Monday, 15 September 2014

How Dave Reitzes Get's it Wrong Part 7

Cui Bono, Redux

Despite the fact that he has presented no evidence establishing Oswald's guilt, Reitzes nonetheless feels the need to pontificate upon his motivation. To say that he is on shaky ground here would be a vast understatement. After all, people who knew Oswald testified that he was an admirer of President Kennedy who bore him no malice. No doubt fully aware of this fact, Reitzes has little choice but to suggest that Oswald was “mentally unstable”. He writes: “The Warren Commission heard testimony and examined psychological evaluations from his teen years suggesting he was a greatly troubled individual.” Indeed Oswald did have a difficult childhood, during which a spell of truancy led to his being remanded at an institution named Youth House for psychiatric evaluation. However, as the Warren Commission reported, “Contrary to reports that appeared after the assassination, the psychiatric examination did not indicate that Lee Oswald was a potential assassin, potentially dangerous, that 'his outlook on life had strongly paranoid overtones' or that he should be institutionalized.” (WR379)

Essentially, Oswald was a lonely, withdrawn child who suffered from neglect. As social worker, Evelyn Siegel, reported, she saw “a rather pleasant, appealing quality about this emotionally starved, affectionless youngster which grows as one speaks to him.” She concluded that Lee “just felt that his mother never gave a damn for him.” (Ibid, 380) Years later as a grown man in the Soviet Union, following a feigned suicide attempt, Oswald spent three days in a psychiatric ward for observation. One report concluded that he was “not dangerous to other people” and another describes him as being “of clear mind” with “no sign of psychotic phenomena.” (18H464 & 468) If Oswald's troubled childhood left him “mentally unstable” the Soviet psychiatrists did not pick up on it. Nor did the United States Marine Corps. As legendary critic Sylvia Meagher noted, “The Marine Corps medical records on Oswald for 1956-1959 consistently show no sign of emotional problems, mental abnormality, or psychosis.” (Meagher, Accessories After the Fact, p. 244)

Reitzes attempts to resurrect the notion of Oswald as a “radically leftist...Castro idolater” which is not something most researchers take seriously today. Although Oswald frequently told anyone that would listen that he was a communist or a Marxist, his behaviour indicated otherwise. The fact of the matter is that Oswald never joined any communist or Marxist organization, even when living in the Soviet Union, and all of his known contacts and acquaintances were right-wingers and anti-Castroites. In the summer of 1963 when Oswald started his own make-believe chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in New Orleans—which, as previously noted, was at the same time the CIA was running a campaign against the FPCC—it only ended up embarrassing the organization when Oswald was publicly revealed as a former resident of the Soviet Union. Once he had discredited the FPCC in New Orleans by effectively linking the organization with Russian communism, Oswald moved on. For these reasons, and many more, most serious researchers now believe that Oswald's self-professed Marxism was a cover and that he was, in fact, some type of intelligence asset. A thorough discussion of this subject is beyond the scope of this critique so interested readers are referred to the books Conspiracy? by Anthony Summers, Destiny Betrayed (second edition) by Jim DiEugenio, and Oswald and the CIA by John Newman.

Continuing his skewed, hackneyed portrait, Reitzes claims that Oswald had a “history of violence”. When considering that particular deceleration, readers should bear in mind that Reitzes is describing a U.S. Marine who only ever got in one fight during his entire adult life. As it happens, Oswald was considered so timid by his fellow Marines that they nicknamed him “Ozzie Rabbit”. One Marine, Daniel Powers, testified that in his opinion Oswald “was the meek mild individual that a person felt if he had something, that he wouldn't really fight to keep it. He would take the easy way out to avoid conflict.” (8H270) Nevertheless, in support of this supposed “history of violence”, Reitzes offers “the time he [Oswald] threatened his sister-in-law with a knife as a teen”, and alleges that “numerous witnesses...testified about the physical abuse he directed at his wife.” The first of Reitzes' two examples is barely worthy of discussion. It refers to the time a 13-year-old Oswald flashed a pocket knife at his brother's wife. That was the extent of it. It was silly kids stuff and no one was hurt. The second example is more complex.

