Letter from America

👤 Martin Cannon  

Compromised Reporting

Taking its cue from a powerful network of far-right radio commentators, the American press insists on noting only those financial scandals which don’t sully ultra-conservative politicians. Of either party. For example: Rush Limbaugh, who has become the Republican Party’s Goebbels, loudly applauded Clinton’s appointment of Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, an appalling Texas (Democrat) senator who strongly supported the Nicaraguan contras. This seal of approval may explain why Radio Right, in its fury to denounce the Waco debacle, refused to go after Bentsen – even though he was the cabinet officer in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms which initiated the ill-fated raid against David Korech’s cult compound. For that matter, nobody wants to talk about Bentsen’s long-standing ties to Walter Mischer, for the Mischer trail leads back to Bush. And mum’s the word on those three Texas Savings and Loan institutions Bentsen owned. All three, according to former Houston Post journalist Peter Brewton, ended up in the hands of the CIA and the Mafia.

The press has also (mostly) steered clear of allegations that the CIA ran drugs and weapons through the small airstrip at Mena, Arkansas. For this is another bipartisan scandal which forces us to examine not just then governor Clinton, who allegedly protected the operation, but also Oliver North, George Bush and the entire contra effort. The details of this insanely complex affair now fill a 600-page volume called Compromised by John Cummings and Terry Reed, published by SPI books (New York, 1994, $23.95)

Briefly: Terry Reed functioned as an army intelligence officer during Vietnam, turning to civilian spookery in the late 70s. In 1982 he met Oliver North, who posed as a CIA agent named John Cathey. North coveted Reed’s Piper turboprop airplane for use in the contra war. Reed was asked to give up the plane, report it as stolen, then collect the insurance money. He says he baulked at this offer, although the aircraft did indeed turn up missing shortly thereafter. This odd episode didn’t stop Reed from training contra pilots at a CIA-friendly airstrip just outside the minuscule township of Mena, Arkansas, where -in an all too familiar scenario – guns went out to the contras and drugs came back to the United States. The chief smuggler was Barry Seal, a swashbuckling criminal turned DEA informant and CIA asset. Arkansas Governor Clinton did nothing to shut down Seal’s drug flights into Mena. To the contrary: Compromised asserts that the future president and his cronies benefited from the laundering of drug funds through Arkansas financial institutions. In 1986 Reed moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, where his machine-tool business functioned as a cover for a similar guns-in-drugs-out operation. This Mexican project had lasted a few months when Reed’s friend William Cooper (no relation to the UFO crackpot of the same name) died in that famous CIA airplane accident over Nicaragua, which only Eugene Hasenfus survived.

At this point Terry Reed got religion. Claiming to be shocked – shocked – to discover CIA involvement with drugs, he quit the operation in the summer of 1987. Shortly thereafter, an Arkansas private investigator, who just happened to be a friend of Bill Clinton, stumbled across that long-lost Piper turbo prop in a hanger back in Arkansas. The FBI went after Reed for insurance fraud. He managed to clear his name in court, despite several unnerving incidents, including the fire-bombing of a car belonging to his lawyer’s daughter, and the sequestering of key evidence in the Arkansas governor’s mansion.

A number of writers became quietly interested in Reed’s tale during the 1991-2 presidential primary campaign. Most bowed out when Clinton locked up the nomination, and when Time magazine ran an article branding Terry Reed a liar. Much of this article, by Time correspondent Richard Behar, strikes me as unfair. Besides, the Mena story does not rest entirely on one ex-spook’s credibility. Anyone who telephones Charles Black, a deputy prosecuting attorney in Arkansas who investigated Barry Seal, will definitely come away with the impression that Clinton protected Seal’s operations.

Nonetheless, I have problems with Terry Reed, whose story has grown like Topsy over the years. When we first heard this narrative in the Summer 1991 issue of Covert Action, Bill Clinton was a footnote character; now he has become Oliver North’s partner, and a principal player in a CIA conspiracy. Compromised also claims that George Bush’s sons had a direct involvement with the Medellin cocaine cartel, and that the CIA engineered the Hasenfus crash as a means to push Bush into Reagan’s chair prematurely. Interesting notions and worth following up. But one new story rings quite false: Reed insists that he held an impromptu meeting with then Governor Clinton in the parking lot of Little Rock’s most popular Mexican restaurant. Clinton was sitting in a van nonchalantly smoking reefer – and yes, he inhaled – right in front of someone he did not know well and whose loyalties he could not gauge.

Or so Reed says. And maybe you’ll believe him, if you’re the sort who likes to mutter vagaries about JFK and the arrogance of power. Personally, I find myself agreeing with the Christic Institute researcher who tells me he accepts much of the original account (e.g. the Piper plane, Mena, Seal and all that) but suspects that Reed has since festooned his basic narrative with rumours and speculation.

