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Heritage of Stone

Reprinted with permission from "High Times" magazine, September, 1991, with help from Mark Zepezauer at the Santa Cruz Comic News.

Part 1

by Steven Hager

Although John F. Kennedy was neither a saint nor a great intellectual, he was the youngest president ever elected, which may explain why he was so well attuned to the changing mood of America in the '60s. Americans had grown weary of Cold War hysteria. They wanted to relax and have fun. Like the majority of people acrossthe planet, they wanted peace.

The President's primary obstacle in this quest was a massive, power-hungry bureaucracy that had emerged after WWII a Frankenstein monster created by anti-Communist paranoia and inflated defense budgets. By 1960, the Pentagon was easily the world's largest corporation, with assets of over $60 billion. No one understood this monster better than President Dwight D. Eisenhower. On January 17, 1961, in his farewell address to the nation, Eisenhower spoke to the country, and to his successor, John Kennedy.

"The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience," said Eisenhower. "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

At the beginning of his administration, Kennedy seems to have followed the advice of his military and intelligence officers. What else could such an inexperienced President have done? Signs of a serious rift, however, first appeared after the Bay of Pigs, a CIA-planned and executed invasion of Cuba that took place three months after Kennedy took office. The invasion was so transparent that Kennedy refused massive air support and immediately afterward fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director General Charles Cabell and Deputy Director of Planning Richard Bissell.

Kennedy's next major crisis occurred on October 16, 1962, when he was shown aerial photos of missile bases in Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff pressed for an immediate attack. Instead, Attorney General Robert Kennedy was sent to meet with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. In his memoirs, Premier Nikita Krushchev quotes the younger Kennedy as saying: "The President is in a grave situation... We are under pressure from our military to use force against Cuba... If the situation continues much longer, the President is not sure that the military will not overthrow him and seize power."

Military hopes for an invasion of Cuba evaporated as Krushchev and Kennedy worked out a nonviolent solution to the crisis. In return, Kennedy promised not to invade Cuba. Angered over the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the CIA refused to bend to Kennedy's will and continued their destabilization campaign against Castro, which included sabotage raids conducted by a secret army, as well as plots against Castro's life, which were undertaken with the help of such well-known Mafia figures as Johnny Roselli, Sam Giancana, and Santos Trafficante. A bitter internal struggle developed around Kennedy's attempts to disband the CIA's paramilitary bases in Florida and Louisiana.

On August 5, 1963, the US, Great Britain and the Soviet Union signed a limited nuclear-test-ban treaty. Engineered by President Kennedy and long in negotiations, the treaty was a severe blow to the Cold Warriors in the Pentagon and the CIA. On September 20,1963, Kennedy spoke hopefully of peace to the UN General Assembly. "Today we may have reached a pause in the Cold War," he said. "If both sides can now gain new confidence and experience in concrete collaborations of peace, then surely, this first small step can be the start of a long, fruitful journey."

"Years later, paging through its formerly classified records, talking to the National Security Council staff, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the President was learning the responsibility of power," writes John Prados, in his recent book Keepers of the Keys, an analysis of the National Security Council. "Here was a smoother, calmer Kennedy, secretly working for rapprochement with Fidel Castro and a withdrawal from Vietnam."

Although Kennedy's Vietnam policy has not received widespread publicity, he turned resolutely against the war in June of 1963, when he ordered Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Maxwell Taylor to announce from the White House steps that all American forces would be withdrawn by 1965. At the time, 15,500 US "advisors" were stationed in South Vietnam, and total casualties suffered remained a relatively low 100.

On November 14, Kennedy signed an order to begin the withdrawal by removing 1,000 troops. In private, Kennedy let it be known the military was not going to railroad him into continuing the war. Many of the hard-line anti-Communists including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover would have to be purged. Bobby Kennedy would be put in charge of dismantling the CIA. President Kennedy told Senator Mike Mansfield of his plans to tear the CIA "into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind." But these plans had to wait for

Kennedy's reelection in 1964. And in order to win that election, he had to secure the South. Which is why Kennedy went to Texas later that month.

