Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunshine Week 2012

Sunshine Week and JFK Assassination Records

If Sunshine Week is when we take time to recognize that a democracy requires an open and transparent form of government in which information is shared equally among the citizens and those civil servants elected to run the machinery of power, then it is also a time when we should look more closely at the government’s records on the assassination of President Kennedy.

While there is a need for secrets, there is no need to keep any government records on the assassination of the President secret fifty years after his murder other than to protect those responsible for the crime and cover-up.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”

President Kennedy himself said, “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open public and we are, as a free people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweigh the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.”

And one of those traditions of an open society is an open and transparent government whose records belong to the people who paid for them, and cannot be owned, censored or destroyed by those public servants who created them while employed by the government.

In response to the reluctance of government employees to make critical information available to the public, Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the course of the post-Watergate era, but in doing so, the Representatives of the people in the legislative branch exempted themselves from having to comply with the law.

The public’s distrust of the government didn’t begin with Watergate however, as the Pew Public opinion poll has shown the public’s trust in their government was at its highest in 1963, and began to decline with the assassination of President Kennedy and the issuing of the Warren Report, whose conclusion that the President was murdered by a lone assassin is disbelieved by 80% of the people.

The root of this distrust led Congress to establish the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), which issued two reports that concluded there is evidence of conspiracy in both the assassinations of President Kennedy and that of Martin Luther King, but as with all Congressional records, their investigative files were sealed for 50 years and were not subject to the FOIA.

Then 20 years ago, Oliver Stone’s popular movie “JFK” sparked public interest in the sealed records. At the end of the film Stone noted that: “A Congressional Investigation from 1976 - 1979 found a ‘probable conspiracy’ in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and recommended the Justice Department investigate further. As of 1991, the Justice Department has done nothing. The files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations are locked away until the year 2029.”

In response to the public outcry against the secret files Congress passed the JFK Act of 1992 that required all government agencies to relinquish their records on the assassination of President Kennedy to the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) for screening to be made available to the public subsequently through the JFK Assassination Records Collection at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Congress refused however, to include the HSCA records on the assassination of Martin Luther King, which prompted Oliver Stone to ask if he had to make a movie about King’s murder before they would release those records. Apparently so, because they remain sealed.

While the ARRB reviewed and released many millions of pages of documents and other records, many thousands or more were kept sealed until 2017, when the relevant agencies could request the President to continue keeping these records from public scrutiny, requests that could keep them from the public forever, or at least for our lifetime.

Among the JFK assassination records the CIA refuses to make public are the George Joannides files that document the CIA’s relationship to the Cuban DRE group that the accused assassin associated with in New Orleans. They were not included among the records of the JFK Act, but are however, the subject of an ongoing FOIA suit (Morley v. CIA). After overseeing the CIA’s relationship with the Cubans, Joanides was called out of retirement to keep a lid on the HSCA investigation. Besides the Joannides files, the CIA has withheld over 50,000 pages of JFK assassination related records.

In addition, the FBI, Secret Service, the Army, Air Force and Office of Naval Intelligence have intentionally destroyed or attempted to destroy assassination records that they never wanted to reach the public eye.

Other significant records, such as the unedited tapes of Air Force One radio communications and the complete office files of Admiral Rufus Taylor, the Director of Naval Intelligence (ONI), have completely disappeared from the archives of the government.

Most disheartening is the bipartisan refusal of the House Oversight Committee to hold public hearings on these issues, determine how many assassination records remain sealed, what became of the missing records and who was responsible for the destruction of so many significant historic documents and evidence in the murder of the president.

While Sunshine Week may rightly call attention to the need for local and state governments to open their meetings and accounting records to the public, and for the federal government to keep the public informed, there is no other issue more important than the release of the JFK assassination records to the public.

The 1963 assassination of the President sparked the public’s distrust in the government, the Warren Report began the official whitewash of the crime, and the sealing of the assassination records from public scrutiny ensures today that the total truth will remain hidden and that justice will never be served.

If any relevant open government issue is to be discussed because of Sunshine Week, the acceleration of the release of the JFK Assassination records should take a priority, and the strong public support for the JFK Act nearly 20 years ago should now be rallied once again to require the release of the remaining government records on the assassination before the 50th anniversary on November 2013.

As Leonard Bernstein noted there is strong institutional resistance to this when he said, “We don’t dare confront the implications. I think we’ve all agreed there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, and we just don’t want to know the complete truth. It involves such powerful forces in what we call high places that if we do know, everything might fall apart.”

But there are strong enough reasons to open the records. On the day before he was assassinated, Guatemalan Bishop Juan Jose Geradi Conedera said, "The root of humanity's downfall and disgrace comes from the deliberate opposition to truth. To open ourselves to the truth and to bring ourselves face to face with our personal and collective reality is not an option that can be accepted or rejected - it is an undeniable requirement of all people and all societies that seek to humanize themselves and to be free...Truth is the primary word, the serious and mature action that makes it possible for us to break the cycle of death and violence and open ourselves to a future of hope and light for all…Discovering the truth is painful, but it is without a doubt a healthy and liberating action."

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