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Do Any of the New Books and Documentaries Prove Who Killed JFK?

Within the past six months three books, A Farewell To Justice by Joan Mellen, JFK and Sam – The Connection Between the Giancana and Kennedy Assassinations by Antoinette Ginacana, John R. Hughes and Thomas H. Jobe, Ultimate Sacrifice by Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann - and a German television documentary produced by Wilfried Huismann - have returned America’s greatest ‘whodunnit’ to the media spotlight.

Mellen’s book, reviewed by this author for HNN in November 2005, purports to prove the CIA was behind the assassination. Giancana’s book claims Chicago Mob Boss Sam Giancana ordered the assassination. Waldron and Hartmann maintain that Mafia dons Santos Trafficante, John Rosselli and Carlos Marcello called the shots and wanted to kill the president in retaliation for JFK’s crackdown on the mob. Huismann points the finger of guilt at Castro or Castro’s agents.

Ginacana’s book resurrects the same old myths about the assassination, including Grassy Knoll "witnesses," discredited photo analyst Robert Groden’s purported photographic "proof" of Grassy Knoll gunmen and the alleged physical evidence which "proves" Oswald’s innocence. A central weakness in Giancana et al’s book is the heavy reliance on so-called conspiracy witnesses whose outrageous tall tales have been investigated by the JFK assassination research community and found to be bogus. Their reliance on Madeleine Brown alone, a purported mistress of Lyndon Johnson, renders their overall thesis untenable. Brown’s story was investigated by Gary Mack and Dave Perry who exposed her outrageous lies.

Another major weakness is the authors’ belief in the confessions of alleged assassin James Files. Again, the authors simply haven’t bothered to fully research Files’s background as a reputed conman or the inconsistencies in his story. Files’s story was fully researched by acclaimed JFK assassination writers Martin Shackleford, Dave Perry, John Stockwell, Edward Bell and Edward J. Epstein and found to be bogus.

Wilfried Huismann’s German television documentary, "Rendezvous With Death," which includes research by author Gus Russo, claims that former Cuban G2 Secret Service agent Oscar Marino, who fell out with the Castro regime, said the Cubans were desperate to eliminate Kennedy. Marino claims that Castro got Kennedy before Kennedy could assassinate the Cuban leader. He claims Oswald was pointed out to Cuban Intelligence by the Soviet KGB. "There wasn't anyone else,” Marino told Huismann, “You take what you can get. . . Oswald volunteered to kill Kennedy." Newspaper reports about Huismann’s documentary claim the Cuban agents paid Oswald $6,500 for the job.

What emerges from Huismann’s thesis are a number of truths. Oswald’s wife, Marina, testified to Oswald’s hero worship of Castro. She even said Oswald had wanted to call their second child Fidel if it had been a boy. A friend, Michael Paine said that Oswald, “…wanted to be an active guerrilla in the effort to bring about the new world order.” Nelson Delgado, Oswald’s friend in the Marine Corps, said that one of Oswald’s heroes was William Morgan, a former sergeant in the U.S. Army who became a major in Castro’s army. In August 1959 Morgan received considerable press coverage when he lured some anti-Castro rebels into a trap by pretending to be a counter-revolutionary. Oswald emulated Morgan by acting as a counter-revolutionary in New Orleans when he visited Carlos Bringuier, an anti-Castroite, offering his services as a trained ex-Marine.

To Oswald, Cuba was indeed his last chance to fulfill his political fantasies. As Marina testified to the Warren Commission, “I only know that his basic desire was to get to Cuba by any means and all the rest of it was window dressing for that purpose.”

However, whilst intriguing, there are a number of flaws in Huismann’s thesis.

Following the assassination the American Government became convinced that Castro’s agents did not participate in the assassination of JFK. The National Security Agency, which intercepts communications, went all out to decipher intercepts of conversations, cable traffic, radio and telephone communications at the highest levels of the Soviet and Cuban governments. Together with information from human sources, the intercepts show clearly that both the Soviet and Cuban leaders were ignorant of the assassination and were frightened of receiving the blame. Many years later it was revealed that Chief Justice Earl Warren had despatched Warren Commission staff counsel, William Coleman, on a secret mission to Havana to investigate Cuban complicity in the assassination. Coleman has declined to speak about the incident except to say that his trip helped to convince him that Castro had nothing to do with the president’s assassination. There are however problems with Coleman’s story. According to Anthony Summers he recently received a letter from Coleman denying the meeting with Castro took place. Summers wrote that “[t]his is hard to explain, unless perhaps one notes that Mr Coleman — himself a former Cabinet member — is close to senior officials in the Bush Administration. Perhaps the Bush people, who take a hard line on Cuba, prefer that dark rumours about Señor Castro remain unrefuted.”

