On the Trail of a President’s Killers
New Times No. 3, 1977, pages 27–30
(Continued from New Times No. 2, 1977)
(Some paragraphs missing.)
“But surely with your position and popularity that is
unlikely!” my acquaintance had said, taken aback by the enormity of the idea.
The proponents of tough, or, as they used to be called, “big stick,” policies were unfortunately sill very influential in the United States, the President went on. They were categorically opposed to any move towards let-up in the drive for preponderance of destructive power, to a peaceful American-Soviet dialogue.
Asked who these sinister forces were, Kennedy said the question was not an easy one to answer. The term “military-industrial complex” which had gained wide currency was not an altogether precise definition of the opponents of a peace policy, though it was correct up to a point.
Eighteen months after that White House conversation, President Kennedy, faced with covert opposition to his policy, had to concede at last the ominous reality of the U.S. military-industrial complex. On this score the late President’s aide Arthur Schlesinger tells us that when the topical political novel “Seven Days in May” came out in 1962 the President read it with great interest and took it very seriously. The plot of the book, written by two Washington journalists, revolves around an imaginary conspiracy to seize power, and the main characters are a President who has entered into peace talks with Moscow, Pentagon generals out to overthrow him, reactionary politicians, and ultra-Right representatives of the big press.
Although this very same press came down on the book as a malicious fantasy, it nevertheless became a best-seller overnight, and Kennedy asked Schlesinger to do whatever he could to have it made into a film “as a warning to the nation.” Film director John Frankenheimer, who undertook to screen it, recalls:
“President Kennedy wanted ‘Seven Days in May’ made. Pierre Salinger conveyed this to us. The Pentagon didn’t want it done. Kennedy said that when we wanted to shoot at the White House he could conveniently go to Hyannis Port that weekend.”
The film had its premiere at the end of 1963. In keeping
with the novel, it had a traditional happy end: the plotters were exposed and
foiled, the President remained alive and well, good triumphed over evil. In real
life things worked out differently. Kennedy did not live to see “Seven Days in
May” on the screen. Before it came out another denouement had been prepared in
the streets of Dallas.
The prologue to the Dallas tragedy is regarded today as having been John Kennedy’s famous speech of June 10, 1963, in which he pledged to dedicate his efforts to “the most important topic on earth: peace.” Later he decided to begin to pull out the U.S. armed forces from South Vietnam and to complete the withdrawal by the end of 1965. He summoned U.S. Ambassador Lodge from Saigon to work out a definite plan for the evacuation. Lodge was to have met with the President on November 24, 1963. But two days before the meeting Kennedy was assassinated.
The day before the killing it had become known that the President had laid the groundwork for a radical turn in U.S.-Cuban relations. A witness to this is former adviser to the American U.N. delegation William Attwood, who now lives near New York. The President asked Attwood to contact the Cuban delegation in the U.N. and to sound out the possibility of talks with Havana. According to Attwood, the President intended to lift the economic blockade of Cuba, which was meaningless for the United States, and release Cuban assets sequestered in U.S. banks. Here is what Attwood says now:
“It was quite obvious to me that Castro, at that time, wanted to normalize relations with us. I was on the phone at one point to Havana, setting up a possible meeting to discuss an agenda. In fact, I was supposed to see the President right after Dallas to discuss the kind of questions I’d be asking. Then, if Castro was agreeable, I was to go down very quietly. Not many people were aware of this undertaking. The State Department had its own policy towards Cuba, which was sort of a frozen, do-nothing policy. The CIA, what was left of the gung-ho types, might well still have been plotting something.”
Meanwhile the plotters got wind of the fact that Attwood
expected a favourable reply from Havana on November 23, and that indeed is what
happened. Besides, the CIA learned that the President proposed immediately after
the Dallas trip to begin the “clean-up” of the Intelligence services which
he had been considering for some time. He intended to change the top echelon of
the CIA and to place it under the control of his brother Robert, the
Attorney-General. Thus, had the President returned from Dallas, he might have
taken some cardinal decisions on the CIA, the problems of Vietnam and Cuba, and
U.S. foreign policy in general.
On the morning of November 22 the streets of Dallas were strewn with leaflets with photographs of John Kennedy, full face and profile, as in police records, and the text: “Wanted for treason. He is turning the sovereignty of the U.S. over to the Communist-controlled United Nations. He is betraying our friends (Cuba, Katanga, Portugal) and befriending our enemies (Russia, Yugoslavia, Poland). He has given support and encouragement to the Communist-inspired racial riots.” Similar proclamations inciting to violence against the President were printed the same day in the leading local newspaper Dallas Morning News. Someone showed it to Kennedy on his arrival in Dallas, and he had said to his wife:
“We’re heading into nut country today. But, Jackie, if somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle nobody can stop it, so why worry?”
The President’s motorcade made its way without mishap
through nearly the whole of Dallas to Dealey Plaza. When it reached the square,
Nellie Connally, the wife of the Texas Governor, who was sitting on the back
seat of the open car in which the Kennedys were riding, turned to the President
with a smile and said: “Well, Mr. President, you can’t say that Dallas
doesn’t love you.” Before the President had time to reply, three shots were
fired in quick succession.
