Waiting for the verdict on Oswald
From MURRAY KEMPTON
Wt. arc likely to wait into June before we have a report from Chief Justice Earl Warren and the seven other representative Ameri- cans whom President Johnson appointed to find for us an official and, we prayerfully hope, a definitive judgment on the circumstances of Mr. Kennedy's assassination.
The Warren Commission has heard fifty wit- nesses and studied summaries of the recollections of a hundred more. It expects to spend another month listening to more testimony and a number of weeks thereafter to assemble its findings. It is our pride, of course, to think of ours as a government of laws rather than of men. But moments like these remind us how much more we are a government of laws terribly dependent upon men. Our dependence on Mr. Justice Warren amounts to a surrender of our faculties almost total. What we ask of him is a verdict we are able to accept as the truth and a truth no worse than the dreadful one we already know. We need to believe that Lee Oswald acted by himself and that what happened in Dallas was lonely and absurd and without the smallest ex- planation in reason. Any exploration in reason would leave us to face the condition that a number of our own citizens joined together to kill a man whom all Americans should have cherished as a person and as a symbol, and anyone who asks that asks too much of us. We seek a judgment that would both comfort and convince us.
Mr. Allen Dulles, a commission member and former director of the CIA, said last week that the mail-order rifle, assumed to be the murder weapon, 'bore, among others, the fingerprints of Lee Oswald.' This is a statement harder to take than anything the FBI has said about fingerprint evidence so far. Still, there is something about this case which never lays one question to rest without raising another. Whose are the other fingerprints of whose existence Mr. Dulles in- cidentally informs us? Some of them at least have an obvious origin which, however innocent, is certainly unfortunate. After the rifle was found, one Dallas policeman was photographed hold- ing it in the air with his bare hands; the next day another policeman appeared in the prints holding it carelessly by the sling. Each of these displays, offered for no reason but journalistic convenience, must have left fingerprints behind; and each was a breach of elementary police prac- tice. The most critical piece of evidence in the most important murder in the lifetime of every American was handled like a stage prop; we depend on Mr. Justice Warren and he depends in turn for the truth on pieces of evidence picked over and mishandled by policemen.
I do not contend that Lee Oswald was innocent. Yet it is hard not to notice how glad every law enforcement agent was to believe that, having found Oswald, there was nowhere further to look. It seems to have become the law's business in those early hours to keep us from asking why it could not protect Mr. Kennedy from a murder I forget : does a pair of Lenin beat three Commissars?'
which was unthinkable by showing us how efficiently it could prevent Lee Oswald from an escape which would have been merely embar- rassing. Ever since, there have remained dis- crepancies in the official version of Oswald's capture which, if they are not indicative of a frame-up, can only be explained as 'exaggera- tions of the speed and efficiency with which the Dallas police reacted.
They could not have moved into the Texas Book Depository at once and in force, as their chief says they did, and still given Lee Oswald time to leave what they say was his hiding-place. dispose of what they say was his rifle, and be four flights down drinking a Coca-Cola in time to greet the first policeman to arrive. The police could not then have given Oswald time to leave and called the rest of the book depository's em-
ployees to a formation and discovered Os\ AI(
,1 missing and put out a perfect description a, a wanted call on their radio, all in the space of just one minute. And yet, when Justice Warren puzzles over these prodigies of logistics, there is no place for him to seek the answers except from the Dallas Police Department. In the same way, if he wants a full report on Lee Oswald's relations with the FBI—both as informer and person informed upon—he can only ask Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI's director, and trust him to accept the consequent risks of institutional embarrassment.
To think about Justice Warren's problem is to come to a peripheral but none the less curious mystery. That is, the role of the American re- porter, who at his very good best is the most active and persistent of his breed on earth. lhe Kennedy murder is full of puzzles; yet our journalists look at them with a languor and an anxiety not to ask questions which has Tic\ er fallen on us before. We have left the questions to amateurs and strangers; books on the plot to kill Mr. Kennedy are reported best-sellers in France and in, Brazil. It is possible to dismiss these things as fantasy. But there remain areas of doubt perfectly realistic and subject to workman- like inquiry which American reporters simply refuse to engage. Mr. Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Past Dispatch raised a few questions in the wake of Mr. Kennedy's murder, but seems to have fallen back discouraged since; I have seen no evidence that any American reporter 15 stirring with the curiosity which he would nor- mally bring to any police case so untidy..
I do not think this neglect conies from com- placency; most of what the world knows about the deficiencies of the United States was set forth for it by American journalists. I ant afraid we have been rendered immobile by shock. I myself am readier than most to believe the worst about our institutions. Still, when was in Dallas, 1 went to the Book Depository to look out of the window which Oswald 1s supposed to have used. I felt like a• tourist and an intruder, and I was automatically comforted at how close the range seemed and hov; plausible for the powers of an ordinary marks' man; I should, 1 am afraid, have been upset if it had seemed too far away. We have failed in our duty, then; our excuse --and a poor one—is that we are wounded. he nature of our wound is best described in the ex" perience of Thomas Buchanan, an expatriate American, who has composed for L'ExpreAs tite most elaborate and ingenious of all the con: spiracy theories—one which embraceS Jack Ruby for the Mafia; some six Dallas policemen. On! of whom was the real assassin; the John Bircl: Society for tactical planning; and an H. L. Hunt. model Texas millionaire for finance. The editor of L'Express found it all so persuasive that he sent Buchanan here to tell our Department of Justice, and Buchanan went home terribly sad- dened by how coldly he was treated bearing this gift of so many public pests.
But the Justice Department is captained by Mr. Kennedy's brother and staffed with his old friends. I can imagine how terrible it would be for them to accept the idea that this could be a conspiracy. For I, a mere acquaintance, know how much I want to believe that whoever killed Mr. Kennedy acted alone; I just do not want any other American to have a piece of this thing. We blame the Continent for inventing con- spiracies; yet we ourselves cling to one man almost to the point where we would need to have invented him. We are in shock and in for- feit and have lain the whole duty of our critical judgment on Mr. Justice Warren.