Reprinted with permission from "High
Times" magazine, September, 1991, with help from Mark Zepezauer
at the Santa Cruz Comic News.
by Steven Hager
Although John F. Kennedy was neither a saint
nor a great intellectual, he was the youngest president ever elected,
which may explain why he was so well attuned to the changing mood
of America in the '60s. Americans had grown weary of Cold War
hysteria. They wanted to relax and have fun. Like the majority
of people acrossthe planet, they wanted peace.
The President's primary obstacle in this quest
was a massive, power-hungry bureaucracy that had emerged after
WWII a Frankenstein monster created by anti-Communist paranoia
and inflated defense budgets. By 1960, the Pentagon was easily
the world's largest corporation, with assets of over $60 billion.
No one understood this monster better than President Dwight D.
Eisenhower. On January 17, 1961, in his farewell address to the
nation, Eisenhower spoke to the country, and to his successor,
"The conjunction of an immense military
establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American
experience," said Eisenhower. "We must guard against
the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought,
by the military-industrial complex."
At the beginning of his administration, Kennedy
seems to have followed the advice of his military and intelligence
officers. What else could such an inexperienced President have
done? Signs of a serious rift, however, first appeared after the
Bay of Pigs, a CIA-planned and executed invasion of Cuba that
took place three months after Kennedy took office. The invasion
was so transparent that Kennedy refused massive air support and
immediately afterward fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, Deputy
Director General Charles Cabell and Deputy Director of Planning
Kennedy's next major crisis occurred on October
16, 1962, when he was shown aerial photos of missile bases in
Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff pressed for an immediate attack.
Instead, Attorney General Robert Kennedy was sent to meet with
Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. In his memoirs, Premier Nikita
Krushchev quotes the younger Kennedy as saying: "The President
is in a grave situation... We are under pressure from our military
to use force against Cuba... If the situation continues much longer,
the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow
him and seize power."
Military hopes for an invasion of Cuba evaporated
as Krushchev and Kennedy worked out a nonviolent solution to the
crisis. In return, Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba. Angered
over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the CIA refused to bend to Kennedy's
will and continued their destabilization campaign against Castro,
which included sabotage raids conducted by a secret army, as well
as plots against Castro's life, which were undertaken with the
help of such well-known Mafia figures as Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana,
and Santos Trafficante. A bitter internal struggle developed around
Kennedy's attempts to disband the CIA's paramilitary bases in
Florida and Louisiana.
On August 5, 1963, the US, Great Britain and
the Soviet Union signed a limited nuclear-test-ban treaty. Engineered
by President Kennedy and long in negotiations, the treaty was
a severe blow to the Cold Warriors in the Pentagon and the CIA.
On September 20,1963, Kennedy spoke hopefully of peace to the
UN General Assembly. "Today we may have reached a pause in
the Cold War," he said. "If both sides can now gain
new confidence and experience in concrete collaborations of peace,
then surely, this first small step can be the start of a long,
"Years later, paging through its formerly
classified records, talking to the National Security Council staff,
it is difficult to avoid the impression that the President was
learning the responsibility of power," writes John Prados,
in his recent book Keepers of the Keys, an analysis of the National
Security Council. "Here was a smoother, calmer Kennedy, secretly
working for rapprochement with Fidel Castro and a withdrawal from
Although Kennedy's Vietnam policy has not received
widespread publicity, he turned resolutely against the war in
June of 1963, when he ordered Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor
to announce from the White House steps that all American forces
would be withdrawn by 1965. At the time, 15,500 US "advisors"
were stationed in South Vietnam, and total casualties suffered
remained a relatively low 100.
On November 14, Kennedy signed an order to
begin the withdrawal by removing 1,000 troops. In private, Kennedy
let it be known the military was not going to railroad him into
continuing the war. Many of the hard-line anti-Communists including
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover would have to be purged. Bobby Kennedy
would be put in charge of dismantling the CIA. President Kennedy
told Senator Mike Mansfield of his plans to tear the CIA "into
a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind." But these
plans had to wait for
Kennedy's reelection in 1964. And in order
to win that election, he had to secure the South. Which is why
Kennedy went to Texas later that month.
Could John Kennedy have stopped the war in
Vietnam, as was his obvious intention? America will never know.
