitals to my knowledge, prohibits the removal of a body from the premises by anyone without a release from the next of kin or other authorized persons. When this was explained to Mrs. Kennedy, there was no unpleasantness whatsoever involved, and she very graciously and promptly signed the release.”

    • Gerry Simone says:

      They had no control over the Warren Commission.

      They went with the flow. Bobby’s power base was decapitated.

      • John McAdams says:

        They had no control over the Warren Commission.

        Actually, yes they did, although only because of Earl Warren’s reticence to be aggressive with the Kennedy family. Shenon is pretty clear on this.

        See the following:

        http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/shootft.htm

        Read the part at the end.

        Bobby had de facto control over the autopsy materials.

        • Neil says:

          “Bobby had de facto control over the autopsy materials”

          If true, the fact that Bobby suspected a conspiracy would seem more significant…

          • Jonathan says:

            Neil,

            I do not trust Bobby in relation to the JFK assassination.

            Bobby and Jackie we’re told did not want the public to feast on the autopsy materials. Yet that is what has happened. I can’t believe the autopsy photos and x-rays are real. Bobby and Jackie were exploited. They were had.

            Bobby publicly supported the W.C. He was clueless. He thought he was above it all. He thought once he became president, he’d reveal the truth.

            Bobby was given power. He’d run the operation against Castro. He’d led the charge against the Mafia. He became a senator from New York. He won the California primary.

            He’d become too dangerous.

          • Gerry Simone says:

            Ironically, in Professor McAdams’ link, Arlen Specter arguably justified the use of autopsy photos and x-rays, which would NOT have meant their availability or disclosure to the public.

            @ Jonathan: Their disclosure to the public has only happened many, many years after the fact. Their use has predominantly been for research purposes or in pursuit of more information about the assassination, and not in a disrespectful way.

            Let’s not forget JFK’s remarks on the anniversary of the Voice of America:

            But on the other hand, as part of the cause of freedom, and the arm of freedom, you are obliged to tell our story in a truthful way, to tell it, as Oliver Cromwell said about his portrait, “Paint us with all our blemishes and warts, all those things about us that may not be so immediately attractive.

        • Gerry Simone says:

          Are you referring to the right page?

          When Inspector Kelly talked to Attorney General Kennedy, he most probably did not fully understand all the reasons for viewing the films. According to Inspector Kelly, the Attorney General did not categorically decline to make them available, but only wanted to be satisified that they were really necessary. I suggest that the Commission transmit to the Attorney General its reasons for wanting the films and the assurances that they will be viewed only by the absolute minimum number of people from the Commission for the sole purpose of corroborating (or correcting) the artist’s drawings, with the film not to become a part of the Commission’s records.

          This doesn’t say that he declined their use.

          Did the WC actually ask Bobby?

          • John McAdams says:

            did not categorically decline to make them available,

            Which clearly sounds like the issue was raised, and Bobby was reticent.

            Perhaps if Warren had been more insistent, Bobby would have relented.

          • Gerry Simone says:

            @ Dr. McAdams,

            Bobby reticent? More like cautious!

            Specter eloquently justifies viewing them but nothing is done about it!

            Seems like the WC was reticent!

        • Jonathan says:

          The declassified Warren Commission Executive Session make clear you’re wrong, John. There is NO talk in the Executive Sessions about the Kennedy Family’s feelings. The Warren Commissioners intended to rewrite history for their own reasons.

          John, you misrepresent history a lot.

          That’s fine for an advocate.

          It’s not OK for a truth-seeker.

          • TLR says:

            Unfortunately, there is no other way to defend the Warren Commission.

          • Photon says:

            Do you honestly think that would be part of the public record?

          • John McAdams says:

            John, you misrepresent history a lot.

            It sounds like you are becoming more and more frustrated as you post factoid after factoid, and get it blown out of the water.

            The import of the Specter memo is clear.

          • Pat Speer says:

            It’s pretty clear that at the beginning of their “investigation” the Warren Commissioners didn’t realize the executive sessions would become available as fast as they became available. The early transcripts were fairly revealing. Their candor seems to have peeked, however, with the April 30 session, in which Warren agreed both that the photos could be viewed without being entered into the record and that Dr. Humes should be allowed to view the photos.

