Skepticism is warranted if the Primary Evidence is repeatedly contending

A rebuttal of "JFK Conspiracy theories at 50: How Skeptics Got It Wrong and Why It Matters" by David Reitzes

A rebuttal of "JFK Conspiracy theories at 50: How Skeptics Got It Wrong and Why It Matters" by David Reitzes

"To dispel the shock and confusion that ensued after accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down during an abortive police transfer by a strip club operator Jack Ruby, President Johnson convened a blue-ribbon panel composed of distinguished leaders from both the public and private sectors and consisting of both Democrats and Republicans."i  (David Reitzes)
Some critics and advocates of conspiracy offer even handed reports addressing the evidence and some in their reviews of opposing viewpoints offer little evidence but much hyperbole and condescension. Others merely seek to refute opposing arguments with unproven contentions and they overlook the evidence that hampers there favorite official declaration. The article discussed "reminds us that the job of a skeptic is to use critical properly assess the evidence, and to use our critical faculties to distinguish verifiable evidence from idle speculation." With that in mind, let us examine the evidence offered and the idle speculation.

The article states "To dispel the shock and confusion" caused by the murder of the President's assassin, Lyndon Johnson formed the President's (Warren) Commission and calming the American public was part of the reason. However, the primary evidence offers additional reasoning and perhaps more relevant are President Johnson's own words regarding the Commission's formation, "...cause this thing is getting pretty serious, and folks are worried about it. It’s got some foreign complications, CIA and other things."ii President Johnson's words are clear, I would imagine Johnson has more insight regarding this particular matter than Reitzes or I. Perhaps the balm of justice Reitzes portrays the Commission as is not accurate and evidence supports it was instead a rushed endeavor that was doomed to failure by the official agencies the investigation relied upon. The President's (Warren) Commission was not the image of uniform agreement some believe and its findings additionally rely up a lower legal threshold for determining Oswald's legal culpability. Oswald's death prevented the higher criminal court standards of reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence for murder remains. Commissioners were unsure of important aspects regarding their ultimate findings.

Within the Commission's internal documents, some Commissioners suspected the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have employed Oswald.iii The Bureau seemed to predetermine Oswald's guilt and the Central Intelligence Agency additionally seemed to assume Oswald's guilt based on contending evidence.iv v vi The FBI neglected to use their full ability to investigate according to the House Select Committee on Assassinations and the prior Commissioners agreed if questioned about such matters the Bureau and the Central Intelligence Agency would never admit culpability.vii viii  The House Select Committee also noted the President's (Warren) Commission failed to consider a single evidentiary implication of conspiracy.ix

Reitzes offers that local Dallas club owner Jack Ruby gunned down Lee Harvey Oswald, but this description lacks necessary context because the proven and feasible association of these men to criminal operatives was not considered and Jack Ruby is feasibly not a mere "strip-club" owner. He also possibly did not kill Oswald for the reasons many officials state and Ruby's activities do not begin and end with Oswald's death; they feasibly begin at least days prior as Ruby seemingly premeditates Oswald's murder. Ruby publicly displayed prior knowledge of Oswald's activities and was present days before he murdered him. Ruby is associated with Mafia assassins; agents of Jimmy Hoffa and Carlos Marcello additionally contacted him in the days before he murdered Oswald.x Jack Ruby possibly bided his time and killed Oswald not from patriotism but feasible orders from criminals and he is likely not just a misguided "strip club" owner as Reitzes contends.

Mafia Associate Jack Ruby

Mafia Associate Jack Ruby

Many claims of Oswald's possible connection to Marcello are offered, yet in my view few have stood the test of time. However, the House Select Committee on Assassinations established that Marcello hired prior suspects Guy Bannister and David Ferrie as investigators. Marcello employed these men to gather information that would defend him against Justice Department investigations led by Robert Kennedy and this occurs preceding the assassination.xi Authorities confirmed that Oswald did hand out pro-Cuban documentation stamped from the same building that housed Bannister's Detective Agency in New Orleans. Bannister is a noted anti-Castro figure and a former Bureau agent his associate David Ferrie served as Oswald's patrol leader in the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol and lived in New Orleans. Ferrie denied meeting Oswald despite the facts and no conclusive evidence has proven Oswald knew Bannister. I would not state as others have this conclusively proves anything but this information is noteworthy enough to be primary evidence and that bears consideration for such connections might offer insights about subsequent events.