Contrary to the impression Reitzes attempts to convey, there was actually only one witness who claimed to have first hand knowledge of Oswald hitting his wife, Marina, and he never “testified” to that fact. The witness was Alex Kleinlerer who appears to have taken an instant dislike to Oswald and gave an uncorroborated statement claiming that he once saw him slap Marina around the face. (11H120) The only other person who would claim personal knowledge of such matters was Marina herself who, to say the least, has credibility issues. As Warren Commission lawyer Norman Redlich noted in a once secret memo, “...Marina Oswald has repeatedly lied to the [Secret] Service, the FBI, and this Commission on matters which are of vital concern to the people of this country and the world.” (11HSCA126) Indeed, Marina gave so many conflicting stories that investigators for the HSCA prepared a report titled Marina Oswald Porter's Statements of a Contradictory Nature which totalled over 30 pages.

Physical abuse was one of the many subjects on which Marina gave conflicting accounts. During one of her appearances before the Commission she said that her husband had been a “good family man” and described only one occasion on which he had hit her after she had written a letter to a former boyfriend saying she wished she had married him instead. (1H32-33) Later, she changed her mind and claimed that Lee was “not a good husband” and had “beat” her “on many occasions.” (5H594) In all likelihood, neither of these accounts is quite true. Although Marina attempted to paint herself as a devoted housewife who suffered at the hands of her abusive husband, as Norman Redlich suggested, “...there is a strong probability that Marina Oswald is in fact a very different person—cold, calculating, avaricious, scornful of generosity, and capable of an extreme lack of sympathy in personal relationships.” (11HSCA126) There is testimony that suggests Marina delighted in tormenting and embarrassing Lee in front of others. Jeanne DeMohrenschildt remarked that when friends were giving Marina the things that Lee could not afford, she “was throwing it into his face.” (9H309) Mrs. DeMohrenschildt also noted that “...she ribbed him even in front of us...if I would ever speak to my husband that way we would not last long.” (Ibid, 311-12) “I'm not a quiet woman myself”, Marina testified as she confessed to provoking Lee. (5H598) More importantly, Lee Oswald was himself observed covered in scratches inflicted by his wife (12HSCA129) who admitted that she would hit him and throw objects at him. (5H598) “...he is not a strong man”, Marina said, “and when I collect all my forces and want to do something very badly I am stronger than he is.” (5H389) It is clear that the Oswalds had a tumultuous and, at times, violent relationship. It also seems apparent that neither party was entirely blameless.

Although in her earliest interviews Marina could name no acts of violence by her dead husband, on December 5, 1964, she threw the FBI a bone and claimed that Lee had told her he had taken a shot at right-wing zealot, General Edwin Walker on April 10, 1963. (23H391) Of course, Marina came out with this story during the two month period that she was being held at the Inn of Six Flags in Arlington, Texas, in which she was repeatedly interrogated by the Secret Service and FBI and threatened with deportation. (see 1H79 & 410) Nevertheless, Reitzes claims that there is “documentary evidence” to support Marina's story. He does not detail precisely what that “documentary evidence” is but when we check his citation—pages 688-697 of Bugliosi's book—we see that it consists of an unsigned, undated note that does not mention General Walker and a few photographs of Walker's house that were found in the garage of Michael and Ruth Paine. Not exactly overwhelming stuff.

The truth is that in the eight months the Dallas police investigated the attempt on Walker's life, Oswald was never considered a suspect. The mutilated bullet that was recovered from Walker's home was described by police as being 30.06 steel-jacketed and not 6.5 mm copper-jacketed like the bullets fired from “Oswald's” rifle. (Dallas Morning News, April 11, 1963 & 24H40) Additionally, eyewitness Walter Kirk Coleman told police that almost immediately after the shot was fired, he saw two men getting into two different cars in the nearby church parking lot. One of these men bent over the front seat of his car “as if putting something in the back floorboard.” The other man got into a light green or blue Ford and “took off in a hurry”. (24H41) Oswald could not drive and did not own a car and Coleman later told the FBI that “neither man resembled Oswald and that he had never seen anyone in or around the Walker residence or the church before or after April 10, 1963, who resembled Lee Harvey Oswald.” (26H438)