“Here in America the Dallas crime is still called the ‘murder of the century,’” former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison told me. “But it was not only a murder. It was essentially a camouflaged coup d’état.”
Garrison was perhaps exaggerating. Nevertheless it is quite possible that the assassination of President Kennedy prolonged the U.S. aggression in Vietnam for another nine years, blocked the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations, and ushered in a decade of unprecedented violence and lawlessness on the part of the U.S. Intelligence services. The new investigation of the death of John Kennedy, besides being a matter of tracking down the plotters who have eluded capture, is at the same time a fully justified attempt by Americans to dig down to the political roots of the Dallas crime so as to make sure that nothing of the kind will happen again.
Rifles from the CIA
Practically every day in Dealey Plaza one can see groups of tourists in front of the seven-storey brick building where 13 years ago Lee Harvey Oswald, then arrested as the President’s killer, worked in a book store-room. They stare up at the window on the sixth storey from which Oswald fired.
But besides the building in Dealey Plaza there is another spot with equally sinister associations—a grass-covered knoll nearby with some bushes and a few trees. When the three rifle shots were fired at the President at 12.30 p.m. on November 22, 1963, most of the witnesses of the tragedy turned not to the windows of the book warehouse, but to this knoll whence the sound of the gunshots came and where a momentary puff of powder smoke was seen. The first shot, which wounded the President, did come from the direction of the warehouse, but the third shot, which killed him, was, if witnesses are to believed, fired from the hillock. People at its foot dropped to the ground for fear of being hit. And one woman cried: “They’re shooting at the President from the bushes.”
Some of the police escort first rushed from the warehouse doors, but the officer in charge issued orders by radio for the knoll to be surrounded and combed for snipers. The President’s bodyguards later testified that the fatal last bullet had been fired from the knoll.
A member of the motorcycle escort named Bobby Hargis, who had been riding next to the President’s car, also heard the shot from the hillock, stopped, and, pulling out his gun, rushed towards the bushes. Another policeman, Joe Smith, also made for the hillock where he found behind the bushes a suspicious-looking individual. He pointed his gun at him and asked him who he was. The man showed him a Secret Service credential. Thinking he was taking part in the hunt for the killer, Smith apologized and continued the search.
Later it transpired that not a single member of the Secret Service had been on the knoll. All the bodyguards had closed in around the President, covering him with their bodies in case more shots were fired.
The mysterious gunmen on the knoll made their getaway, but the police combing the neighborhood picked up six men who had tried to elude them. The men were taken to a police precinct but released after a brief questioning which yielded no evidence against them. For some strange reason the usual procedure was not followed; no record was made of the interrogation, no photographs and no fingerprints were taken. Some trace of two of the six men has nevertheless remained. When they were being taken to the police precinct a news photographer who happened to be on the spot snapped their picture, which by some miracle has survived. Two of the men in the picture look exactly like the CIA agents Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis who were recently exposed as having been directly involved in the CIA plots to assassinate political leaders.
Only two years ago a special committee headed by Vice-President Rockefeller, set up under pressure of American progressive opinion to investigate past CIA crimes, took up the case of Hunt and Sturgis in connection with the search for John Kennedy’s assassins.
The two men denied they were the men in the Dallas photo and said that they had not even been in Dallas on the day of the assassination. However, the committee established that on November 22 neither had been on duty, and Hunt on the eve of the fatal day had gone on sick leave from the Washington headquarters of the CIA.
The committee rightly doubted the evidence given by relatives of Hunt and Sturgis that they had been at home on November 22. It also established that both agents had made hostile remarks about Kennedy because of his intention to settle the conflict with Havana. “It cannot be determined with certainty where Hunt and Sturgis actually were on the day of the assassination,” was the evasive conclusion of the committee. The two again got away with it.
In April 1976 the Senate committee on intelligence issued a report entitled: “The investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” The document is again worded so as to conceal the names of persons suspected of complicity in CIA criminal conspiracies. The CIA assassination operation was capsuled in the code-name Amlash. The report refers to repeated meetings in the autumn of 1963 with top officers of the CIA, who on November 19 “told the case officer that he was authorized to tell Amlash that the rifles, telescopic sights and explosives would be provided.”
The weapons provided by the CIA were supposedly intended for another attempt on the life of Fidel Castro. Yet the Senate report quotes a secret CIA memorandum as saying that “Amlash had no plan to overthrow Castro. Amlash never controlled a viable group inside Cuba which could attempt a coup against Castro.” The senate report notes that soon after the assassination of the President the CIA suspended contact with Amlash. If so, why were the rifles with telescopic sights provided just before the Dallas events?
The CIA chiefs concealed all this not only from the commission headed by the late Justice Warren, but also from those CIA officers who were collecting documents for the Warren report. The CIA officer in charge of this work now told the present Senate committee that he had known nothing of the Amlash operation.
“Would you have drawn a link in your mind between that and the Kennedy assassination?” he was asked.
“I certainly would think that that would have been—become—an absolutely vital factor in analyzing the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination,” was the reply.