His command to begin the Vietnam withdrawal was his last formal
executive order. Just after noon on November 22, President Kennedy
was murdered while driving through downtown Dallas, in full view
of dozens of ardent supporters, and while surrounded by police
and personal bodyguards. Twenty-eight years later, grave doubts
still linger about who pulled the trigger(s), who ordered the
assassination, and why our government has done so little to bring
In 1963, no American wanted to believe that
President Kennedy's death was a coup d'etat, planned by the military
establishment and executed by the CIA. Today, such a claim can
no longer be dismissed. Why has the national media done such an
abysmal job of presenting the facts to the American people? Hopefully,
some light will be shed by Oliver Stone's upcoming film, JFK,
a $30-million epic starring Kevin Costner, scheduled for release
December 20. As his focal point for the story, Stone has chosen
former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the only prosecutor
to attempt to bring this case to court, and a man subjected to
one of the most effective smear campaigns ever orchestrated by
the US government. It is a frightening story of murder, corruption
and cover-up. Even today, 24 years after he brought the case to
court, a powerful media disinformation campaign against Garrison
Born November 20, 1921, in Knoxville, Iowa,
Earling Carothers Garrison ~ known as "Jim" to friends
and family was raised in New Orleans. At age 19, one year before
Pearl Harbor, he joined the army. In 1942, he was sent to Europe,
where he volunteered to fly spotter planes over the front lines.
Following the war, he attended law school at Tulare, joined the
FBI, and served as a special agent in Seattle and Tacoma. After
growing bored with his agency assignments, he returned to New
Orleans to practice law. He served as an assistant district attorney
from 1954 to 1958.
In 1961, Garrison decided to run for district
attorney on a platform openly hostile to then-New Orleans Mayor
Victor Schiro. To the surprise of many, he was elected without
any major political backing. He was 43 years old and had been
district attorney for less than two years when Kennedy was killed.
"I was an old-fashioned patriot," he writes in On the
Trail of the Assassins, (Sheridan Square Press, NY), "a product
of my family, my military experience, and my years in the legal
profession. I could not imagine then that the government would
ever deceive the citizens of this country."
A few hours after the assassination, Lee Harvey
Oswald was arrested. Two days later, while in Dallas police custody,
Oswald was murdered by nightclub-owner Jack Ruby. Garrison learned
that Oswald was from New Orleans, and arranged a Sunday afternoon
meeting with his staff. With such an important case, it was their
responsibility to investigate Oswald's local connections.
Within days, they learned that Oswald had been
recently seen in the company of one David Ferrie, a fervent anti-Communist
and freelance pilot linked to the Bay of Pigs invasion. Evidence
placed Ferrie in Texas on the day of the assassination. Also on
that day, a friend of Ferrie's named Guy Bannister had pistol-whipped
Jack Martin during an argument. Martin confided to friends that
Bannister and Ferrie were somehow involved in the assassination.
Garrison had Ferrie picked up for questioning, and turned him
over to the local FBI, who immediately released him. Within a
few months, the Warren Commission released its report stating
that Oswald was a "lone nut" murdered by a misguided
patriot who wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy the ordeal of testifying.
Like most Americans, Garrison accepted this conclusion.
Three years later, in the fall of '66, Garrison
was happily married with three children and content with his job,
when a chance conversation with Senator Russell long changed his
views on the Warren Commission forever.
"Those fellows on the Warren Commission
were dead wrong," said Long. "There's no way in the
world that one man could have shot up Jack Kennedy that way."
Intrigued, Garrison went back to his office
and ordered the complete 26-volume report. "The mass of information
was disorganized and confused," writes Garrison. "Worst
of all, the conclusions in the report seemed to be based on an
appallingly selective reading of the evidence, ignoring credible
testimony from literally dozens of witnesses."
Garrison was equally disturbed by the background
of the men chosen by President Johnson to serve on the commission.
Why, for instance, was Allen Dulles, a man fired by Kennedy, on
the panel? A master spy during WWII, Dulles had supervised the
penetration of the Abwehr (Hitler's military intelligence agency)
and the subsequent incorporation of many of its undercover agents
into the CIA. He was powerful, well-connected and had been Director
of the CIA for eight years. Certainly, he was no friend to John
Kennedy. Serving with Dulles were Representative Gerald Ford,
a man described by Newsweek as "the CIA's best friend in
Congress," John McCloy, former assistant secretary of war
and Commissioner for Occupied Germany, and Senator Richard Russell,
chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Russell's
home state of Georgia was filled with military bases and government
contracts. The balance of the commission was clearly in the hands
of the military and the CIA. The entire "investigation"
was supervised by J. Edgar Hoover, who openly detested the Kennedy
Another interesting link turned up; The mayor
of Dallas was Earle Cabell, brother of the General Charles Cabell
JFK had earlier fired from the CIA. Earle Cabell was in a position
to control many important details involved in the case, including
the Dallas police force.