Also on the subject of violence, Reitzes writes that “The commission heard testimony that Oswald...believed that societal change could only be brought about by violent means”. This he again sources to Bugliosi (p. 937) who quotes from an interview Michael Paine gave to HSCA investigators in 1978 claiming that it was “Oswald's belief that the only way the injustices in society could be corrected was through a violent revolution.” The first thing of note here is that this hearsay claim was made in 1978—14 years after the Warren Commission shut up shop. So Reitzes' claim that the Commission heard such testimony is false. The bigger problem, however, is that in 1964, when Paine testified to the Commission, he specifically stated that Oswald “didn't mention advocating violence or didn't say anything in regard to violence...” (2H411) Paine's latter day claims can only be regarded as either faulty recollection or a deliberate attempt to mislead. Either way, this type of cherry-picking—ignoring earlier, sworn testimony in favour of later claims more friendly to the author's thesis—is par for the course with Bugliosi and Reitzes.

Still relying on Bugliosi (p. 938-39), Reitzes tells us that Oswald “aspired to greatness, though greatness had thus far eluded him”. In this regard, Bugliosi quotes Marina as stating that her husband “wanted in any way, whether good or bad, to do something that would make him outstanding, that he would be known in history.” He also quotes Texan lawyer Max Clark who knew Oswald very briefly and said that it was his “general impression” that Oswald “wanted to become famous or infamous” and “seemed to think he was destined to go down in history someway or other.” From this I presume we are meant to conclude that killing Kennedy was Oswald's way of getting the recognition he so desired. But such reasoning makes little sense in light of the fact that Oswald protested at every available opportunity that not only was he innocent but that he was a fall guy; a “patsy”. Are we really to believe that Oswald decided to kill the President just so that he could achieve a place in the history books as somebody's dupe? As just a pawn in someone else's scheme? Why would he not want to take credit for his “great deed”? Bugliosi struggles mightily with this question. He weakly suggests that Oswald's “conduct after the shooting” shows that he wanted to escape and then “disclose his identity on his own terms and at a time and place he, not the authorities, chose, such as in Cuba or Russia.” But Oswald's movements after the assassination suggest no such thing. When he returned to his rooming house he did not pick up his passport or pack a bag or do anything that suggested he was planning on leaving the country. Not only that but, once he was in custody, Oswald would have had to have known that he was not going to get away and that there was going to be no opportunity to dictate his own terms or choose his own place in which to confess. Right then and there, with the spotlight of the world's media shining directly on him, would have been the perfect time and place for Oswald to get recognition if he so desired it. Instead he denied shooting Kennedy quite literally to his dying breath.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

How Dave Reitzes Gets it Wrong Part 6

The Single Bullet Theory

It is hard to believe that 50 years after it was first conceived we are still discussing something as ridiculous and ill-supported as the Single Bullet Theory. If not for the fact that it has been endorsed by so many socially constructive government panels it may well have been consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs decades ago. But Warren Commission apologists will simply not let it die because they know that to admit to the obvious fallacy of the SBT is to admit to a conspiracy. As former Warren commission lawyer Norman Redlich commented to author Edward Epstein, “To say that they [President Kennedy and Governor Connally] were hit by separate bullets, is synonymous with saying that there were two assassins.” (Epstein, Inquest, p. 38) It is no surprise, then, that Reitzes makes a stab at defending the theory. But make no mistake, he does so in spite of the evidence. Because the SBT is challengeable on every level, from the trajectories involved, to the nature of the wounds, to the condition and provenance of the bullet itself. There is not one facet of the SBT that holds up to scrutiny.

It has long been accepted that Commission lawyer Arlen Specter, a man with no medical or ballistics training, was the “father” of the SBT. But hoping to lend it some legitimacy, Reitzes claims that it was actually JFK's pathologist Dr. Humes “who first voiced the possibility that JFK and Governor Connally had been struck by the same bullet.” Let's be very clear about this: The SBT holds that a bullet (dubbed Commission Exhibit 399) entered JFK’s back heading downwards and leftwards. Hitting no bony structures it exited his body from an anatomically higher position, just below the Adam’s apple, then somehow struck Connally under his right armpit. It sailed along Connally’s fifth rib, smashing four inches of it, before exiting his chest below the right nipple and pulverizing the radius of his right wrist. It then entered his left thigh just above the knee, depositing a fragment on the femur, before miraculously popping back out to be found in near-pristine condition on an unattended stretcher in Parkland Hospital. That is the SBT and, despite the impression Reitzes attempts to convey, Humes neither suggested nor endorsed it.