Fidel Castro told the 1976-1979 House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), “That [the Cuban Government might have been involved in the President’s death] was insane. From the ideological point of view it was insane. And from the political point of view, it was a tremendous insanity. I am going to tell you here that nobody, nobody ever had the idea of such things. What would it do? We just tried to defend our folks here, within our territory. Anyone who subscribed to that idea would have been judged insane, absolutely sick. Never, in 20 years of revolution. I never heard anyone suggest nor even speculate about a measure of that sort, because who could think of the idea of organising the death of the President of the United States. That would have been the most perfect pretext for the United States to invade our country which is what I have tried to prevent for all these years, in every possible sense. Since the United States is much more powerful than we are, what would we gain from a war with the United States? The United States would lose nothing. The destruction would have been here.” He noted that murdering Kennedy brought to office a man (President Johnson) who would have been expected to be tougher toward Cuba. Richard Helms, Deputy CIA Director, commented, “We would have bombed Cuba back into the middle ages.”

There is, however, the possibility that Castro had known of Oswald’s intent to kill Kennedy when Oswald visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City in September 1963.Castro may have been told it was the rantings of a lunatic and because of the adversarial relationship between the U.S. and Cuba the Cuban leader did not pass on the information to the American government. Castro had given a speech on November 27th. 1963 and mentioned that Oswald had made a "provocative statement" when the assassin had visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City the previous September. Castro related his story to Jack Childs (FBI code name SOLO), who according to ex-FBI agent James P. Hosty, was historically one of the most important and reliable sources the FBI ever had. Childs, who was employed as the U.S. Communist Party’s financial advisor, met with Castro and confirmed the Cuban leader had known that Oswald had threatened to kill Kennedy.

The FBI "Airtel" memo which related Child’s information was dated 12.6.64,. It stated, in part :

Fidel Castro was not under the influence of liquor at the time he made the statements. Castro does not drink nor did he partake of any stimulants whatsoever......he treated the question as a very serious matter......It was the impression of (SOLO) that Castro received the information about Oswald’s appearance at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico in an oral report from ‘his people’ in the Embassy, because he, Castro, was told about it immediately. (SOLO) does not know the identities of the individuals who told Castro.(SOLO) advised that Castro said, ‘I was told this by my people in the Embassy - exactly how he (Oswald) stalked in and walked in and ran out. ….he acted like a real madman and started yelling and shouting and yelled on his way out, ‘I’m going to kill that bastard, I’m going to kill Kennedy’. …..Castro was neither engaging in dramatics nor oratory but was speaking on the basis of facts given to him by his embassy personnel who dealt with Oswald …..(SOLO) is of the opinion that Castro had nothing to do with the assassination........

Another related scenario has suggested Castro’s agents may have given tacit encouragement to Oswald during his trip to Mexico City. Such a sequence of events would have Kennedy shot in Dallas and Oswald fleeing to Mexico where he would have received safe haven by the Cubans and immediate departure for Cuba. Credible witnesses have said that Oswald met with not only KGB agents but with Castro agents as well (specifically Cuban Intelligence agents Luisa Calderon, the only person Castro would not let the HSCA speak with, Manuel Vega Perez and Rogelio Rodriguez Lopez) but they may not have taken him seriously.

Authors Gus Russo (Live By The Sword, 1998), ex-FBI agent James P.Hosty (Assignment: Oswald, 1996) and former counsel to the Warren Commission David Belin (Final Disclosure, 1988) believed in the possibility that Oswald had been encouraged by these Cuban intelligence agents in Mexico City.

Russo wrote, “Certainly to the Soviets, and to the Americans, Oswald seemed an inconsequential figure before the assassination. Neither of these sophisticated countries had much use for him, and repeatedly marginalized him. Cuban diplomats, likewise fearing accusations of involvement, may have steered clear of Oswald as well.....Given what has been reported about his contacts and surroundings though, Cuban intelligence agents may have challenged Oswald to be the man of action he apparently vowed to be..Logic dictates that, with Castro’s regime and very life being threatened by the Kennedys, a quick fix in the form of a bullet would not have been unwelcomed in certain Cuban circles.”

David Belin wrote, “Were it not for Oswald’s lies about his trip to Mexico, I would state unequivocably that there was no conspiratorial complicity between Oswald and anyone else.I would suggest that the actions of Oswald were those of a loner and that he was not conspiratorially involved with any pro-Castro agents in Mexico.”

James Hosty wrote, “...there is the dramatic, but insufficient, evidence that would directly implicate the Soviets or Cubans in the president’s death.....it is abundantly clear [however] why Oswald killed the president. Whether or not he was a KGB sleeper agent, Oswald was without question a Communist and Castro loyalist.”