Assassination Politics

Gerald Posner’s revamping of the Warren Commission Report, Case Closed, got acres of coverage in this country. New evidence, however, indicates that Posner is a bit, shall we say, ethically-challenged. Of course, savvy folk knew Gerry had a wayward way with facts from his book’s first sentence, which claims that more than 2,000 books have been written about the Kennedy assassination. The actual figure is somewhere under 400. Posner probably got the 2,000 figure from the struggling Assassination Research Center in Washington, DC, which does (or did) house roughly that number of books on its unsteady shelves. But those holdings include many titles not directly related to the assassination.

Posner goes on to claim that this avalanche of assassinology, foisted on the public by avaricious writers, has presented only the pro-conspiracy side of the Kennedy question. Let’s first clear up this business of alleged avarice: JFK books normally sell well only when a movie or some other newsworthy event pushes the case into the spotlight. At other times, books in the genre do not do particularly well, with the exception of works by a few lucky authors, such as Lifton, Lane, or Summers. Most assassination researchers don’t quit their day job; they do what they do because they believe in the work. And a book which sells, say, 5,000 or 10,000 or even 20,000 copies can scarcely compete with the millions reached by Dan Rather, NBC, Time, Life, and Newsweek. …. All of these media outlets have steadfastly defended the lone nut scenario over the decades. If Posner asserts that the public hasn’t had a chance to hear the Warren Commission’s side of the story, he is (as Dave Letterman might say) just plain goofy.

False Quotation Syndrome

He may be worse than that. Researchers Harold Weisberg and Walt Brown, as well as medical expert Dr. Gary Aguilar, have been double-checking Posner’s claimed interview subjects. Apparently, the Warren Commission’s foremost apologist has seriously misrepresented some of those he supposedly interviewed.

For example: Posner testified to the Conyers Committee on November 17, 1993, that he interviewed JFK’s autopsists, Doctors James Humes and J. Thornton Boswell. Both allegedly told Posner the skull wound was high. On March 30, 1994, Aguilar called Humes and Boswell to get their side of the story. Dr. Humes confirmed that he had spoken to Posner, but denied changing his mind about the skull wound, which he has always said was low. But here’s the kicker: not only does Dr. Boswell also continues to say that the wound was low, he insisted to Aguilar twice, and without any equivocation, that he had never spoken to Posner at all! If that’s true, then Posner is guilty of lying before a congressional committee. In other words, his sense of ethics has gone North. But it gets worse.
Case Closed also contains a putative Posner interview of James Tague, the third man hit in Dealey Plaza that day. For thirty years, Tague has always insisted that the first shot did not hit him and his insistence on this point has, for various reasons, always caused grave problems for the Warren Commission and its avatars. Posner solved these problems by quoting from his alleged recent interviews with Tague, which, we are led to believe, were conducted on two successive days. (Never mind that Posner elsewhere expresses contempt for witnesses who change their original testimony.) According to Case Closed, the ‘Third Man’ now agrees that a fragment of the first shot could have hit him. This revised standard version of Tague’s testimony greatly aids the book’s reconstruction of the crime. Dr. Aguilar and Harold Weisberg separately contacted Tague to ask why he told Posner a story differing from the one he has recited for years. The answer was clear and shocking: James Tague never spoke to Gerald Posner at all! And Tague stands by his oft-repeated story that the first shot most assuredly did not hit him.

Other instances of ‘false quotation syndrome’ are only now coming to light. For example, there’s the case of Harold Norman, a Dealey Plaza witness located under the alleged sniper’s window. Norman did speak to Posner. But this witness told another writer, Walt Brown, that the information ascribed to him in Case Closed does not resemble what he actually said ‘not by a long shot.’

Posner even seems to have misquoted his own editor, Robert Loomis of Random House. The author of Case Closed has frequently recounted the story of his book’s genesis: how in 1992 Random House hired him to write a book that would establish a conspiracy once and for all; Posner started investigating, found no evidence of a plot to kill JFK, and reported these findings to his publisher, who told him to go with what he found. ‘Tis a pretty tale, and utter bullshit. Well before Case Closed, researcher Walt Brown sent a JFK assassination manuscript to Random House, and got a vehement rejection notice signed by editor Loomis stating in no uncertain terms that Random House would never publish any book critical of the Warren Commission’s basic findings. If Loomis wants to maintain such an attitude, that’s his privilege, of course. But how can Gerald Posner claim that Loomis originally tasked him to produce a work open to the idea of conspiracy?

During last November’s media orgasms over Case Closed, the public frequently heard glowing remarks about Posner’s background. For example, we heard that he was a Wall Street lawyer, which was comforting: All America instinctively trusts Wall Street lawyers. We also heard that he had acted as the attorney for an organization called CANDLES, which represents victims of Dr. Josef Mengele’s horrifying experiments at Auschwitz. CANDLES is run by a feisty and courageous woman named Eva Kor, an Auschwitz survivor now living in Terre Haute, Indiana. When I called her last February, she insisted that Gerald Posner never was a lawyer for her organization. She considers him untrustworthy, and expresses contempt for anyone who conjures up a false association with her group in order to bask in unearned moral authority. Posner, in her view, is ‘a real son of a gun.’ (She’s too ladylike to swear, but she’s cute when she’s tempted.)

Martin Cannon is a writer and illustrator. He lives in California and is currently working for Prevailing Winds.

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