Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Last Congressional Hearing on the JFK Act - 17 Years Ago

The Last Congressional Hearing on the JFK Act – June 4, 1997 – 17 Years Ago

The last Congressional hearing on the JFK Act was held on June 4, 1997, a one day session to officially ratify a one year extension to the deadline set to dissolve the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) and allow them time to complete their work.

That last hearing before the ARRB dissolved included carefully selected witnesses -  Congressmen Dan Burton, J. Dennis Hastert and Louis Stokes, archivist Steve Tilley, ARRB Chairman John Tunheim, Warren Commission apologist Max Holland and Indiana high school teacher Bruce Hitchcock, whose students were inspired to work with the Review Board staff on the declassification of the JFK assassination records.

Official Report on the Hearing:
Joe Backes was there:
While the June, 1997 JFK Act Extension hearing only addressed the need for continuing the Review Board, many other issues related to the legislation have been raised, and the specific issues related to the content of the records, have yet to be addressed in a public hearing.

One of the five ARRB members Kermit Hall said it would take ten years before the JFK Act and the board’s work could be honestly appraised and it has now been more than a decade, and its time to officially evaluate the law and the board’s work.

Only committee chairman can schedule a hearing and when the Republicans held a majority and called the shots, no hearings were held, and there was no oversight of the JFK Act at all. That was suppose to change when the Democrats became the majority party and assumed committee chairs. Of all the House committees, the House Reform and Oversight Committee, which was under Rep. Henry Waxman (D. Calf), was the most active, with quick and sometimes effectual hearings on hot issues, including voting machine fraud, the Walter Reed Hospital scandal, Guantamano prison abuses and the Valarie Plame affair.

Now however, under Republican control, with Rep. Darrell Issa (R. Calf) as chairman, it has held few hearings on any issue. Issa has politicized the committee, only holding hearings on issues that will embarrass the Democrats, and then unplugging the microphone when Rep. Cummings (D. x) tries to make a statement.

Holding Oversight hearings on the JFK Act is not something they want to do, and it may take more newsworthy events to make the JFK Act an issue Congress is interested in. Even though it is a non-partisan (as opposed to bi-partisan) issue that both parties can embrace, and work together on, they may have to be instigated, or embarrassed to hold the mandated oversight hearings on the JFK Act. Fortunately there is no shortage of ammunition because the JFK Act is a fine example of how the government really works and who controls what power.

All you have to do is review the lists of records they acknowledge were destroyed and no longer exist, and then check out the records that are missing though everyone acknowledges once existed, but they just don't know what happened to them. Then there are the records that are still being officially withheld, legally or otherwise. (See Outstanding Issue - Records).

After more than ten years of inaction, now is the time for the Information Policy and NARA Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee to conduct public oversight hearings of the JFK Act. Now is the time to properly review the circumstances of the destruction of certain records, what became of the missing records, and why there are still some being wrongfully and possibly illegally withheld.

The government administrators responsible for the destruction of records should be identified, subpoenaed and questioned under oath, and there should be at least an attempt made to locate the missing records or determine what became of them.

The responsible subcommittee should also recommend that Congress approve the ARRB recommendations contained in their final report, and consider a formal extension of the JFK Act to ensure that the NANA and the Committee have enough resources to properly oversee and enforce the law.

When the 9/11 Commission was officially dissolved, they continued to meet together privately, and they organized a non-profit group that continued to promote the recommendations of the Commission, and effectively did so.

The Assassination Records Review Board also made many recommendations before it dissolved, including the formation of a liaison group that represented the historian and archivists associations who recommended the members of the Review Board, and that this ad hoc liaison group continue to oversee the enforcement of the remaining statutes of the JFK Act. [Note #7 ARRB Recommendations]

No such ad hoc liaison group ever met, and no such independent, non-profit organization has continued to actively try to oversee the continued function of the JFK Act, other than the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC), the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA) and the Committee for an Open Archives (COA).

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the National Security Archives (NSA), generally involved in open government legislation, shy away from anything to do with the assassination of President Kennedy and political assassination in general. It has been reported that Charles Sanders, Esq. and Mark Zaid, Esq. have written a letter to the Waxman Committee requesting that they hold JFK Act oversight hearings, but a public copy of this letter has not yet been made available.

While full scale investigative hearings are unlikely, they are possible, and getting at least one oversight hearing and consideration for a new extension is certainly doable.

James Lesar, Esq. took the lead when he wrote to the committee chairman that “… my organization, the Assassination Archives and Research Center (‘AARC’) requests that you hold Oversight hearings on the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 (‘JFK Records Act’), 44 U.S.C. rj 2107. The fact that it is almost 45 years since President Kennedy's assassination increases rather than diminishes the need for urgent action.”

“The Justice Department has in recent years reopened a number of seemingly ancient cases, horrific racial slayings of the 1950s and 1960s and in some cases has obtained convictions. It has been conspicuously inactive, however, on the murder of President Kennedy, a crime of enormous importance to the nation. This is so even though much about the case remains in doubt, and though significant evidence has emerged pointing to the possibility that there was a conspiracy.”