Could John Kennedy have stopped the war in Vietnam, as was his obvious intention? America will never know. His command to begin the Vietnam withdrawal was his last formal executive order. Just after noon on November 22, President Kennedy was murdered while driving through downtown Dallas, in full view of dozens of ardent supporters, and while surrounded by police and personal bodyguards. Twenty-eight years later, grave doubts still linger about who pulled the trigger(s), who ordered the assassination, and why our government has done so little to bring justice forth.

In 1963, no American wanted to believe that President Kennedy's death was a coup d'etat, planned by the military establishment and executed by the CIA. Today, such a claim can no longer be dismissed. Why has the national media done such an abysmal job of presenting the facts to the American people? Hopefully, some light will be shed by Oliver Stone's upcoming film, JFK, a $30-million epic starring Kevin Costner, scheduled for release December 20. As his focal point for the story, Stone has chosen former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the only prosecutor to attempt to bring this case to court, and a man subjected to one of the most effective smear campaigns ever orchestrated by the US government. It is a frightening story of murder, corruption and cover-up. Even today, 24 years after he brought the case to court, a powerful media disinformation campaign against Garrison continues.

Born November 20, 1921, in Knoxville, Iowa, Earling Carothers Garrison ~ known as "Jim" to friends and family was raised in New Orleans. At age 19, one year before Pearl Harbor, he joined the army. In 1942, he was sent to Europe, where he volunteered to fly spotter planes over the front lines. Following the war, he attended law school at Tulare, joined the FBI, and served as a special agent in Seattle and Tacoma. After growing bored with his agency assignments, he returned to New Orleans to practice law. He served as an assistant district attorney from 1954 to 1958.

In 1961, Garrison decided to run for district attorney on a platform openly hostile to then-New Orleans Mayor Victor Schiro. To the surprise of many, he was elected without any major political backing. He was 43 years old and had been district attorney for less than two years when Kennedy was killed. "I was an old-fashioned patriot," he writes in On the Trail of the Assassins, (Sheridan Square Press, NY), "a product of my family, my military experience, and my years in the legal profession. I could not imagine then that the government would ever deceive the citizens of this country."

A few hours after the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. Two days later, while in Dallas police custody, Oswald was murdered by nightclub-owner Jack Ruby. Garrison learned that Oswald was from New Orleans, and arranged a Sunday afternoon meeting with his staff. With such an important case, it was their responsibility to investigate Oswald's local connections.

Within days, they learned that Oswald had been recently seen in the company of one David Ferrie, a fervent anti-Communist and freelance pilot linked to the Bay of Pigs invasion. Evidence placed Ferrie in Texas on the day of the assassination. Also on that day, a friend of Ferrie's named Guy Bannister had pistol-whipped Jack Martin during an argument. Martin confided to friends that Bannister and Ferrie were somehow involved in the assassination. Garrison had Ferrie picked up for questioning, and turned him over to the local FBI, who immediately released him. Within a few months, the Warren Commission released its report stating that Oswald was a "lone nut" murdered by a misguided patriot who wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy the ordeal of testifying. Like most Americans, Garrison accepted this conclusion.

Three years later, in the fall of '66, Garrison was happily married with three children and content with his job, when a chance conversation with Senator Russell long changed his views on the Warren Commission forever.

"Those fellows on the Warren Commission were dead wrong," said Long. "There's no way in the world that one man could have shot up Jack Kennedy that way."

Intrigued, Garrison went back to his office and ordered the complete 26-volume report. "The mass of information was disorganized and confused," writes Garrison. "Worst of all, the conclusions in the report seemed to be based on an appallingly selective reading of the evidence, ignoring credible testimony from literally dozens of witnesses."

Garrison was equally disturbed by the background of the men chosen by President Johnson to serve on the commission. Why, for instance, was Allen Dulles, a man fired by Kennedy, on the panel? A master spy during WWII, Dulles had supervised the penetration of the Abwehr (Hitler's military intelligence agency) and the subsequent incorporation of many of its undercover agents into the CIA. He was powerful, well-connected and had been Director of the CIA for eight years. Certainly, he was no friend to John Kennedy. Serving with Dulles were Representative Gerald Ford, a man described by Newsweek as "the CIA's best friend in Congress," John McCloy, former assistant secretary of war and Commissioner for Occupied Germany, and Senator Richard Russell, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee. Russell's home state of Georgia was filled with military bases and government contracts. The balance of the commission was clearly in the hands of the military and the CIA. The entire "investigation" was supervised by J. Edgar Hoover, who openly detested the Kennedy brothers.