Based on these general suspicions, Garrison
launched a highly-secret investigation around Lee Harvey Oswald's
links to David Ferrie and Guy Bannister. Unfortunately, Bannister
had died nine months after the assassination. An alcoholic and
rabid right-winger, Bannister had been a star agent for the FBI
and a former Naval Intelligence operative. He was a member of
the John Birch Society, the Minutemen, and publisher of a racist
newsletter. His office at 544 Camp street was a well-known meeting
place for anti-Castro Cubans.
Ferrie's background was even more bizarre.
A former senior pilot for Eastern Airlines, Ferrie had been the
head of the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol, an organization Oswald
had joined as a teenager. Ferrie suffered from alopecia, an ailment
that left him hairless. He wore bright red wigs and painted eyebrows.
Ferrie had founded his own religion, and kept hundreds of experimental
rats in his house. He reportedly had flown dozens of solo missions
for the CIA in Cuba and Latin America, and had links to Carlos
Marcello, head of the Mob in Louisiana. Like Bannister, he was
extremely right wing. "I want to train killers," Ferrie
had written to thecommander of the US 1st Air Force. "There
is nothing I would enjoy better than blowing the hell out of every
damn Russian, Communist, Red or what-have-you."
On the day of the assassination, Dean Andrews,
a New Orleans attorney, had been asked to fly to Dallas to represent
Oswald. When asked by the Warren Commission who had hired him,
Andrews had replied Clay Bertrand. Bertrand, Garrison discovered,
was a pseudonym used by Clay Shaw, director of the International
Trade Mart. Shaw, a darling of New Orleans high society, was also
well-connected in international high-finance circles. He was also
anassociate of Bannister and Ferrie. Like many others connected
with the assassination, Shaw was a former Army Intelligence operative.
The case against Shaw was circumstantial, but Garrison did have
an eyewitness willing to testify that Shaw had met with Lee Harvey
Oswald just prior to the assassination.
Just as Garrison was marshalling his case,
some strange events took place. On February 17, 1967, the New
Orleans States-Item published a story on Garrison's secret
probe, indicating that he had already spent over $8,000 of taxpayer's
money investigating the Kennedy assassination. Soon thereafter,
Garrison received an unusually strong letter of support from a
Denver oil businessman named John Miller, hinting that Miller
wanted to offer financial support to the investigation. When Miller
arrived in New Orleans, he met with Garrison and one of his assistants.
"You're too big for this job," said
Miller. "I suggest you accept an appointment to the bench
in federal district court, and move into a job worthy of your
talents." "And what would I have to do to get this
judgeship?" asked Garrison.
"Stop your investigation," replied
Garrison asked Miller to leave his office.
"Well, they offered you the carrot and you turned it down,"
said his assistant. "You know what's coming next, don't
Suddenly, reporters from all over the country
descended on New Orleans, including the Washington Post's George Lardner, Jr. At midnight on February 22, 1967, Lardner
claims to have conducted a four-hour interview with Ferrie. The
following morning, Ferrie was found dead. Two unsigned, typewritten
suicide notes were found. The letter made reference to a "messianic
Three days later the coroner announced that
Ferrie had died of natural causes and placed the time of death
well before the end of Lardner's supposed marathon interview.
Lardner's complicity in the affair would never be called into
question, while his highly-influential articles in the Washington
Post branded Garrison's investigation a "fraud."
It was just the beginning of a long series of disruptive attacks
in the media, and the first in a long series of bodies connected
with the case that would mysteriously turn up dead.
With Ferrie gone, Garrison had only one suspect
left. He rushed his case to court, arresting Clay Shaw. Ellen
Ray, a documentary filmmaker from New York, came to New Orleans
to film the story. "People were getting killed left and right,"
she recalls. "Garrison would subpoena a witness and two days
later the witness would be killed by a parked car. I thought Garrison
was a great American patriot. But things got a little too heavy
when I started getting strange phone calls from men with Cuban
accents." After several death threats, Ray became so terrified
that instead of making a documentary on the trial, she fled the
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