The Senate committee’s finding was: “The Amlash operation seems very relevant to the investigation of President Kennedy’s assassination.” The Senators left the matter there, as if the whole thing had become too hot to handle.
A public opinion poll conducted a month ago established that 80 per cent of the American people lays the blame for the death of John Kennedy on some undisclosed plotters and insist that they be brought into the light of day. This has now been entrusted to the newly-formed House Select Committee on Assassinations. From my talks with founders of the committee in Washington I got the impression that they are aware of how difficult and dangerous an undertaking they have embarked upon.
Bernard Fensterwald, whose office is located in Washington’s 16th Street, not far from the White House, is one of the best known lawyers in the United States. In the course of his many years of legal practice he has taken part in some of the country’s most sensational trials and investigations, including the Watergate affair and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John and Robert Kennedy. I first met him about three years ago and am grateful to him for valuable advice. Shortly before last year’s election campaign I called on him to find out what he thought the chances were of Senator Kennedy running for President. Fensterwald did not mince words.
“He’d be a fool if he did. For he would surely risk sharing the fate of John and Robert. After all, the killers of the Kennedy brothers, the men who hired the assassins and their omnipotent backers have not been exposed.”
More than four years ago, at the time of the 1972 election campaign, Democratic Party leaders worked hard to induce Edward Kennedy to accept the Democratic presidential nomination, but he refused, pleading “personal family responsibilities.” “It’s one thing when you’re the target,” the Senator said. “It’s another thing when you make other people the target.” His mother added: “There are still too many risks, as anyone who reads the daily newspapers knows well.” The press at the time indeed made it plain that Edward Kennedy was bound to be killed if he decided to contest the election.
A year later, when the sensational inquiry into the Watergate affair began, the investigations brought to light a corollary scandal: Howard Hunt, one of the two men whose “doubles” were photographed in Dallas not far from the spot where the President had been killed, was caught redhanded. It was revealed that at the time of the 1972 presidential campaign he had been plotting against Edward Kennedy. Pinned down by the facts, Hunt admitted that he had persuaded General Lansdale and Commander Conein, both of the CIA, to join in the projected secret operation. The former had earlier been in charge of the dispatch of CIA killers to Cuba, and the latter had engineered political assassinations in Indo-China. The new plot was abandoned because Edward Kennedy publicly announced he would not run for President.
In September 1974, following the dramatic change in White House incumbents, Democratic leaders again contemplated staking on Senator Kennedy in the next election. But that same month the FBI announced that a plot to kidnap the Kennedy children had been discovered. The Senator’s house was placed under round-the-clock police protection. His wife broke down under the strain of constant fear and had to go to a mental home. Ten days later Edward Kennedy solemnly vowed not to accept the Democratic nomination.
“I simply cannot do that to my wife and children and other members of my family,” he said.
If he did not keep his word, press commentators said, he was doomed.
Last summer the Democratic leaders, reconciled to Kennedy’s withdrawal from the election contest, rallied behind Jimmy Carter. Shortly afterwards is was rumoured among the Democratic following that Edward Kennedy might be given a high Administration appointment if Carter won. Just about this time, on September 10, an unemployed worker named David King came to the Massachusetts state police and reported that since August he had been offered “big money from New York” for taking part in the killing of Senator Kennedy.
He named as the main executor of the plot one Robert White, “a hit man from the mafia.” According to King, White had also recruited a waitress in a Springfield restaurant where a democratic banquet to which Edward Kennedy had been invited was to be held. The price for the murder agreed upon between White and his employers was the huge sum of two million dollars. At first King had been tempted by the money offered by White, but later, when he had seen White practising with a sawn-off shotgun, he had got cold feet. He decided that the game was not worth the candle and he went to the police. Here is what he told them:
“White said: ‘You can make $30,000 altogether. You get $5,000 down, and after the job you get $25,000. The waitress was supposed to serve breakfast, and Mr. White was supposed to walk in right behind her. He was going to shoot Kennedy while he had breakfast. I wasn’t to do the killing. He was to do the killing. All I was supposed to do was to keep the freight elevator ready for him.”
On September 11, the police, having warned Kennedy of the conspiracy, arrested White and the waitress he had bribed. King too was detained. The Secret Service established that, according to information from agents, White had been plotting the terrorist act a year ago. But neither then nor now was there any direct evidence against him. Now he flatly denied any compact with King, and there were no witnesses. The waitress too denied the charge.
The investigation came to a dead end and all three suspects were released. The instigators of the assassination who had offered them two million dollars for the job remained anonymous, thus evading all responsibility.
“In the past 15 years or so political assassination has unfortunately become an established tradition in this country,” Bernard Fensterwald told me. “Formerly this was not so, not at any rate since President Lincoln was killed a hundred years ago. Nowadays national political leaders are being killed, and moreover with impunity. That is why it is essential, even after a delay of 13 years, to find the killers of President Kennedy. This must be done if such things are not to happen again.”
The tragedy in Dallas.
The death of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles.
The killing of Martin Luther King in Memphis.
Two attempts on the life of President Ford.
The exposed CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba, President Sukarno, and General Schneider, the commander of the Chilean armed forces under the Allende government.
Will there be an end to this violence and terrorism?
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