"Careful and sober analysis of the evidence affirms the commission’s conclusions and vanquishes the arguments of the skeptics. So, 50 years on, what does it even mean to be a skeptic in this hotly contested debate? Surely it cannot be as simple as declaring, “I don’t trust the government, therefore I am a skeptic”; such an equation would abdicate independent thought in favor of pure cynicism. As Michael Shermer seeks to remind us, “skepticism is not a position; skepticism is an approach to claims, in the same way that science is not a subject but a method.” Skepticism of any government’s aims and efficacy is surely healthy—if not crucial—for a democracy; but the point is to use critical thinking to properly assess the evidence, not to merely doubt for the sake of doubting." 
Reitzes states "Careful and sober analysis of the evidence affirms the commission's conclusions and vanquishes the arguments of skeptics." Unfortunately, he offers no conclusive evidence save the Commission's disputed findings to affirm his grand claim and does not clearly state the evidence that "vanquishes" the arguments of skeptics. Reitzes instead speculates about the true nature of official skeptics and he agrees that government corruption occurs and we must be vigilant. Yet regarding the Kennedy matter he believes the case is decided based upon his interpretation.

Using the assessment of a journalist and a conspiracy advocate, Reitzes suggests that reality is not a tidy place, thus it would contend conspiracy. Reitzes speculates to interpret the psychology of those who contend his views and this again has nothing to do with the case at hand. It is a diversion, a hyperbolic attempt to distract from the evidentiary deficiencies in the official case. Reitzes states the many distractions and "pandemonium at the scene" to account for the widely varying nature of contending witness testimony. His view is seems wholly reasonable in many instances but he fails to apply skepticism uniformly; these circumstances were just as disruptive to officially supported witness testimony as well. Only by review and reasoned consideration of most gathered primary evidence is any tenable determination rendered. This includes the witnesses who disagree with your preconceptions and it requires accepting the later evidence gathered by other official bodies that refute portions of the President's (Warren) Commission. To doubt without sufficient reason or evidence is truly a mistake and yet to believe the President's Commission was conclusive, despite the many evidentiary deficiencies and examples of official manipulation is misplaced faith. The Commission itself did not agree and it could not trust the very agencies it relied upon to investigate because outside influences sought to manipulate its findings and primary evidence supports this.xii xiii xiv xv xvi   

"There was a clear consensus, however: 81 percent of the witnesses who expressed an opinion believed there had been precisely three shots. (The next most common opinion—at 12 percent— was two shots.) Few believed they had heard more than three shots, but these exceptions would receive an inordinate amount of attention from the doubters." 
Reitzes offers that the majority of witness accounts state three bullets were fired, not four as a minority of witnesses reported but this would contradict the subsequent findings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, it seems only the President's Commission is definitive to some. His three-bullet conclusion additionally fails to prove one gunman but a minute amount of witnesses did state four bullets were fired. Dozens supported the Grassy Knoll as a firing location in the President's Warren Commission Hearings.Among them were spectators and officials that authorities fail to question, others were dismissed, and many witnesses filled the area but a majority of the Commissioner's were not even present at most interviews or to observe testimony.xvii xviii xviiixix xx xxi xxii The House Select Committee agreed that substantial evidence infers the Grassy Knoll was a firing position based upon supporting evidence. The official story has changed over the decades but some cling to the original determinations of the President's Commission but if we consider most primary evidence, things are not so tidy.  

View of Elm Street from the Grassy Knoll Area

View of Elm Street from the Grassy Knoll Area

Reitzes then attempts to equate the evidence offered by every medical professional at Parkland hospital to mistakes and his basis relies upon a single unrelated study of forty-six cases where medical errors were repeatedly noted from over two decades ago. I find this study having occurred decades later, under wholly different circumstances, and with different medical professionals has little bearing regarding this case. Yet I agree with Reitzes many of the photographic claims made in the ensuing decades are unproven speculation without substantial evidence. Unfortunately, Reitzes leaves no room for distinctions and paints most skeptics in this case as easily led and without utilizing his idea of inquiry. He of course is incorrect; there are reasonable people with varying different ideas and standards. Some who support feasible conspiracy use primary evidence to establish their contentions and some critics do not make claims they cannot substantiate.