            This, of course, was not done. The “Bobby wouldn’t let us” excuse was almost certainly smoke told the staff so they wouldn’t rebel. There is no record, WHATSOEVER, indicating Bobby was told Dr. Humes wished to view the photos he’d had created and that Bobby forbade Dr. Humes from viewing the photos. Thankfully, just before his death, Warren sought to clear this up,. He admitted both that he’d viewed the photos and that he took FULL responsibility for withholding the photos from Dr. Humes and his staff. Case closed.

          • John McAdams says:

            Pat,

            If Bobby did put up resistance, there wouldn’t necessarily be a paper trail.

            I’m sure you are aware of a lot of other evidence of sensitivity to the feelings of the Kennedy family. Check Shenon. He rather faults Warren for being insufficiently aggressive on several issues.

          • Pat Speer says:

            It’s pure smoke to blame it on Bobby. Katzenbach was asked about this by the HSCA and totally rejected the idea that Bobby prevented the Warren Commission from looking at the photos.

            Shenon was overly enamored with Specter, IMO. Specter tried to blame Bobby when testifying about the JFK Records act. It was his standard MO. But John Glenn spoke up after Specter tried to blame it on the Kennedys and forced Specter to admit the failure to look at the photos was a failure on the commission’s part, not the Kennedys. As stated, Warren took full responsibility for this decision in his memoirs. To argue otherwise is ludicrous, IMO.

            I mean, just think about it. A presidential commission answerable only to the president refuses to look at the medical evidence in a murder, and later tries to claim they did so because they were afraid of upsetting a lame-duck Attorney General–the man most despised by the current President, and a man who wanted NOTHING to do with their investigation. It’s like a detective of a special unit reporting only to the Chief of Police letting a criminal off the hook because he failed to read him his Miranda rights, and then trying to blame it on a soon-to-retire Captain of a local precinct who’d been on vacation for six months at the time of the arrest, and was murdered shortly afterward. Gutless nonsense.

            It’s the historical equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

    • Neil says:

      I highly doubt that. Johnson and Hoover were not friends of the Kennedys…

  7. TLR says:

    Please, this has nothing to do with the autopsy photos. Stop blaming the victim and his family, Photon.

  8. Kennedy63 says:

    To all the readers who responded to my April 23rd post: Thank you one and all for your corrections and bringing me into a more expanded view of this forum (and subject matter). I appreciate the civil manner in which all parties, pro and con conspiracy, contributed to my correction on the matter of the Nixon quote and extended bombings in Southeast Asia. I am encouraged by the serious scholarship brought to this forum and most grateful that this forum does not deteriorate into petty squabbles. I shall endeavor to rise to the requisite high standards in my future submissions. The forum allows for, and contributes to, divergent points of view on the weighty matter of how a bright young US president was so unceremoniously and brutally deposed, allegedly, by Lee Harvey Oswald. Again, I thank everyone who generously, with civility, posted feedback.

  9. John Kirsch says:

    Think of JFK as theology.
    In Dec. 2013, Richard Dawkins, the eminent scientist and religion debunker, Tweeted, “Again accused of ignorance of theology. But what is there in “theology” to be ignorant ABOUT? Tell me 1 theological fact & I’ll learn it.”
    Fifty years after the fact, most Americans continue to reject the government’s “Oswald did it alone” theory of the crime. All of the apparent facts marshaled by the Warren Commission count for little, if anything, in their eyes.
    Fifty years later, many of the comment sections on this site are swollen with discussions about the various arcana of 11/22: who fired the shots, where were the shots fired from, what does the “medical evidence” (a subset of confusion all by itself) have to tell us, etc., etc., etc.
    The religious theme can be strung out even more.
    Oswald and Jesus died violent deaths at a young age. Both were considered enemies of the state.
    Oswald was, apparently, a Marxist or Leninist or communist of some sort who went so far as to live in the Soviet Union itself for a time. Jesus preferred the company of social outcasts and threw the money changers out of the temple.
    Take this even further. How do we know that Jesus, the Jesus who, supposedly, died on the Cross and was later resurrected — how do we know that this particular person actually existed?
    I am beginning to believe it would be safer and possibly more accurate to refer to Oswald in the plural, not the singular, for, indeed, we seem to be able to find an Oswald for nearly every purpose and in many different places.
    Yet on the crucial question of his motive for assassinating JFK we remain in the dark, trapped in theology.

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