At Specter's prompting, Humes did raise the “possibility” that one bullet had passed through the torsos of both men. However, he considered it “extremely unlikely” that the same bullet had also caused the wounds to Connally's wrist and thigh. The report from Parkland Hospital noted that “small bits of metal were encountered at various levels throughout” Connally's wrist wound as well as in his thigh. Looking at CE399, Humes noted, “this missile is basically intact; its jacket appears to me to be intact, and I do not understand how it could possibly have left fragments in either of these locations.” He suggested that a separate bullet had been responsible for these two wounds. (2H375-76) Humes' colleague, Dr. Finck, concurred. Asked if CE399 could have “inflicted the wound on Governor Connally's right wrist” Finck said, “No; for the reason that there are too many fragments described in that wrist.” (Ibid, 382) Connally's wrist surgeon, Dr. Charles Gregory—who also did not believe the SBT—testified that the amount of debris carried into the wound suggested "that an iregular missile had passed through the wrist". (6H98) Dr. Gregory pointed to the two mangled fragments found on the floor of the limousine as being likely culprits. (5H127-28)

Nonetheless, Reitzes assures his readers that the trajectory analysis of "an actual rocket scientist" and "meticulous reconstructions of the shooting...have confirmed again and again the plausibility, if not certainty, of the single bullet theory". He finishes his discussion of the SBT with the following quote from Vincent Bugliosi: “‘the single-bullet theory’ is an obvious misnomer. Though in its incipient stages it was but a theory, the indisputable evidence is that it is now a proven fact, a wholly supported conclusion.” There are numerous hyperbolic statements in Bugliosi's tedious and bloated tome but this is one of the most ridiculous. In fact it may be one of the silliest claims found anywhere in the JFK literature. In point of fact, the SBT barely meets the requirements necessary to be considered a viable theory. Why? Because it is based on a number of entirely unproven and highly contradicted assumptions.

Firstly, there is the location of Kennedy's back wound. Because a bullet fired from the sixth floor of the depository building would have been travelling at a downward angle of apprxomiately 20 degrees, for the SBT to work, the back wound had to have been considerably higher than the hole in the throat. But as crazy as it seems, five decades after the assassination, we still do not know the precise location of this wound. In large part this is due to the faliure of the autopsy doctors to record its position according to fixed anatomical landmarks. The autopsy report states that the "7 x4 mm oval wound" was "14 cm from the tip of the right acromion process and 14 cm below the tip of the right mastoid process." But as the HSCA pathology panel noted, the mastoid process and the acromion "are moveable points and should not have been used." (7HSCA17) A more precise way to record the location of the back wound would have been with respect to the thoracic vertebrae. This was, in fact, done but not by the autopsy doctors.

The official death certificate prepared and signed by Kennedy's personal physician, Dr. George Burkley—who was present at both Parkland Hospital during the attempts to save the President's life and at Bethesda Naval Hospital for the autopsy—states that the wound of "the posterior back" was situated "at about the level of the third thoracic vertebra" which is typically 4 to 6 inches below the shirt collar. This location is fully supported by the bullet holes in Kennedy's shirt and jacket, which are approximately 5.5 inches below the top of the collar, (7HSCA83) and by the autopsy descriptive sheet prepared by the autopsy surgeons. (ARRB MD1) However, it must be admitted that Burkley's wording, "about the level of", is not precise and the clothing could have ridden up Kennedy's back somewhat during the shooting.

The Warren Commission could and should have tried to clear this matter up but instead it added to the confusion. The transcript of the Commission's January 27, 1964, executive session reveals that it had the autopsy photos at its disposal and was fully aware that Kennedy's rear wound was below the shoulder. Nonetheless, in order to make the SBT more palatable, the Commission wrote with deliberately misleading language that the bullet had "entered the base of the back of his neck" (WR2). It then kept the troublesome autopsy photos out of the report and accompanyng volumes and instead presented another of its deceptive drawings which showed a bullet hole above the shoulder (CE386)—far above where the Commission knew it to be.

