Experts Call For Release of Kennedy Assassination Records This Year;
Legal Compliance Urged
The former government officials and other experts below are among those who have called for full release by the National Archives of still-classified records regarding the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
NARA’s release of an estimated 3,600 still-classified documents scheduled for Oct. 26, 2017 is anticipated as the final step of a process that Congress unanimously enacted by the JFK Records Act of 1992, and implemented by the Assassinations Record Review Board (AARB) , a five-person commission chaired by John Tunheim. On Sept. 30, 1998, it made its final report, passed unanimously and with recommendations excerpted below.
Assassinations Record Review Board (AARB) Recommendations (1998) Excerpted
The Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board provides not only an opportunity to detail the extraordinary breadth and depth of the Board's work to identify and release the records of the tragic death of President John F. Kennedy, but also to reflect on the Board's shared experience in carrying out this mission and the meaning of its efforts for the much larger challenge of secrecy and accountability in the federal government. Note: Include or Delete material in red? It is true that the Board's role was to a large extent disciplined and tightly focused on the assassination, its aftermath and the broader Cold War context in which the events occurred.
Any evaluation, however, of the unique experience of the Review Board -- five private citizens granted unprecedented powers to require public release of long-secret federal records -- inevitably presents the larger question of how the Board's work can be applied to federal records policy. There is no doubt that for decades the pendulum had swung sharply toward secrecy and away from openness. Changes wrought by the end of the Cold War and the public's desire to know have begun to shift the balance. The Review Board's mandate represented a new frontier in this changing balance--an entirely new declassification process applied to the most-sought after government secrets. In this chapter, the Board steps back and reflects on its experiences, raises issues that will help frame the declassification debate, and makes recommendations on the lessons to be learned from the path taken to release of the Kennedy assassination collection. The dialogue about how best to balance national security and privacy with openness and accountability will continue both within government and beyond. The Review Board will necessarily be part of that important debate.
The Review Board was created out of the broad public frustration that the federal government was hiding important information about the Kennedy assassination by placing its records beyond the reach of its citizens. Broad disagreement with the Warren Commission findings, explosive claims in the popular movie JFK, and continued deterioration of public confidence in government led to consensus that it was time to open the files.
— The Hon. John R. Tunheim, AARB chairman (currently Chief U.S. District Judge, Minnesota) and the other AARB members: Henry F. Graff, Kermit L. Hall, William L. Joyce, and Anna K. Nelson.
Letter to the White House:
October 26, 2017 will mark the 25th anniversary of the JFK Records Act, one of the most successful full disclosure measures in the annals of open government law. We write to ask your support for effective enforcement of the Act now and under the next administration. The JFK Assassination Records Act was approved unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on October 26, 1992. The Act resulted in the declassification of some 4 million pages of records related to the assassination of President Kennedy. The Act also serves as a model for other open government measures that have made public key chapters in the nation’s history without compromising legitimate secrets. As President Obama said in August, “we have a responsibility to confront the past with honesty and transparency.”
The JFK Records Collection is now the single most-requested body of records at National Archives II in College Park, Maryland. Scholars, journalists, historians, and students have found these records invaluable for writing the history of the Cold War, Kennedy’s presidency, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Warren Commission, Vietnam, the counterculture, and Watergate. The final test of the law will come on October 26, 2017. That’s when all of the redacted documents in the collection, as well as nearly 3,600 JFK records still withheld in full, are scheduled to be declassified in their entirety. The staff of the National Archives is now preparing for the online release of all material before the statutory deadline, an ambitious goal that we hope will be fulfilled.
One provision of the Act gives federal agencies the right to request continued postponement of JFK records after 2017, if release would result in “identifiable harm” that outweighs the public interest. As authors, historians and investigators, we believe, withholding any portion of any JFK records would result in identifiable harm to the public interest. After 53 years, continuing JFK secrecy would provoke unnecessary suspicion and flout Congress’s clear preference for full disclosure within 25 years of 1992. And it would deny the American people access to portions of our history. We ask you, as White House Counsel, to affirm and uphold the spirit and language of the JFK Records Act, and to instruct all U.S. government agencies to fully release all assassination-related records on or before October 26, 2017.
Russ Baker, author, lecturer and WhoWhatWhy founder and editor
G. Robert Blakey, attorney, professor, author, and former general counsel, House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA)
— Rex Bradford, Mary Ferrell Foundation president and History Matters founder
Debra Conway, Publisher, JFK Lancer Events and Productions
Dan Hardway, attorney and former HSCA investigator
Daniel Ellsberg, author and former RAND researcher
Douglas Horne, author and former Assassination Records Review Board analyst
Brian Latell, professor, author, and former CIA Cuba analyst
James H. Lesar, attorney and president, Assassination Archives & Research Center
Ed Lopez, attorney, educator and former HSCA investigator
Joan Mellen, author and professor
Jefferson Morley, author and journalist
John M. Newman, author, professor and former assistant to the NSA director
Gerald Posner, author and journalist
Dick Russell, author and former reporter
Larry Sabato, author, professor and historian
Peter Dale Scott, author and retired professor and Canadian diplomat
Philip Shenon, author and former reporter
Anthony Summers, author and former reporter
Robbyn Swan, author and former reporter
David Talbot, author and San Francisco Chronicle columnist
Howard P. Willens, attorney and former Warren Commission assistant counsel
“I feel very strongly that the more information we release the better. The public has the right to information so long as there’s not a compelling reason to withhold it.”
—Edwin "Ed" Meese, III, Heritage Foundation chairman and Constitution Project chairman, Federalist Society board member, former Reagan administration Attorney General (1985-88), and author
“In full compliance with the 1992 JFK Records Act, the government should release all the materials and documents pertaining to the investigation of President Kennedy's assassination. Only after such complete disclosure and opportunity for objective, unbiased analysis of those materials will it be possible for U.S. citizens to believe that justice has been served regarding this tragic event.”
— Cyril H. Wecht, J.D., M.D., forensic pathologist, medical school professor, leader or former leader of multiple professional societies, author or co-author of nearly 50 books, and former Allegheny County coroner for 20 years
“I totally support opening the files.”
— The Hon. Burt Griffin, J.D., retired judge and former Warren Commission assistant counsel
“Personally, I have given up on the hunt for the smoking gun, but I also am very much looking forward to this release. We already have the RIF sheets (the metadata including titles, subjects, number of pages, etc. for all 3,571 fully withheld documents). So we have a sense of what to expect. This metadata, along with metadata for the full collection, is now all available and searchable at maryferrell.org, in a project called the ‘JFK Database Explorer.’”
— Rex Bradford, Mary Ferrell Foundation president and History Matters founder
“The public deserves full information on this historic event via release of the still-hidden files.”
— Robert Ames Alden, former Washington Post night news editor in charge of the post-midnight editing Nov. 22-23, 1963, and later Washington Post World News Editor in a career spanning 1951 to 2000, and former president of the National Press Club, and co-founder and former president of the National Press Foundation
“NARA should release the remaining JFK assassination records and documents no later than October 2017, as the law (JFK Act) requires. This will help answer the remaining questions that the American people still have, and help restore their confidence in our government and its promise of transparency.”
— Michael Nurko, concerned citizen and Citizens Against Political Assassination (CAPA) board member