A senior Warren Commission lawyer now says that, as a part of the investigation into the murder of President John Kennedy, he flew to Cuba for a meeting with fidel.
This news is very significant - as Edward Jay Epstein showed us in his book "Inquiry", most of the work of the commission was done by the staff attorneys hired by the commission. The commission members themselves were very busy men and attended very few of the commission sessions and interrogated very few witnesses. Earl Warren continued to serve as Chief Justice of the United States, Richard Russell and John Sherman Cooper were senior U.S. Senators, Gerald Ford and Hale Boggs were serving in the House, Allen Dulles was the former head of the CIA and John McCloy was former head of the World Bank. So the work of the commission was done by the legal staff headed by former Solicitor General J. Lee Rankin, and young attorneys such as Arlen Specter.
But one attorney had a great deal of experience. William Coleman had served in World War II then returned to Harvard Law School where he became the first black man to serve on the board of editors of the Harvard Law Review. He graduated at the top of his class in 1946 and was admitted to the bar in 1947. He became another "first" when he was the first black person to clerk for a Supreme Court justice - Felix Frankfurter hired Coleman in 1948.
When his clerkship ended, Coleman joined a prestigious New York law firm, and there, he was recruited by Thurgood Marshall to work, for free, for the NAACP. Coleman worked his day job from 9 until 6, then for the NAACP until 11. The cases he worked on led to desegregation.
In 1959, President Eisenhower asked Coleman, who was a Republican, to serve on the President's Commission on Employment Policy. Coleman's specialty was high finance, and he was invited to serve on the boards of many very large corporations.
With this background, Rankin asked Coleman to serve as senior consultant and assistant counsel to the Warren Commission.
Now, Anthony Summers writes in The Times Online, that Coleman admitted to him last month he had met secretly with fidel.
William Coleman, a former assistant counsel, had told me before Christmas of a mission that he carried out on the orders of the US Chief Justice, Earl Warren. He had flown to a secret location for a meeting with Señor Castro — a rare event indeed for an American official, even more so given the nature of the discussion. What Mr Coleman learnt, he said, satisfied him — and the Chief Justice when he reported back — that “Castro's regime had nothing to do with the President's murder”.
Mr Coleman had spoken clearly, and in the presence of a third party. This week, however, I received a letter from him denying that the meeting with the Cuban leader had ever taken place. This is hard to explain, unless perhaps one notes that Mr Coleman — himself a former Cabinet member — is close to senior officials in the Bush Administration. Perhaps the Bush people, who take a hard line on Cuba, prefer that dark rumours about Señor Castro remain unrefuted.
Well, of course everything is Bush's fault. Especially to someone, such as Summers, who is a long-time critic of the Warren Commission and who believes President Kennedy was killed by a right-wing conspiracy consisting of Mafia figures, former New Orleans FBI agent Guy Bannister, and Watergate burgler E. Howard Hunt.
But going on, this is just the type of complaints about the Warren Commission critics have made for years. The commissioners and staff members seemed to be wholly out of touch with the issues, and types of people, they were dealing with. Too many members of silk-stocking law firms, too many people who hadn't left official Washington in years to be able to understand the rough and tumble real-politik world they were suddenly confronted with. In my mind, there was still too much of an attempt to brand Oswald as mentally deranged rather than a calculating killer. It was much like the more recent reactions to Timothy McVeigh and Usama bin Laden.
Back to Mr. Coleman - I can see how a practiced liar and manipulator, such as fidel, could easily convince someone of Mr. Coleman's background that he had nothing to do with the assassination.
The article also deals with the documentary shown Friday night on German TV - dealt with previously here and here. The TV show claims Lee Oswald was a paid agent of fidel.
I see, however, one big hole in the theory put forward by the documentary. It reports the established fact that Oswald visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City a little less that two months before the assassination. Then it goes on to claim that Cuban agents paid Oswald $6,500 to kill Kennedy.
Where did the money go? Oswald lived his entire life very frugally - he traveled to Mexico City, and probably on to Dallas, by bus, got a job at the Texas School Book Depository, and lived in a rooming house while his wife and children freeloaded off of a friend, Mrs. Ruth Paine. On the morning of the assassination, Oswald got up before his wife and left $170 for her on the dresser. He had about $15 in his pocket when he was arrested. Those sums fit with the salaries he had earned since he returned to the US from Russia a little more than a year before. If he got $6500 from castro, what happened to it?
Oswald's life as a rather poor man stands in stark contrast to James Earl Ray, the man who pleaded guilty to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, before he retracted the confession. Ray traveled around the southeastern US, to Canada, to England, to Spain and back to England, bought a new car, and stayed in motels - he was obviously spending money, the source of which has never been found.
I hope we can see the documentary here and learn for ourselves if the film's producers dealt with this important little fact. Did Oswald actually receive cash from fidel?