Thursday, February 11, 2010
JFK and Unreasonable Doubt
I later came to realize that I never understood the conspiracy arguments because they weren't really coherent and because conspiracy theorists spend much of their time doing nothing more than undermining the "official line" or rather the generally accepted historical narrative.
While conspiracy theorists like to focus in on very minor technical details that they say renders the whole "official line" false they can often only do this by obscuring or failing to look at the big picture.
Alexander Cockburn probably says this better I can, so I'll excerpt a very large chunk of an article he wrote on conspiracies:
Anyone familiar with criminal, particularly death penalty defense – I had such an opportunity for a number of years – will know that there are always anomalies the prosecution cannot account for and that the defense teams can exploit, in hopes of swaying a jury either in the guilt or penalty phase of a trial. Time and again I would see the defense team spend days and weeks, even months, back-checking on a possibly vulnerable link in the evidentiary chain that could be attacked, at least to the all-important level of creating “reasonable doubt” in the mind of a juror. Expert witnesses would be imported at great expense –- unlike states such as Texas, the justice system of California is generous in the provision of money for death penalty defense -- to challenge the prosecution’s forensic evidence. Such challenges weren’t hard to mount. Contrary to prosecutorial claims, there is far less instrinsic certainty in forensic evaluation than is commonly supposed, as regards fingerprints, landing marks on bullets and so forth.
But minute focus of a death penalty defense team on one such weak link often leads to a distorted view of the whole case. I remember more than one case where, after weeks of interviewing witnesses at one particular crime scene, the defense’s investigator had collected enough witness reports to mount a decent attack on this aspect of the prosecution’s overall case. At least this is what I thought, hearing the daily bulletins of the investigator. But when, in such instances, the camera pulled back, so to speak, and I saw the prosecution’s whole case – chain of evidence, cumulative witness statements, accused’s own movements and subsequent statements – it became clear enough to me and, in that case to the juries , that the accused were incontestably guilty. But even then, such cases had a vigorous afterlife, with the defense trying to muster up grounds for an appeal, on the basis of testimony and evidence withheld by the prosecution, faulty rulings by the judge, a prejudiced jury member and so on. A seemingly “cut and dried case” is very rarely beyond challenge, even though in essence it actually may well be just that, “cut and dried”.
Anyone who ever looked at the JFK assassination will know that there are endless anomalies and loose ends. Eyewitness testimony – as so often – is conflicting, forensic evidence possibly misconstrued, mishandled or just missing. But in my view, the Warren Commission, as confirmed in almost all essentials by the House Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, had it right and Oswald fired the fatal shots from the Schoolbook Depository. The evidentiary chain for his guilt is persuasive, and the cumulative scenarios of the conspiracy nuts entirely unconvincing. But of course – as the years roll by, and even though no death bed confession has ever buttressed those vast, CIA-related scenarios -- the nuts keep on toiling away, their obsessions as unflagging as ever.
So, going back to that piece of evidence I mentioned earlier. The photograph of Oswald holding the same rifle which was found in the Book Depository with Oswald's prints on and with the same pistol that had been used to shoot officer Tippit (the crime he was arrested for) is highly damning. Oswald could only claim that it was a fake and since then conspiracy theorists have tried to analyse the shadows on it to argue that the head had been glued on (photoshop having not been invented). The problem for this scenario is that his wife Marina, had, tesitified to having taken the photographs and that she'd done so because Oswald had asked her to. According to Wikipedia:
However, Marina Oswald testified in 1964, 1969, 1977, and 1978, and reaffirmed in 2000 that she took the photographs at Oswald's request. These photos were labelled CE 133-A and CE 133-B. CE 133-A shows the rifle in Oswald's left hand and newsletters in front of his chest in the other, while the rifle is held with the right hand in CE 133-B. Oswald's mother testified that on the day after the assassination she and Marina destroyed another photograph with Oswald holding the rifle with both hands over his head, with "To my daughter June" written on it.
It's unfortunate for conspiracy theorists that there is more than just one of these pictures and that those closest to Oswald deny they were fakes (a report on their authenticity is here). The conspiracy theorists then have to posit other reasons why Marina and Oswald's mother may not be telling the truth. Were they coerced? Okay, who by and under pain of what? Why was there more than one photograph taken in the backyard and why is the story so elaborate?
If the conspiracists wanted to frame Oswald, then why did they bother killing officer Tippit? And if that was part of the plan then what was the purpose of the assassination attempt on General Walker in which a bullet that matched Oswald's gun was found? Essentially, a lot of conspiracy theorists will say that, apart from the bullet matching the rifle, there was no evidence that it was Oswald, so the bullet could have been planted. But, again, what would have been the point?
Anyway, the point I am making is not just that the photographs prove Oswald did it (although the rifle may as well be smoking) but that in the bigger picture the evidence always ends up pointing the same way, towards Oswald, and only by employing ultra-skepticism towards each and every line of evidence, unreasonable doubt in most cases, can we really avoid concluding that the most likely explanation for Kennedy's death is, Oswald did it.