A decade and a half later, following its review of the autopsy materials, the HSCA forensic pathology panel suggested that the bullet had entered at the approximate level of the first thoracic vertebra (T1). Although this location has been generally accepted by proponents of the SBT, it is far from proven. The HSCA panel admitted that it was not possible to determine "the exact entrance point" from the available evidence (7HSCA87) but largely based its conclusion on two factors: Interstitial emphysema (a pocket of air) overlying T1, and a fracture of the transverse process of T1. (Ibid, 93) However, the panel explained that although the "air in the soft tissues" could have been caused by the passage of a bullet, it was just as likely a result of the tracheotomy performed at Parkland Hospital. (Ibid) As for the alleged fracture of the transverve process, Dr. Baden only said in his testimony that it could have been caused by a bullet strike. "...we cannot be certain of that," he admitted. (1HSCA305) Additionally, it seems that there is some disagreement as to the very existence of the fracture as one of the panel's consultant radiologists, Dr. William Seaman, told the panel that to him, "the transverse process appears normal..." (7HSCA99)

The available evidence simply does not allow us to pinpoint exactly where the bullet entered the President's back. When the three autopsy doctors gave depositions for the Assassination Records Review Board, both Humes and Finck refused to be pinned down on this issue. Dr. Boswell, however, at least tried to be a little more helpful. "Well, it's certainly not as low as T4", he said. "I would say at the lowest it might be T2. I would say around T2." (Boswell deposition, p. 155) But this again is just an estimate. It seems that the best that can be said is that the wound was somewhere between T1 and T3.

As previously noted, most single bullet theorists accept the HSCA's T1 hypothesis. But even this assumed entrance location is problematic for the SBT since it is anatomically lower than the hole in the throat. Looking to endorse the SBT, the pathology panel suggested that the theory was still possible but that JFK had to be leaning significantly forward at the moment he was struck. The necessity of the forward lean was confirmed by two of the "meticulous reconstructions" Reitzes alluded to. One of these, utilizing lasers, dummies, and the Presidential limousine, was undertaken in 1998 for the TV special, The Secret KGB JFK Assassination Files. In order to get a trajectory through the body that pointed back to the sixth floor, the show's participants had to bend the JFK dummy markedly forward.

The second of these reconstructions was conducted for the 2004 Discovery Channel show, JFK: Beyond the Magic Bullet. The Discovery Channel shot a rifle from a crane set at the height of the sixth floor window into specially made torsos that were placed in normal, upright seated positions. The bullet entered the upper back of the Kennedy torso just below the shoulder and exited through the upper chest—completely missing the throat. Thus, these real-world experiments demonstrated that the forward lean is absolutely integral to the SBT. The problem is that the Zapruder film shows President Kennedy in the moments before and immediately after he was shot and at all times he is sitting upright.

SBT proponents, therefore, must assume that Kennedy adopted the necessary pose during the tiny 0.9 second interval that he was hidden from Zapruder's view by the Stemmons Freeway sign. Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht rightly ridiculed this notion in his HSCA testimony: "I just think it is important for the record to reflect upon the fact that what presumably they are asking us to speculate upon is that in that 0.9 second interval, the President bent down to tie his shoelace or fix his sock, he was then shot and then sat back up...I would suggest that is a movement that the most skilled athlete, knowing what he is going to do, could not perform in that period of time." (1HSCA339)

On top of assuming that the back wound was at T1, and that Kennedy was leaning forward when shot, it must also be assumed that the throat wound was an exit for the bullet which entered the back. This has also never been established. As noted in part one of this critique, all of the doctors at Parkland Hospital believed the wound looked more like an entrance than an exit and described it as small, round and neat. Dr. Perry told Dr. Humes that it measured only 3-5 mm and Dr. Carrico recalled that it had "no jagged edges or stellate lacerations." In tests performed for the Commission at Edgewood Arsenal using the very rifle and ammunition Oswald is alleged to have used, Dr. Alfred Olivier fired numerous rounds through blocks of gelatin, horsemeat, and goatmeat with skin and clothing attached. At a distance of 60 yards, which was the approximate distance from the sixth floor window to Kennedy's back at Zapruder frame 224, typical exit wounds were elongated and measured 10-15 mm (5H77, 17H846)—twice the size or more than the wound in Kennedy's throat.