"Some of the crime scene photographs had more to offer than blurs and shadows. There were the “three tramps” whose pictures were snapped by newsmen shortly after police officers pulled them from a railroad boxcar behind the grassy knoll. The Warren Commission had never mentioned these characters; surely they could have been up to no good. Once Watergate made national headlines, it was even pointed out that if you looked really hard, two of the three resembled Watergate conspirators Frank Sturgis and E. Howard Hunt—although comparisons of morphological and metric features between the tramps and Sturgis and Hunt would ultimately rule them out as candidates." 
The Three Tramps represents a position I support that Reitzes offers and based upon the Dallas Police Department files, the testimony of these men, their families, and the supporting evidence feasibly decides the Tramps identities. My reasoning is based upon primary documents and supported by repeated witness confirmation. Those who state these files were altered must provide the evidence to support their contention and no substantial reason exists to contend the Tramps identities based upon non-expert photographic claims alone.

Some advocates might claim alteration, but the burden of proof is upon them and similarly the burden of proof that every medical professional at Parkland made repeated errors is upon Mr. Reitzes. His evidence compared to the Parkland evidence is not compelling and he fails to relate that Federal officials violated the legal jurisdiction of Texas when forcibly taking the President's body to Bethesda.xxiii xxiv xxv Federal jurisdiction was granted after this occurrence and yet the seizure disrupted legal medical procedures and created the opportunity for evidence mishandling and alteration.

Reitzes does not apply the same skepticism to the Bethesda inquiry, he overlooks attempts to limit the autopsy's duration, he fails to note the official failure to perform regular autopsy procedures, and currently missing evidence.xxvi xxvii xxviii xxix xxx xxxi Reitzes ignores the many deficiencies of the Bethesda medical inquiry and perhaps a more neutral approach may reveal these deficiencies. It is unreasonable to rule out entire portions of contending medical evidence and not review most exhibits to consider the similarities and differences among the evidence. Reitzes in his presumption of greater understanding later affirms the Bethesda findings and fails to consider the contending evidence and statements by the same people.

"Oswald’s palm print was found on the weapon, and fingerprints lifted from the trigger housing were later determined to be his." 
Reitzes states the official evidence links Lee Harvey Oswald to the official murder weapon and yet fails to note Oswald according to the primary evidence had no practice for months and the rifle was possibly defective.xxxii xxxiii xxxiv xxxv He neglects to mention a single Commission firearms expert could only recreate Oswald's shots a single time and such evidentiary details are worthy of consideration.xxxvi Reitzes contends the House Select Committee affirms the President's (Warren) Commission findings and he is partially correct, but he overlooks substantial instances of evidence and contrary official findings that include the probability of a second gunman and possible fourth shot.xxxvii The Select Committee based on most evidence affirmed the high probability of a conspiracy having occurred and I would disagree that the Select Committee supports the President's Commission ultimate findings. Nor do the Senate (Church) Commission and subsequent Assassinations Records Review Board testimony and documents concur.  

In seeking to prove the idea that most conspiracy advocates do not rely upon evidence, Reitzes merely cites some of the more unbelievable and unproven contentions some embrace. Similar to his dispute of Parkland testimony he ascribes unconnected studies and his interpretation as more substantial than dozens of witnesses are. I do not agree with various procedures and the views of some official at Bethesda, yet I cannot reasonably ignore most of their determinations. This lack of uniform skepticism Reitzes' displays is unfortunate and we should approach every instance of evidence with reasoned skepticism despite our personal ideas. His inherent bias is revealed in the nature of his "vanquishing" claim and the declaration is simply incorrect and without consistent evidence. In my view, these contentions and evidence require a neutral and reasoned approach to decipher. Consider that evidence and witnesses emerged for decades and regard the many official deficiencies revealed while noting that official discrepancies and witness claims of alteration are plentiful. Even official determinations have evolved into what the current official views are and to ignore these developments is to neglect things can change based on substantial primary evidence.
C.A.A. Savastano
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i. David Reitzes, (2013),  Jfk Conspiracy Theories at 50: How the Skeptics Got it Wrong and Why It Matters, Skeptic Magazine Volume 18, No. 3,
ii. Telephone Conversation between President Johnson and Republican leader Charles Halleck, November 29, 1963, 6:30 pm, p. 1
iii. President's Commission Executive Session, January 22, 1964, pp. 1-6
iv. President's Commission Exec. Session, January 27, p. 171
v. Central Intelligence Agency File, Memorandum: Summary of Relevant Information on Lee Harvey Oswald, Russ Holmes Work File, November 24, 1963, National Archives and Records Adminstration Identification Number: 104-10400-10296

