Monday, March 17, 2014
JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF SYLVIA MEAGHER'S ACCESSORIES AFTER THE FACT
I don’t know how I missed it, having read most of the good early critics of the Warren Report, but I never read Sylvia Meagher’s “Accessories After the Fact,” and that is a pity because this book is one of the most important ever written on the Kennedy assassination.
Ms. Meagher’s topic is exclusively “The Warren Report,” its contents and the means and methods used to arrive at them. Ms. Meagher had a unique advantage over some other critics and analysts: she not only studied the entire 26 volumes of “Hearings and Exhibits” published to support the single-volume summary report, she had undertaken the monumental task of creating an index to “Hearings and Exhibits.” The Commission, as was its bizarre and confusing way in so many things, published this massive collection of evidence separately with no meaningful organization and no means to search or study it, just tens of thousands of documents jammed into 26 covers like a tidy pile of recycling. The summary volume, “The Report,” therefore does not follow the most elemental academic practice of citing an organized body of evidence for its claims and assertions. It was almost as though the supporting documents were published to impress and reassure the public, safe in the knowledge that few would ever try studying them and that the few who did would find the task impossibly frustrating.
Ms. Meagher’s admirable indexing work not only created a powerful tool for her own use and that of others but gave her in 1967, the first publication date for “Accessories,” an almost unrivalled knowledge, perhaps matched only by Harold Weisberg. But Weisberg was a fairly poor writer, and his books, most famously, “Whitewash,” often are awkward and replete with typographical errors. Ms. Meagher (at least in this edition) is almost the polar opposite: she was a clear, logical writer, often quite forceful, writing analytical reports having been part of her career work. She is a bit dry at times, but that is in the nature of the material.
Ms. Meagher brought at least one more special talent to the task of writing this book: she had eyes which missed almost nothing in the way of detail. So much was this the case that there are points in the book where you will simply feel a degree of awe for the threads she manages to pull together. Time and time again, she marshals bits of material from the supporting documents which contradict summary words in “The Report” they supposedly were intended to support.
You might ask how is it relevant to read a book nearly fifty years after its publication when so many new facts have emerged in the case. My answer is, read her and find out: her judicious and detailed evaluation of parts of “The Warren Report” has not been surpassed. Her words echo with acute unanswered questions. She also demonstrated a remarkable prescience at times, most of her best observations and conjectures being as fresh as they were when she wrote. Altogether, an amazing feat of scholarship.
As to new evidence and facts, there actually is far less than many assume. Yes, the Church Committee (1975) gave us some insights into the CIA’s dirty work which Ms. Meagher did not know when writing, and, yes, the House Select Committee (1979) developed some new evidence, and, still further, the Assassination Records Review Board (1990s) published boxfuls of documents. But what those who do not follow the assassination case do not know is how remarkably little new material of genuine usefulness has appeared.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations (1978), while uncovering important technical evidence of another shooter on the grassy knoll, still feebly drew more or less the same conclusions as the Warren Report, and their second-shooter evidence has been thoroughly muddied by other technical claims about the recording. More importantly still, the huge release of documents by the Assassination Records Review Board (1990s) is filled with redactions and incomplete documents and a great many simply trivial documents such as the fate of Kennedy’s original damaged bronze coffin. To this day, few people realize that the most crucial documents remain buried in government agency files, including information about the intelligence agency behind Oswald’s phony defection, information about how his wife (daughter of a senior Soviet police official at the peak of the Cold War) was permitted to migrate to the United States, information about Oswald’s informer work for the FBI and about the kind of people on which Oswald was informing both in New Orleans and Dallas, information about Jack Ruby’s past (including his anti-Castro gun-running) and his frenzied activities close to the assassination, information about the sickeningly-corrupt Dallas Police and those who acted either to assist in, or cover-up details of, the crime, information about the relationship (and there very much was a relationship) between Oswald and Jack Ruby and David Ferry, information about why the presidential limousine was quickly rebuilt to destroy ballistic evidence, information about the pseudonym, A. Hidell, information about ex-FBI Agent Guy Bannister’s dark operations in New Orleans out of a building Oswald frequented, information about Oswald’s supposed visit to Mexico (genuine CIA observation pictures and recording having never been released), and information about a great many other things.
Perceptive readers will understand that those are “red meat” matters in the case and that it is simply absurd to ask people to accept that clear documents around them do not exist. We also need information on so basic a matter as why the distinguished members of the Commission thought it was appropriate to selectively ignore witnesses, to alter the printed version of other witnesses’ testimony, and to write what is almost a complete fabrication from start to finish. Lyndon Johnson’s suggestive stuff, reportedly whispered to convince some recruits to join the commission, about “if you knew what I knew” and tens of millions of “lives at risk” strikes one as unconvincing rubbish even then.
