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Garrison’s Case

For some time the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the reliability of the Warren Commission Report have been major issues of public interest, leading to many calls for reinvestigation of the case. Charges and counter-attacks have been pouring forth in the ever-expanding literature on the subject. CBS went so far as to devote four full hours to an attempt to rehabilitate the Warren Commission theory.

Since February most interest in the case has focused on the new investigation being conducted by District Attorney Jim Garrison of New Orleans. Garrison claimed in February that “my staff and I solved the case weeks ago. I wouldn’t say this if we didn’t have evidence beyond the shadow of a doubt. We know what cities were involved, we know how it was done, in the essential aspects: we know the key individuals involved, and we are in the process of developing evidence now.”

On February 22 one of Garrison’s chief suspects, David W. Ferrie, died, shortly before Garrison planned to arrest him. A few days later he did arrest a leading New Orleans businessman and socialite, Clay Shaw, and charged him with conspiring, under the name of Clay or Clem Bertrand, with Ferrie, Lee Harvey Oswald, and others to assassinate President Kennedy. The thesis Garrison has set forth is that a group of New Orleans-based, anti-Castroites, supported and/or encouraged by the CIA in their anti-Castro activities, in the late summer or early fall of 1963 conspired to assassinate John F. Kennedy. This group, according to Garrison, included Shaw, Ferrie, Oswald, Jack Ruby, and others, including Cuban exiles and American anti-Castroites. It is claimed that their plan was executed in Dallas on November 22, 1963. At least part of their motivation, on this thesis, was their reaction to Kennedy’s decisions at the Bay of Pigs, and the change in US policy toward Cuba following the missiles crisis of 1962.

At first, the press treated Garrison’s claims with caution, reserving judgment. At the preliminary hearings of March 14-17, Shaw was indicted for conspiring with Ferrie and Oswald to assassinate the President. Newspapers, such as The New York Times and the Washington Post, began expressing skepticism about the evidence. A few weeks later, James Phelan in the Saturday Evening Post, May 6, 1967 issue, launched an attack on the credibility of the testimony of Perry Russo, the chief witness at the preliminary hearings, and strongly suggested that his testimony had been induced by hypnosis. Later, on May 15, Newsweek, which had been scoffing since the Shaw hearings, published a story by Hugh Aynesworth charging Garrison with attempted bribery of potential witnesses and claiming Garrison had no real evidence. The attacks reached a crescendo in June with a front-page story in The New York Times (June 12) purporting to describe the ways in which Garrison tried to entice people to give evidence, and how he had tried to fabricate it; with the defection of Garrison’s assistant, William Gurvich, who said that there was no real evidence and that Garrison was using illegal and immoral methods; with the NBC blast against Garrison, CBS’S four-hour defense of the Warren Commission, and so on.

The total impression has been that Garrison is behaving illegally and unethically, and that he should be stopped. As Garrison himself said in his TV reply on July 15, as far as NBC and other news media are concerned the case against Clay Shaw has already been tried and the District Attorney has been found guilty. In this article I shall try to show that this judgment is quite wrong, and that Garrison has, on the contrary, a case that deserves a fair hearing. It is a case, moreover, that has survived every legal attack on it so far.

The trial of Dean Andrews for perjury—which ended in a conviction on August 14—was the occasion for the most recent of these attacks. This was the first trial to result from Garrison’s investigation, and it deserves the careful attention of those who assume that Garrison is a fraud. Andrews is a New Orleans lawyer and former Assistant District Attorney of Jefferson Parish. He first appeared in the Oswald case in November 1963 when he reported to the FBI that Oswald had been his client; that Oswald had been accompanied on his visits to Andrews’s office once by a Mexican and on other occasions by Latin homosexuals; and that on November 23, 1963 Andrews received a telephone call from a man named Clay Bertrand who asked him to defend Oswald. Andrews’s testimony was later taken by the Warren Commission, which chose not to believe him, though he had ample corroboration of his story. (The significance of Andrews’s story will be discussed later on.)

When Garrison started reinvestigating the case, he tried to get Andrews to identify the mysterious Clay Bertrand, Oswald’s patron, and to see if Bertrand was Shaw. Called before the Orleans Parish Grand Jury in March, Andrews claimed that he could not identify Bertrand (though he told the Warren Commission that he could and that he had seen the man recently). Then in June he testified again and this time told the jury that Bertrand was a New Orleans tavernkeeper, Eugene Davis. Andrews was convicted for perjuring himself when he told the first Grand Jury different stories from what he told the Warren Commission.