The paid-agent theory has a fundamental weakness. The claim that Oswald was paid $6,500 by the Cuban agents raises a number of questions. If Oswald had been paid this money we would not have seen a virtually penniless Oswald trying to make ends meet in the two months prior to the assassination. Warren Commission investigators researched all of Oswald’s financial transactions in the years prior to the assassination and discovered no large sums of money. His wife Marina confirms these facts. Furthermore, a scenario which had Oswald leave the Book Depository with a handful of dollars then catching a bus makes some kind of assistance in the assassination unlikely. And of course, Cuban intelligence agents would have had no way of knowing about the President’s trip to Dallas, nor would they have known about the lucky chance of Oswald being given a job in a building on the motorcade route, a job which had been arranged by Marina’s friend, Ruth Paine.

The figure of $6,500 cropped up in another tale of Cuban intrigue which was investigated by JFK researcher Anthony Marsh. Marsh wrote of how, on November 25, 1963, a Nicaraguan intelligence officer sympathetic to the Cuban exiles named Alvarado Ugarte Gilberto claimed that on September 18, 1963 he saw a Cuban consulate employee give $6,500 in cash to Oswald to assassinate the President. Marsh wrote , “… because Gilberto’s story was so elaborate and because it fit in with the prevailing suspicions in the intelligence community it was widely believed to be true. But under intense questioning by the CIA, Alvarado's story began to unravel. Oswald could not have been at the Cuban Consulate in Mexico on the day that he allegedly received the cash, because he was known to have been in New Orleans applying for unemployment insurance.” Marsh stated that Alvarado admitted that he had made up the story in hopes that the US would be prompted to invade Cuba in retaliation . According to Anthony Summers Alvarado later reverted to his story after the retraction. Huismann and Summers tried to interview this witness but were unsuccessful.Summers believes he is now dead.(email to the author, 9-1-06)

Whilst this evidence does not necessarily prove or disprove Oswald was hired by Russia or Cuba it is tantalizing in that it suggests that Oswald may have offered to kill Kennedy as a way of proving his worth to them but the Soviets and Cubans adopted a wait and see attitude. Anthony Summers concurs. Summers believes, “…. the Cubans had no real expectation that Oswald could or would do what he bragged he could do, that whatever mild encouragement they’d given him was more in the form of ‘Go for it, if you want’ and that their sin, maybe, was not to have said ‘No, please don’t do that’ and to have warned the Americans what he might get up to. Which would have been a bit much to ask, given that they knew the US was trying repeatedly to kill their guy.” (Email to the author, 9-1-06)

Another flaw with Huismann’s theory is that it does not factor in the actions of Jack Ruby. Had Ruby not killed Oswald the Cuban "conspiracy" would have been put at risk by Oswald’s arrest. And Ruby’s appearance in the basement of the Dallas Police Department was pure coincidence.

Oswald was scheduled to be transferred from the city jail in the police station to the county jail at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24th. Before the transfer of Oswald to the county jail, the alleged assassin was due a further interrogation by Captain Will Fritz and representatives of the Secret Service and FBI. Oswald's interrogation on Sunday morning lasted longer than originally planned because Postal Inspector Harry D. Holmes arrived. The arrival of Holmes delayed the transfer of Oswald because, unexpectedly, Fritz then turned to Holmes and asked whether he wanted to interrogate Oswald. Holmes accepted. It was for this reason the interrogation continued for another half hour or so. Ruby shot Oswald approximately five minutes after Ruby left the Western Union office. If Inspector Holmes had continued on to church with his wife that morning, as he had intended, the length of interrogation would have been shortened and Jack Ruby would never have had the opportunity to kill Oswald.

The Ruby factor is therefore a weakness in Huismann’s thesis. Had Ruby not shot Oswald the assassin would have been in a position to reveal the details of the "Cuban conspiracy" at his trial. Would Castro have taken that chance? It is unlikely. Had their been any evidence that Castro’s agents had plotted to kill the American president an invasion of Cuba would have been inevitable.

A more compelling scenario is that Oswald read about Castro’s threat to retaliate against CIA attempts to kill the Cuban leader or Cuban agents in Mexico City provoked Oswald by telling him about American efforts to murder his hero. Oswald saw this as an opportune moment to fulfil his revolutionary fantasies by taking unilateral action. The New Orleans Times - Picayune article with Castro’s statement was prominently displayed on a day when Oswald was in the city and Oswald was an avid reader of newspapers. It was also common knowledge in New Orleans, certainly amongst anti-Castro groups that Castro was a target for elimination. In his deluded state, Oswald may have thought that killing Kennedy was one way to win Castro’s appreciation. It is unlikely that Oswald’s purported meeting with Castro’s Mexico City agents could have been an arrangement to plan Kennedy’s assassination. They had no idea where Kennedy would be in the foreseeable future. But the Cuban agents may have implanted in Oswald's mind the idea that his impulsive outburst (I'm going to kill that bastard Kennedy) were admirable sentiments spoken by a "hero of the revolution."

Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann’s Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK argues that it wasn’t Castro who murdered JFK but the Mafia.

The 904 page book with 2,700 footnotes is the product of 17 years of research and interviews. The book could not have been written, the authors say, without access to thousands of documents made available by the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Collection Act, which was passed into law after the public outcry surrounding Oliver Stone's 1991 pro-conspiracy movie, JFK.

The book's central thesis is that three Mafia chieftains -- Santos Trafficante of Tampa, Carlos Marcello of New Orleans and John Rosselli of Chicago -- conspired to kill the president in retaliation for JFK’s crackdown on the mob. This isn’t new.

What is new is the book's main disclosure that the Mafia believed it could get away with the president's assassination because it had inside CIA knowledge of a purported "Kennedy secret" – the alleged Dec. 1, 1963 plan to overthrow Fidel Castro in a violent coup (C-Day, they call it) then replace him with a pro-U.S., puppet regime.

The authors argue that killing JFK would leave the Mafia protected because the government could not implicate the mob without revealing the invasion plans. If the plans had been revealed the United States would have risked another Cuban Missile Crisis.

However, the authors are far from proving their thesis. They rely for much of their conclusions on interviews with former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, no friend of Bobby Kennedy’s, and Enrique "Harry" Ruiz-Williams, a veteran of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle. Mr. Ruiz-Williams was believed to be Robert Kennedy's closest friend and ally in the Cuban exile community. Despite the collaboration of these distinguished "witnesses" the authors fail to convince. Ruiz’s statements to the authors can be characterized as wishful thinking and Rusk has provided no concrete proof that an invasion was pending. All the authors have succeeded in doing is presenting the reader with evidence that a contingency plan, not an actual plan, had been presented for JFK’s perusal. JFK’s Defense Secretary, Robert S. McNamara, has given recent interviews claiming not to know of any such plot and rejecting the idea that such plans were in the works. Anyone who has viewed McNamara’s honest and forthright statements in the documentary Fog Of War will soon realize that he is capable of telling the whole truth. Furthermore, there is a great deal of evidence to show that JFK was moving towards an accommodation with Castro at the time of his visit to Dallas and that plans for an invasion and/or assassination of Castro had been abandoned.

Another weakness with this book is the contention that the Mafia wanted to return to their lucrative Cuban casinos following Castro’s elimination. The coup would have let the purported conspirators, Marcello, Trafficante and Rosselli, in on the start to regain control of organized crime in Cuba. But killing Kennedy would guarantee that the purported plans would be dropped.

The book’s attempts to resurrect old myths about gunmen on the Grassy knoll and magic bullets is an exercise in repeating every controversy connected to the Dealey Plaza shooting. The authors rely mostly on previously debunked theories about second shooters and purported photographs of gunmen which have been thoroughly denbunked by the House Assassinations Committee, ballistics experts and leading researchers in the scientific community. For example, the authors quote former Kennedy aide Kenneth O'Donnell, who was in the motorcade and who told Tip O'Neill, former speaker of the House, in 1968 that "he had heard two shots" from the grassy knoll. They also quote former Kennedy aide Dave Powers, who was in the motorcade and who spoke to the authors before his death in 1998, that he felt they were "riding into an ambush" because of shots from the grassy knoll. But this is nothing new – many witnesses were confused as to the direction of the shots but this does not prove that more than one shooter was present in Dealey Plaza.The reader should be directed, instead, to the work of real experts like Larry Sturdivan who decisively relegates the myths about the shooting to the dustbin of history. (See Larry Sturdivan’s The JFK Myths – A Scientific Investigation of The Kennedy Assassination.)

The true facts about JFK’s assassination cannot now be established with absolute precision. Too many false leads have been sown, too many witnesses have died, the evidence can be misinterpreted by anyone who wishes to construct a false story - and time has a way of eroding the truth. Furthermore, the volume of material pertaining to the case can overwhelm the most erudite and conscientious researcher. However, despite attempts by JFK conspiracy advocates to present what they believe is compelling evidence of a conspiracy to kill JFK the simple truths remain – there is no smoking gun which would alter the fundamental conclusions of the Warren Commission Report that Lee Harvey Oswald alone fired the shots that killed President Kennedy.