Remember, the most profound question ever asked about the assassination goes unanswered to this day: Betrand Russell, after publication of “The Report” asked, "If, as we are told, Oswald was the lone assassin, where is the issue of national security?"
Perhaps the most outstanding yet little asked issue around the Warren Commission is why, instead of doing a straightforward investigation of facts, it saw fit to conduct the prosecution of a single individual, “The Report” being literally nothing more than a prosecutor’s brief, and a fairly poor one at that. In a normal legal procedure, there is also a defence brief, the opportunity to cross examine, and there is a judge and/or jury acting as impartial receiver of all evidence. But the Warren Commission acted as prosecution and jury combined. Indeed, as is not widely understood, the Commission itself did almost no investigation (investigation being its true mandate) and depended almost completely on the FBI for investigative work. So the FBI, a poisonously political organization at the time under J. Edgar Hoover, collected selected pieces of evidence and selected witness accounts, and the Commission conducted selected questioning of selected witnesses and assembled a dodgy prosecutorial brief. Nothing that could be called a true investigation ever occurred.
Readers should understand that this book is not the kind of gripping narrative of, say, Anthony Summers’ “Conspiracy.” It is a brilliant dissection, although a bit dry at times, of what remains the government’s foundation document explaining the assassination. “The Warren Report” does not explain the assassination, as Ms. Meagher so amply proved in this book nearly fifty years ago.
This book is recommended without qualification for all people interested in the assassination, in American history, in the integrity of America’s political or judicial institutions, and in the dark workings of powerful government institutions.
Here is a footnote for those interested in how twisted the assassination literature has become with unhelpful books now regularly dumped into the market. Ms. Meagher cites Edward Jay Epstein’s “Inquest,” another critique of the “The Report” published before hers. She treats him, given her knowledge in 1967, as a fair-minded and able critic. And to a considerable degree he was in that single instance, but Epstein wrote two more books after “Inquest,” “Counterplot” and “Legend,” both serving only to reinforce the main observations and conclusions of “The Report,” so much so, they are embarrassing for a knowledgeable and critically-minded person to read. “Inquest” served the purpose of what intelligence agencies call “chicken feed,” accurate but non-essential information given by a spy to the other side in order to establish bona fides. Following a number of pioneering and well-received critical books, “Inquest” granted some of the flawed nature of the “The Report” and even seemed to break a little new ground. But when you read the other two Epstein books and some unrelated stuff he has churned out over the years, you conclude he is part of what one retired CIA propaganda operative once called his mighty Wurlitzer Organ, a huge console of keys sending all kinds of misinformation through legitimate publication channels.
And so it continues today. Not only has Epstein written yet another book, but a steady stream of books is published whose main purpose is to support the Warren Commission’s “findings.” This is done along two paths. First there are the Epstein-type books, supporting the Commission through a semblance of analysis and investigation. Then there are the truly flaky anti-Warren Commission books with all kinds of outlandish claims (i.e. Oswald was a KGB spy or he was a Castro-hired assassin) and absolutely no evidence, intended to spread a shadow of discredit across even legitimate critics. Both kinds of books are produced by publishing channels friendly to the CIA, and their authors often may not even realize that they are being used, it being a common practice to use non-CIA assets with or without their knowledge as the case may seem appropriate. Sadly, the author of one of the best books ever written on the subject, Anthony Summers (“Conspiracy”), in his recent update of “Not in Your Lifetime” seems to this author, wittingly or not, to have gone over to the dark side in some of his observations and suggestions, just as he very much did in his unfortunate book on 9/11 (also reviewed).
It is thus a rare thing to find a book on a highly controversial public issue in the United States that is an honest effort to analyze (and what else would you expect at the heart of a great empire which is constantly working to deceive people about its purposes and methods?), and Ms. Meagher’s book is one of a small number of them on the assassination.
The extent of American secret operations of all kinds was not appreciated in 1967. Today, they march in platoons across the news - Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Guantanamo, Diego Garcia, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine, and others – but still the dark workings behind them are never acknowledged. America’s intelligence agencies have gigantic budgets and operate with almost no accountability, murdering and torturing and overthrowing like the secret police serving a police state. America’s Congress questions and opposes almost nothing done. America’s mainline press now never pretends to report as it did during at least part of the Vietnam holocaust (the word being justified by the killing of an estimated 3 million Vietnamese). Elected presidents seem little more than figureheads formally authorizing the dark establishment’s work, the public not being able to distinguish an Obama from a Bush. The unexplained death of a president and the government’s contempt for the understanding of America’s citizens has gone a long way to making this world possible.