vi. Central Intelligence Agency File, Memorandum: Complete Recheck Photos All Visitors to Cuban EMB Aug thru first half Nov against good press photos shows no evidence Oswald visit, November 23, NARA ID: 104-10015-10336
vii. Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Section I, Part B, Subsection 3, The FBI, p.242
viii. President's Commission Exec. Session, January 27, 1964, pp. 143, 144
ix. Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Sec. I, Pt. D, subs. 5, The Warren Commission, p. 256
x. Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Volume IX, Section V, Possible Associations between Jack Ruby and Organized Crime, Part D, pp. 188-196
xi. Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, Appendix X, Sec. XII, David Ferrie, pp. 105, 110-113
xii. President's Commission Executive Session, January 22, 1964, pp. 12-13
xiii. President's Commission Executive Session, December 16, 1963, p. 39
xiv. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities Report, Book 5, Part 4, p. 70
xv.  Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities Report, Bk. 5, Pt. 1, p. 6
xvi. House Select Committee on Assassinations, Lee Harvey Oswald's Trip to Mexico City, p. 123
xvii. Hearings of the President's Com., Volume II, Testimony of Buell Frazier, p. 234
xviii. Hearings of the Pres. Com., Vol. XIX, Statement of William Newman, p. 490
xix. Hearings of the Pres. Com., Vol. VI, Testimony of Frank Reilly, p. 230
xx. Hearings of the Pres. Com, Vol. III, Testimony of Roy Truly, p. 227
xxi. Hearings of the Pres. Com., Vol. XIX, Sheriff's Report of Harold Elkins, p. 540
xxii. Hearings of the Pres. Com, Vol. VII, Testimony of James Tague, p. 557
xxiii. Hearings of the Pres. Com. Vol. VI,  Dr. Gene Akin, Dr. Charles Baxter, Dr. Charles Carrico, Dr. William Clark, Dr. Don Curtis, Dr. Marion Jenkins, Dr. Ronald Jones, Dr. Robert McClelland, Dr. Malcolm Perry , Dr. Paul Peters, Dr. Kenneth Salyer, Nurse Diana Bowron, Nurse Pat Hutton
xxiv. Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) Medical Document (MD) Number 184, Meeting Report with Nurse Audrey Bell, April 14, 1997, p. 2
xxv. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities Report, Book 5, Part IV, Intelligence Agencies, Summary and Findings, p. 45
xxvi. ARRB MD No. 48, Report of Rear Admiral George Burkley on Assassination President Kennedy, November 11, 1963, p. 4, 5
xxvii. ARRB, Testimony of Dr. Pierre Finck, May 24, 1996, p. 42
xxviii. Ibid, p. 67
xxix. ARRB, Testimony of Dr. J. Thornton Boswell, February 26, 1996, pp. 23, 24
xxx. ARRB, J. Thornton Boswell, p. 50
xxxi. Ibid, pp. 176,180,199
xxxii. Report of the President's Commission, Chapter 4, the Assassin, Oswald's rifle practice outside the Marines, p. 192
xxxiii. Report of the Pres. Com., Chapter 4 the Assassin, Ownership and Possession of Assassination Weapon, p. 125
xxxiv. Hearings of the President's Com., Volume XXVI, Commission Exhibit 2974, p. 455
xxxv. Hearings of the Pres. Com., Volume XXV, Commission Exhibit 2559, pp. 797-798

xxxvi. Hearings of the Pres. Com., Volume III, Testimony of Ronald Simmons, p. 451
xxxvii. Report of the House Select Committee on Assassination, Sec. I, Pt. B, subs. 6, p. 93

Edited: January 2019

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