More importantly, no pathway between the two wounds was observed at autopsy. On the contrary, physical probing of the wound led the prosectors to conclude that the back wound was shallow with no point of exit. FBI agents James Sibert and Francis O'Neil were present for the entire autopsy and filed a report of their observations. The report states: "During the latter stages of the autopsy, Dr. Humes located an opening which appeared to be a bullet hole which was below the shoulders and two inches to the right of the middle line of the spinal column. This opening was probed by Dr. Humes with the finger, at which time it was determined that the trajectory of the missile entering at this point had entered at a downward position of 45 to 60 degrees. Further probing determined that the distance travelled by this missile was a short distance inasmuch as the end of the opening could be felt with the finger." (AARB MD44) Further inspection of the wound was carried out with the use of a surgical probe as Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman explained in his Warren Commission testimony: “There were three gentlemen who were performing the autopsy. A colonel Finck—during the examination of the President, from the hole that was in his shoulder, and with a probe, and we were standing alongside of him, he is probing inside the shoulder with his instrument and I said, ‘Colonel, where did it go?’ He said, ‘There are no lanes for an outlet of this entry in this man’s shoulder.’” (2H93)

Bethesda laboratory technician James Curtis Jenkins recalled that the back wound was “very shallow…it didn’t enter the peritoneal (chest) cavity.” He remembered the doctors extensively probing the wound with a metal probe, “approximately eight inches long”, and that it was only able to go in at a “...fairly drastic downward angle so as not to enter the cavity.” (MD65) Jenkins also recalled in an interview with David Lifton that the doctors continued to probe the wound after the chest was opened and the organs removed. At that time he could “see the probe…through the pleura [the lining of the chest cavity]…where it was pushing the skin up…There was no entry in the chest cavity…it would have been no way that that could have exited in front because it was then low in the chest cavity…somewhere around the junction of the descending aorta [the main artery carrying blood from the heart].” (Lifton, Best Evidence, p. 713)

Jenkins' colleague, Paul O'Connor, concurred. In an interview for the HSCA, O'Connor said that “it did not seem” to him “that the doctors ever considered the possibility that the bullet had exited through the front of the neck.” (MD64) He later told author William Law: “…another thing, we found out, while the autopsy was proceeding, that he was shot from a high building, which meant the bullet had to be traveling in a downward trajectory and we also realized that this bullet—that hit him in the back—is what we called in the military a ‘short shot,’ which means that the powder in the bullet was defective so it didn’t have the power to push the projectile—the bullet—clear through the body. If it had been a full shot at the angle he was shot, it would have come out through his heart and through his sternum.” (Law, In the Eye of History, p. 41)

In 1973, pathology professor John Nichols, MD, Ph.D., suggested that a straight-line from the back wound to the throat wound would have had to have to passed directly through the hard bone of the spine. In 1998, radiologist Dr. David Mantik provided striking confirmation of Nichols' conclusion using a cross-sectional CAT scan of a patient with approximately the same upper body dimensions as President Kennedy. Mantik added the proposed entrance and exit points to the CAT scan and demonstrated that a straight-line from one to the other had to intercept the spine. Any bullet taking this path through Kennedy's torso would have been severely deformed and the spine would have been shattered. And yet there had been no major trauma to Kennedy's spine and CE399 is in the same near-pristine condition as test bullets fired into water.

To recap, the SBT assumes that the back wound was at T1 but there is evidence that it was considerably lower. It assumes that President Kennedy was leaning significantly forward when he was struck even though the Zapruder film shows no such thing. And it assumes that the throat wound was an exit for the bullet which entered the back when no such thing was established at autopsy, the only physical examination ever conducted contradicts the idea, and medical evidence strongly suggests that such a path through the body was not possible. The reader will notice that all of these assumptions have to do with the wounds to President Kennedy which is just one section of CE399's supposed journey. There are numerous other problems with the bullet's magical voyage but to highlight them all now would be simply flogging a dead horse. The point has been made: The SBT is not built upon proven facts but upon a series of unproven assumptions that are not borne out by closer examination of the evidence. The SBT, therefore, is not even remotely close to being considered a “proven fact” and no honest person would make or repeat such a claim.