Andrews tried to prevent this trial from taking place by filing a five-page motion for “recusation” (removal because of prejudice) against Garrison. This amounted to a brief charging that Garrison had no evidence of a conspiracy to kill Kennedy and that the alleged evidence had been fabricated. The “only conspiracy existing,” he charged, “is the conspiracy planted in Perry Russo’s mind through the use of hypnotic suggestion.” The hearing on Andrews’s motion was the first public and legal airing of the charges against Garrison that have been circulating in the press and on TV for months. Andrews called many witnesses, including Garrison, his staff, and Gurvich, a former assistant who had turned against Garrison. He claimed he would bring in an expert from the East Coast to prove charges against Russo, but the expert never appeared. But he was able to do little or nothing to substantiate the allegations against Garrison that the public has read in The New York Times and heard on NBC and CBS.

No doubt the charges against Garrison will be presented more fully at Shaw’s trial this fall. But in the meantime the view that Garrison is a fraud seems to have found widespread acceptance and to have led to an almost passionate hostility among certain intellectuals toward Garrison and his theories. People seem unwilling to wait to see what the evidence amounts to when Shaw is tried. Some also seem to accept uncritically the validity of all charges made against Garrison and his evidence.

IN THE LAST SIX MONTHS, I have made several trips to New Orleans with my associate, Jones Harris, in order to interview Garrison and his staff. I find that the public picture being created of them by the press and TV bears little relation to the man, his associates, and their work. The newspapers seem fixated on Garrison’s early public claims that he had solved the case, and that sensational arrests would follow shortly. They have constructed a picture of a flamboyant publicity-seeker, who has no case and has been concocting evidence. Garrison is certainly a flamboyant man, but he appears to me to be working seriously and diligently on trying to unravel the mysteries that led to the murders of Kennedy, Tippit, and Oswald. Like everyone I know who works on the case, he does a lot of theorizing, and is sometimes carried away by his theories. But he and his staff have done an enormous job of sifting evidence, following leads, opening up new areas of investigation. His small staff is not ideally equipped to deal with so complicated an investigation, but in several instances they have been able to go further into various strange matters than the Warren Commission was willing or able to do. And no other legal agency has undertaken this venture.

The impression being created by the press and TV that Garrison is a charlatan trying to manufacture a case by persecuting a group of New Orleans homosexuals does not conform to what I have seen of his activities. (It is interesting that the New Orleans press, the States-Item and the Times-Picayune, does not share the hostile and debunking attitude of the rest of the press, and that its reporters often publish stories supporting Garrison’s work and discrediting the attacks upon him.) Before considering whether the public information indicates that Garrison’s theory is plausible or possible. I should like first to examine some of the criticisms that have been raised, and some of the difficulties Garrison has been encountering in developing his case.

1.) When Garrison first made his accusations against Shaw and Ferrie, it was revealed that there were still forty pages of classified materials on Ferrie in the National Archives (New York Times, February 25, 1967). Garrison has consistently been refused access to this material. No official explanation has been offered about why this material is classified, or what it deals with. Rumors circulate that it contains interviews with New Orleans homosexuals, and it is to protect them from embarrassment that these papers are being withheld. Yet the Warren Commission showed no such squeamishness in including some of the junk it did publish in the twenty-six volumes, such as a discredited rumor about a homosexual who was supposed to have slept with both Ruby and Oswald. (The reports give his name, address, occupation, etc., though he has apparently nothing whatsoever to do with the case.) Ferrie has been accused of being involved in a monumental crime, and yet relevant documents are still classified. Moreover, the FBI has been pooh-poohing the matter since Garrison first made his charges against Ferrie; the FBI stated in February that they had investigated him after the assassination and found he wasn’t involved (apparently mainly because his plane was not in condition to fly at the time). Without waiting for any indication as to whether Garrison had new evidence, the FBI attempted to prejudge the matter, and has continued to do so ever since (as well as to warn some potential witnesses not to talk to anybody). The Attorney General, Ramsay Clark, as soon as he was appointed; announced that the FBI had investigated Clay Shaw and cleared him. (A few weeks after this statement appeared, on page one of The New York Times, the government admitted that it was false, and that Shaw had never been investigated in connection with the case.) The FBI has been most uncooperative with the New Orleans Grand Jury, which has called or tried to call several of its agents who were active in New Orleans in the summer of 1963.

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