“The government's failure to address the doubts and confront such evidence has had a lasting, profoundly negative impact on our democracy. It is no coincidence that the steep and continuing decline in trust and respect for American leaders and institutions began after the assassination and the Warren Commission's finding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the President. Questions remain as to whether to cite more common suspicions, not least those expressed by the House Select Committee on Assassinations there was a conspiracy involving organized crime, or a foreign power, or even "the military industrial complex" of which President Dwight Eisenhower warned in his farewell address. Only by being seen to have made every last effort to resolve such suspicions, and by achieving total transparency in terms of public disclosure can we begin to restore confidence in our democratic system and our national institutions.”
Lesar notes that, "Congress implicitly acknowledged this when it passed the JFK Records Act. It recognized that the American people have the right to know their own history, and that to know it they must have access to the facts to the fullest possible record. As a direct result of the Act, a huge volume of previously secret documents were rapidly released. Those disclosures, coupled to ongoing research, produced stunning revelations." (See List: Northwoods, Joannidies, ….et al. ).

Lesar calls upon Congress to enact new legislation "that brings the date for full disclosure of all JFK assassination records forward to (now) 2009……It is essential that Congress use its muscle to ensure that the JFK Records Act again operates as the lawmakers intended and that government agencies, the CIA included, comply with all its requirements. Congress should also ensure that, notwithstanding the passing of the years, fresh evidence is studied and given a thorough hearing."
Lesar concludes that, "To fail to take such action, in a way that is absolutely clear and transparent, would be to invite further erosion of the public trust. A democratic nation lost its elected leader, in circumstances never satisfactorily explained, and requires nothing less of its elected representatives."
While we would like to begin a series of public hearings on the JFK Act in particular and open government records in general, hearings that would explore all of the relevant issues and be held routinely and continuously until the JFK Act is complete (circa 2017), it's highly unlikely that will happen.
It is more than likely that only one hearing will be held over the course of one day, not unlike the hearing held to get the extension of the JFK Act. Which brings us back to the original JFK Act extension hearing as an example of what we would like to accomplish, and if we only get one shot, it must be a really good one.
That was a very successful hearing, briskly taking the testimony of a few key witnesses for the record, and then recommending an extension of the ARRB for an additional year, with Congress giving its unopposed general consent.
If the subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee is going to hold even one hearing on the JFK Act, then it must be presented with not only recommendations, but a request for new legislation, a new law that must be prescribed by those of us who want it, or they will write it themselves, however they want it, or more likely, not at all
Without re-establishing a review a board, this new legislation should be an Extension of the JFK Act, an amendment that could give the original law some enforcement teeth, if not jaws, and try to resolve the outstanding issues outlined by Lesar in his letter, and as elaborated on by others.
As Dennis Bartholometw, Esq., has points out, "Section 12 thereby indicates that the receipt of assassination related documents by the National Archives and the release of such documents to the public shall continue until all assassination documents are made available to the public."
"However today, years after the Assassination Records Review Board was terminated, there are still a number of documents that have not yet been released to the public, there is evidence that the CIA has assassination related documents that it has not turned over to the National Archives, and there is reason to believe that other assassination related documents still exist that are unknown to both the National Archives and JFK assassination researchers. It is therefore clear that Congress needs to take some simple steps to ensure that the work mandated by the JFK Assassination Records Act is completed."
Lesar wrote, "I ask that you do now hold hearings to assess the working of the JFK Records Act. Also that your committee address the need to modify and update it, or enact new legislation, to resolve the sort of problems I have described....It is essential that Congress use its muscle to ensure that the JFK Records Act again operates as the lawmakers intended and that government agencies, the CIA included, comply with all its requirements. Congress should also ensure that, notwithstanding the passing of the years, fresh evidence is studied and given a thorough hearing. To fail to take such action, in a way that is absolutely clear and transparent, would be to invite further erosion of the public trust."
In the course of attempting to get Congress to pass a new extension to the JFK Act, it is necessary to make the new law comprehensive, yet feasible, and one they will consider, consider appropriate and pass by general consent and with no opposition. Therefore it must also be realistic. JFK Records Act requires remedial action in other areas"- James Lesar, Esq.
Besides those issues addressed in the above suggested extension/continuation resolution, there are other issues that should be addressed and made a part of the new law, as outlined by James Lesar.
I. OUTSTANDING ISSUES related to legislation and enforcement : (Lesser)
a) The Review Board ordered that many records or portions of records that were initially withheld be disclosed at dates prior to 2008. A good deal of such information, however, is still withheld. The National Archives and Records Administration ("NARA"), which has a duty to disclose such materials once the postponement date is reached, does not always do so.
b) While the Review Board was in existence, many records containing third agency information were referred to third agencies for action. Those agencies have in many cases failed to process the referred materials in timely fashion, and NARA - which maintains the JFK Records Act Collection, has failed to follow through by obtaining it.
c) It has become clear in recent years that records pertinent to the study of the JFK assassination are not in the JFK Collection - either because they were overlooked by government agencies and the Review Board or because new areas of inquiry have opened up that were previously not perceived as relevant or significant by agencies or the Review Board.
d) The CIA entered into an agreement with the Review Board to continue processing any and all JFK assassination records after the Review Board ceased to function. It has not honored that agreement. The result - and this applies not only to the CIA but also to other agencies - is that persons requesting assassination records not already a part of the Collection must proceed under the Freedom of information Act ("FOIA") - which is far more restrictive than the JFK Records Act. It was the inadequacy of the FOIA, indeed, that led Congress to pass the JFK Act in the first place. In a real sense. requesters thus find themselves back to Square One.

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