Another interesting link turned up; The mayor of Dallas was Earle Cabell, brother of the General Charles Cabell JFK had earlier fired from the CIA. Earle Cabell was in a position to control many important details involved in the case, including the Dallas police force.

Based on these general suspicions, Garrison launched a highly-secret investigation around Lee Harvey Oswald's links to David Ferrie and Guy Bannister. Unfortunately, Bannister had died nine months after the assassination. An alcoholic and rabid right-winger, Bannister had been a star agent for the FBI and a former Naval Intelligence operative. He was a member of the John Birch Society, the Minutemen, and publisher of a racist newsletter. His office at 544 Camp street was a well-known meeting place for anti-Castro Cubans.

Ferrie's background was even more bizarre. A former senior pilot for Eastern Airlines, Ferrie had been the head of the New Orleans Civil Air Patrol, an organization Oswald had joined as a teenager. Ferrie suffered from alopecia, an ailment that left him hairless. He wore bright red wigs and painted eyebrows. Ferrie had founded his own religion, and kept hundreds of experimental rats in his house. He reportedly had flown dozens of solo missions for the CIA in Cuba and Latin America, and had links to Carlos Marcello, head of the Mob in Louisiana. Like Bannister, he was extremely right wing. "I want to train killers," Ferrie had written to thecommander of the US 1st Air Force. "There is nothing I would enjoy better than blowing the hell out of every damn Russian, Communist, Red or what-have-you."

On the day of the assassination, Dean Andrews, a New Orleans attorney, had been asked to fly to Dallas to represent Oswald. When asked by the Warren Commission who had hired him, Andrews had replied Clay Bertrand. Bertrand, Garrison discovered, was a pseudonym used by Clay Shaw, director of the International Trade Mart. Shaw, a darling of New Orleans high society, was also well-connected in international high-finance circles. He was also anassociate of Bannister and Ferrie. Like many others connected with the assassination, Shaw was a former Army Intelligence operative. The case against Shaw was circumstantial, but Garrison did have an eyewitness willing to testify that Shaw had met with Lee Harvey Oswald just prior to the assassination.

Just as Garrison was marshalling his case, some strange events took place. On February 17, 1967, the New Orleans States-Item published a story on Garrison's secret probe, indicating that he had already spent over $8,000 of taxpayer's money investigating the Kennedy assassination. Soon thereafter, Garrison received an unusually strong letter of support from a Denver oil businessman named John Miller, hinting that Miller wanted to offer financial support to the investigation. When Miller arrived in New Orleans, he met with Garrison and one of his assistants.  

"You're too big for this job," said Miller. "I suggest you accept an appointment to the bench in federal district court, and move into a job worthy of your talents." "And what would I have to do to get this judgeship?" asked Garrison.

"Stop your investigation," replied Miller calmly.

Garrison asked Miller to leave his office. "Well, they offered you the carrot and you turned it down," said his assistant. "You know what's coming next, don't you?"

Suddenly, reporters from all over the country descended on New Orleans, including the Washington Post's George Lardner, Jr. At midnight on February 22, 1967, Lardner claims to have conducted a four-hour interview with Ferrie. The following morning, Ferrie was found dead. Two unsigned, typewritten suicide notes were found. The letter made reference to a "messianic district attorney."

Three days later the coroner announced that Ferrie had died of natural causes and placed the time of death well before the end of Lardner's supposed marathon interview. Lardner's complicity in the affair would never be called into question, while his highly-influential articles in the Washington Post branded Garrison's investigation a "fraud." It was just the beginning of a long series of disruptive attacks in the media, and the first in a long series of bodies connected with the case that would mysteriously turn up dead.

With Ferrie gone, Garrison had only one suspect left. He rushed his case to court, arresting Clay Shaw.  Ellen Ray, a documentary filmmaker from New York, came to New Orleans to film the story. "People were getting killed left and right," she recalls. "Garrison would subpoena a witness and two days later the witness would be killed by a parked car. I thought Garrison was a great American patriot. But things got a little too heavy when I started getting strange phone calls from men with Cuban accents." After several death threats, Ray became so terrified that instead of making a documentary on the trial, she fled the country.


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